Dinner a Formal Meal - The Etiquette of Arrival - Of the Dinner-table
A girl often anticipates her first dinner-party with a sinking of the heart that is almost a terror.
She knows that dinner is the most ceremonious of meals, and that any solecism of which she may be guilty, through ignorance or nervousness, might mark her out as an object for undesired attention and unspoken criticism.
A girl who has not been brought up among the conventions of society feels sadly at sea as to what she ought to do, or leave undone, at the dinner-table, that now looms before her as a kind of burning-glass on which some of the most rigid rules and strictest social observances are focussed. Aware of this, and of her own ignorance, she is full of questions. Sometimes she has no one to be her guide in answering them, and has to trust to the example of the others present. The few suggestions which follow may be useful in such cases.
The first concerns dress. In England, a low bodice is worn at dinner-parties, and, in fact, at dinner in the family by those so placed as to be able to conform to the habits of high society. The form of the low bodice, and of the sleeves, follows that of the fashion of the hour, and it is well for a young woman to avoid everything that is exaggerated or conspicuous when she is making her first appearance, unsupported by relative or friend, in the ceremonious atmosphere of a formal dinner-party. She does not wish to attract too much attention, though naturally she wants to look as nice as possible-very nice, indeed, if she can manage it.
Gloves are an indispensable item of the dinner toilette. They must be completely on and fastened before she arrives at the house of her hostess. Dinner guests are not afforded much opportunity for revising or correcting their costume or coiffure. They leave their wraps in the hall, and are shown at once into the drawing-room.
Reception by the Hostess
As she follows the servant, the girl hears her name announced, advances into the room, and goes straight to her hostess, who usually comes well down the room to receive her, guessing that she may feel shy and uncomfortable, especially if her social position is lower than that of her entertainers.
" A low voice is an excellent thing in women," and never more excellent than when the owner of it is placed in circumstances where shyness is apt to play its nasty little trick of masking itself in an air of effrontery. This latter is helped enormously by a loud, harsh voice, but it is heavily handicapped by a low, quiet one.
Few introductions are made in the drawing-room before dinner beyond those of the dinner partners. The girl guest will find her escort presented to her in due course, and though he may walk away to greet some of his acquaintances, he will return to take her to the dining-room. He may or may not offer her his arm. It is a custom now falling into disuse in some circles. The couple merely stroll side by side from drawing-room to dining-room, exchanging a few remarks on indifferent topics.
Seated at table, she removes her gloves and puts them in her lap, unfolds her napkin, and does not omit to say something to her partner, choosing some light subject for a start. But she must not be surprised nor hurt if he should happen to be talking to the lady on his left. Should her neighbour on her right speak to her, she will engage in conversation with him, whether she has been introduced or not. She will remember that bread is never cut, always broken; that soup is taken from the side of the spoon, not from the point; that however excellent it and the fish may be, a second helping is not orthodox, though the attendant when taking her plate may possibly murmur in her left ear: " Any more, miss? "
When wine is handed, she will be asked: " Sherry, miss? " " Hock, miss? " " Champagne, miss? " in the quiet, almost mysterious voice of the well-trained servitor.
Her reply need be no more than " Yes " or " No." Any remark as to the reasons for her preference or abstinence would be entirely out of place, and would be ignored by butler or parlourmaid, but stored in their memory for the amusement of the servants later on.
A look at the menu will enable her to decide as to what dishes she will accept, and which decline. Should she be unaccustomed to asparagus, unused to eat it in her fingers, let her do so with a knife and fork. Though unusual, this is better than experimenting with the unknown when critical eyes may be looking on.
But, as a rule, the other guests are busy with their own concerns, and a solecism passes unnoticed, except, perhaps, by the immediate neighbours of the one who has committed it.