Have Fun Learning English
British Culture, British Customs and British Traditions
With dictionary look up - Double click on any word for its definition.
This section is in advanced English and is only intended to be a guide, not to be taken too seriously!
The greatest single modern business (and social) etiquette failing is not responding to an invitation to let the host know whether or not you will attend. Respond in writing before the date given on the invitation, if circumstances stop you from attending always let your host/ess know as soon as possible.
In Britain, even today, people are judged by their table manners, especially when eating out or attending formal functions. There are certain ways you should behave and certain niceties to observe. These are just a few, from basic manners to some more advanced niceties for formal occasions.
A popular saying in the UK is "Manners maketh man."
Things you should do:-
- If you are at a dinner party wait until your host(ess) starts eating or indicates you should do so.
- Chew and swallow all the food in your mouth before taking more or taking a drink.
- Soup should be spooned away from you. Tilt the bowl away from you.
- Break bread and rolls with your fingers not with your knife.
- Break off a small piece of bread (or roll and butter it. Do not butter the whole slice or half a roll at one time.
- You may use a piece of bread on a fork to soak up sauce or gravy. Never hold the bread in your fingers to do this.
- Only clear consomme should be drunk directly from the soup bowl, and then only if it has handles.
- You may eat chicken and pizza with your fingers if you are at a barbecue, finger buffet or very informal setting. Otherwise always use a knife and fork.
Things you should not do:-
- Never chew with your mouth open.
- Never talk with food in your mouth.
- Never put too much food in your mouth.
- Never mash or mix food on your plate.
- Do not blow on hot food or drink.
- Do not sip from a coffee spoon or teaspoon.
- Never use your fingers to push food onto your spoon or fork.
Serviettes, crockery, and cutlery.
Things you should do:-
- Your serviette should always be placed on your lap. If it is small you may open it out fully. If it is large it should be kept folded in half with the fold toward you. ( In some of the more exclusive restaurants the waiter will place your napkin on your lap for you.)
- The fork is held in the left hand, the knife in the right to cut food and to help carry food to the fork. The fork is held, tines down, and the knife used to move food unto the fork or support food so the fork can pick it up. There is no shifting of cutlery.
- When you are finished eating, soup spoons, coffee spoons, and dessert spoons should be placed on the side plate or saucer, never leave them in the bowl, cup etc. Do not push your plate away or stack your dishes. Place your knife and fork together in the "twenty past four" position, as if your plate were the face of the clock, with the knife on the outside and the fork on the inside. Or place the utensils side by side in the middle of your plate, fork tines down, knife to the right, sharp blade turned inward toward the fork.
- Keep your serviette in your lap until you leave the table.
- When you leave the table place your serviette in loose folds at the left side of your plate, never on top of the plate.
- Never tuck your napkin into the collar of your shirt.
- Never use a napkin as a handkerchief.
- Do not wipe off cutlery or glassware with your napkin. If dishes aren't clean, ask the waiter quietly for replacements.
- Do not cut up more than three bites at a time.
- Do not scrape the plate.
Passing dishes and food
Things you should do:-
- Soup spoons, coffee spoons, and dessert spoons should be placed on the service plate or saucer when you are finished eating. Never leave them in the bowl, cup etc.
- Always pass to the right.
- Initiate the passing of rolls, butter, and condiments even if you do not want any.
- Pass jugs, gravy boats etc. with the handle toward the recipient.
- Never reach across the table. If anything isn't directly in front of you, ask for it to be passed.
Posture and behaviour
Things you should do:-
- When being entertained at someone's home it is nice to take a gift for the host and hostess. A bottle of wine, bunch of flowers or chocolates are all acceptable.
- On arrival in a restaurant or at a formal function give your coat to the waiter, never hang it on the back of your chair. If in doubt ask your host(ess).
- When you wish to use the toilet, excuse yourself and leave quietly. Do not ask people where they are going if they excuse themselves.
- Elbows should not be on the table until after all courses have been cleared away.
- Never lean on your elbows! Keep your posture erect.
- Never rock back in your chair.
- Never smoke during a meal. Smoking should not take place until dessert is finished. Follow the lead of the host or ask if you may smoke. Use ashtrays only.
- Never apply makeup or comb your hair at the table.
At first glance, a formal table setting can be intimidating because there are so many forks, spoons, and knives, all for different courses. However, do not be dismayed, there is a simple system behind it all.
Placement and procedure
- Start with the utensils on the outside and work your way inward with each subsequent course. In other words, the outermost fork is your salad fork if salad is served first.
- Forks will be on your left. Knives and spoons on your right. One exception to this is the oyster or seafood fork, which will be on the right next to the soup spoon.
- If you are in a restaurant and did not order fish, soup, or salad, the waiter will remove those utensils. In a private home or at a banquet the silverware indicates the courses that will be served.
- At the top of your plate will be a dessert spoon and dessert fork. When dessert is served, slide them down to the sides of the dessert plate: fork on the left; spoon on the right.
- To eat dessert, break the dessert with the spoon, one bite at a time. Push the food with the fork into the spoon. Eat from the spoon. (Fork in left hand; spoon in right.)
- Coffee spoons are either to the right of the plate or brought with the coffee.
- Red wine is served in a glass with a round bowl and fairly short stem. Hold it at the base of the bowl. It should be served at room temperature.
- White wine is normally served in a larger glass with a longer stem. Hold it at the base of the stem. The same applies to all chilled wines.
- The order of the wine glasses begins with the one closest to you: (a) Sherry (soup course) (b) White wine (fish/chicken course) (c) Red wine (meat course) (d) Water goblet. ( There may be other glasses used throughout the meal. )
- There will be a butter knife located near the butter dish. Use it to transfer butter to your side plate. Your butter knife will either be lying diagonally across your side plate or as the last one to your right in the row of knives. Never use the knife with the butter dish to butter bread. If there is no knife with the butter dish, transfer the butter with your butter knife.
- Sorbet, a fruit flavored ice, may be served between courses to cleanse the palate. A spoon will accompany the sorbet.
- Salad may be served before or after the main course. The placement of the salad fork will give you a clue.
- Finger bowls are presented after the main course and before dessert. If the bowl is placed on a plate directly in front of you, lift the bowl with both hands and place it to the left of your place setting. If there is a doily under it, move it as well. Often the finger bowl will be placed to the left. Dip the fingers of one hand into the bowl, dry on your napkin which remains on you lap. Follow with the other hand. There may be a flower or a lemon slice in the bowl. Leave it be. (Some restaurants use hot towels in a similar manner as finger bowl.
Seating at a formal dinner
- The male guest of honor sits on the hostess' right.
- The next most important man sits on her left.
- The female guest of honor sits on the host's right.
- The second most important woman sits on the host's left.
- Men and women should be alternately seated.
- Couples should be separated.
- Use of round tables puts everyone on an equal basis.
- There may be place cards at a formal dinner or your host/hostess may indicate where you should be seated.
- Social manners are expected: males should seat females and rise when they leave and return to the table.
- If you spill anything on the table or yourself discretely use your napkin or ask the waiter for sparkling water. Do not dip your napkin into your water glass.
- If you spill anything on someone else do not try to mop up the spill, offer them a napkin and let them do it for themselves. Offer to cover any laundering or cleaning costs.
- If you burp cover your mouth with your napkin. After it happens, say a quiet "pardon me" to no one in particular, do not make a big deal about it.
- If you break anything, call it to the waiter's attention. In a private home, speak quietly to the host and offer to replace the item.
- If you get some food stuck between your teeth do not use toothpicks, fingernails, or napkins to dislodge the food at the table. If necessary go to the bathroom and take care of it.