Tag Archives: food

Etiquette: The Card Game

First, an apology. It has been too long since my last post. A tragedy has befallen the House of EtiKate, and I’m afraid every other thing has been left neglected. I have had etiquette post topics in my mind throughout my absence, and I hope to be able to share it all with you in the weeks and months to come.

Since the start of the year, I have been going on more than my usual amount of weekend trips. On the Thursday before, I would already be thinking of an activity I’d like to do, or a place to visit. Then on the Saturday, I’d hop on the train and embark on my little adventure.

The City of Dreaming Spires

One of my favourite places to visit is the city of dreaming spires, Oxford. The city is easy enough to navigate on foot. The architecture, the history, the very atmosphere just commands an expression of greatness.  And in Oxford, one of my favourite haunts (of these there are many), is The Ashmolean Museum, Britain’s oldest university museum. I don’t wish to offend fellow pilgrims, but I would describe it as a cross between The National Gallery and the British Museum. I like to while away the hours staring at the Pre-Raphaelite paintings. I also love the corridor I like to call the “plate room”, where the fine porcelain are kept in large glass cases. Oh, the scandalous conversations those china plates must have overheard in their day!

The Ashmolean Museum

Previously, I wrote of the many books from which I take etiquette inspiration. I also mentioned several films that have added to my interest. I am happy to report, that this time, I have found a new fount of inspiration, and I discovered it in no other place than The Ashmolean gift shop!

This new inspiration, would you believe, is an etiquette card game. It’s called RSVP: Etiquette through the Ages. Think Trivial Pursuit where the sole category being etiquette and decorum. So, perhaps it’s more akin to Cards for Humanity?


The latest addition to my library, Etiquette the Card Game

The deck is composed of quiz cards with questions on one side and the answers are on the reverse. There are topics on dining, communication and even “petiquette”. The cards were written and designed in the US and published with the approval of The Library of Congress. I think that lends more credibility to the card game.

I have picked a random card from the deck, and it reads:

True or False:
When attending a dinner party, it is perfectly acceptable to use the salt and pepper provided on the table to season one’s food.

I will let you mull that over before I give the answer.

I now have these cards in my sitting room in place of a coffee table book. It entertains as well as educates, with its bite-sized etiquette facts. For instance, did you know that, according to the celebrated socialite Gloria Guinness, the best way to prepare for a houseguest is to “sleep in your guest room before any guest who might be too polite to tell you what is wrong”. This would allow you to identify things you may have overlooked, an extra blanket, for example.


Pick a card, any card.

I find these etiquette cards are a great conversation starter at house parties. They serve a similar purpose as the little jokes inside the Christmas crackers. I think my friends would be cautious when I invite them over for a “card game”. I just need to devise a scoring system for the game. On second thought, where etiquette is concerned, (do forgive me) everybody’s a winner!

In answer to the earlier question, it is acceptable to use the condiments and spices provided to season one’s food. The salt and pepper are there for a reason, so guests should feel free to season their food, discreetly, and only after you have tasted the food. And if someone asks for the salt, it is proper to send along the pepper as well, for the two travel together at the table.

Until we meet again,


Cheers: toasting and clinking glasses

I was in Munich at the end of September. At the celebrated Hofbräuhaus beer hall, we were sat opposite a very affable father and son from Argentina. The father is a surgeon, in town for a conference. As luck would have it, I had done a little research on the biofuel industry of Argentina last year. I knew a little bit about their country, so I had an instant icebreaker.

Photo from bavariatravel.com

When our beers arrived, they offered their glasses for me to clink with the customary ‘Salud!’ (In deference to our location, we should have said ‘prost’.) Right before I touched my beer stein to theirs, I hastily said, ‘Oh, you have to look the other person in the eye or you’ll have seven years of bad sex!’ (Siete años de mal sexo.) Whether this was a silly superstition I picked up from my Spanish friends, well, I didn’t want to risk it. Seven years is a long time!

During a speech
Speeches are usually given after a meal.
Sometimes it is given between the main course and the dessert. When the speaker invites everyone to “raise their glasses,” in hounour of someone (or something), guests are expected to stand and do just that, raise their glasses. Do not touch your glass with your neighbours during a toast.

At a drinks reception, it is a good idea to leave a little bit of your drink, just in case there is a welcome speech. You can always finish it right before you enter the dining room. If you find you have polished off your champagne too early, don’t call attention to yourself, just raise your glass with the rest of them.

