Table Tips I: Hands and Elbows

By David Herz

Posted on Apr 23, 2013 by in Advice

It's time for some practical tips.

On my sister's way home from a teen tour of Israel, she visited my uncle in Germany. They sat down to eat at his dining room table. She started to eat, and he told her: "I know your mother taught you better. You are welcome to eat in the kitchen."

Most Israelis would have had no idea what the problem was, but it's taking note of how others see us that makes us most effective in dealing with them. People have expectations. When we don't meet them, they judge us. Whether the judgment is fair or not makes no difference. While my sister was lucky enough to sit with family who would correct her behavior, in most situations comment would be withheld . . . until you have left. Then your hosts would share with the world what kind of animals had sat at their table. (Also poor manners, but who ever said humans are consistent.)

Put simply, if a person will not pay attention to you because you offend his sensibilities, you impede good relations. In this case, most Germans, and I would guess most Europeans, of a certain age at least, were raised to sit straight at the table, both feet on the floor, both hands on the table when eating. Your fork should stay in your left hand, your knife in the right. Don't switch the fork from hand to hand.

Keep your elbows, and even your forearms, off the table when eating. This is not to suggest that you must sit stiffly or uncomfortably, but you should refrain from doing that which would have you stoop over your food or the table.

Between courses, over a drink maybe, you may rest an elbow, or even both, on the table. I could see this if you need to lean in a little to see other people who may be speaking, to make eye contact and pay attention to them, but I would refrain in general.

Of course, context is decisive. Not every European of this day and age has been raised the same way. But I would guess that a consciousness of a proper way of eating is still present. How you present yourself, particularly how you conduct yourself at a table, leaves an impression. It is best to leave a good one. Even where your host may not conform to this standard, he might very well still take note if you do. It may be what was expected of him at Sunday dinners after church or at holiday meals with his grandparents. It is something he is familiar with and which likely puts him at ease, assuming of course you conduct yourself with ease, which comes with practice.

{Note that table manners in the United States tend to the slightly less formal. You will find people keeping a hand in their lap, but this often leads to a switching of the fork between left and right hands, and this is less desired.}

03/31/13 @ 06:00:00 pm by admin
Type: Post
Categories: Advice

Trash Can Courtesy

As you will come to know, I have a thing about keeping the holy land looking holy. If we believe it is holy, it should look like it. This would suggest caring for it as we do our finest silver, or the precious heirloom passed down for generations.

Being human, we will naturally fall short of the ideal, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take greater care. One of the ways we can do that is keeping our trash bins from overflowing. I know that sometimes we can’t help it, but there are often things we can do. What exercised me this holiday cleaning season were three kitchen chairs and a significant count of empty boxes.

In my neighborhood, a number of homes share a small number of trash bins. Being religious, a lot of cleaning is done, a lot of new things bought, and a lot of old discarded as a function of Passover cleaning. This will obviously test our receptacle capacity, even with the extra trash pick-ups the local authority schedules.

But this is also a holiday that celebrates our coming together as a nation. It is said that to merit the Torah, we came together as one, if only for a moment in time. In the spirit of being a nation, of watching out for one another, I suggest we take a little greater notice of how our inattention to little matters can lead to bigger messes.

So I went to take out the trash, and when I opened the bin, I noticed that three metal framed kitchen type chairs had been tossed in. Leaving aside that these might have been of some value to someone else, these took up most of the capacity of the bin. I took them out and the result was that the bin ended up only one-third full. I doubt anyone else would have, but I know what the result would have been, an overflowing bin, with ripped garbage bags and food wrappers strewn about as the result of the dogs and cats that get into such things. As luck had it, the chairs were collected separately within hours by the patrol that made the round to collect discarded furniture and similar bulk items.

In a similar vein, another bin was almost half-full of empty cardboard boxes. I am certainly happy for the person who got the new inkjet, but the simple courtesy of breaking down the box would have meant a lesser likelihood that we all would have had to deal with the resultant mess of an overflowing bin.

Today, as I returned from a short outing with my family, I had to negotiate the narrowed road where the recently emptied trash-bin jutted out. While I could certainly complain to the regional council - and I just might - I also wonder how many drove or walked by without pushing the near empty bin back into its place.

So I return to my theme, manners includes taking note of how our actions - or lack thereof - affect others. There are many little things we can do over the course of our days that simply make life more pleasant, both for ourselves and others, and there is no shame in doing them. Perhaps, and this may be the point for Israelis, if we give up our fear of being “friarim” for doing that which should be done by another, we may all have a better world to live in.

This entry was posted by David Herz and filed under Advice.

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