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Around the Table | DineOut Articles

Mr Lu

Know your Rites...

by Mr Lu, Wed 28th Oct 2009 10:01pm

My life is peppered with the rituals of daily living and the ceremonies that mark occasions, meetings, meals and moments. In no uncertain terms these are the stuff of all our lives, in fact, and are part and parcel of what is a ritualistic ride that begins at birth and rocks and rolls us for three score and ten years or more.

Is there a thread of commonality in these events & occurrences? In many respects, yes! It could be food, it could be ethnicity, religion, nationality, parental influence.

There are a multitude of definitions of the word ritual but the following are useful for the purposes of this discussion:

  • any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner
  • a prescribed code of behavior regulating social conduct, as that exemplified by the raising of one's hat or the shaking of hands in greeting
  • a prescribed or established rite, ceremony, proceeding, or service

There are certainly rites of passage that are interwoven with the laws of the land that we in modern New Zealand society recognize and these include the obtaining of a driver's licence at a particular age (usually 15) & the right to buy and consume alcohol in licensed premises at 18yrs. Most of our young people will look to these events as significant, memorable milestones in their journey from boy to man, girl to woman, just as some societies have initiation ceremonies to mark the achievement of a specified chronological age.

Those of us who practice personal hygiene, and believe me there are many who don't, perform a morning ritual which involves getting out of bed on a particular side, worshipping at the porcelain altar of human bodily waste, washing our bodies in a pattern which invariably does not change from day to day and drying ourselves in a ritualistic fashion. It has oft been shown that people wash themselves in the shower according to their own established pattern, order and procedure. One person's ritual may be to wash their hair first, then their feet, then... well, use your imagination. Another will start with the face, then do the arms, then the private parts... and so on. Think about your own morning ritual and discuss it with your family, neighbours, random passers-by, local police etc. You'll be amazed at how everyone has a different pattern.

There are, of course, a plethora of established practices associated with eating and drinking. Every society, from the ancients to the contemporaries, has had weird and wonderful ways of interpreting the art of dining and has shown us that there is no limit to what you can do with food!

Consider the Imperial Manchurian Banquets of yesteryear which contained in the region of 5,000 courses, spanned 49 days and 49 nights and involved armies of cooks, waiters and guests. A shorter version, the Manchurian Banquet, spanning 3 days and 3 nights and 288 courses hasn't been undertaken for many a year. Rumour has it that the last one was in the 1970's and was commissioned by the CEO of Mitsubishi Motors in Japan who took his family to China and, at a cost estimated at the time to be over 1 million Yuan, set out to get to the 288th course. Traditionally, a banquet of this nature involved a personally assigned waiter/footman who massaged you through the courses, keeping track of what number you had reached before falling asleep on the bed adjacent to your table. When you woke up and resumed eating, he made sure your next course was exactly the next one in numerical order.

Although there are times when I feel as though I have consumed the greater part of a Manchurian Banquet following a session at a Chinese restaurant with friends, my eating habits don't run to much more than 10 to 15 courses at most... dining alone... just kidding...

When we dine out, in this, the 21st Century, some of our habits, traditions, rituals, whatever you may like to call them have changed somewhat from former times.

I doubt very much that many New Zealanders would know that, in a formal dining situation, you can expect to be served at the table from the left and have your empty plates removed from the left; your drinks, wines, water & coffee should be served from the right. Even the best restaurants nowadays won't adhere to this.

Some things, however, never change. Never cut bread or bread rolls. Simply break the bread with your fingers. To avoid confusion, Nicholas Clayton in his book, "A Butler's Guide to Table Manners" lists some don'ts for the dinner table. You are sure to find these helpful:

  1. Don't burp or break wind. If you do it's probably best to say nothing, and if you hear anyone else do it, again say nothing.
  2. Don't allow your offspring to run riot; unruly children annoy other people intensely.
  3. Don't indulge in any luvvy-duvvy stuff at the table - it can be nauseating to witness.
  4. Don't spit unwanted food into your napkin or your hand - remove it with your fork and place it on the side of your plate.
  5. Don't say 'my man' as in "Bring me some Champagne, my man" to a butler or a waiter - it's insulting.
  6. Don't photograph the buffet.
  7. Don't allow your tongue out to meet your fork before the fork is in your mouth.
  8. Don't allow your elbows to rest anywhere on the table when you lift your fork to your mouth.
  9. Don't scrape your knife over your fork in mid-air to remove built up food - this is regarded as seriously gauche.
  10. Don't hold a mug or a cup of tea or coffee with both hands.
  11. Eat quietly unless you're an ass or a pig.

Table manners are what we all strive to teach our children as you can tell a lot about someone by the way they eat. More precisely, the way they hold their cutlery, whether there are elbows on the table, whether they slouch in their seat, whether they lick their knives (a biggie in this country), whether they speak with their mouths full and, most importantly of all, whether they fart at the table.

I have lost count of the number of stinking animals I've dined with, often in refined company at good restaurants, where said offender has poisoned the air with a most wretched stench from the inner confines of their putrid bowels - while others are still eating their meals. Some rituals you never get used to...

