Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Guide to Etiquette

Did you read the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books growing up? You must have since the first book came out in 1947! They were always one of my favorites, probably because I like obeying rules and it was funny to see what would happen to kids who didn’t obey the rules. I’m probably a monster.

Anyway, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (maybe they should update her name to Ms. Piggle-Wiggle? For all kids books they should do that, to set a good example!) comes up with funny and delightful cures to fix all kinds of bad behaviors in children. And in Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic, she comes up with a cure for bad table manners.

This story involves a little boy named Christopher Brown who eats like a wild animal. His parents have tried to teach him better but their instructions fall on deaf ears. His mother is particularly worried that he will soon be invited to dinner at friends’ houses and embarrass her horribly. His bad table manners are defined as:

  • Chewing with his mouth open
  • Smacking his lips
  • Gulping audibly
  • Making piles of food on his fork and then sticking it straight down his throat
  • Buttering whole slices of bread on his hand (!!!! this story is old enough, 1949, that most people still knew that you should tear bread into pieces and butter them individually)
  • Mixing his food up until it looks like dog food
  • Drinking his soup from the bowl
  • Gesturing with his fork until food flies off

So basically, pretty bad! Enter Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

See, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has a pig named Lester who has beautiful table manners and she lends him to Mrs. Brown to teach Christopher some manners. During the next few days, Lester provides a good example of table manners to Christopher and gently corrects him when he is being boorish. However, Mr. and Mrs. Brown are a bit rude to poor Lester. Mr. Brown throws his bedding into the laundry shoot and makes oink oink noises at him. And Mrs. Brown serves pork for dinner! And then she doesn’t learn ANYTHING and serves bacon for breakfast! I mean, REALLY!

But fortunately, all of Lester’s teachings paid off and Christopher went off to his first dinner party with such polite manners that the hostess called his mother to compliment him the next day.

Now if only we could all have a magical pig to teach manners!

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?

Etiquette For Children: It’s Not That Hard (Ok It Probably Is But Please Try)

raggareI’m going to preface this by saying I don’t have children. I do not know what it’s like to have children. I have a niece who’s the bomb and have seen firsthand how difficult parenthood can be, but every time I visit my niece I know I can leave the apartment and go to a bar or a show and then get eight hours of sleep. Parents, you have a hard job, and I know lots of sacrifices have to be made just to keep everyone sane.

However, I am a human who lives in the world, and that world is full of children whose parents seem to have NO IDEA just how ridiculous they are acting.

I’m not talking about a baby throwing a tantrum in a cafe or on the subway, because if a child cannot talk and is screaming at the top of its lungs there is only so much a tired parent can do, and we should all be more forgiving of that. I’m talking about the kids running around restaurants and banging their silverware, or screaming to each other in a museum, or that one kid I saw in a grocery store who was just picking up produce and throwing it on the ground. Yes, having a kid is hard and you can’t be everywhere at once, but ultimately you are raising your kid to live in the world with other people. People who maybe are going to expect them to have an inside voice.

I don’t want to be in the business of giving parenting advice, but I will be boastful and say that I have been told on many occasions that I was a well behaved child. So here’s some of what I remember the adults in my life teaching me.

Learn where kids are unwelcome. I don’t necessarily agree with people who say children shouldn’t be allowed in restaurants or bars or anywhere public, but there is a line. Yesterday, a story came out about a couple who brought an 8-month-old to a fancy restaurant in Chicago that only serves a $210 tasting menu, which I assume will last hours. I’m sure their baby is lovely, but at what point did they think a child that young would be able to last through a meal like that?

Make sure you can accommodate your child to the expected behavior of where you’re going, not the other way around. Have a 10-year-old who can stay in his seat and eat politely at a nice restaurant? Great, bring him along. Bring your 4-year-old to a bar at night? Don’t expect anyone to change their normal bar behavior for you, and be ready to leave if your child throws a fit.

When your kid is old enough/knows how to mostly sit still, introduce them to what Adult Spaces look like. My parents used to bring me to dinners or cafes with their friends when I was a kid, and I was either given the option of doing something like sitting and coloring quietly, or joining the adult conversation, mainly by listening since I didn’t really have much interesting to say when I was seven. They’d be happy to speak to me and explain things, but it was also clear that if I wanted to interact with everyone I had to raise myself to the adult conversation, rather than them coming down to speak to a child. This was not my time to be the center of attention.

There are plenty of opportunities to make Adult Spaces in the home, especially when family comes over. For instance, the idea of a “kids table” at holidays can be somewhat detrimental to a child’s etiquette experience. You’ll go from sitting with other kids and generally being unsupervised to having to hold your own at a table with adults. It’s intimidating! But if you’re sitting with adults, you’ll learn by watching how they eat and how they converse, and if something goes wrong, at least you’re in your own house surrounded by people you love. The flip side to this is that you need lots more adults than children to make it an Adult Space. My fiance’s family has six kids ages 7 and under right now, so any family gathering is very kids-focused, even at the dinner table.

Be aware of what your kid can handle. My mom was lucky to have a few museum memberships when I was growing up, so some days we’d pop in somewhere and wander around for about twenty minutes. That was apparently my museum threshold, before I’d start getting cranky and tired, so we’d leave before I started crying. However, it still got me used to being a place like a museum, where I have grown to withstand almost a full hour without getting cranky.

