The good news, according to the survey, is that the family meal continues to endure: More more than 60 percent of "those who live with families said they sat down with family for dinner at least five nights a week." And home-cooked meals with hand-me-down recipes were the norm, rather than ready-to-eat foods, such as take-out. So far, so good.
However, AP and iVillage found that "the modern dinner comes with a heaping helping of distracting bells and whistles," such as phones ringing and cell phone texting as well as TVs and stereos blaring. More than a quarter of families reported that television was on constantly during dinner. OK, rewind to my childhood....we had one TV, on purpose. It was in the family room, downstairs from the kitchen. We knew of families that had TVs in bedrooms and kitchens – oh, the horror of it. We didn't watch TV during meals, except for very rare special treats when we got to break out the TV trays for a special airing of the Wizard of Oz, Sound of Music or the like (no cable TV, TiVo, nor video/DVD players yet).
The survey indicated half of households are pestered by phone calls during dinner. And five percent of families said texting or e-mailing on a cell phone is always going on over dinner. Back in the day....no caller IDs, no cordless telephones, no answering machines, no cell phones. It didn't matter that you didn't know who was calling and that they couldn't leave a message. No one was going to answer the phone during dinner. If the caller had something to say, he/she could call back. And by the way, he/she should know better than to call during the dinner hour. As an aside, our one corded telephone was in the kitchen, which meant there was no such thing as a private conversation, which I think Mom felt was a matter of personal safety for us when we were teens. Who knew what might happen if we girls could actually talk to a boyfriend in private? That's a far cry from our current household, in which everyone has a smartphone.
My mother is a home economist who attended finishing school before moving on to the university to obtain bachelor's and master's degrees. So we may have had more than our fair share of emphasis on table etiquette. We each had our seats we returned to every evening around the big rectangular butcher block table. We weren't always perfect, but a few basic table manners were instilled along the way:
- Always say please when asking for something - May (not can) I please have the potatoes?
- Pass the food counter-clockwise from left to right, and for goodness sake, no "boarding-house reach" across the table. The left-to-right rotation makes sense for right-handed diners, who tend to hold the serving dish with the left hand and scoop with the right.
- If you're in-between the asker and passers, don't snag. Ask permission first - Do you mind if I take a bit first?
- If someone asks for salt or pepper, pass them both together so the shakers don't get separated on the table.
- When the host or hostess picks up the fork you may start eating. If at a banquet or restaurant, wait until everyone at your table is served, unless an empty-plated person insists. If you're an empty-plated person, give permission for the rest of the table to begin eating.
- Keep your elbows off the table. Evidently, two reasons exist for this somewhat arcane rule: 1) you might crowd your adjacent diners, and 2) you increase the chance of the table cloth and dishes going askew.
- Don't talk with your mouth full. Chew with your mouth closed.
Can you hear your mother's voice?
Back to the survey. Nearly 40 percent reported having the radio or stereo going, at least occasionally. Being an audiophile, I don't have a bone to pick with that trend, provided the sound is tasteful background music, rather than talk radio or a sporting event. I grew up in a musical family. Each of us learned to play at least one musical instrument, and most of us performed on stage in high school, either in theater, choirs or in instrumental ensembles. It seemed we were always singing at home. In fact, we developed a routine of spontaneously breaking into song at the slightest suggestion, even at times that might be considered inappropriate by the elders. So Mom and Dad had to instill one more rule: No singing at the dinner table. I have to admit that one did not stick. And I have, literally, sung for my supper on more than one occasion. Nowadays in our home, singing at the table is A-OK, but...texting is not. On the other hand, if you want to play your iPhone ocarina application at dinner, I might consider that suitable.