The Etiquette of Smoking at the Formal Dining Table

Cigarettes and Ash Trays
There was a time when it was fashionable to smoke; and smoking at the dinner table—even during dinner—was acceptable. Elizabeth L. Post, in the The New Emily Post’s Etiquette (1975), writes in the book’s section on formal dinners, “Whether or not the hostess and her husband smoke, she sees that her guests are supplied with ashtrays and cigarettes. A small ashtray is put at each place, and cigarettes are found on the table, either in a small holder in front of each diner or in larger holders spaced evenly about the table. Smokers should follow the usual rules of good smoking manners more strictly at the table than at any other time.” Amy Vanderbilt, however, in her Amy Vanderbilt’s New Complete Book of Etiquette (1967), states what would prove to become the prevailing attitude towards smoking at the 21st-century dinner table: “It is poor manners for a guest to sit down to a table, formally set or otherwise, with a lighted cigarette in his hand. At a formal table he may well find no place for the ashes or finished cigarette (if the hostess takes pride in her cuisine) and will be forced to leave the table with his cigarette or ask for an ash tray. At formal dinners cigarettes are usually not placed on the table until the dessert is served, if then.” Vanderbilt does go on to say, however, in a chapter dedicated to international customs, that “In England at public dinners there is no smoking before the ‘Queen’s Toast,’ the first toast offered. This is a rule foreigners are certainly expected to know and must observe.”

Today, smoking during a meal is almost unheard of—even amongst smokers. And non-smokers are afforded veto powers at the dinner table, even when dining alfresco.

The Correct Way to Eat a Sandwich in a Formal Setting


To insist that a sandwich be eaten with knife and fork is to misunderstand the logic behind the invention of the sandwich in the first place.

While the use of  word “sandwich” to describe meat or some other ingredient placed between two or more slices of bread to be conveniently eaten in the hands is attributed to the 18th-century English aristocrat John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, who, according to legend, one evening, while playing cards and not inclined towards interrupting the game or soiling his hands in the process of eating requested that his servant bring him a “piece of meat tucked between two slabs of bread,” the concept of conveying food to the mouth held between bread is much more ancient, as evidenced by the traditional cuisines of North Africa and the Middle East which routinely use flat breads, in lieu of forks and spoons, to pick up meats and other ingredients from the plate in order to convey them to the mouth.  But if the birthplace of the concept of the sandwich is the ancient world, certainly its international success is due to America—perhaps because of that country’s casual, fast-paced approach to life.

It is unlikely that sandwiches will be served as a course during a formal dinner. But they are oftentimes presented as options on the menus of many formal restaurants—especially those in America or in regions of the world influenced by her. And even in those venues, as formal as they may be, a gentleman is totally in compliance with the laws of etiquette to pick up his sandwich with his hands even though a fork and knife may have been provided—and they invariably will be. But again, common sense should prevail, for one can be “wrong” even though he is within his rights. The purpose of manners is to make others feel comfortable, not to prove social points. So, for example, if the sandwich is exceptionally large, it should first be halved or even quartered with a knife and fork and then eaten in the fingers; likewise, if the sandwich is particularly messy or unstable, it should be eaten in its entirety with a knife and fork.  At the end of the day, a gentleman should make sure that his method of eating does not offend or disrupt the comfort of those in his company or immediate vicinity.

The Etiquette of Giving and Receiving Gifts in Japan

The Gift-Giving Etiquette of Japan


-When visiting a person’s home, a gift should be given to the host/hostess.

-Gifts should be unwrapped carefully in front of the giver.  One should not rip open the wrapping; it should be carefully undone (Rationale: The Japanese history of origami and the love of paper).

-The numbers 4 and 9 are considered unlucky. Number 4 is “shi,” which is the same word used for “death”; and the number 9 is “ku,” which is the same word as “suffering.”  Gifts in sets of four or nine, therefore, should never be given.

-Items should be given and received with both hands.