If you're a creature of habit and a lover of rituals, like me, you will know the joy of that morning cup of coffee, reading your paper in the quiet of the morning, perhaps a walk around the park, a glass of exquisite wine in the early evening and the grandest ritual of all, in the chamber of love itself, where, with all the pomp and circumstance of a rutting stag, you grunt & snort, bump and grind, moan and yelp your way to your own personal ecstacy.

Bedtime rituals are yet another story, perhaps to be told at another time and in another venue...

And so it was written, until next time...


Your Comments


Tue 10th Nov 2009 02:47pm

Thanks for sharing the advice that you give 7 year olds. Sorry you have had to dine with stinking animals....perhaps your childish advice encouraged them to fart to get rid of you. You're a weirdo who can't get to write in the Sunday Papers so your scrawl is inflicted on us..Once!



Tue 10th Nov 2009 03:36pm

An enjoyable article, of course if you have no interest in good manners, or have none, you merely have to not read the article.



Tue 10th Nov 2009 08:18pm

Wow Gerry1. Got out the wrong side of the bed today? Thanks Mr Lu for an excellent article. I'm not a stickler for all the rules but I definitely remember my mum's rule about elbows on table.


nulli secundus

Tue 10th Nov 2009 09:20pm

Poor...poor... Gerry 1...I would respectfully suggest you need medical treatment or you are a degenerate to be pitied....or maybe I am wrong....? and you are a person immensed in swaddling clothes of jealousy, unable to understand or comprehend the writings of Mr Lu...but do not be discouraged help is at hand ! Men in white coats have been commissioned to visit you and apply some therapy which if successful will alleviate the pain of your troubled mind...poor ...poor Gerry 1...things are sure to get better and one day you may live a normal life ...a life without malice against your fellow man...a life without envy and jealousy...a life where you may learn the manners that normal people have.....

"But jealous souls will not be answer'd so
They are not ever jealous for the cause
But jealous for they are jealous...."

William Shakespeare


Fiona Gray

Tue 10th Nov 2009 10:10pm

It is an irony that Gerry1, who appears to be the person most in need of the manners of which Mr Lu speaks, has been the one to most roundly reject them.



Sat 21st Nov 2009 01:47pm

oh dear, "don't hold a mug with both hands"? Surely warming both hands for a little bit during a cold winter day is ok? :-)



Thu 26th Nov 2009 10:49pm

*sigh* I'm going to assume, Mr Lu, that you agree with the list you printed from that book. Don't really agree with you sorry. Maybe if I was dining at a private household, landed gentry with butlers and house servants, yes I could see those items being more appropriate - would be willing to put them into practice myself even. For a public restaurant with real paying customers, underpaid temping kitchen hands, canned music...

I think your comments are more indicative of your own conditioning than anything else (and yes, I am certainly a victim of my own conditioning!) I agree much much less with Gerry1 though - no need to resort to calling names.

I can't say I like nulli secundus' approach either, too harsh.

I imagine I would bug you pretty chronic at a restaurant Mr Lu - unintentionally, but I like to enjoy myself the way I like (if that makes any sense at all!). I'm pretty sure you wouldn't bug me, you sound too well-behaved to annoy other diners!

1. Burping or breaking wind...
-If I do (audibly, or very pungently) I apologise. Would expect others to do the same.
2. Don't allow your offspring to run riot...
-Agree - applies to adults too though, or anyone with music playing loudly enough from their headphones that I am forced to listen. Curiously, loud conversation doesn't bother me as much?
3. Don't indulge in any luvvy-duvvy stuff at the table...
-Sorry, won't hold back if I want to kiss or cuddle. Also don't mind seeing others doing the same - need more public displays of affection.
4. Don't spit unwanted food into your napkin or your hand...
-Feel pretty much neutral about this, whichever looks least off-putting, OR whichever works best, gets the food safely out of your mouth with the least mess.
5. Don't say 'my man'...
-Agree completely.
6. Don't photograph the buffet.
-Whatever the establishment requests, for this one.
7. Don't allow your tongue out to meet your fork...
-huh? Maybe it doesn't look very cultured, but huh?
8. Don't allow your elbows to rest anywhere on the table...
-Disagree. Was brought up with this rule, but never saw the point then, and still don't. Whatever is comfortable, I want to relax when I eat and if that includes sometimes having my elbows on the table when I eat, so be it.
9. Don't scrape your knife over your fork...
-again, huh? If the scraping gave rise to a 'chalk on blackboard' screech then maybe, or are you meaning holding the fork above your head to do it?
10. Don't hold a mug or a cup of tea or coffee with both hands.
-Disagree big time! Cup, maybe - not really designed for two hands, more risk of spilling it? Mug - whatever is most comfortable, I'm with Foodiefoodie on this one.
11. Eat quietly unless you're an ass or a pig.
-Mr Lu, Mr Lu... (or should I be saying Nicholas Clayton, Nicholas Clayton?) almost descending into personal insults with this one. Overall I agree with you - I'm not a fan of people eating noisily or messily either - but ass or pig is pretty confrontational.

Anyway, my two cents worth...
Happy eating


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