Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Attitudes and Manners: Discussion 2 — Just for Example

Attitudes and Manners: Discussion 2 — Just for Example

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 09, 2011

Discussion 2 – Just for Example

For Tuesday, November 14, 1961

Objective: To show that the example of a considerate woman is reflected in the lives of her family.

“Homes,” suggests President David O. McKay, “should be little outposts of heaven.”

Seldom do we find homes of perfect peace in this life. However, by employing certain regulations and considerations, the friction natural when various personalities live closely under one roof can be considerably lessened. Through proper knowledge and usage of appropriate social graces, the whole experience of family life can be much more “heavenly.”

In our moments of wildest imaginings it would be difficult to find anything heavenly about a disorderly laid table surrounded by family members hunched over their plates, attacking the meal in complete disregard or consideration for each other.

Though the rules of etiquette, as such, may be relaxed in the informality of home, the spirit of good manners should not be, for here is the training ground, the practice court, for the game of life.

Women are the matriarchal spirits in the home in which they live. The refining influence of a gentle, thoughtful woman can be easily recognized even on the most remote frontier, or under the most adverse circumstances. The opposite is equally true. Our homes will be as lovely, our family as loving, as we care to put forth th effort to make them so.

Regardless of how relaxed the world may become with regard to certain basic behavior patterns, or in spite of the fact that neighbors may do things a bit differently, when it comes to true Christian living, we must teach our families to do that which is right, and considerate. We should remember that it isn’t always possible or necessary to explain why to children, but simply to teach them to do things as part of their family pattern. “In our home this is how we do it.”

The pattern of the patriarchal order in Latter-day Saint homes is observed when children are taught respect for parents, older people, and those in authority over them. It is urged that at mealtime the father or head of the house be the one who should call upon some member of the family to return thanks for the food.

A wise mother will plan the mealtime duties in such a way that she can be seated with the family, at least for a time, allowing husband or son to perform the important ritual of helping her to be seated. Such an example of helpfulness should be exhibited before the younger members of the family, not because mother couldn’t sit down by herself, but because they love to honor her for being the lady that she is. It is more likely, then, that if the occasion arises, the missionary son will remember to assist the mission president’s wife, or woman investigator, to be seated if he has already seen and practiced this kind act at home with mother or sister. If this has not been the custom in the home to this point, perhaps mother can get the co-operation of the father to set an example by talking to him privately.

Eating should be more than satisfying hunger. It should be an art, a refining, pleasant experience for all of the family. Stimulating conversation should be deliberately encouraged and unpleasant subjects or complaints should be consciously avoided. Table appointments, however simple, should be clean, orderly, and as attractive as possible. There are, of course, definite rules about which utensils to use with each type of food. Because these rules may vary from country to country, they should be studied by the sisters for proper usage in their locality.

However, the amenities of dining which hold true everywhere should be carefully observed by all, not because they are rules, but because they make dining a delightful experience for all.

1. Do not talk with food in the mouth.

2. Use the corner of the napkin (serviette) frequently to keep the mouth clean.

3. Do not eat with elbows on the table.

4. Take small bites, slowly, cutting them off the serving of the food as they are eaten.

5. Avoid offensive food noises, such as “slurping” soup.

6. Use a fork and not the fingers for as much of the food as possible, even fried chicken, fried shrimps, and French fried potatoes (chips).

7. Use only one hand at a time when eating “finger food.”

8. Do not reach for food. If it is placed on the table, ask to have it passed.

9. If necessary to leave the table before the conclusion of the meal, excuse yourself to the host or hostess and express thanks for the lovely meal.

10. When you are a guest at a dinner, if a food is served to you which you do not enjoy, eat what you can and leave the rest on the plate without explanation. If it is offered to you, it is always better to take a small helping and eat it to be polite to the hostess. If you cannot, simply say, “No, thank you.”

Questions for Discussion

1. How can the idea of improved social graces be most effectively taught to one’s family? Family Night? Suggestion boxes? A “state of the family” message given each month by a different family member, perhaps?
2. What areas of social improvement and consideration can your families work on most profitably?
3. How can families be inspired to improve social graces, or their experiences extended to practice them – frequent guests for dinner (even a neighbor’s child) and occasional excursions to dine out?



