Some customs just make the whole art of entertaining that much more fun!
When I was very young, my parents were pretty serious about teaching customs and manners to me and my siblings. We learned how to be polite and show respect by using salutations like “Mr. xxx” and “Mrs. xxx” when addressing our elders. I was taught to say “please” and “thank you.” When I was in Junior and Senior High School some of my friends’ parents would tell me to use their first names when addressing them – I couldn’t – it just seemed wrong.
Unfortunately, many customs and manners have long since drifted away. And maybe it’s okay that some of them have gone the way of other old things. But to be honest, I miss some of them. Around my neighborhood, people still open doors for each other and say, “Good morning” even if they don’t know someone. But get on the freeway, and it’s a whole other world – such language – some of it not even verbal. I have to admit that when I’m behind the wheel I can have a whole conversation with the driver in front of me – and they don’t even know it!
But, there are some customs I will always follow. When I’m setting my table for guests, I put utensils, plates, and glasses in their proper places and I use cloth napkins and napkin rings. Why do I do that? I want to show my guests that I put a lot of thought in preparing my home to receive them. It’s my way of welcoming them and making them feel that they are truly special. Manners and etiquette are all part of sophisticated living: paying attention to the details. When you go that “extra mile” in preparation, it makes the evening feel that much more complete.
Knowing and following traditions and manners wherever you are can be a lot of fun. A friend of mine who lives in Osaka, Japan took me out to a Japanese restaurant a while back in Los Angeles. We had wine (not sake), but she said that “Japanese rules” still applied. I asked what she meant by that and she answered that we could not pour wine for ourselves. “We pour for each other,” she said, “it shows respect for our friends and the friendship we share.” Well, you don’t have to be Japanese to understand that concept. Right?
Here’s another one. In western culture, a sign of respect and kindness to your friends and guests is to always serve them first. And, when serving wine, women should be served first, and the “server” always last. Never empty the bottle into your own glass – that’s just bad manners – unless, of course, you’re by yourself! If you’re in Italy, it’s considered bad luck to serve the last drop of wine in a bottle to a single woman. No kidding. Friends there told me that it’s a very common belief that you never give the last drop to a single woman or she’ll never marry!
If you’re traveling outside the U.S., take a minute to look up what the drinking traditions are for wherever you’re traveling. Because, in some cultures (Korea, Russia, etc.), if you sit down to an evening of drinking – you are in for a very long, very intoxicating night. But, if you’re in France, getting drunk is not the focus of the evening but rather it’s something to be savored slowly, for the wine to be appreciated, gently. Wait until everyone has been served and then raise your glass and toast to everyone’s health by saying “Santé.”
Wherever you find yourself, whether in your own home and you’re entertaining or you’re traveling, take that extra minute to follow some traditions and manners – it will make the experience that much more grand. I promise.