The etiquette of good table manners

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Practicing decorum at end-of-year festivities

The etiquette of good table manners

The etiquette of good table manners

The etiquette of good table manners

The etiquette of good table manners

«Just as pleasant and gentle manners have power to encourage goodwill, the opposite is true of rude people who make others resent us or hate us». The best Christmas wish one can receive: is to be surrounded by kindness. This is becoming the true definition of luxury in an era of social media and casual meetings. Monsignor Giovanni Della Casa, a noble citizen of Mugello (the beautiful hills around Florence) who was patriarch of Venice and then - as was common in the times of the Pope-King - fell into disgrace and retreated to the abbey of Nervesa in the hills of Montello, near Treviso, the homeland of Prosecco, and there he wrote the Galateo overo de’ costumi. This treatise restored to the middle classes of the late 1500s the pleasures of conviviality and the need to fulfill relationships, as well as ordering society by the standards of mutual respect. And also - with Aristophanes in mind - the notion that «when men drink, then they are rich and successful and win lawsuits and are happy and help their friends». All too often, we confuse etiquette with good manners: as Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin would later affirm in his Physiologie du goût, it is one thing to take care of «the guest’s satisfaction throughout the time he or she remains with us» and quite another to have refined and pompous manners. We concern ourselves with the pleasure of meeting, something that has recently become all the more urgent after the months spent indoors during the pandemic. Hence, etiquette has become relevant once again, and today it can be found, revised, in a book by Carlo Cambi and Petra Carsetti, which has already made a small name for itself in Italy: Galatime. È sempre tempo di buone maniere (Maretti editore). Is there perhaps a time of year more appropriate than Christmas to practice good manners? Starting with how to send invitations. Always write them at least a week in advance, personalizing each card with a reference to an episode and an adjective that demonstrates the attention of those who are invited. It is also an occasion to dust off the letterhead, as well as the old fountain pen, and to set aside mobile phones and text messages. Then there is the table setting. The co-author of Galatime, Petra Carsetti, winner of the Etiquipedia International Contest, a kind of world championship on how to set the table, says about the Christmas table: «This is the only time when you can break the rules: yes to colored tablecloths, yes to candles, but only at night, but stay composed. How? Napkin to the immediate left of the plate, spoon and knife to the right, forks to the left, underplate two centimeters from the edge of the table, butter with a small knife and saucer to be positioned at the top left of the place setting, but only at breakfast, and above all, keep an eye on the table centerpiece: it must not obstruct diners from looking into each other’s eyes or be too fragrant. No more than three glasses per place at the table, with the one for water being a stem glass in any case, although reduced compared to the one for white and red wines that will be served in that order. And colors? Red is ok, gold is good, and always remember that there must be, under the tablecloth, the table runner. But what kind of satisfaction does this give us? For example, the satisfaction of being able to bring out the crystal glasses, the silverware of our ancestors, to put Limoges, Richard Ginori or Royal Albert service on the table. We are inspired by art itself: the great painters have frequently measured themselves in the decoration and design of table services. We are inspired by art itself: the great painters have often measured themselves in the decoration and design of tableware. Among these, the most famous was Leonardo da Vinci, called to Milan by Ludovico il Moro not as a genius or artist, but as a master of ceremonies. Nowadays there are specialists in table decor and wedding planners are the most accredited: they can transform, as was the custom in the Renaissance, the tables into performances. It is an extraordinary journey into genuine luxury to learn about the history of tableware. Cutlery, for instance: isn’t it amazing to see the most exceptional cutlery, such as the serving fork for panettone, which is short, has three prongs and a ring-shaped handle? Or the oyster fork, if we decided to serve these delicacies one must remember that this is the only fork that has the right of being on the right side. Speaking of which, as we begin our meal, we should avoid saying «bon appetit». It is not done because it was a gesture of ridicule against those who could not afford dinner. Likewise, we should avoid cheers: once upon a time, people clinked glasses to make sure they were all full, as the risk of being poisoned by a neighbor who pretended to drink was a very real one. Not so much today! And it is also the time for gift-giving. The French anthropologist Marcel Mauss wrote a wonderful essay on the «gift», which is primarily a bond, not merely an offering. So let us give gifts from the heart, and not only expensive ones, since it forces reciprocity. Rather, let gifts be truly thoughtful and dedicated to the person to whom they are intended. Accompany them with a card: a thought that will become the genuine gift. Dedication is the sign of friendship and a sign of respect. Lastly, we should understand when to give gifts and when to open them. On Christmas Day, if there is a family celebration, open them only after dinner; on other occasions, open them after you have left. In any case, it is also true that the thought is enough. As long as it is friendly and kind.

Galatime. It’s always time for good manners

This is a re-edition of Della Casa’s Galateo in a modern key. With 17 chapters, it explores all the occasions

in which to practice impeccable manners: from the table to ceremonies, from aperitifs to tea, from picnics to lunches, all the way to web and business etiquette. The chapters are all announced by a historical excursus. Co-written by Carlo Cambi and Petra Carsetti Galatime is published by Maretti and lends itself to a triple reading: it is an essay, a handbook, but also the «pocket butler» that each of us can consult. You can buy it on Amazon or on the publisher’s website www.marettieditore.com

By Carlo Malaspina

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