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Table Manners: Mealtime Conversation

Peace, harmony, and lifelong learning are Liz's passions. She's outspoken on education and childhood and is an activist in local politics.

"Mind Your Manners, Dear."


How to Behave at Table

It seems to me that the majority of people in civilized countries grew up being taught how to behave at the table.

  • Say, "please," and "thank you," when requesting something be passed your way.
  • Try to avoid passing gas loudly, and say "excuse me," if you do.
  • Cover your mouth and say "excuse me," if you belch.
  • Don't blow your nose at the table.
  • Don't talk about disgusting things, such as the other end of the digestive process or your Uncle's hernia surgery.
  • Apologize if you spill something.
  • Don't argue (and this means avoid controversial topics, especially the two big 'hot-button' issues of politics and religion).

What to Discuss While Eating

There have pretty much always been protocols in place for appropriate mealtime conversation in polite society.

There are any number of topics that can be brought up in a genteel and pleasant fashion, enhancing the meal for all. A sample list of accepted conversational topics:

  • Junior's honor roll award.
  • Janie's progress in gymnastics.
  • Uncle Bert's welcome home from military service (but not his war wounds).
  • The weather is usually a safe bet.
  • Plans for the summer.
  • Last summer's vacation memories.
  • Cousin Sue's new interest in photography.
  • Aunt Miranda's later-in-life decision to attend nursing school.
  • Cute things the new puppy did (but not his 'messes').

You get the idea. Things of interest to all present, because all present know about, or would be interested to hear about the doings of other family members. No one will be offended or disgusted by any of these sorts of topics.

What Not to Discuss While Eating

Really, this should not have to be spelled out, but here goes. While I'm eating a meal, I do not care to hear about any of the following topics:

  • Dad's problems with his hemorrhoids.
  • Aunt Susie's recent bout with constipation.
  • Cousin Dorothy's C-section (in graphic detail).
  • Tittering whispers about Aunt Edna's frustrations because her husband's "stuff" no longer works.
  • Anyone's stories of their surgeries (in graphic detail).
  • Descriptions of animals seen killed on the road.
  • Discussion of how Cousin Lydia nearly bled to death at her last 'monthly'.
  • Graphic descriptions of science class dissection exercises.

You get the idea--anything that is liable to make someone feel uncomfortable, disgusted, or even nauseated, is not proper fodder (pardon the pun) for mealtime conversation. Remember: some folks have very weak stomachs, and can easily feel ill by the mere mention of disgusting things.

It is not very polite to make someone lose their appetite in the middle of a meal. Meals are to be enjoyed; not interrupted by a mad dash for the facilities to avoid "losing one's lunch" in the middle of the plate.

Gray Areas

Sometimes, where small children are involved, there is some amount of "playful" gross-out conversation. It happened when my kids were young; I did it when I was a child. It is not the sort of thing to be tolerated when out in company, but follows "at-home-only" rules.

I am speaking of the delight kids seem to take in dreaming up terrible food combinations that no one would possibly like. The general rules to this "game" are that anything included must be an actual edible item of food.

During family-only dinner hour, there might be some amusement forthcoming, and a way for the kids to feel included in otherwise adult-only conversation, if this game is allowed.

Here are some of the things that have come up in my family:

  • spaghetti a la mode.
  • pickles with peanut butter.
  • ginger ale with chocolate syrup.
  • banana and pickle sandwich.
  • pancakes with mustard.

Those kinds of "conversational topics" may generate an "ewww" reaction from everyone, but there is probably little risk of anyone actually being made to feel ill as a result.

Again, this is to encourage kids to participate in the dinner conversation, and it can serve as a distraction, as they eagerly chow down on their food, perhaps not noticing that they have actually eaten their broccoli.

Also, it is best saved for "once in a while," and not a daily event.

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It should be balanced with including them in dinnertime conversation about things they saw or did at school; their favorite subject; what they want to be when they grow up (for that week, anyway); and so forth.

Why Has the World Gone Crazy?

What, then, is the matter with the world, with TV and radio internal traffic** schedulers? What is the matter with Madison Avenue advertising executives, that none of them seem to have learned any of these rules? With the rules of the section on "What Not to Discuss..." in mind, then, I would like to scold the network advertisers and executives for their exceedingly poor choice of timing.

