Some Things I Learned About WWII Etiquette

I’m horribly late to the party with regards to the BBC Show The Supersizers Go, but if you haven’t checked it out (which, if you’re in America, you might not have), I highly recommend it. Giles Coren and Sue Perkins (who you might recognize from GBBO fame) spend a week at a time eating and living as if they were in different eras of British history, and recording the results. Often they get close to getting gout.

The last episode I watched they put themselves in the shoes of a middle class family in WWII. According to the show, 60% of the UK’s food was imported before the war, so citizens were subject to strict rationing. And with rations came some new rules about food etiquette.

Most of it had to do with waste. It was extremely frowned upon, and in some cases legally punishable, to waste food. Both in the US and the UK, the government encouraged people to be thoughtful about consumption. Posters like these from the US Navy remind citizens “When you take more than you can eat you cheat your buddies in the fleet!”

In the UK, there were also etiquette suggestions regarding getting used to new diets. “Don’t tell the family what the dish is made from until they have tasted–and liked–it” said the government. You were also not to moan about the food you couldn’t get, but instead praise your food in advance of serving it to basically convince everyone it wasn’t so bad.

WWII was also the first time many servicemen had ever left the country, and thus they had to be taught how to conduct themselves with people of other cultures (or sometimes manners that they should have had already). Americans were taught to remove their shoes in Japanese homes, and were given this book of manners for life in Britain. Tips included to never make fun of royalty, never rub it in that the American GIs make more than the Brits do, and “Don’t criticize the food, beer or cigarettes to the British. Remember they have been at war since 1939.”


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