I read about a most unusual seminar last month at the prestigious Harvard Club of Boston: Holiday Table Etiquette & Dining Skills for Children Ages 6-12 years, taught by Rosanne Thomas, President of Protocol Advisors, Inc. It piqued my interest. I always wonder if today’s grandkids really know their manners? My kids and I do our best with my grandkids, but, as all parents and grandparents know, proper behavior doesn't always sink in. I decided to try an experiment: I set the dining room table, cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner, and invited five grandchildren plus one their friends, ages 5 to 9 to put on their party clothes, enjoy a meal, and maybe learn a few things from Ms. Thomas. The kids were psyched!
Ms. Thomas began the evening with a very short “What is wrong with this picture?” slide show, which the kids loved and which got them all talking.
“Do we ever say, ‘Ew!’ we don’t like something even if we don’t like it?” Ms. Thomas asked. They knew the answer to this. “No!” all six chimed.
At dinner, they ate and they learned. Ms. Thomas explained that you never call adults by their first name. Then and, the kids loved this, that there are two styles of eating—the American way, which means you start with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right, then after cutting, put the knife down and switch the fork to the right hand to eat. And the European way, which is the same as the American way to start, but instead of switching hands, you eat with you fork in your left hand, tines down.
“Tines,” they echoed.
Other facts they walked away with?
At the meal’s end, each child received a certificate of achievement. They stood to accept it. They smiled. They looked Ms. Thomas in the eye. They said thank you. And every one of them asked her, “Will you please come back again?
Give Your Own Etiquette Quiz
Here’s a little quiz you can give your grandchildren if you’ve been wanting to broach the subject of manners but also want to keep it light. The kids will laugh, but there will be some teachable moments.
Question 1. When you are a guest at someone’s house, should you:
(Correct answer: You already know the answer!)
Question 2. If you want mashed potatoes, but they are at the far end of the table, should you:
(Correct answer: c or d are both acceptable.)
Question 3. You just took a bite of turkey, and someone asks you a question. Should you:
(Correct answer: Again, you know it, but kids might not--or at least they'll laugh as you ask!)
Question 4. Your uncle says, “May I please have a roll? ” Should you:
(correct answer: Kids might think c, but it's d. They should always pass to the person who asked.)
Question 5. If you want to impress your family at Thanksgiving, should you:
(Correct answer: d—always!)
Beverly Beckham is the author of “A Gift of Time,” a collection of personal essays, “Back Then,” a memoir of childhood, is a contributor to the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series, is on the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress and writes a weekly column for The Boston Globe. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Bruce, and has three children and seven grandchildren.
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