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.

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