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Many of the questions this month address how we reflect who we are.

...and building healthy relationships.


Daily Questions You Have Asked 


 Questions and Answers


1.     Why can’t I put my elbows on the table? 

ANSWER:  This prohibition came from the early days of communal eating.  There wasn’t a formal dining table in the grand hall.  When it was time to eat, the servants brought in a long plank and placed it on legs.  Thus, it was very precarious and unstable.  If someone put their elbows and weight on the table, it was likely to topple over.    Additionally, the elbows were not clean.  Therefore, the tradition has been handed down as a rule.  The question is how to apply the rule today, since its original justification has changed?  We suggest that if you are dining at McDonalds and need to be heard over the din, you may find that leaning forward could greatly enhance the conversation.  However, be careful not to get your elbows in the fries.  On the other hand, if you are dining at a fine restaurant or in someone’s home with a table cloth and other finery, this should be an event worthy of relaxation and proper manners.  Sit comfortably back in your chair,  participate in the conversation, waiting politely for your turn to speak  and enjoy the meal.

2.     What is proper etiquette for an elevator? 

ANSWER: This is an excellent example of “herd instinct”.  We charge into the elevator and when the door opens we charge out and risk trampling anyone waiting to get on.  In the early days of elevators, there was an attendant on the elevator who would select your desired floor, stop the elevator at exactly the right point so that the threshold of the elevator and the floor were even, open the protective gates, open the door and the passenger would exit.  Then, any passengers waiting to get into the elevator would enter.  Once everyone was safely clear, the elevator operator would close the doors, close the protective gates, select the desired floors and the elevator would move up or down at the operators direction.   Therefore, there was no confusion and little danger of getting injured in the process as these professionals took their responsibility very seriously.  The logical answer to the question is that those waiting to enter should allow those exiting to clear the doors before attempting to enter the elevator.  Now, since no one is likely to employ that discipline, how do you handle the situation?  Frankly, we think that the answer is to observe human nature and try to stay out of the way of the thundering herd.   In addition to avoiding injury to yourself and others, take note of anyone less agile that might need your help. 

3.     What is a 5:00 spoon teaspoon?

ANSWER: This spoon is smaller than a teaspoon and resembles a spoon in a child’s set.  As the name suggests, these are intended for use before dinner.  They would be a nice touch for afternoon tea but a regular teaspoon will work nicely.  They are different from the demitasse spoon which is tiny by comparison and is used with after dinner coffee.


4.     I am getting married shortly. Must I have crystal or will glass work? 

ANSWER:  When glass contains a significant amount of lead, it is called Crystal.   When you set a formal table with an array of crystal pieces, the table will sparkle in the candlelight like fine jewelry.  However, you will have a major investment in a very fragile item that must be handled with extreme care.  We suggest that you select glass that suits your style.  In this way, you can obtain a variety of pieces that will look nice on your table and can probably be placed in the dishwasher.  Further, you can afford to get replacements and at such time that you wish to invest in fine crystal you can select the pieces that you want that will blend with your glassware. 

5.     What are sweetmeats?

ANSWER:  This is an archaic term for candy or confections.  These delicacies were served with great formality and ceremony.  Because they contain large quantities of sugar they were a great luxury.   Fragile fruits were crystallized to preserve them. 

6.      How do I serve a salad? 

ANSWER:  At a formal dinner, the salad is placed in front of the guest as a separate course following the entre.  In an informal setting, the salad is placed on a plate to the  left of the forks. .

7.     What dishes and utensils do I use when serving a clear soup?

ANSWER:  You can use a place spoon for a clear soup or a bouillon spoon for bouillon.  The bouillon spoon is a small round spoon with a shallow bowl.  The cream soupspoon is the same shape but slightly larger. The clear soup is served in a large shallow bowl or rimmed soup bowl.  Any soup is always placed on an under plate even if it comes with its own saucer.

8.     What should I say to a person who has just lost a loved one?

ANSWER:  Make your expression simple and genuine.  It is perfectly appropriate to say, “I am so sorry about your loss.”  If it is someone you knew you can say something like, “Your Mother was such a wonderful person”  It can be risky to say much more as you don’t know what it might trigger.  Often people say , “I’m so sorry to hear about your loss.”  Unfortunately, this suggests that the sorrow is about having heard about the loss rather than the loss itself   When you have expressed your sympathy and paused, the grieving person can then choose whether to say more or simply say thank you and move on to something else.  You may find that they will want to talk about the person and the best thing you can do is listen sympathetically.