President Obama giving a toast at a state dinner at Buckingham Palace. Photo from The Telegraph

Cheers, to your good health!
In the very olden days, when individuals still drank and talked unreservedly with strangers in pubs, people clinked glasses with each other to signify trust. This is because some of the other person’s ale will spill into your glass and vice versa (somehow it’s always ale in the days of yore). This acts as a deterrent to the sinister, if someone had slipped poison into your drink, there is a chance that some of the poison might be mixed into their drink too. Was it irony or mockery that the words “to your good health” precedes the touching of glasses?

Later on, perhaps because people developed greater (dis)trust of drinking companions, the middle and upper classes eschewed the practice. Indeed, in the early part of the 20th century, clinking glasses was an indication of a working class upbringing.

To clink or not to clink glasses?
Undoubtedly, clinking glasses gives a gathering a friendlier atmosphere. It also gets people talking. If people offer their glasses to you, do not hesitate and touch your drink to theirs. It is considered rude not to do so.

Although I must admit, it can get awkward when there are more than four people at the table. It causes confusion, crossing of arms and spillage. Whatever you do, just make sure you look the other person in the eye and smile.

Cheers, to all that we love,

A royal toast! Photo from fashionmagazine.com

The proper way to eat fish when served whole

One of the most popular posts in this blog is the piece on how to eat messy food. This current  post focuses on fish and was inspired by Robert Galbraith’s (J. K. Rowling) latest crime fiction novel, The Silkworm. One of the characters, Jerry Waldegrave ordered Dover sole, which the chef served whole. He immediately regretted ordering the fish, as he could not manage to get past the bone.

The Silkworm. The inspiration for this post

The Silkworm. The inspiration for this post

It is easy enough to eat fish when it is served in delicious morsels such as these:

People find it daunting to have fish when it is served whole like Nigella’s Red Mullet or a classic French Sole Meunière. It is great to serve whole fish at dinner parties; it is abundant, the very opposite of meagre. For this reason, it is one of the dishes commonly served during Chinese New Year.

Red Mullet with Sweet and Sour Shredded Salad from Nigella Summer

Red Mullet with Sweet and Sour Shredded Salad from Nigella Summer

The fish knife
You may be provided with a fish knife, depending on how formal the setting. Fish knives are specially shaped with a dull edge and a notched point. It is so designed to easily lift the bone and separate the meat.
Incidentally, I was informed that one can tell if a family is nouveau riche if their silverware contains a fish knife. This is because a fish knife is one of the newer inventions, and so would not be found in an heirloom silverware set. In any case, I am here to explain the proper way to eat fish served whole, with or without a fish knife.

Fish knife from Maxwell Williams

Fish knife from Maxwell Williams

Eating fish
Eat the top fillet was you normally would, starting from the head and working down. Only a small mouthful of a piece must be taken at a time. Fish must never be flipped. To get to the underside, the bone should be lifted up and  the meat eased out. Unless you are in your own home, leave the head and tail intact. Rebel at your own discretion.

Bon appétit,

Tea etiquette or “eteaket”

I love the whole ritual of tea drinking.

Photo credit: Tuscany diet

Photo credit: Tuscany diet

In my house, ‘How do you take it?’ and ‘I’ll put the kettle on’ is often said. As a child, I drank invisible tea poured from tiny plastic teapots with Panda and Barbie.
Years later, when I add milk to very strong jasmine tea, my horrified great uncle would ask in his Hokkien dialect, ‘What are you doing to the tea?’ Lately, lovers’ quarrels would be diffused (infused?) with a mug of tea, always punctuated with a ‘Let’s never fight again.’

In honour of afternoon tea and cream tea season, as promised, here is the first of many posts on Tea etiquette or “eteaket”. Let us start with what I like to call “different ways to have tea”.

Afternoon tea at Bettys in York, dare I say it, my spiritual home. Photo: lavenderandlovage.com

Afternoon tea at Bettys in York, my, dare I say it, spiritual home. Photo: lavenderandlovage.com

1. Afternoon tea– The most decadent way to have tea. This is the tea one has in a London hotel or Bettys in York or if you are Mary Berry, in your magnificent garden. It is always served with scones, crustless sandwiches and the most delectable cakes. If you are thinking of having afternoon tea alone, well, perish the thought. This is a treat to be shared with the people you love the most.

