What are’ table manners’? They are rules of etiquette used while eating, which may sometimes also include the use of utensils. Different cultures observe different rules, and most family or groups sets their own standards on how strictly these rules are to be followed.

When I look back on my childhood, one memory that stands out is family dinners. Round the table, these moments were about much more than just food – it may have been the only time we were all assembled together in the day. They were life lessons in the making, teaching me how to use cutlery and engage in meaningful conversation. In turn, I used to be really strict with my children insisting on good table manners - I used to say, you never know, you might have dinner with royalty one day (Yes, they also thought it unrealistic too).

I notice more and more that adults are not necessarily leading by example. My pet peeve is people sitting around a table, perhaps waiting for their meal or maybe waiting for the bill at the end - they are all reaching for their phones, staring at messages or sending them. To me, this is the height of rudeness, as if the company you are in isn’t worthy of your whole attention. Eating together is supposed to be enjoyed, a chance to chat or catch up - you might as well be sitting on your own otherwise, just eating. And now kids do it too – are they bored at the table and have to log into a game, or are the adults not including them in the conversation, so their attention drifts?

Rules of etiquette

If you really get into the rules of etiquette, they are almost comical – they used to consider it polite for the host or hostess to take the first bite, napkins should be placed on the lap and not tucked into clothing, and be placed unfolded on the table when the meal is finished, and not used for nose-blowing, for example. The fork should be held with the left hand, the knife in the right, with the knife never entering the mouth to be licked. Bread rolls should be torn into pieces with the hands and buttered individually. Don’t use your fork or spoon like a shovel or stab your food. Chew with your mouth closed. Elbows off the table. Sit up straight, don’t slouch. Food to the mouth, not mouth to the food. Don’t slurp your soup.…. the list is endless.

Does etiquette have a place in the 21st century?

Table manners may seem like a relic from the past, but they hold value in today’s world too. Learning proper table manners is still important even if they may not be used frequently in casual settings. Table manners reflect respect for others, demonstrate good etiquette, and can leave a positive impression in both social and professional situations.

Credits: PA; Author: PA;

Table manners across other countries are surprising!

In China, a sign that you enjoyed the meal is making a mess on your table. Who hasn’t been embarrassed in a Chinese restaurant when they clear the plates away? No problem to them. In Mexico, don’t eat tacos with a knife and fork – they think it looks silly and snobby, so be polite and eat them with your hands!

Eating with the left hand is prohibited in India – they don’t do any auspicious work or transactions of money or papers either with the left hand, and in Southern India, one cannot even touch the plate with the left hand. It’s also a no-no to eat with the left hand in South Africa and the Middle East, and it's considered rude to use your left hand in Islam, as the left hand, as you may not know, is reserved for, um, ‘bathroom duties’ amongst other cleaning chores.

Travellers beware

Travelling today has made the world a much smaller place, so it’s wise to learn a little about your destinations before you travel, as respecting and supporting local cultures are essential. This could include dressing appropriately, language and gestures, and being mindful of local laws and regulations.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan