USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘manners’
Folk speech

“He Worked for The Queen”- Setting the table

“M” is 21 year old male student at the University of Southern California, where he is a Junior studying Animation and minoring in Philosophy. M is originally from the outskirts of New York state where he describes himself as living in a rural area. He described himself as going to a high school of ~60 students, where cliche formation was rare as students could ‘jump from social group to social group’. He describes his parents as ‘hippies’ that were very relaxed in their parenting style as well as their personal approach towards life. He is of Irish descent on both sides and describes this aspect of his life as very active in his life.

 

Transcript:

“M: My dad did this thing to make me set the table when I was little, I always hated putting the table together but he would always tell me that ‘he worked for the Queen’ so anytime I would challenge him, he’d just tell me that. He told he he’d ‘put out her candles’ and ‘set her tables’, so I would put out candles and set out tables correctly, because he knew how to do it correctly when he told me too.

Me: How long did he use that one for?

M: Until I moved out, it started out as a way to get me to do it, than he’d just use it when I got older to basically tell me to ‘just set the table how he wanted’ ”

 

Analysis:

The phrase seemed to be used as a short way for “M”s father to tell him he knew how to set the table, and as pointed out, originally as a way to motivate him to set it. As the Queen is an authority on proper etiquette, the phrase is simply an appeal to authority to get “M” to set the table.

 

Customs

Table Settings: Rice and Soup

Text:

“This is another custom… you’re supposed to have rice on the left side of you, and soup on the right side when you serve it. Don’t know the reason, but maybe because you eat with your right hand.”

Background:

The informant learned this from his mom. He doesn’t really know the meaning of it, but he doesn’t like it because he think it’s annoying.

Context:

This is a custom that is normally taught to kids at a young age regarding table manners.

Personal Thoughts:

I think this is part of table manners that are taught in Korean culture, similar to the ways that we have rules about where the bread plate, drinks, or utensils are placed on a table. This creates more organization on a table, and since rice and soups are a common part of Korean meals, they have rules about where they go within a table setting.

Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Old age

It is considered rude to refuse seconds on a meal

The source’s Grandmother was from the old German sector of Indianapolis, he was careful to include that she lived on the same street as the Vonnegut family. He’s not sure if it’s a German or family practice, but his Grandmother had two beliefs when it came to food. One, that brownies and cake were acceptable breakfast foods, and two, that if you don’t take seconds on a meal, it’s a sign that you don’t like the food.

His Grandmother’s recipes were all old family recipes from Germany, and were for the most part, extremely unhealthy. In particular, he recalls that the family recipe for brownies is over 150 years old, and calls for four sticks of butter.

So his family couldn’t watch their weight, and eat meals with Grandma. If anyone refused seconds on a dish she made, she would be extremely offended. She would take it as a sign you didn’t care for her food, and then threaten to never make that particular dish again.

Needless to say, the source’s Grandmother ended up killing her family with love, his Grandfather suffered from adult onset diabetes, and the source himself is plagued by “body image issues” that follow him to this day.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Etiquette – China

“When using chopsticks, one must never stick them in one’s bowl or food upright, so that it is perpendicular to the table. This is considered extremely disrespectful.”

I was born in China and imimigrated to the United States with my family when I was in second grade. I’ve been living in the states ever since and while I am ‘American’ in many aspects, I still retain many traditions and cultural ties which makes me uniquely Chinese-American.

As is true with most Asian cultures, respect, honor and ‘saving of face’ is closely associated with etiquette. There are etiquettes for almost everything, a ‘proper’ way to do this and that and table manners are no exception.  One particular table blasphemy I remember from childhood concerns chopstick placement.

There’s a reason why when one walks into chinese restaurants chopsticks are laid flat on the table. In the case of more ‘upscale’ Chinese dining, there are even chopstick stands where one can place their chopsticks so that the tips are slightly elevated from the table. It is considered disrespectful and wrong to stick chopsticks upright in one’s food or rice because this resembles what people would do with incense in front of graves to honor the dead.

Many Asian cultures burn incense at temples as a way to pay respect to the Gods. It is also used to honor the dead. Usually, one would take a burning incense between both palms, bow three times in front of whatever entity, be it a god or the recently deceased, then place the incense upright in a soft mount in front of either a temple, or a grave. Because the notion of sticking chopsticks upright in a ricebowl is so much like the incense procedure, that is why it is frowned upon. In fact, I’ve also heard of cases where people would literally stick chopsticks upright in food to leave food for the dead, so that the spirit can come back and use the chopsticks to eat.

Besides being disrespectful, since it’s almost like playing with food in western cultures, it is outright bad in the sense that it is morbid and associated with death. Especially if one’s dinner host is superstitious, it is best not to do anything crazy with one’s chopsticks.

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