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Etiquette lessons

When I had first read that many Americans send their children to etiquette classes, I had sneered in the way entirely predictable of the git that I am, writes Soumya Bhattacharya.

india Updated: Sep 27, 2009 00:28 IST
Soumya Bhattacharya

When I had first read that many Americans send their children to etiquette classes, I had sneered in the way entirely predictable of the git that I am.

In these classes, the little brats are presumably taught table manners: the intricacy of the fish fork and the meat fork, the dessert spoon and the soup spoon, the proper way to fold a napkin, and posture. Or perhaps they are told things altogether more basic and atavistic: “Do not shove the entire hamburger up your gobs and talk at the same time.”

I had sneered then, but I don’t now. I actually looked up the website of The Emily Post Institute, the self-styled ‘home of etiquette on the web’. I wanted to see what it had to say about children’s table manners.

I got, among other things, a ten-point charter entitled Top Table Manners Every Kid Should Know. What might these be? ‘Stay seated and sit up straight.’ ‘Don’t make rude noises like burping or slurping.’ Blindingly obvious, I’d once have thought.

But no, it’s not. I now think I might print off, say, a hundred copies of it, and distribute them in restaurants. Perhaps you, dear reader, could start a similar website for Indian children. I’d recommend a couple of tips.
1. Remember, the restaurant is not a theme park.
2. Other people come here to eat.

Blindingly obvious, you think? Just look around you. I have.

I’ll tell you what I found when my wife, our eight-year-old and I went out to eat last week. (We find this, or a variation of this, almost every time we go out, so let me tell you about this particular instance.) At the table alongside us was a boy, who looked to be about six years old, and his slightly younger sister.

No sooner than their soft drinks arrived, they appeared to indulge in some complicated game the winner of which was apparently determined by
a) who could bend the straw into ever more interesting shapes; and
b) who could sip most loudly.

With the food not yet on the table, they then set off — with a sort of amphetamine-charged energy — on zigzag runs all over the restaurant, shrieking with glee as they crashed into the backs of other diners’ chairs.

Called back once the meal had arrived, the boy proceeded to wreak incurious violence on the saltcellar; the girl slid off her chair and under the table, from where she kept asking, in a high-pitched voice, about when she would be taken to the loo.

Why do some children act like this in restaurants? What can be done to stop such barbarous behaviour? Do you have an idea?

Perhaps restaurants should hold auditions to decide which children they allow in. Some, of course, don’t allow any children (or pets) in at all for precisely this reason. And when that happens, the civilised kids – and their parents – suffer for no fault of their own. All very galling...