Don`t Drink out of the Finger Bowl!

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Don`t Drink out of the Finger Bowl!
Written By: Sandi MacCalla - Etiquette for You ~ 7/26/2021



This week, I attended a class about my chosen field: Social Intelligence/Etiquette. The instructor shared a story to explain the difference between etiquette and manners. She used what some call an urban legend about Queen Victoria entertaining another country’s dignitary at Buckingham Palace. Over the course of the meal, finger bowls were brought out and placed at each attendee’s setting. The dignitary, assuming standards of his own culture, respectfully picked up the bowl in both hands and drank the warm water. Those of Queen Victoria’s court anxiously looked to the Queen for her next action. With grace, she picked up her bowl in both hands and followed suit, changing the purpose of the finger bowl in that setting and for that meal. Some would say, “It’s good to be Queen.” The instructor complimented Queen Victoria’s good manners in choosing not to embarrass her guest, even though it is improper etiquette to drink out of a finger bowl or use it for any other purpose.

My ‘take-aways’ on the instructor’s point:

  • Etiquette is practical guidance on how to handle unfamiliar situations. When you don’t know what is the best choice to make, watch your host/hostess and follow what they do. Simple enough. “Oops” avoided.
  • As a host/hostess, find a way to brief guests to prevent awkward situations which could diminish the wonderful happenings planned for your event.
  • Louis the XIV showed us his answer to briefing visitors to his Court (which is where the term “etiquette” came from). Etiquette is French for “small labels” or “tickets.” He copied this idea from his gardeners (of the Gardens of Versailles) who posted small signs for visitors approaching the King’s Court:
    • “stay on the path”
    • “don’t walk on the grass”
    • “don’t pick the flowers”

BLOGPOST_DontDrinkFingerBowl07262021B.JPGLouis the XIV required visitors to respect his time, his court, and his authority by providing written rules on how they presented themselves and their concerns for his consideration. Those who didn’t follow these were not heard until they met his rules … Europe marveled at this orderly process. England adopted “etiquette” as the term for rules of orderly behavior (manners) and the world followed.

  • A small write-up of what you’ve planned for your event helps guests know what to expect which increases their comfort and success. This can be shared in many different ways:
    • With the invitation
    • When guests arrive, appoint a greeter to show:
      • where to place their belongings
      • where food/drinks are
      • where the bathroom is
      • where activities are taking place
      • introduce new acquaintances
    • At a place setting for a meal; like a mini menu. This may also contain common allergens (nuts, mushrooms, shellfish, etc.) in foods being served.
  • I also like the way Emily Post explains the difference between “etiquette” (the rules) and “manners” (behavior).
    • “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

Both etiquette and manners are part of the bigger picture of “social intelligence” which speaks not only to “how we arrive in social events” but also “how we affect others by our actions” and “how we’re perceived by others.” The more I learn, the more I see how easy it is to get on the wrong side of others and wonder what went wrong.

While going against social standards produces great stories like Queen Victoria’s, who wants to be an example particularly when you’re in important social situations. If you’re turning down invitations to visit royalty or any other important people you value, it’s time to refresh what you know and learn current social intelligence trends.

EtiquetteForYouLogo.JPGEtiquette For You is a valued source for one-on-one training, sharpening a team’s competitive edge and strengthening employee skills. A free consultation is offered to customize topics and solutions. Set an appointment to discuss your questions and design a program for yourself and/or your team: 

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