Why Are Napkins So Confusing?

It’s always polite to shove your sexual conquests in a competitor’s face

I spent Thanksgiving afternoon ironing linen napkins in anticipation of dinner, and in the middle of that task my mom asked me which side of the plate the napkin goes on. I blurted out “left” because that sounded right to me, but I realized that as much as I had “knife on the right, fork on the left” drilled into my head, I had no idea where the napkin should go.

After looking it up, it’s confusing as hell. According to Etiquette Scholar, napkins are placed in the center of the plate at formal dinners, but wherever you want otherwise. There are also almost a dozen sizes of napkins for every type of occasion, from formal dinner to buffet luncheon, and that’s ridiculous. It’s 2015. We recognize that it’s a big ask for someone to have a full set of cloth napkins, much less 10 different sets. They’re also supposed to match the tablecloth, which is presumably white or ivory.

This is very boring! Let’s do away with this. Cloth napkins are lovely to have, and sure they shouldn’t obviously clash with the rest of your decor, but if you have a blue tablecloth and green napkins that is just fine. I have red checkered napkins and no tablecloth, and my life is great! But I think we can take one thing away from the traditional etiquette–no matter the occasion, put the napkins and flatware in the middle of the plate. That way you don’t have to worry about which sides things go on, plus you save room on the table.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We will not be posting today or Friday for the holiday, but be sure to save up your Thanksgiving etiquette horror stories and happy stories and share them with us! Email your questions or stories to info@uncommon-courtesy.com


Grape Eating Etiquette

Okay, so this is a rather fussy bit of etiquette, but when you are eating grapes in company (do whatever the hell you want when you are home alone, I always say), it is better to remove a clump of grapes from the communal bunch and eat those rather than picking the grapes one by one off the bunch. It’s one of those things that just looks neater.

But getting a clump of grapes off the bunch can be so hard, you say. That’s true, but that’s why we have sharp things such as scissors and knives. If you are really fancy, you can buy special grape scissors for just this purpose.

I should also note that if you are eating grapes with seeds, you should put the whole thing in your mouth, eat the grape-y part, and then extract the seed with your thumb and first finger and put it on your plate. No spitting!

Don’t Send Your Bridal Party to the Poor House

I feel like this will be my most used image.

I feel like this will be my most used image.

I read this recent post over at A Practical Wedding with my jaw dropped and my pearls clutched. Basically, a reader wrote in that she had agreed to be a bridesmaid in her friends wedding and when she found out that the dresses the bride had her eye on for the bridesmaids were $7,000-15,000 she told the bride she couldn’t afford that and would bow out of being a bridesmaid, the bride flipped out and disinvited her from the wedding altogether and ended their 15 year friendship.

Regardless of whether this rings true or not, this is appallingly bad behavior on the brides part. The letter writer did the right thing 100%- she brought up her budget and said that the dress wouldn’t work for her and that if the bride was set on the dress, she was happy to bow out. She could have even suggested a cheaper option and still been fine.

It is absolutely not okay for a) a bride to pick out a dress without taking her bridesmaids budgets into account, especially given that one option could easily account for 1/2 of someone’s take home pay and b) berate that bridesmaid c) end a friendship over someone having to drop out of being a bridesmaid for financial reasons.

Honestly, if a $15,000 dress seems like a reasonable expense to you, you should pony up and pay for your bridesmaid’s dresses yourself!

Frankly, the bridesmaid has dodged a bullet. Can you imagine what the bride would have wanted for her bachelorette???

What’s the most unreasonable wedding expense that has ever been asked of you?

Is It Polite to Use a Napkin Ring?

Luckily I happened to have a photo of some of my family napkin rings.

Luckily I happened to have a photo of some of my family napkin rings.

A napkin ring is a simple thing- some kind of shape with a hole in it that you put a napkin into. These days, people use them for decorative purposes and have matching ones all up and down the table. Of course this is completely fine.

However, in the past, napkin rings were soley for family meals and used to identify each person’s napkin (as they were reused for several meals before being washed.)

In 1922, Emily Post said in Etiquette: “Napkin rings are unknown in fashionable houses outside of the nursery. But in large families where it is impossible to manage such a wash as three clean napkins a day entail, napkin rings are probably necessary. In most moderately run houses, a napkin that is unrumpled and spotless after a meal, is put aside and used again for breakfast; but to be given a napkin that is not perfectly clean is a horrid thought. Perhaps though, the necessity for napkin rings results in the achievement of the immaculate napkin—which is quite a nice thought.”

This is why engraved silver napkin rings were a popular present- everyone’s ring had their initials, making them easily identifiable. My family is WASPY enough that I have a monogramed napkin ring of my very own even though the practice of using napkin rings was dying out by 1985 and we mostly used paper napkins anyway.

Did your family use napkin rings and/or reuse cloth napkins? Is it very common to have monogrammed napkin rings or is this another ridiculous thing that I think is normal?