An army commander has banned the practice of officers and soldiers eating with their hands. The Telegraph writes, ‘Sandwiches have been banned from an officers’ mess after a commander noticed many soldiers were eating them with their hands as he insisted “a gentleman or a lady uses a knife and fork.”’
In his three-page note addressed to the ‘Chaps’ of Bulford Camp, Major General James Cowan offered a string of etiquette tips that covers not only the “proper” way to eat a sandwich, but also seating arrangements for dinner parties and thank you letters.
A spokesperson for the Army insisted the note was meant to be taken as fun. They said, ‘This note was part of a light-hearted correspondence between a commander and his officers about an expected code of behaviour.’
Below are a few of Maj Gen Cowan’s etiquette tips followed by my own views.
“Quite a few officers in the divisional mess seem to be under the impression that they can eat their food with their hands. The practice of serving rolls and sandwiches in the mess is to stop. A gentleman or lady always uses a knife and fork.”
Sandwiches were named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who is said to be fond of this form of food because it allowed him to continue playing cards, while eating, without using a fork, and without getting his cards greasy from eating with his bare hands as the meat was “sandwiched” between two pieces of bread. Others then began to order “the same as Sandwich”.
I still maintain sandwiches should be eaten with one’s hands. Knives and forks should be used only as a last resort. If anyone is still in doubt, just go to any Pret A Manger for proof. For further details, read my previous post on how to eat messy food.
Knife and fork
“The fork always goes in the left hand and the knife in the right. Holding either like a pen is unacceptable, as are stabbing techniques. The knife and fork should remain in the bottom third of the plate and never be laid down in the top half.”
I agree completely. To indicate that one has finished with the meal, the knife and fork should be placed together with the handles pointing to 5 o’clock. Placing the cutlery in the bottom of the plate has practical reasons. It allows the server to clear the plate while pinning down the cutlery and thus preventing them from sliding to the floor.
“I recently went to a Burns night, spoilt only by a curious decision to sit husbands next to wives. The secret of a successful marriage is never to sit next to your spouse at dinner, except when dining alone at home. It displays a marked degree of insecurity.”
I know someone who believes a dinner party is not a success unless guests have heated arguments during the course of the meal. She would purposefully seat two individuals with drastically different views to guarantee a lively evening.
During the Edwardian times, married couples were expected to sit apart from each other as it is presumed that they would want a break from one another’s company. (Take notice of this the next time you are watching Downton Abbey.) Conversely, betrothed couples are seated next to each other so they can get to know each other while chaperoned. This is rarely the case now, couples are often seated together. To insist upon seating married couples separately can seem old fashioned, since society’s opinion is divided on this matter.
Ultimately, a seating plan is the responsibility of the host. In formal occasions, seating plans help catering staff identify dietary requirements without having to call attention to the guest. If a seating plan is not provided, guests are free to choose where they sit.
The Armed Forces have a stricter code of conduct and views of social etiquette. I once attended an RAF Officers’ Ball. After the meal, several officers took off their dinner jackets in preparation for dancing. They were then asked to provide the champagne (or whatever choice beverage) for the next ball. As it turned out, officers are not allowed to take off their jackets without approval from the compere. Etiquette is fun, and I am delighted our Army has the same opinion.