Sunday, May 19, 2013

Why Buy The Cow If The Milk Is Free?

Okay, I give up!  Why?

My Mother used this saying to keep me virginal for a long time.  She convinced me that there was an absolute correlation between having unmarried sex and buying a cow.

I think I was 9 the first time she imparted these words of wisdom to me.  I would be 15 before i realized that one thing really had nothing to do with the other.

I don't even like milk, never mind if it's free or not.  And believing that a man would chose a wife so that he no longer had to pay for milk was simply ridiculous.

Mom had a few things wrong, and a few things right.  One thing that was big with my mother was manners.  She wanted her 4 daughters to be polite and to have perfect table manners.  I got the polite part.  I am always polite until it's time to not be polite, but that's another subject all together.

When we were quite young, about twice a month Mom took us on the streetcar to downtown San Francisco for lunch.   We all got very dressed up for the occasion, white gloves, dresses, shiny black patent shoes.  At the time, I was about 7, my younger sister 5.  (The baby was only 3 so she stayed at home with a babysitter.)  We always went someplace "fancy".  Mom wanted to make sure we knew our table manners.  My sister and I looked forward to these outings as much as we looked forward to a dentist visit.

While we were encouraged to get whatever we wanted from the elaborate menus, we were also watched closely for behavior transgressions.  We got a sharp reprimand from Mom if we did not place our napkins on our lap, or if we spoke much above a well modulated whisper.  We were admonished to keep our elbows off the table and to maintain an upright posture while dining.  Further, speaking with one's mouth full simply wasn't done, nor was smacking one's lips while eating.

These hour and a half manners lessons were exhausting to me and my sister.  And we wondered why we didn't just go get burgers at the local drive in restaurant.  However, in time, the outings became much more enjoyable.  We learned not to break the rules and it all worked just fine.

Now this may sound harsh, but I used approximately the same training technique with my own kids.  From a very young age, they both learned what was and wasn't acceptable while dining.  I'm pleased to say that both of my kids have perfect table manners.

Perfect table manners is not really about always using the right spoon.  It not even about not laughing during a meal.  It really seems to me to be more about not hunching over one's plate as if you are afraid it will be stolen from you at any minute.  It's about bringing your food to your mouth while you sit upright, not leaning over the plate to make the distance between food and mouth as short as possible.  It's about not talking with a full mouth.  It's about not smacking your lips while you eat.  These things are really disturbing for me to watch.

It may not be fair, but it bothers me more when women show bad table manners than it does when men do it.  (It also bothers me more to see a woman drunk and obnoxious than it does to see a man similarly impaired.) 

While I still think my mother's free milk and cow reference was absurd, I have to give her kudos for teaching her kids table manners.  I'm sorry more parents don't understand that this is an invaluable life skill.

Although, I may be old now, good manners never go out of style.


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  2. My Aunt Lala (yes, that's what we called her) was British and regularly whacked my knuckles with a spoon for putting my elbows on the dinner table. I'd be pissed at her, but she was a loveable woman who helped teach deaf children how to talk and she painted pretty pictures on flat rocks she found at the beach.

    I don't know how she felt about free milk.

  3. Good manners (at the table or otherwise) really don't go out of of style. Your mother was wise even if she used the milk/cow reference; my mother used the same one!

  4. Some things you don't need to be told but learn all on your own. I'm thinking of laughing with your mouth full of food. Have you ever seen dinner spray out your nose? Oh, it's a sight.

    And one thing I've been able to pass on to my children and my grandchildren at the table? How to such up jello, gargle it, and spray it between your teeth. Oh, meal time at my place is fun. A little messy, but fun.

  5. Nancy/BLissed-Out GrandmaMay 20, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    I have developed a pretty good sense of play around my grandkids, but I do find myself encouraging good table manners. I'd thought a trip to a fancy restaurant might be a reward, but you've made me realize it should only come after they have learned to eat nicely. Thanks!

  6. Hey Linda! I agree, good manners of all kinds are undervalued, even belittled. They should be encouraged and praised, tho of course they are their own reward. Indigo x

  7. Ditto! I hate seeing someone with poor table manners. When I was quite young, also, we used to drive to San Francisco for the day, my mom and I all dressed up similar to you. We always ate lunch at Alioto's on the wharf. How I loved their lobster thermador.

  8. So true! I'm not strict with the kids, but I want them to behave and have good manners.

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  10. Riona, at home and at play, my kids were wild hooligans as they should be. But they did need to know the difference between playing in appropriate places and public behavior in restaurants, libraries, churches, etc.

  11. I adored Aliotos all my life! I also usually ordered the lobster thermador!

  12. Indigo, I think that it's really an important thing. When somebody has decent table manners, I doubt we even notice it. But when they don't, we really can't miss it.

  13. I am probably more lax with my grandkids than I was with my own children. But both of my kids have passed on some of what I pushed on them to their own kids. (But they waited until the kids were 5 or 6 before they start expecting better behavior.)

  14. I'm only taking you to burger places when you visit. And I'm making you eat at your own table in the kitchen. Your lovely wife will join us in the dining room.

  15. Mother's are funny! But a lot of times they are dead on right, Suzicate!

  16. I bet you don't put your elbows on the table any more, Michael. See, Lala and Linda were right after all!

  17. My mother was always BIG on manner and being polite too.

    And while I do have excellent table manners - I am not always polite.

  18. I'm usually polite, until I'm not. It takes a while to get me to downright ugly rude, but I can get there if provoked. Sis, I think we have that in common!

  19. Yes we certainly do! It takes a lot for me to lose my cool ­ but when I do? LOOK OUT!

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  23. It seems that lessons in manners are sorely lacking in today's world. I am pleased when I see well-behaved children in a restaurant. It's good that got through the lessons and saw the value in them, then pass it on to your kids.

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  28. The Equestrian VagabondJune 1, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    you are right! I don't remember, but I guess my mom taught me those manners too, because I have them. I couldn't have invented them on my own.

  29. It's funny but bad table manners really do bother me.