When I was a young girl, my mother sent me to finishing school. In the event you don’t know what finishing school is, allow me to enlighten you. Finishing school is the place where folks go to learn the finer things in life: etiquette and manners, poise and posture, grace and civility, self-esteem, and life and communication skills. I know that sounds incredibly cosmopolitan for a girl who grew up in the country and spent her weekends playing in the creek getting covered in ticks and “hitchhikers”, running through the fields dodging piles of cow shit, and escaping atop our rickety swing set from Barney the Rooster, a violent and paranoid bird that thought my sisters and I were his own personal pecking post. I think between my propensity for dirt and the livestock roaming free-range in our yard, coupled with the beat-to-all-hell Ford pick-up truck and the Winnebago sitting in our driveway, my mom realized we were only one bad business deal away from being Cousin Eddie’s family living in a relative’s driveway talking about how the “shitter was full.” I suppose she thought I’d have a chance to live a life like Dynasty, instead of Duck Dynasty, if I only had the proper tools at my disposal.
So there I was, once a week, learning how to be a little lady. I mastered the art of crossing my legs gently at the ankles while placing my delicately folded hands in my lap. I fought gravity with perfect posture to glide across a room with a book balanced on my head. I practiced the proper way to answer a telephone and how to greet someone with a confident handshake (always keep eye contact). And I never would have experienced the dilemma of Julia Roberts’s character in Pretty Woman of not knowing which fork to use — mostly because I’m not a hooker with a heart of gold, but also because I learned all the elements of a place setting and in which order to use them during my time in finishing school. Basically, my mother was trying to create her own version of Cinder-fuckin’-rella.
As you can tell by my most pristine language here, life has obviously tarnished some of my pearly finish. I’ve certainly had moments where I feel like I’d fit in more aboard one of the Alaskan King Crab boats on Deadliest Catch than I would sipping tea with a group of utterly refined ladies whilst pretending that eating anything called “clotted cream” (gag!) is perfectly normal and not at all a perfect set-up for an off-color joke.
But still, I do have my standards….
I try to remain cognizant of my posture. I always strive to use proper grammar. And above all else, I am a stickler for table manners.
Now, at this point my little sister is bracing herself because she probably thinks I’m going to start in on a rant about my nephews who, at the ages of 9 and 6, are still struggling with how to keep both ass cheeks on their seats for more than 30 seconds while at the dinner table. Both of them…they always have one leg down on the floor like they have to be ready to sprint out the door at any moment. The art of treating a meal as proper social situation is lost on them. In fact, it’s lost on a lot of kids in this busy family, finger food, microwaved meal, watching TV while you dine kind of world we live in. Table manners are required life skills that take time to foster in kids, and it seems that the Generation X (or Y, or Z, or AA, or whatever!) parents assume that these are natural skills with which kids are born. If that was truly the case then my friends wouldn’t have teens who still hold their forks like shovels and leave the dinner table caked in ketchup and grease because they decided it was easier to wipe their hands on their shirts and pants legs than to use the napkins that are left perfectly folded like triangles next to their plates.
It’s a phenomenon of devolution that I plan to address and set back into forward motion the minute my future child is able to sit upright and grasp a utensil in his or her tiny hand.
Have you ever seen a shark feeding frenzy? No. Not necessarily in real life, but maybe on TV during Shark Week on The Discovery Channel or something like that? You know, where the eating just occurs with complete and reckless abandon? The eyes roll over and the animal’s brain shifts into auto pilot becoming an eating machine devouring every smaller fish in sight??? Well, exchange the shark for a doctoral-level faculty member, and the fish for a nice, piping hot bowl of matzo ball soup, a well-done steak, and a Diet Coke and it’s kind of the same thing where I work!! In fact, the eating habits of some of my colleagues are so devoid of any manners that it actually is animal-like and renders the need for utensils nearly useless. Why use a spoon when you can just put your face into the bowl? Why use a knife when you can just rip the meat with your teeth? And why use a napkin when you can just wipe your hands off all over your new iPhone 5?
See, I would have suggested that the profound lack of table manners was only evident in a new and lost generation of kids who believe that all foods naturally exist as nuggets and that fruits comes drowned in sugary juice from little plastic cups, and who can only identify a tomato by its cartoon representation on a bottle of Heinz Ketchup. But, oh! How I could not have been MORE wrong! I work in a place where many individuals have IQ’s that could gain them entry into MENSA. These are people with degrees coming out the wazoo; who have achieved things in science and research to advance the health of the world by leaps and bounds for generations to come. But sit these people at a table in a restaurant and you might as well be dining with feral cats off the ground next to the dumpster behind the restaurant in which you’re sitting. It is, in a word, DISGUSTING! We’re talking mouth wide open while they’re chewing, shoveling oversized forkfuls into their gullets in rapid succession, hands covered in mayo and food bits while still trying to check emails on their smartphones only to leave finger streaks of oily condiments and chunks smeared all over the screen. And before you’ve barely had a chance to finish slicing the tomatoes on your garden salad into bite-sized morsels to begin chewing your food properly to avoid rips and tears to your esophageal tract, they’ve devoured their entire meal and sit uncomfortably waiting for you to do the same.
Side Note: I actually have an entire series of photographs that I stealthily took with my phone to document the feeding patterns of these humans in their natural habitat, but I’m afraid that you’ll have to wait for my coffee table book to come out to enjoy them in all their glory! So if there are any publishers out there who are interested — call me!
I guess I’ve come to realize that table manners are not only lost on a lot of kids these days, but also on an entire subset of adults who should be educated enough to know better. Maybe finishing school should be a required curriculum for everyone…lest we continue on this downward spiral and our eating habits become the subject of TV viewing for a future audience of highly-evolved sharks to watch in horror: “Oh My Word, Jaws. Would you look at those human creatures eating! It’s so violent! They eat like animals!”