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20-40-60 Etiquette---When do we eat?

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YOU ASK! WE ANSWER! YOU DECIDE!

By Callie Gordon, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace

QUESTION: I just love reading your 20-40-60 column every week! Sometimes I’ll just read through old ones too. I actually have been wondering about waiting to eat and found an answer from you in 2010, but my question is kind of a twist on that.

I consider myself a bit of a stickler for etiquette, but know that I am not immune to mistakes. I am finding myself to be increasingly bothered by people not waiting until everyone is served or the host is sitting to begin eating.

But, I also feel like I am the one who is making others at the table feel awkward because I will sit and wait, and usually others will start eating to make the first person to eat not feel bad for being so rude or not knowing better. Then it seems like I am just up on my high horse waiting for the host to join the table. I can’t help but feel like I’ve created the awkward situation by inadvertently drawing attention to the fact that I am waiting and others are not, and people try to socially "rescue" the rude person.  I am not talking about the situations that it is clear you should begin eating.  

This happened most recently at a Mother’s Day lunch served at my parents’ house. My father bought the food, and everyone filled their plates in the kitchen and found their seat at the table. My dad was last to get his food, and my sister-in-law began chowing down, as she was the first to get her food and sit down. My mom started to eat, I guess to make her feel better (I know she cares, she’s who taught me all these manners!), but then I could tell the SIL was feeling bad as my fiance and I were waiting to eat.

Then my dad came in and wanted to pray, so it was pretty awkward overall.

Why did I feel so bad for her lack of manners and then feel like I was rude for not making her more comfortable about it? I don’t want to come across as some manners czar; the whole point is to show your respect for others, not make them feel lesser. She’s been around our family for years; it’s not like she was a first-time guest. Maybe she is just too comfortable? How should I handle this moving forward? In the past I would just take a long time putting my napkin in my lap or sweetening my tea, but that only works to distract from the fact that I am waiting for a little bit, then comes the awkward.

This waiting and making others feel awkward thing happened to me twice last weekend. I’m wondering if I should be doing something to not come across as "uppity" or just not worry about it and mind my own business. Again, I’m not waiting in inappropriate situations. These are dinners with six or fewer people!

CALLIE’S ANSWER: Yes, it is correct to wait until everyone is seated. This isn’t something you need to get into with your brother- or sister-in-law. Let your parents deal with it and stick to your guns. Bon appetit!

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: Good manners shouldn’t stick out. Just keep doing what you are doing quietly and don’t worry about it. It is polite to wait until everyone else starts, so as long as you don’t make a big deal about it or point it out to others, it isn’t a problem.

HELEN’S ANSWER: You are right. It is polite to wait for others, even when they say “go ahead, don’t let your food get cold.” Usually the host and hostess go last and it would really be rude if everyone is finished before they even get to the table.

A polite guest waits until everyone at the table is served, whether it be at a small dinner, or even a larger dinner. When the host or hostess picks up the fork, it is time to eat.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Devonne Carter, licensed clinical social worker who has taught etiquette classes at Oklahoma Christian University: I say this a lot when folks have questions that involve others: “You have to do the right thing no matter what others do.” Sorry about the awkwardness, but just wait until everyone has  food and don’t act awkward. Just enjoy the conversation or create conversation to enjoy.

If you wait until everyone gets food and is seated, you will be modeling for the others proper behavior. They might (and they might not) follow suit next time. Do the right thing, no matter what!

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Helen Ford Wallace

Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for... Read more ›

Lillie-Beth Brinkman

Lillie-Beth Brinkman is a Content Marketing Manager for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. She was previously an assistant editor of The Oklahoman Read more ›

Callie Athey

Callie Athey is 20-something and is a graduate from the University of Oklahoma. She has worked in various positions, ranging from Event Coordinator to Environmental Health and Safety Assistant. Currently, Callie is an Executive Assistant to a... Read more ›

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