This 1947 gem from no less than Mrs. Edwin Main (Emily) Post actually contains a great deal of very useful advice - little nuggets that, judging from the dinners I go to, not a few persons in comparatively lofty positions could learn much from.
I particularly enjoy the several things that many would now think likely to be the height of gaucherie that Mrs. Post reminds us are quite correct: drinking from one's soup cup, for example, or the almost entirely forgotten fact that bread plates are not used at a formal dinner, and the bread (if any) is simply deposited on the tablecloth (for sopping purposes only, please, no butter). I'm also quite taken with the parade of horrors committed by Mrs. Inexcusable Cigarette, who was clearly unused to human companionship of any kind, poor thing.
And wasn't American food plain? Those cubed potatoes look to be strangers even to a little pepper, and you just know that Mrs. Post's cook had never heard of cilantro, fenugreek, or hoisin sauce. At least she rose to exotic little touches like that challenging ethnic treat, SPAH-ghetti, and bravo to attractive Virginia Hopkins for managing it so deftly.
This missive from the Emily Post Institute (Emily Post, President) may have been filmed a decade or two before my time, but this was the world I was raised in. There is not a little resemblance between Mrs. Post there in her garden and my sainted Grandmother Muscato, who actually did serve whole poached fruit for dessert and expect one tidily to cut around the stone, at a table that was never less neatly set than here, three meals a day. Under her expert guidance, her Alice (She's a Treasure)* put out sauces no less drenching than Mrs. Post's Hollandaise, not to mention a creampuff in syrup that I'm sure would give Mrs. P's a run for its money. Even now, all these years later, I still feel a twinge of guilt, a cool draught over one shoulder, when I eat a bowl of cereal, milk poured directly from the fridge, perched on a stool, sans underplate, sans placemat, sans any of the things that "separate us from the savages, dear. Sit up."
At a time when we may need more than a little reminding of the basic rules of civilization, on levels even more significant (if such were possible! cries the shade of Grandma M.) than table manners, they do remain a place to start. Tonight I think we'll eat in the dining room, and while we may not rise to finger bowls, we can at least be more Virginia than Inexcusable. It's a start.
* I actually for a little while thought that might be the housekeeper's last name...