Home Australia Take your elbows off the table, Generation Z: good manners really DO matter, writes Jonathan Brocklebank

Take your elbows off the table, Generation Z: good manners really DO matter, writes Jonathan Brocklebank

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Common table manners may be a thing of the past for Generation Z

A few months ago at a family gathering, my daughter asked a question at the table that stopped everyone in their tracks.

It came out of nowhere. There was a brief pause as we adjusted to his words. Had anyone actually said them in the 2020s?

His question was: ‘Can I please get up from the table?’ She is a woman in her 20s with a career, a car and a mortgage. Part of me thought she should know that she can leave the table whenever she pleases.

But a big part of me was drifting in a nostalgic reverie. He knew who put this archaic lunchtime question into his head and he had a good idea when it happened.

Common table manners may be a thing of the past for Generation Z

Every year during the summer holidays from her primary school, my daughter spent a fortnight with my mother and her husband in St Andrews. I don’t doubt that my grandmother, strict with table manners, was also present at some of her meals.

Between the two of them, they would have dedicated their important work to my daughter’s dinner etiquette just as they did for my brother and me a generation before.

It was a tough upbringing for a hungry young man. Everything I did seemed wrong.

“Elbows off the table.” ‘Don’t cross your hand. Ask them to pass you the butter.’ “Wait until your father has stopped talking before you ask for the butter.”

“Put a little butter on the side of your plate and then spread some on your bread.” ‘Cut the bread. You don’t put a piece that big in your mouth. Couldn’t they concentrate on their own meals instead of examining every detail of my consumption?


I shouldn’t sip. I had to tilt the soup bowl away from me to catch the last few spoonfuls and toward me for desserts like custard. And the reason for this was what please? I have never known.

One did not begin one’s meal until the hostess lifted her cutlery to begin hers. Yes, these days there was always a hostess. The men served wine and carved roasts. Our programming did not allow the male of the species to cook complete meals.

Sometimes at dinners, when my mother got up from the table, I noticed that male guests of a certain vintage also got up. To not go anywhere. They sat down again. What was that?

This particular ritual was not yet covered in the table manners curriculum of my childhood; After so many years, I still wonder if staying in my seat in polite company when a lady gets up from hers seems rude.

And I wonder what it would look like if I stood up. Respectful? Chivalrous? Sexist?

Without rebuilding? Navigating the 21st century with 20th century wiring is truly a minefield.

Not that, when it comes to behavior at the table, all my contemporaries see such problems when crossing it. A survey of 2,000 diners by Censuswide reveals that 54 per cent of Brits of all ages believe table manners are “a thing of the past”.

Not surprisingly, Generation Z – the age group my daughter is young enough to sneak into – is even less interested in recognizing the do’s and don’ts, which turned my mealtimes into the 1970s in decorum tests.

More than three quarters have no qualms about resting their elbows on the table. How you hold your knife and fork doesn’t matter 60 percent.

Nearly 40 percent admitted to using their mobile phone while eating.


I hesitate to label these people as savages, especially since I am guilty of all of the above and more. The truth is, meal times have changed throughout my life, from affairs the whole family participated in to random refueling sessions that are often best enjoyed alone.

I realized how nice things had gotten about a decade ago when my vegetarian roommate at the time banished me from the room whenever she was eating.

“This is my alone time,” she’d yell if I tried to come in, so I left her with food on her lap and Friends on TV.

These days, I don’t demand solitude while dining at the breakfast bar, but I prefer it to be known that I’m not available for idle chat. I’m eating. In all likelihood, I’m also reading something on my phone or engrossed in an important episode. See, now I missed what I was saying.

Yes, if Generation Z is savagery at mealtime then I am no better than them

90 percent of the time. My elbows go where I want, the butter goes from plate to knife to slice in one fluid motion.

Sometimes (cover your eyes, Grandma, if you’re up there watching) I hold the bread in the palm of my hand while I spread it.

I am not proud of these confessions. Families (and couples) almost always communicate better when they eat together. If we eat separately, we become independent slaves to our appetite, and our attention will be consumed by feeding and defending itself from distractions.

Manners fall by the wayside. Of course they do. If you’re looking at me while I eat, stop doing it.

No wonder etiquette training company Debrett worries that most of those who now flout manners “seem greedy, greedy or too casual.” In the privacy of my own home, I fear I am all of those things.

But where I separate myself from Generation Z is on the occasions when I dine in company.

When called upon, it turns out those dusty old table manners fade pretty well and you tend to notice when others don’t.

They’re like the steps of a dance, and not knowing anything about them is a lot like not knowing anything about the Gay Gordons at a ceilidh. You sort of get your way, but you strongly suspect you’re being silently judged.

Why is it important to know which glass is for red and which is for white? Who really needs to know that, at multi-course meals, we start with the cutlery furthest from our plates and work our way toward them?


They seem like trivial formalities until, at the gala dinner, we make a mistake and waste red wine on a glass of champagne or, at the restaurant, we notice that the Gen Z waiter is approaching you to leave the plate for someone else. diner. setting. You don’t say anything, of course, but you hope his boss does.

Perhaps these subtleties are really archaic, but I am happy to have known them and delighted, I am sure, that they will always be with me when the occasion requires it.

As Liz Wyse of Debrett’s reflects, the educated soul is presented as “a thoughtful person who thinks of others before satisfying his own greed.”

Without a doubt, it was greed that motivated my actions at the dinner table in the 1970s. I was taught to hide it.

My daughter was given permission to leave the table, of course. And I appreciated that she asked.

Even if it was just to check his phone.


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