Whether in business or in social life, etiquette was born with the other in mind. Good manners have the sole purpose of preserving everyone’s comfortability. The act of doing something specific, which has been agreed upon, avoids us the burden of thinking what should be the correct behavior to adopt in a certain situation so that everyone is comfortable.
The first book to be entirely related to good manners was published in 1558 by Giovanni Della Casa and its title was Galateo, overo ‘de costumi.
The word in the title “Galateo”, which in Italian means “good manners”, refers to Galeazzo Florimonte, bishop of Sessa, to whom Della Casa dedicated his book. In fact, Galeazzo’s name in Latin was pronounced “Galatheus”.
Now that you know the why, let’s look at the what.
1. Wishing “Have a nice meal”
There are several theories about the origins of this tradition.
The British anthropologist Jack Goody affirmed that this way of saying saw the light during Charlemagne's empire, when his chefs used to wish it to the guests to make them know how much the emperor wanted the food to be appreciated.
Following some historians' thoughts, this auspicious was progressively abandoned since the diffusion of the fork, which denoted some detaching from the food and its centrality around the table to attribute more attention toward the social aspects of eating together.
There still are different opinions about whether it should be said or not yet anyway, since the large diffusion of the saying, some sustain that wishing it it’s more polite than not.
In the end, what it is important, is to make the others around you as much comfortable as possible, so if someone says it to you, always return the favor.
2. Saying “Bless you”
Sneezing is both a liberating act and a nightmare. On a formal occasion, the last thing we want is to be caught doing it and then be obliged to answer everyone’s “bless you” for an infinite number of times.
Respecting the purpose of etiquette, we should avoid putting someone else in shame highlighting an embarrassing act. That’s why we should ditch the tradition and simply say nothing when someone sneezes.
3. Saying “Nice to meet you”
Good manners imply sincerity and honesty and affirming that meeting anyone will be a pleasure a priori, simply is not possible.
You can only have that certainty after the meeting, not before it. That’s the reason why saying “nice to meet you” is considered impolite. Even the prestigious Debrett’s guide bans this tradition from the Country of Her Majesty.
What to say then? Easy, your name and surname, that should suffice!
4. Knives at the table
The knife is the most ancient utensil to be used at the table. The reasons behind this are to be found on its roots. Knives were already present long before civilizations, and they were more often than not used as weapons. This is why, with the evolution of society, their use was progressively abandoned.
In China, where the ruling class ceased to be formed by warriors and begin to involve highly educated members centuries ago, the use of knives at the table didn’t take on.
The Chinese tradition even attributes this sentiment to Confucius: “The honorable and upright man keeps well away from both the slaughterhouse and the kitchen. And he allows no knives on his table.” (1)
For this reason, knives will only be used when necessary and everything that can be cut without them will be cut with forks.
5. Who enters first?
To answer this question we should first take a look at its origins.
In the past taverns and similar were dangerous places where knives weren’t used only to eat, but also to wound. For this reason, it was the tradition for the man to enter first, so to assure that there was no danger for the woman to follow him.
Today, this usage persists. It should be the inviter to enter first to check the place and guide the invitees to their seats.
Things will be different in the case the place has a dedicated figure to escort the guests, if so, the inviter will let the invitee enter first.
For everyone's sake, we should also avoid fighting over who should enter first encouraging the others to precede us or continuously declining their offer to enter the place. It’s very unpleasant for both the inviters and the invitees.
Whether you abusively use your knife at the table or wish bless you to every friends and stranger you happily caught in the act of sneezing, always keep in mind that good manners were created to make everyone comfortable, so before drastically changing your behavior at the table or away from it, think twice. Avoiding any embarrassment to the others and let them have enjoyable moments with us should be our priority. Ever.
Le regole delle buone maniere, Samuele Briatore, Newton Compton, 2019