9.  I have reached an age where I would like to have a really fine strand of pearls. What do you recommend?  


ANSWER:Pearls are always in fashion and can be appropriately worn for absolutely any occasion.  However, they are very fragile and can be damaged by hairspray, perfume, lotion or body oils.  Further, they need to be kept in a separate bag so as not to get scratched.  Really good pearls are very expensive and it is easy to be fooled.  If you are going to get real pearls (natural or cultured) go to a reputable jeweler and allow them to advise you.  However, there are many beautiful, well made imitation pearls on the market.  They can look absolutely real both in weight and appearance.  So, before you make an expensive purchase do consider the alternatives.  If you are selecting a necklace try to get a length that will fit nicely in an open neck blouse or dress.  You will find that you can use this length most often.  If you get a longer length necklace you can get a pearl shortener to make the necklace more versatile. You will find that there are different colors of pearls.  Try various colors to select the color that is most flattering to your individual coloring. 


10.  How do I know what length gloves to wear?

 Your gloves should come to the length of your sleeve.  If you are wearing a coat, you can have slightly longer gloves and scrunch them up at bit to make a generous look.  Glove length is measured by the number of buttons whether they have buttons or not.  If you are in a formal evening gown, you would wear the long over the elbow gloves.  These have buttons at the wrist to make it easier to remove them.  However, remember your gloves are either on or off.  You can remove the right glove and hold it in your gloved left hand if you wish.  The most versatile length is the short glove called a wrist length.  You can wear this length any time. 

11. Can I respond to an invitation over the phone?

Answer:  The rule makes this easy to remember.  Your response to an invitation should be in the same style and form as the invitation itself.  For example, if the invtation was issued over the phone, it is appropriate to respond with a phone call. Email invitation calls for an email response. If on the other hand, you received a written invitation you must respond in writing.  In this case, you mirror the formality or informality of the invitation.  The most formal correspondence these days is the invitation to a wedding.  Your response should contain the same words as the invitation...starting with accept with pleasure the invitation for Saturday August 12......

12. I've read that you shouldn't seat married couples together at a formal dinner.  What is your advice?

The seating arrangement is one of the most difficult and important elements of a successful dinner party. You may have seen the formal instructions at www.ladypersonified.com so you know the official answer.  However, we at Lady Personified would encourage you to be very thoughtful about how you arrange the seating.  We have found that married couples are more comfortable sitting together and in today's busy environment, they may not be able to spend much time together.  Additionally, you need to ensure that the quite guests are sitting next to someone who can engage them in coversation and make them feel welcome.  Naturally, the host and hostess are responsible for keeping the conversation going at table. This isn't always practical at a large table. Another option is to allow people to select their own seats but this often causes confusion and you find your guests standing back not wanting to make the first move lest they get in someone's way or more importantly get the wrong seat and would be asked to move.  In short, seating arrangment takes considerable thought and shouldn't be overlooked.  Prepare large print name cards and place them at each seat.  We have found that guests appreciate having the name on both sides of the place card.  This gives the other guests a reminder of the name of someone they have just met.

12. Which side of the dinner plate do I place the bread and butter plate?

The bread and butter plate is on the left side of the dinner plate.

13. Can you pick up fried chicken and eat it with your fingers?

Sure you can if you are at a picnic or a fast food restaraunt.  However, in almost any other circumstances,  try eating with a knife and fork.  It isn't as difficult as it might seem.  If you are the hostess serving fried chicken, provide a good sharp knife with a pointed blade. Here is a fun suggestion, practice when no one is looking and then you'll become and expert and get lots of good fried chicken when you practice.  

14. Where do the forks go?

Forks are placed to the left of the plate (cover). Knives and spoons are on the right side of the plate.  The one exception is the cocktail fork which can be placed on the right side but more frequently is brought in with the cocktail dish and plate.  Occassionally, you will see it placed tines downward in the bowl of the teaspoon. 

 15. When is the charger plate removed?

Indeed there is some disagreement regarding the proper time to remove the charger plate.  On one extreme it is argued that the charger should be removed as the first course is being served.  Alternatively, it is said that it should be removed after the first course or after the soup course if the soup is not served with a plate under it.  In any case, it should always be removed before the entre is served.  If for no other reason, this is a practical matter since the entree will probably require some cutting and the dinner plate is more stable on the table cloth or placemat than on the slick charger.  As an aside, the charger is not required but has become fashionable and decorative on the table.  












There is more to come next month or visit our archive section for questions and answers you may have missed.