Do not call it “high tea”
During the Edwardian Era, the name “high tea” referred to an evening snack which the staff ate, because it consisted of a substantial meal of meat followed by cake, and was eaten on a high wooden table. Our friends from the other side of the Atlantic misinterpreted it as a name for glamour and richness.

Downton Abbey staff having high tea. Credit: stylist.co.uk

Downton Abbey staff having high tea. Credit: stylist.co.uk

Champagne afternoon tea– as above but with a glass or two of bubbly. I prefer pink champagne for a touch of An Affair to Remember.

Afternoon tea at the Goring Hotel in London

Afternoon tea at the Goring Hotel in London

Gentleman’s afternoon tea– for the most discerning of gents. It’s afternoon tea with meat pies served with whiskey, and a cigar for afters. My friend Laurie, connoisseur of all fine things in life, recommends the Gents Afternoon Tea at the rooftop of the Sanctum Soho Hotel.

2. Cream tea– a less sophisticated afternoon tea, but no less special. It’s always taken with scones and clotted cream. (Jam or treacle is served as well, see variations below.) It is sometimes called ‘Devonshire cream tea’ or ‘Cornish cream tea’ in some Commonwealth countries. I tend to have cream tea when I have house guests, at country estates or a tea room.

Cream tea perfection Photo from www.europe-autos.com

Cream tea perfection. Photo from http://www.europe-autos.com

No alternatives
If clotted cream is not available, do not be tempted to use whipped cream or God forbid, squirty cream.
Avoid further disappointment and bake yourself some madeleines or cupcakes to go with your tea. I am grateful that good quality long-life clotted cream is now available. We can now have cream teas at a moment’s notice.

Devon cream tea
– the freshly baked scone is sliced in half, covered in clotted cream then topped with jam.

Thunder and lightning– as with the Devon Cream Tea but with treacle or golden syrup instead of jam.

Cornish cream tea– Jam is spread first, then topped with the clotted cream (see photo below). To help you remember which is which, think, “Cornish Cream Top”, if the cream is on top of the jam, it’s Cornish.

Cornish cream tea- cream on top. Photo: hungryhinny.com

Cornish cream tea- cream on top. Photo: hungryhinny.com

3. Teapot tea– A self-respecting household keeps a tea set of bone china, as extravagant as you dare, for times of pure luxury. (Compare an inexpensive tea set with a Wedgwood, both are beautiful). I myself have inherited mother’s kitsch floral tea set.

Beautiful daisy print tea set

Beautiful daisy print tea set

Beautiful Josiah Wedgwood tea set.

Beautiful Josiah Wedgwood tea set.







There are moments for tea in mugs and there are other moments when you can want a proper tea in dainty cups.
This is the tea set that comes out when one wants to feel indulged or when a favourite aunt comes for a visit. Loose leaf tea and a strainer is called for on this occasion. Have a some all-butter shortbread or petit fours with your tea. The joy of these days is, that they are rare.

Eteaket, the tea etiquette

Eteaket, the tea etiquette

4. Cup of tea– There is always something deeply satisfying about hugging a mug of tea in your hands. This is the type of tea with which you start your days and your weekends. One of life’s great pleasures is when, on a lazy Saturday morning, you reach over to the other side of the bed, only to find your boy (or girl) is not there. Because this means he is in the kitchen, making you a cup of tea.
This is the tea you serve to console a friend or to unwind after a long day. For a special treat, have a biscuit with your cup of tea or do the TimTam slam.

Hug Mug Photo credit www.telegraph.co.uk

Hug mug Photo from telegraph.co.uk

Which goes first, the milk or the tea?
In the olden days of yore, bone china teacups were delicate and made very thinly. Thus, milk was traditionally poured first so as to not “shock” the cup and cause cracks. Nowadays, bone china is much thicker and can withstand the 90 °C or so of recently boiled water. To answer this age-old debate, pour the tea first, followed by the milk. This way, you can adjust to how strong you take your tea.

Pour the tea, then the milk. Photo from telegraph.co.uk

Pour the tea, then the milk. Photo from telegraph.co.uk

I do hope you found this tea etiquette post useful and fun. Do leave a reply below, your comments and questions are most welcome.

Enjoy your tea,
EtiKate (Yorkshire, milky, no sugar)

Formal dining: using your napkin

I recently wrote a short piece on Restaurant Etiquette for the website Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling. Even as I was writing it, I knew I could not possibly cover every aspect of  restaurant dining in one article. There are a myriad of things to consider; most of them, thankfully, have been ingrained into our psyche. Some aspects however, require a little more consideration. I’m rather proud that I am able to fill an entire blog post solely with “napkin etiquette”.

