Miss(ionary) Manners


How to be gracious, not disgraceful.

I love missionaries, and I feel close to them. I get choked up just thinking about those, like my son, who go out into the mission field and try to find people and show them the joy we feel in the gospel.

Since our conversion, we have often invited missionaries into our home for dinner or to teach discussions. I have observed many missionaries and their manners. Frankly some are shocking.

There are times in everyone’s life when it is important to know proper etiquette. A mission is one of them. On a mission you will be judged by your manners. You will want to make a good impression.

After you return home, manners will still be important. Maybe you’ll meet a wonderful boy or girl and want to get married. You’ll want to make a good impression on his or her parents.

Maybe you’ll be interviewed for a great job that you really want, and the boss will invite you out to lunch. There will be times when you’ll desperately want to have good manners.

Wherever you go you leave an impression of the kind of person you are and the kind of people you represent. Elder Marion D. Hanks said, “Manners are a manifestation of good sense and good breeding and consideration for others. … They are outward expressions of what we believe to be important, of our values. They reflect our attitude towards others; they show how we really feel” (“Era of Youth,” [p. 5], in Improvement Era, May 1962).

There is never a situation where good manners are optional. Before his mission, my son would say to me, “It’s okay. I don’t have to have good manners here when I’m just with my friends.” Or my daughter would say, “We don’t have to have good manners here because it’s just us at home. When I go out I’ll do okay.” Then the whole family would be out to dinner and they both would be eating like slobs. I’d say, “I thought you two said that when we go out to dinner you’d have good table manners.” All they could say was “Oops!” They got caught by their bad habits. Good manners need to be practiced.

Manners are really very logical. If you know a few basics, you can make it through some sticky situations by using one tried and true rule: If you are faced with a food you don’t know how to eat, or are in a situation where you don’t know what to do next, watch what the host or hostess does and do the same.

Much of good manners is not making a fuss about things. And good manners can make all the difference in the impression you make. Here are some dos and don’ts to remember. Many of them you already know, but they are good reminders.

  1. 1.

    When you are invited into someone’s home, don’t sit down until invited to do so.

  2. 2.

    Stand up when the host or hostess enters the room.

  3. 3.

    Don’t pick up, touch, or fiddle with anything on tables or bookcases.

  4. 4.

    If you are seated at a long banquet table, your water glass is the one you would pick up with your right hand at the upper right edge of your plate.

  5. 5.

    When you are invited to be seated at the table, don’t rush in and sit down. If you are a young man, help the lady of the house with her chair.

  6. 6.

    Unfold your napkin and place it on your lap.

  7. 7.

    Sit up straight. Do not rock on the back two legs of your chair.

  8. 8.

    When a meal is served family style, take only one small serving until everyone has been served.

  9. 9.

    Wait until everyone is served before “digging in.” Wait until every dish has been passed around the whole table.

  10. 10.

    No matter how hungry you are, do not wolf down your food. Eat medium-sized bites and carry on nice dinner conversation.

  11. 11.

    Don’t play with anything on the table.

  12. 12.

    Ask people to pass things. Don’t reach.

  13. 13.

    Don’t cut all your meat up at once. Cut one bite at a time. You can cut your salad, but only one bite at a time.

  14. 14.

    Don’t make concoctions by mashing or stirring foods together.

  15. 15.

    Don’t put your elbows on the table or circle your arm around your plate.

  16. 16.

    Don’t butter the entire slice of bread or roll at once. Break off a small piece, butter it, and eat it.

  17. 17.

    Don’t use the serving piece to put butter or relishes on your food. Put the butter or relish on the edge of your plate, then use your own silverware to put it on the food.

  18. 18.

    Don’t use your finger as a pusher.

  19. 19.

    Eat around food that you don’t like. Never make any kind of comment like, “Yuck, I can’t stand this.” If you get something on your plate that you don’t like, cut a couple of pieces off and push it around so it looks like you’ve eaten some. Make only positive comments about the food.

  20. 20.

    Don’t slurp your soup or drink from the bowl. It is correct to eat soup with your spoon sliding from the middle of the soup bowl to the back.

