In the past week, I've seen several Twitter links flutter through the cyber-ether all regarding teaching kids manners--esp. table manners. I've also seen complaints about people taking babies and toddlers to restaurants, and even restaurants that outright ban babies (can you imagine if they did that with any other group of people?!).
Now I feel it is time to weigh in on the issue. The reality is that many adults are at least as guilty, and usually much more so than children, of behaving offensively. The only times I have been disturbed by children in restaurants are instances where the needs of the children have been ignored or denied by the adults around them--adults who should know better. Period. However, I have more than once been offended by adults in ways ranging from someone wearing excessive cologne/perfumes to the point that I could not eat my meal, to the public rowdiness of a bachelorette party held in the middle of a restaurant. I've even seen an adult sneeze into a buffet table. Fortunately, so did the staff, and the dishes were quickly replaced with new ones, to the expense of the restaurant owner. What a waste!
We are so quick to find fault in children, especially other people's children, yet often overlook our own faults. If it is bad manners to point out flaws in other adults, why do we allow this to happen to our children?
Moving on to table manners...
I have relatives who set an example for my children and have taught them more about polite eating than I ever could though didactic means. The examples were negative, and I never had to say a word (a good thing, as I have a philosophical aversion to pointing out the negative in others).
There are the basics--not letting people see your chewed food, waiting for everyone to be seated before starting, not reaching across other people's spaces, etc., and then there are the more subtle but at least as important manners regarding appropriate dinner conversation. Insults, gossip and putting others on the spot in a negative way are at least as off-putting as conversations about insects and bodily functions.
Now, none of us is perfect, and I've been known to place the glasses on the wrong side of the plates on occasion. But the spirit of good manners--keeping things pleasant and making others feel comfortable (as much as is reasonably possible)--is our goal, and it is one that I certainly wish some of the adults I know would learn to follow!
If children are a regular part of the family dinner, they will learn from example what is appropriate behaviour. If they are brought to restaurants, they will learn how to eat at restaurants. They will learn what is socially acceptable in a variety of situations. Sadly, kids today are often shipped from program to program, with quick, rushed meals, and then hide away with the latest electronic gadget. Eating is for physical sustenance only. If we take time to eat together though, we can mend broken social ties and model proper behaviour. We might get in a bit more "real" food in the process too. Laurie David says it better than I here.
I remember a story about Queen Elizabeth. She was entertaining a group of international dignitaries, when one of them sipped from the finger bowl (understandable mistake for someone from a different culture), so she did the same. No one would dare to insult the queen's manners, and she made what could have been a very awkward moment much more relaxed. Now that, my friends, is what I call good manners!