Sunday, May 11, 2014

About table manners, handshakes, civilization, and oh crap, I'm old.

Appearing on my computer monitors this past week: one post providing 30 detailed table manners tips for physicians and another about mastering the perfect handshake posted to a site for communications professionals.

Really? Adult professionals need to be taught this stuff? Apparently so. Not I. True fact: I was raised by parents who believed that impeccable table manners and a firm handshake were outward signs of inward character.

My mother was in charge of teaching table etiquette, which made sense since she was raised in a family with multiple sets of full service chinaware for milchig (dairy), fleishig (meat), and pareve (neutral).

Her mother, my grandmother (with, ironically, the uber-potty mouth), had flatware service for 20 that included esoteric implements like salt spoons, lemon forks, butter picks, olive/pickle forks, and asparagus tongs. Shrimp forks and lobster picks were added after her parents died and no one felt compelled to still keep kosher.

In what might now be considered proof of child abuse, my mother taught me how to identify and use all that esoteric flatware. She taught me how to set a table (with place settings that included three types of spoons and three types of knives) and when to tidy up with a crumb scoop. She taught me how to serve. (Serve from the left if food is on platters. If pre-plated, serve on the right. Don't make me have to tell you again.)

Meanwhile, my father was leaning against the Formica® kitchen countertop, hacking off chunks of Hebrew National Kosher Salami with a serrated knife and then eating those hunks with that knife, after dunking them in a jar of deli mustard. No doubt fortifying himself to teach me how to shake hands. Like a real man.

Handshake lessons were easy and direct, no seething involved, probably because my father wanted to get right back to his Happy Place (i.e., reading Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in the upstairs bathroom with the door locked).

My father would shift the ever-present unfiltered Camel cigarette to his left hand and thrust out his right while declaring, "Bernie Gould..."

Hearty but not-too-eager, firm but not-too-tight a grip, palm-against-palm. Dry palm, at least from his (and my) side of the handshake. A few pop handshake quizzes later that day and we were done.

Durable, these were. My mother's seemingly endless instructions and ongoing prompts about table manners; my father's swift effective lesson about shaking hands. Neither adolescent rebellion nor crafting my own version of adulthood have screwed up either my table manners or my handshake.

I suppose, given the frequency with which I've seen some mighty weird table manners and have endured dead fishlike handshakes, I should not be oh-so-surprised to see posts about these life skills popping up nowadays. Looks like some people think traditional expressions of civility should be restored. I'm shocked that I've become one of them.
This is a crumb scoop.
You're welcome.

Handshake image via.
Table Manners image via.