On January 2, 2013 I wrote a blog for this website entitled Dos and Don’ts: When You Are Lunching With a Special Guest. It focused on how to conduct oneself when dining with one’s boss or a prospective employer. I’d like to follow this with excerpts from an intriguing column that appeared in the Financial Times, 4/6/13. The author, Tim Hayward, has written a fun piece that was a result of his visit to Britain’s Eat Cambridge Food and Drink Festival which included an invitation to Dine Like Downton.
During this delightful evening, participants dressed formally and learned the fine points of the arcane dining rules that are observed in Downton Abbey, the wildly successful British TV series created by Academy Award Winner, Julian Fellowes, and which is now appearing in more than 100 countries worldwide. Based on this experience, Hayward decided to write a witty, tongue-in-cheek update of Rules for Modern Dining.
Today: new verboten subjects
Politics, sex and religion have always been improper topics of conversation at dinner. Since the news today consists of little but politics, sex and religion, Hayward suggests that these become the only acceptable, even compulsory topics. Instead, we should avoid any discussion of schools, children or real estate since no one has the faintest idea what’s really happening in any of these categories.
Today: grace is replaced by bloggers
Saying grace is usually considered to be at the discretion of the host. The nonreligious are expected to remain silent or simply bow their heads. Fortunately, for the godless, a new secular grace has taken over. Diners pause for a few moments while the food bloggers at the table record their dinner for posterity with phones and cameras. The blogless are forbidden to mutter under their breath.
Today: foodies offer samples to all
Upper-class butler service has been replaced with family service where each diner offers to help others to everything on the table. Of course, pressing lima beans on Aunt Hortense tests one’s patience immensely. And, now that we’re all foodies, an entirely new protocol has arisen. One diner will declare the sole meuniere “utterly to die for” and offer samples to one and all. This can take four times longer than passing the peas.
Today: ethnic cooking reigns supreme
In Downton Abbey the Edwardian country house seldom strayed beyond the basics. Soup, fish and meat were all consumed with cutlery that one had used forever. No more. Modern gatherings are increasingly influenced by the latest trends in ethnic cooking. Hence, today’s diner needs to know how to:
Twizzle spaghetti expertly
Raise a rice bowl to one’s mouth
Pick up with fancy chopsticks
Eat with the right hand only
Slurp noodles elegantly
Bear in mind: you should conduct yourself in life as at a feast. Epictetus (55 AD-135 AD)