  21. 21.

    Say “Excuse me, please,” if you must leave the table during a meal. Put your napkin on your chair seat if you are coming back.

  22. 22.

    If you have to sneeze, turn away from the table and cover your mouth with your napkin.

  23. 23.

    If you have a coughing fit, turn away from the table or leave the table until your coughing is under control.

  24. 24.

    Leave the napkin to the left of your plate when you are finished. Don’t wad up the napkin or throw it on the table. Don’t refold it. Just lay it to the left of your plate.

  25. 25.

    Don’t comb your hair at the table.

  26. 26.

    Don’t chew your ice cubes.

  27. 27.

    Don’t lick your knife.

  28. 28.

    Don’t eat food with your fingers. There is an exception to this rule. If everyone in the family is eating their chicken with their fingers, go ahead and join them.

  29. 29.

    When you are invited to a family’s home, always offer to help. If the hostess hesitates even the slightest bit before turning down your offer, jump up and get in there and help her.

  30. 30.

    Thank the hostess for the invitation to dinner and say something nice about the food. Make the family that invited you to dinner feel you are totally grateful that they invited you.

  31. 31.

    Take your cues from the family you are with. Don’t use overly formal manners as a put down. If they are relaxed and casual, then adjust accordingly.

Of course, manners vary according to the customs of the culture you are in. Pay close attention in your culture classes at the MTC, and remember that one basic trick to handling sticky situations: Watch your host and hostess, and do as they do. Learn the importance of good manners.

Natural Disasters: What If …

What if you spill your drink? Just apologize. Offer to clean it up, and then forget it. The worse thing you can do is keep apologizing all through the dinner. It happened, it’s over, forget it.

What if you drop some food on the table? If the food you drop may stain the tablecloth, scrape it up with a knife and place it on the very edge of your plate without saying anything.

What if you have a fish bone in your mouth? Don’t say, “Yuck, I hate fish with bones in it.” Don’t say anything. Just remove the bone with your fingers and place it on the edge of your plate.

What if you have watermelon seeds or an olive pit in your mouth? Put your spoon in your mouth and remove the seeds or pits with it.

What happens if there is a fly in your soup? At someone’s house, don’t make a big deal. Just remove it, and don’t say anything. At a restaurant, call the waiter and discreetly ask him to replace your soup.

What if you are eating a piece of meat and you have a giant piece of gristle inyour mouth that you can’t swallow? Just remove it with your fork or fingers and place it on the edge of your plate. Don’t spit it into your napkin.

What if you need to blow your nose? Please do not use your napkin. Excuse yourself from the table. Go into another room and use a tissue.

What if you burp accidently? Don’t start laughing. That is totally rude. Just say, “Pardon me,” and let it go without further comment.

What if your pasta is out of control? Don’t slurp your spaghetti into your mouth. Either wind it up using your fork in the bowl of your spoon, or cut it into bite-size sections.

No matter what you’re eating, you should stock up on certain words and phrases like “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.” Those words are essential to the vocabulary of a gracious missionary.

10 Food Challenges

Corn on the cob. Manners experts cannot agree on the best way to eat corn. Logic must take over. Butter and season the whole cob, pick it up by the ends, and eat it.

Baked potato. Use your fork, not your knife, to mix your butter into your potato.

French fries. Use your fork to eat french fries unless you are at a picnic or at a fast-food restaurant.

Fried chicken. Eat it with your knife and fork unless you are at a picnic. Or follow the lead of your hostess in her home.

Whole fish. Cut the head off. Split the fish from the head to the tail. Lift the bones out with your fork and put them to the side of your plate.

Half a grapefruit. Remove each section with your grapefruit spoon. Don’t pick it up, squeeze it, and drink the juice.

Apple or pear. Cut the fruit into quarters. Eat with knife and fork or with your fingers as your host or hostess is doing.

Bananas. Peel completely. Cut a piece at a time and eat with your fork.

Bacon. If the bacon is too crisp to eat with your fork, use your fingers.

Shish kebab. Slide everything off the skewer with your fork. Don’t pick up and eat pieces directly off the skewer.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Rob Westerberg