  1. Forks for french fries? Wow. I wonder what the author would suggest for corn on the cob, since I may only use one hand for finger food.

    Comment by HokieKate — May 9, 2011 @ 6:48 am

  2. Kate – perhaps these?

    Comment by Alison — May 9, 2011 @ 7:49 am

  3. I always use forks for fries. It’s a side effect of a partially European upbringing. And I wouldn’t think of eating corn without my little holders (or forks stuck in the ends) unless I’m slumming it at a state fair or something.

    I like the idea of social graces. It would certainly be easier to be social if I knew what on earth was acceptable and what wasn’t.

    Comment by SilverRain — May 9, 2011 @ 8:04 am

  4. We chuckle at the dinnertime manners discussion, but did you realize that the importance of family dinnertime has been discussed in General Conference 7 times in the past 10 years?
    (By small and simple things are great things brought to pass. Alma 37:6)

    Comment by MMM — May 9, 2011 @ 8:29 am

  5. The key is relaxing the standards in your own home if you choose. Kate, there is no specific admonition against using clean, well groomed feet if your finger food hand is already occupied.

    Comment by Ellen — May 9, 2011 @ 8:37 am

  6. I would have been getting my earliest lessons in table manners in the months after these lessons were given, although my mother didn’t go to Relief Society in those days so wouldn’t have heard this specific lesson.

    Some of the details have changed (I wouldn’t hesitate to use my fingers for French fries at home or in a casual setting where the hostess was also using her fingers; I do use a fork in a restaurant), but regardless of the specific examples, the general principles of — what? order? moderation? — still apply, no?

    And although she doesn’t give examples of others’ cultural differences, I like the fact that the author acknowledges that table customs vary according to culture, and she’s not telling anybody that American middle-class standards are essentials of the gospel to be adopted by members elsewhere. Hurray for that much, at least!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 9, 2011 @ 8:38 am

  7. My wife and I tried to teach the social graces to our six kids, with varying success. However, one son unconsciously hummed while he ate, and elbows are pretty much an acceptable, if lesser, standard in our house. Social grace FAIL.

    As far as having the mother planning the meals so she can be at the table, it’s more often than not me who is missing. If our grown kids are home these days, I’m usually cooking chicken or something on the outdoor grill, which is actually at the far corner of the house from the kitchen and dining area. Or like yesterday for Mother’s day, I was making Cuban sandwiches, and could only fit three at a time in the sandwich press, which required my frequent absence from the table. My wife is usually better at having everything all set so that it’s all ready and on the table at the same time. Lots of crock pot stuff going on to help enable that.

    Reading this reminds me to still have aspirations….

    Comment by kevinf — May 9, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

  8. I never learned how to hold a woman’s chair at the table—any time i’ve tried they’ve ended up too far away from the table and have had to scoot themselves in anyway, or i hit them hard in the back of the knees with the chair. Not good either way.

    Of course, i tend to see that bit of etiquette as yet another women can’t do stuff themselves rule (no matter the “not because mother couldn’t sit down by herself” line in the writeup above) and therefore objectionable, so i’m quite happy to plead incompetence when the subject comes up.


    @HokieKate (#1): In Europe (or at least parts of it), if you order fast food fries you get a special little two-pronged fork to eat them with (after, of course, dipping them in mayonnaise).

    But a fork for potato chips?!? That’s just crazy talk.

    @MMM (#4): The increasing references to family mealtimes in general conferences are simply (IMO) related to the increasing references to family mealtimes in wider American culture. (Look in the archives of pretty much any major newspaper in the country, for example.) It’s the result of a growing body of social science research that finds that families spending mealtimes together correlates with positive behavioral outcomes for children and teenagers.

    Of course, as a number of researchers have tried mostly in vain to point out, this is simply correlation, and so it’s unclear whether family mealtimes lead to positive outcomes, or (as i think is more likely) the same attitudes and preexisting behaviors that lead to positive outcomes also make it more likely that a family will have had mealtimes together. However, it’s easier to trumpet having meals together as a solution to all social ills (not to mention that it gives you a convenient statistic—the decrease in the number of meals families eat together—as evidence of the world going to outer darkness in a handbasket) than it is to try to attack root causes.&nbsp</rant>

    Comment by David B — May 10, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

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