Photo credit theluxelife.com

Photo credit theluxelife.com

The title of this post is not “Napkin etiquette”. Could there be such as thing? The napkin is always inoffensively hidden in plain sight, on one’s lap. So here is my post on napkin etiquette, more appropriately entitled: The Etiquette Butterfly’s Practical Guide to Using Your Dinner Napkin.

1. The napkin for your use is the one to your left, or directly in front of you or tucked in your wine glass. Place it on your lap as soon as you are seated. Do so without show or flourish.

Refrain from using the napkin as a bib. The exception is that if lobster is to be served, a suitable bib may be provided or everyone may tuck their napkin into their collar. If you regularly stain your shirts, it might be because you are leaning in too close to the table when you take a bite or eating your soup incorrectly. Do read more on my previous posts on eating messy food and soup etiquette.

Fold the napkin with the edges facing away from you

Fold the napkin with the edges facing away from you. Photo credit: Jay and Bee

2. Place the napkin on your lap folded in half with the edges away from your body (see photo above). There is a practical reason for this. We all know napkins are there to prevent staining one’s clothes and for dabbing excess food from around one’s mouth (I say dab; madam shouldn’t have to ruin her lipstick now, should she?). Dab with top layer of the napkin only.

If the edges were facing you or the napkin is laid unfolded, the natural tendency would be to use the side of the napkin which is in contact with your clothes. This would defeat the purpose of having a napkin. (See evidence below).

Food stains (beautifully represented by my red lipstick) kept from clothes by two layers of cloth.

3. If you have to temporarily leave the table for whatever reason, place the napkin on your chair. Just place it again on your lap when you return.

4. When you have  finished your meal, place the napkin directly in front of you on the table, or to your left if your plate is yet to be cleared. This is one way of showing the waiter you have finished. There is no need to fold it neatly, just lay it crumpled as it falls.

Photo credit powerscourthotel.com

Photo credit powerscourthotel.com

Napkins or serviettes?
Traditionally, a person belonging to the upper-class would probably say ‘napkin’ and the middle-classes would call it a ‘serviette’. None of that matters today, of course. Now, it is customary to call the cloth ones ‘napkins’ and those folded paper ones used at McDonald’s ‘serviettes’.



Query: holding cutlery incorrectly

Dear EtiKate,
I naturally eat with my fork in my right hand. But I was told that if I was to dine at a formal event I would have to eat my cutlery the ‘right way round’. Should I be forced to eat in an unnatural way in polite company?
Many thanks,
Confused Guest

Dear Confused Guest and Readers

The dinner table is set with the fork to the left of the plate and the knife and spoon to the right. The fork, used mainly to hold down or to eat (safely speared) food is secondary to slicing food or spooning scalding soup. As most of us are right handed, this placement makes sense with the dominant hand performing the more complicated tasks.

Formal events have an aura of glamour that make them inherently more special than other gatherings. This distinction we give them makes the whole experience more stressful. However, always be reminded that good manners is simply making sure everyone around you is as comfortable as possible.

This means that other guests should not make you feel uncomfortable. If you are holding your cutlery in a way you are not used to, you might be so nervous about possibly dropping food that you will be hardly able to dazzle the other guests with your clever conversation.

Left handed individuals are not forced to hold their cutlery “properly”. From experience, new acquaintances are unlikely to make such as fuss. I suggest simply picking up the cutlery and switching them around, the way you are accustomed, without drawing attention to yourself.

Children should be taught from a young age how to use their cutlery correctly. I appreciate it can be difficult to change one’s ways later in life. If you still feel inclined, start by practicing “the proper hold” in your every day life, and not just sporadically when formal occasions call.


We will be delighted to answer all your etiquette-related questions. Send your queries, worries and dilemmas on our Dear EtiKate section. Alternatively, you can get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.

Army officer bans sandwiches

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.”’

Photo credit en.wikipedia.org

Photo credit en.wikipedia.org

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.”

Cucumber sandwiches. Photo credit uktv.co.uk

Cucumber sandwiches. Photo credit: uktv.co.uk

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.”

Photo credit: blogs.kqed.org

Photo credit: blogs.kqed.org

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.

Successful marriage
“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.”

Photo credit showmenumbers.com

Photo credit: showmenumbers.com

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.