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Column: Book on table manners, restaurant etiquette leaves feelings of inadequacy

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Mary Ellen has been reading a book that has me concerned. It raises expectations in women and makes wives think their husbands are inadequate.

That’s why tomorrow, I’m tossing in the trash the latest edition of “Emily Post’s Etiquette.”

The volume is almost 800 pages and weighs 2 pounds. You have to hold it with two hands, but don’t use those two hands for eating fried chicken, jumbo shrimp or corn on the cob, which require another whole set of rules.

The book actually was written by the great-great-grandchildren of the original Emily Post, who died in 1960. The rumor is that, despite her legion of admirers, very few attended her funeral because many were afraid they’d wear something inappropriate. Some people were unsure if it was still wrong to do impressions of the deceased, and those who didn’t have the newest edition of the book wondered if it was OK to do a beer run after the service.

Chapter 5 of the book is all about eating, table manners and restaurant etiquette. The first rule is that when out for dinner, do not violently shake your napkin when you open it. Well, I was off to a bad start. That pretty much put a damper on my first magic trick at the table.

Rules regarding dining in a restaurant are similar to those covering eating at home, which is odd since the first section says a woman should always keep her handbag in her lap when dining out. If your wife does this at the dinner table in your kitchen, some trust issues need to be discussed.

Ms. Post’s tome raises some serious concerns about certain disturbing trends in our society. “Salad — to my consternation — is now served before the meal,” she says. Yes, that is something to be “consterned” about. But is it permissible to walk out of the restaurant before you order if the waitress has six facial piercings? Not a word on this.

How to eat a banana is something we have all struggled with. “At home, peel the banana halfway down, and eat it bite by bite.” I’m on safe ground when the rules for humans are pretty much the same as for orangutans. At a restaurant, says Ms. Post, you should peel the whole fruit, cut it into pieces and eat with a fork. This is why ordering a banana off the dessert menu has never really caught on.

According to Ms. Post, it is inappropriate to finish your meal and say “I’m stuffed.” When I was growing up, failure to make this comment meant you were unhappy with the food. “Thanks for the delicious dinner, Mom.” Like my mother would have fallen for that baloney.

How does Ms. Post handle the issue of choking, which can put a damper on any gala? She distinguishes food simply “going down the wrong pipe” from true asphyxiation but concedes that if your own death is “truly” imminent, not to worry about manners. This is a radical change from the book’s previous edition, where there was additional advice supplied to the hostess on how to inconspicuously dispose of a body in the middle of a formal dinner.

I’ve apparently violated all kinds of rules of etiquette when eating sushi, spaghetti, pizza and even soup, but I don’t want Emily Post’s ghost lecturing me on proper dining. It’s bad enough when my doctor looks at my cholesterol readings and tells me I’m not eating right.

Television personality Dick Wolfsie writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal.

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