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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: All my friends' restaurant manners are terrible. Should I say something?

Let it go. Friendship is more important than technically terrible table manners, writes Ellen Vanstone.

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Lately I’ve become very annoyed with a group of old friends when we go out for dinner. Instead of splitting the bill evenly, one of them insists on paying only her share and invariably lowballs the tax and tip. Another insists we all order different things so we can try each other’s dishes. Another one eats leftovers off my plate, which I find faintly disgusting. Am I being intolerant? What is the proper etiquette around these restaurant issues?

Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,

According to some relationship experts, the dinner table is the central emotional bailiwick, or battlefield, of every relationship. This is why table manners are so important. I’m not talking about being able to tell a fish knife from an oyster fork — that is a matter of mere etiquette, which often amounts to silly old rules designed to separate odious snobs from ordinary folks.

No, what I'm talking about is actual good manners, i.e., graceful consideration of one’s fellow eaters. Waiting until everyone is served before starting to gobble down the meal. Listening to others blather for at least as long as you force them to listen to you. Chewing with your mouth closed. Swallowing before speaking. Remaining civil and even-tempered even when having to point out how wrong the opinions of others may be.

All of these rules also apply in a restaurant setting. As for your other issues, it’s simply a matter of extending that consideration, without allowing others to ruin your own dining experience.

If anyone tries to dictate what you should order, smile politely, decline their helpful suggestions, and order whatever you like. If they want to sulk, that’s their prerogative, though it would show a lack of manners on their part.

When someone rudely starts picking leftovers off your plate, offer to move the plate closer to them so you won’t have to witness the scavenging at close hand. You could also scrape your food onto their plate, but only if it’s helpful. Aggressively dumping a congealed lump of cold risotto into the dregs of their fish curry, for example, would be unhelpful.

As for the bill, the splitting stickler is definitely annoying. But whether your friend is on a tight budget, or she’s thinks she’s doing everyone else a favour by paying for all the extra appetizers she ordered, or she’s a conniving cheapskate, it doesn’t matter. Let it go. At the end of the day, friendship, and old friends, are more important than their technically terrible table manners.

Need advice? Email Ellen: askellen@metronews.ca

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