Saturday, October 07, 2006

Ms Eisa: Getting it right

If you’re extremely etiquette conscious and don’t, for instance, know what to do in an Indian restaurant, read on for some tips.

When it comes to perfect, formal dining etiquette – is there a ‘blanket’ etiquette rule? Or can rules be changed or altered as situations demand? The fork-and-knife are very proper Western norms, but Indian traditional demand a lot of food to be eaten by hand. can you stay true to your tradition without coming off as slovenly?

Also when it comes to discussing the concept of ‘etiquette rules’, are these norms solid or do they alter between cultures? For instance, some people place their knife- and- fork together in the six o’clock position after their meal has ended, while some place their cutlery in a 4 0’clock position. This can be confusing if you tend to be particularly mindful of protocol.

When in Rome

Manners are meant to make other people comfortable and not necessarily for your comfort. Each country’s culture is manifested in their customs and etiquette. It is customary that in Rome you do as the Romans would” In Europe the mastery of the art of fine dining is of vital importance since it determines your nobility. In Japan, fine dining utensils would be chopsticks and bowls.

In India it is considered correct to eat Indian cuisine with your fingers even at a formal dinner. I caution though, that a sign of distinguished gentry is the delicate use of the tips of your fingers only. A dead give-away would be to allow rivulets of gravy to trickle down your mouth, palm or hand. Resist the temptation to lick any part of your anatomy.

Universal Rules

All diner rituals developed from the notion that the table or eating area is pristine territory and polite people seek to preserve that cleanliness, by never placing a used item (utensil, chewed food, napkin, elbow) on the table.

Digestive sounds or the sound of food masticating is not music to anyone’s ears. Universal rules are that you should take the food to your mouth and not stoop to the food. Don’t lick your fingers no matter how delicious the food and lest you spray your accomplices, don’t talk with food in your mouth!

Your napkin stays on your lap while you eat. It is returned to the table only at the conclusion of the meal when everyone is done and not when you are. Your crisp white napkin can never alternate as a towel or an apron, though the height of gracefulness would be to elegantly dab the corners of your mouth with it.

At the end of the meal, delicately dip those greasy fingers in the finger bowl provided. If you temporarily leave the table before the dinner is over, put your napkin on your chair. At the end of the meal, fold your napkin and place it to the left of your plate – never on your plate.

Fine Lines

Your knife and fork are the significant utensils because they signal when you’re resting between courses or when you are done. In Europe, which is the epitome of genteel conduct, you would form an “X” over your plate by placing the fork on the left and the knife on the right, indicating that you are not done eating but merely taking a rest; To indicate that you’re finished, place the knife and fork together in a in a six o’clock position. However the Americans do indicate the end of a meal with a 4 o’clock position.

The French, recognized as the connoisseurs of fine dining, have perfected it to a fine art that has been religiously adhered to for the last four centuries. If in doubt though, you could never be faulted should you choose to go the French way.

This article is from Ms Rukshana Eisa’s regular column in The Times of India's Mumbai Mirror.

Facing an etiquette crisis? Write in to Ms Rukshana Eisa and she will help you resolve it. Please e-mail


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