Thursday, April 07, 2011

Royal etiquette - what are the rules? Debrett's knows!

Like many people, we are still waiting for our invitation to "the" royal wedding. Somehow it must have gone astray in the mail, stuck in the same place our Publishers Clearing House cheque for a million dollars in addition to the backlog of lottery winnings. These things do happen.

So much pomp and circumstance and all because the Queen of England's grandson is getting married. Okay - so they're rich and they have royal titles and they live in splendor in a beautiful castle with antique furniture to die for. Still, they could have extended some invites to some of the people living in the commonwealth, like us.

Just in case my invitation does arrive, and a quick trip to England to attend the wedding is necessary, one should know exactly how to conduct oneself as to not embarrass oneself. The ultimate guide in this area is Debrett's, "the modern authority on all matters of etiquette, social occasions, people of distinction and fine style."

After checking my social agenda and assuming the day is open, there would be some royal etiquette that one would have to know when mingling, eating and socializing with the royals and their friends. First and foremost on my mind is the correct way to curtsy and how to address the Queen. Does one place the left or the right leg behind when curtsying and how low does the leg go? Is there a certain length of time one have to remain in the curtsying position and what happens if one has bad knees? Does one back up once the curtsy/bowing introduction is over or just return to the standing position?

"Hi there, your royal Queenship. How's the family?" somehow seems a too...common or trite greeting.

Or perhaps being Canadian and all, she would appreciate comments to the effect: "good picture of you on our money."

Most worrisome would be at dinner and knowing how to use which utensils and at which time. When out with friends we decide amongst each other which rolls belong to whom and even if one of us takes the wrong roll, we just pass them along and no harm done, however amongst royal types, one couldn't play, "pass-the-roll."

There are some general guidelines of etiquette offered by Debrett's.

- Napkins (one should avoid calling them serviettes) should be placed on laps, never tucked it into shirts (or in dress tops). Corners of the mouth should be gently dabbed, if necessary, during the meal. No grand wiping gestures with napkin (or back of the hand). Napkins should be placed, unfolded, beside the plate when leaving the table. Not mentioned here is what to do if one spills some - say - gravy on one's dress or shirt for example. Is it socially correct or acceptable to dip the napkin in the water glass and rub the spot, gently, or does one leave the stain for all to see? When seated, one should sit up straight and make sure one's elbows don't encroach on the space of the person beside one. How much space is allowable? One foot...two feet... No resting elbows on the table or leaning on them when eating.

- For meals served on a plate, wait until everyone has been served before picking up cutlery. One wonders the reason behind this rule. To ensure that everyone finishes at the same time? Anybody know? One would assume that it would be a faux pas to turn over the cutlery to ascertain the weight and/or to ascertain whether it's real silver - In a group dining situation, it's acceptable to offer side dishes around the table and hold them to assist the other diners In other words, pass things down but under no circumstances throw your roll or bread accross the table, in case you miss your target

- Mouths should be closed to keep chewing noises to a minimum. Lip smaking is a no-no as is talking with a full mouth. This means don't eat with your mouth open so that everyone around you can see the saliva and ground up food moving up-and-down and from side-to-side. This is gross! Or don't make like a chipmunk while storing food in cheeks and trying to speak

- Talking while there is food in one's mouth should be avoided at all costs - even when you have a conversational gem up your sleeve. Oh those Brits - "conversational gem up your sleeve..." Don't try to tell a joke, clean or otherwise, with a full mouth.

- Knives and forks should be placed with the fork tines facing upwards when finished - side-by-side - on the plate. This leads one to wonder what the consequences would be if one accidentally disobeyed this directive and left the tines facing downwards. Could a beheading follow?

So right now, you're probably wondering: what is the socially correct way to hold one's knife. No problem-o. Debretts advises that "a knife should be held firmly in your right hand, with the handle tucked into your palm, your thumb down one side of the handle and your index finger along the top (but never touching the top of the blade). It is never acceptable according to Debretts, to lick your knife under any circumstances, no matter how delicious the meal is. Presumably, the rational (pure speculation) is to avoid cutting one's tongue and surrounding areas with the unsavory appearance of spurting blood, which could spoil appetites. Furthermore, "when used with a knife or spoon, the fork should be held in the left hand, in much the same way as the knife, with the prongs facing downwards. On its own, it is held in the right hand, with the prongs facing upwards, resting on the fingers and secured with the thumb and index finger. A spoon is held in the right hand, resting on the fingers and secured with the thumb and index finger. Food should be eaten off the side of the spoon; it should never be used at a right angle to the mouth." This is all well and good but...what happens if a person is say...left-handed? Is it acceptable to inter-change which hands can hold which implements? These are important issues!

There are foods in which one wonders the best and socially acceptable ways in which to proceed. Asparagus falls into this category but Debrett's has this area covered too.

- The asparagus spear should be picked up towards the end of the stem, dipped in any accompanying sauce and lowered into the mouth, bite by bite. There's no need to chew through the tough, woody ends of the stems; they should be left neatly on the side of the plate.

- Peas: This was a real eye-opener for me. Avoid turning over your fork and using it as a scoop; instead, squash the peas on to the back of the fork. Utilise any aids on your plate, such as mashed potato. So now we all know there's a no-scooping-rule.

- Lobster: A whole lobster in its shell will typically arrive at your table already cut into two halves, allowing easy access to the flesh for your knife and fork. It is also fine to use just your fork while holding the shell steady with your hand. The big claws usually come cracked but if not you will need to use special lobster crackers. Once claws have been cracked, pull out the meat with a fork. If you want to get meat out of the smaller attachments use a lobster pick. I tend to stay away from lobster and all shell food, actually, because it is just too much work. Also, I just can't live with the guilt of having two beady black eyes staring back at me.

Next comes an important section focusing on managing stones (not as in the rock type) and bones as in olives, cherries etc. Pips and Stones and stones (cherry, olive etc.) should be discreetly spat into a cupped left hand and deposited on the side of the plate or discarded. One does not bend over a plate or handy receptable and spit out pips and/or stones.

- Pieces of bone should be manoeuvred to the front from where it can be discreetly removed with thumb and forefinger and placed on the side of the plate. It is not socially acceptable by the way, to dig around with one's fingers to find and remove the bone - unless choking is involved in which case someone must do CPR...but I digress.

- When serving tea, if a waiter places a teapot on the table without pouring the tea the person nearest the pot should pour for everyone. Biscuits should not be dunked in tea (or coffee for that matter) and slurping is a real no-no.

So now that one knows all the social niceties and the rules, the only thing remaining is the arrival of the invitation. As they say - it's in the mail. Anybody else waiting, too?

UPDATE: Seems that my name is not on their guest list to attend the royal wedding. Had my suitcase packed and everything... Oh well...

However, should I have been invited, I would have danced in a nightclub to be created specifically for the occasion within Buckingham Palace, replete with dance floor and dj. Wonder what Queen Elizabeth thinks about that what with all the noise and everything.

1 comment:

Saul Friedman said...

I left two comments on FB