“No thank you. I’ve had an excellent sufficiency. Anymore would be a superfluous animosity. However, your cuisine would please the most fastidious gourmet.”
These are the words my father taught us to say when we had had enough to eat. We learned this expression when my sister exclaimed, “I’m so full I’m about to bust,” at the dinner table.
“Young ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “do not express themselves in this way.” And then he offered the above alternative. We really were not certain what it meant, but we memorized and used it because it was a lot more fun to say—specially to extended family and visitors, than the “about to bust” declaration.
My father’s admonition was mostly tongue-in-cheek. He didn’t really expect us to use the “excellent sufficiency” statement on every occasion. After all, we were farm kids and dinner was hardly a formal affair. Nonetheless, my parents expected us to learn and practice good manners. Polite conduct, they believed, would help us make our way in life.
And so we learned how to sit at the table, the proper way to use silverware, to place our napkin in our lap, and how to ask for something we wanted. No one picked up a fork until everyone was seated and grace said. At the end of the meal, we requested to be excused before we left our seats. We were expected to eat at least a small bite of everything and express our appreciation to the hostess (typically our mother). Rude or rowdy behavior was strongly discouraged, but good conversation was welcomed.
By today’s less formal standards, it might seem as though those farm family dinners were restrictive, but I recall them fondly. As the five of us (my sister, brother, mother, father and I) enjoyed a meal we all helped produce, we often laughed, talked and shared stories of our day. I’m sure I took it for granted at the time, but years’ later friends remarked to me about how much they enjoyed sharing dinner time with us. Good manners, that is, the courteous way we were trained, encouraged and required to treat each other, were part of this.
My husband and I also thought it important to teach our children good mealtime manners. We were familiar with the research on the importance of family dinner time to a child’s well-being (e.g., children do better academically who eat dinner with their families several nights a week). I’d like to say it was a joy to teach them table manners, but it wasn’t always fun or easy. Children, it seems, have many peculiar habits related to food, eating and “natural gas.” I’m not certain why belching and farting is such fun activity when the family is gathered, but this was the way of things at our house. We tried to get them to “squelch a belch” or “silence flatulence” and they told us they were about to explode. Eventually, we ceased our efforts to stop them, borrowed from my father’s creative instruction, and simply required them to do one of two things: 1) Go outside and run around the entire house three times while we watched from the window; or 2) Stand at the far end of the house inside and count to 100 loud enough for all of us to hear before returning to the table. Either way, the inconvenience of interrupting one’s dinner to exercise or recite greatly diminished the fun of farting at mealtime.
Today when our family gathers, there are six adults and eight children. Learning and demonstrating good manners is part of that activity. We enjoy each other’s company. We linger at the dinner table. We compliment the host. The adults are in pretty good form when it comes to courteous behavior; the kids have a ways to go, but they’re learning. It’s not easy to teach children how to conduct themselves at the dinner table. Sometimes it feels both frustrating and fruitless, but learning how to do so can go a long way to creating and increasing self-confidence in our young people.
Think about how you want your children to relate to others. With what kind of people—adults and children—do you prefer to spend your time? Do your children have the skills to competently manage an enjoyable meal with others? How would you like them to behave? Get together with your spouse or support system and talk about how you can work together to make 2019 a year of good manners.