Use the magic words. A parent friend of mine says “how do you ask?” is a constant refrain in his house, in making sure his kids know “please” and “thank you.” Use them yourself to show your kid what you mean. I’d also suggest reminding family or friends frequently around your kids to do the same. I am totally guilty of giving my little cousins whatever they want when they demand it, without reminding them to ask politely.

Ultimately, it seems that if you expect your child to be reasonably well behaved in your home, they’ll have better manners outside the home. But also, kids are crazy and unpredictable and sometimes you just want to let them do what they want so you can avoid another screaming match. Parents: what are your tips for raising a polite child?

Advanced Table Manners

goopsWith Thanksgiving coming up, you might want to check out our post on basic table manners just to refresh your memory. If you are going to a REALLY fancy Thanksgiving, here are some more advanced table manners to keep in mind.

The Many Forks

First off, it is extremely rare that you will actually be faced with the terrifying array of silverware the novice believes to be the key to etiquette. We have eaten at some of the finest restaurants in the country and have always been provided with exactly the right utensils for each course. The most you will ever see at one time is two forks. However, in general, you will want to work your way from the outside towards the plate. So if you have a salad fork and a regular fork, the salad fork is on the left and you use it first.

American vs Continental Styles

Americans hold their fork in their right hand tines up. They also hold their knife in their right hand and switch the fork to the left tines down to cut things. Then the knife is put down on the plate while using the fork.

Europeans hold their fork in their left tines down and knife in the right and never put either down.

Both are correct. Interestingly, the American style is the older style that the original colonists brought with them from England, the Continental style developed later.

Finger Bowls

If a finger bowl is provided, you lightly dip your fingers in the bowl and then wipe them on your napkin or the cloth provided.

Napkin Rings

A soiled napkin is not returned to the napkin ring unless it is to be reused for another meal. In that case, the napkin ring serves as a marker of whose napkin belongs to whom.

Spooning Soup

Soup should actually be spooned away from you, and the bowl should be tipped away from you as well when getting the last bit. Presumably this is supposed to prevent you from splashing yourself.


You do not drink toasts to yourself, just smile and say thank you when it’s done.


Condiment jars should not be placed on the table, the condiment should be put in a little dish with a spoon.

How To Not Make An Ass Of Yourself At The Dinner Table

This is why the "no elbows on the table" thing. (via)

This is why the “no elbows on the table” thing. (via)

So many things can go wrong when dining socially, but if you keep these basic ideas in mind you won’t have to worry about embarrassing yourself:

  • Don’t put your elbows on the table while you are eating. (Fun exercise: Sit up straight at a table and try to cut and eat your food while resting your elbows. It’s impossible anyway!) Between courses is fine though- such as when the main meal has been cleared but you are waiting for dessert and are really engaged in conversation with someone.

  • Don’t butter your whole roll- put a pat of butter on the bread plate, and break off sections of the roll and butter them individually.

  • Don’t chew with your mouth open.

  • Do use your utensils except for very dry foods like bread, or in more casual situations. You’ll probably look like an idiot trying to eat chicken wings with your fork and knife at Hooters.

  • Do ask for things to be passed to you instead of grabbing them.

  • Do pass the salt and pepper together.

  • Do remember that your bread plate is to your left, drink is to your right.

  • Do use good cell phone etiquette. We’ll discuss this more later, but we have to mention that your phone has no place at the dinner table (unless in an extremely casual setting), and if it’s an emergency to properly excuse yourself from the table

  • Don’t feel awkward about “grace.” You may be asked to say grace when dining in a religious home or at a holiday dinner. There are a number of well known graces you can say if you feel comfortable, but a general thanking of the host and talking about the beauty of the food is fine. If you want more of a “grace” feel, you could try this secularized version: “for what we are about to receive, let us be truly thankful. Amen.” If someone else is saying grace, follow along with everyone else and either bow your head or join hands respectfully and either say amen at the end, or say nothing.

  • Do wait until everyone has been seated and served before beginning to eat

  • Do put your napkin on your lap. If you get up from the table, leave your napkin on your chair, but when you finish your meal, place your napkin loosely at the side of your plate.

  • Do put your fork and knife together on the plate with the handles at the 4 o’clock position when you are finished eating.

You would think that a lot of these would be so obvious they don’t need to be said. But I once attended a sorority luncheon at a fancy restaurant and one of the girls ate her fully dressed salad with her fingers, so you never know. That being said, I eat most of my meals sitting on my couch in my tiny apartment, so when you are alone you are permitted to eat like an animal!

A note for parents:

I am not a parent and am therefore hesitant to give advice, but I am going to anyway! Kids can have good table manners even from an early age but it does take a LOT of repetition and practice. In my family we ate dinner at the table every night, often with candles and classical music. Table manners were strictly enforced and by the time my sister and I were 11 or 12, we could happily sit through three course meals at some extremely nice and expensive restaurants. Practice at home and then occasionally take your kids out to a restaurant with waiters and real plates for them to practice using their good manners in public. Then they won’t end up as the college girl who eats salad with her fingers in public!