The American South is a wonderful place to experience old-fashioned courtesy.
I really noticed when I moved here that good manners are expected from man, woman and child alike. I have never been called “ma’am” or “Miss Lesley” so often, had doors opened for me on a regular basis or been greeted with a cheery “good morning” by strangers until I was transplanted to Coastal Georgia — and I must admit I love it.
As I could probably fill a book — or at least the whole of this newspaper — on the subject, I am going to focus here on table manners and dining out in particular. It is worth noting that, as in many areas of American life, speed and good service is expected.
While I really appreciate the personal introductions, regular refills of iced water and the many “thank you, ma’ams” from waiters and waitresses, a small part of me is feeling a bit rushed to scoff my meal and leave.
Of course this is very convenient sometimes and fast food really is fast in the U.S.A., but for a European, some aspects of dining out — even at the finest restaurants — still seem a bit alien.
These are some things that I will never get used to:
• Re-using the same silverware (which the British call cutlery) for different courses, buttering bread, etc. In Europe, many sets of knives, forks and spoons are provided to eat different courses — and as children, we are taught to start from the outside set of cutlery and work inwards. In the U.S.A., you sometimes have to beg for a clean fork.
• The size of the appetizers (which the British call “starters”). Really, most of the time they are a meal in themselves.
• Serving the salad as a separate course before the entrée (or main course). In the U.K., a salad is served on the side along with the main course unless you specifically request something different.
• Serving coffee with dessert (which is called “pudding” in England, whatever type of sweet dish is served). In Europe, coffee always would be served after any dessert and then maybe a cheese plate or chocolates would be provided with coffee.
• Being given the bill while you are still eating. In the U.K., the bill would almost never be presented until asked for.
I appreciate that many of these American practices stem from a business-like need to quickly turn tables and make a profit while keeping prices affordable.
However, at expensive establishments when we are seeking an experience as well as tasty food to satisfy hunger, I sometimes yearn for the slower pace of the land of my birth.
And then I have to consider the way food is actually eaten in the U.S.A. When I first came here, people said, “I love the way you use your silverware to eat.”
As silverware to an English girl doesn’t mean cutlery but instead silver platters and cups used in ancient times, I was more than confused at first.
Then I noticed with fascination the way Americans eat.
At my very proper British girls’ school, we were taught from a young age to hold our knife in our right hand, our fork in our left with the tines (prongs) pointed downwards, never to use the fork as a shovel and never to hold the fork in the right hand. So this means that traditionally-British people learn to carefully pierce and balance tricky items like peas on a fork which is facing downwards and held in the left hand which is then brought gently to the mouth (never the mouth to the fork).
Of course, pragmatic Americans have the American style of eating (which many Europeans call the “zig-zag style”), which came about because of the relatively-late introduction of the fork into American culture in the 1800’s. So the right hand is used interchangeably for knife, fork or spoon, and the left hand is sometimes not used at all.
This still seems to me to involve a frenzy of one-handed juggling of different implements for different reasons.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t consider either of these methods to be better than the other — just different, as are so many things between our great nations.
A favorite quote of mine by Founding Father Benjamin Franklin sums this up well: “Savages we call them because their manners differ from ours.” I think he was talking about the British at the time!
God bless America!
Francis grew up in London, England and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl and English dogs — soon to be joined by an American west highland terrier! She can be contacted at email@example.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com