You know what I mean. Many, many families or individuals these days watch TV while they eat dinner. Sometimes other meals too, but the dinner hour seems to be the prime target of offensive behavior in this area. (Whether or not watching TV while eating is a bad habit is not the point of this article.) Suffice it to say, it is commonly done.

So, why, I must know, do these corporate executives behind the scenes think that as we eat our meals, during the hours between 5:p.m. and 7:30 p.m., is a great time to showcase multiple ads for:

  • Medicines to relieve constipation.
  • Feminine hygiene products.
  • Sexual dysfunction medications.
  • Bladder control products and medications.
  • Hemorrhoid remedies.
  • Medicine to relieve gas and bloating.

Seriously? I don't want to hear about any of that while I'm trying to eat! Yet, they do it every night. It is a virtual barrage of advertising running the gamut of all these items! It is not particularly appetizing.

It is very bad manners, and in poor taste. I guess their mommies did not train them well, or, more likely, that training was ignored in the name of the almighty dollar.


**internal traffic refers to the scheduling of which programs are shown at what times, and yes, it is programmed down to the minute and second, including what ads will be shown at which very specific times.

What Can We Do About It?

There are a number of things that we, as consumers, can do to help change this agenda.

  1. Call the station airing the ads, ask to speak with 'internal traffic,' and lodge a complaint.
  2. Call and/or write to the product manufacturer, and complain.
  3. Write a rant on social media; preferably on the pages of both the station and the product.
  4. Call and/or write to the parent network.
  5. Use the power of your wallet: boycott the products so advertised, and purchase a different brand, if it is a type of product you need.

The stations may try to say that the agencies buying the ads will pull the ads if they can't have them run at the times they dictate. However, "The Big 3" networks are plenty big enough to counter this, and counter it they can, in the face of massive public opposition.

If enough people make this an issue, and all 3 networks then pull together, they can deny the advertisers their offensive time slots for those ads.

But it will never happen if everyone just shrugs and says, "Oh, well." Yes, perhaps it is a petty annoyance in the grand scheme of things. And, yes, there are probably more important issues about which to protest.

But look at it this way: consider it a practice run for the bigger protests. Learning to pull together and gain a victory on this level will prepare us for the larger projects we may wish to work on at the national level in things that do have a serious impact on our lives and well-being.

© 2013 Liz Elias


Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on September 03, 2020:

Hi Ellen!

So pleased you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. I do agree that more people need to pay attention. I feel I am "preaching to the choir" on here...

Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on September 02, 2020:

I thoroughly enjoyed this and yet it sent a much needed message that was a long time overdue. If only people would take it to heart.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on September 05, 2013:

Hello, FlourishAnyway!

Thanks so much for your comment and sharing your own experience. I'm glad my family was not the only 'weird food weirdos' on the block.. LOL ...

I'm delighted I was able to provide a chuckle, and thanks for the votes!

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 05, 2013:

Reading this I found myself laughing out loud because I have run into similar situations with gross table topics. I'm not sure parents even teach this any more? We usually play a variation of the terrible food combinations game ("would you rather ...") while waiting for our food at restaurants, but it usually stops once the food arrives and we don't allow it to get too gross that it would interfere with appetite. Voted up, useful, interesting, and funny.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on May 06, 2013:

Hello there, sholland10,

I agree..many are inappropriate at ANY time....and I often wonder if parents these days no longer even try to teach manners... Thanks for your comment and support!

Susan Holland from Southwest Missouri on May 06, 2013:

I think the definition of manners has changed in our society. Good manners used to be the rule, but as you discuss in your hub, we see media playing advertisements at inappropriate times. There are some advertisements that are just down right inappropriate any time. I think the world has gone mad at times. I am with you on this one. :-)

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on May 04, 2013:

@ MsDora--I would agree fully--but as you can see by my reply above to drbj, hubby won't have it...he wants to watch the news during dinner. :-( The point being, it is time for us to stop just "accepting and going along with" everything the government and Madison Ave. want us to do...speak up for change!

@ lovedoctor926--Thanks very much for your comment and support. I'm pleased you liked the article.

lovedoctor926 on May 04, 2013:

Great hub! useful information and so true. thanks for sharing.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 04, 2013:

I suggest turning off the TV during dinner. Instead, look at each other while you talk about the topics you suggest. Your other suggestions are RIGHT ON!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on May 04, 2013:

Hi, drbj...

Yeah, but! I'm sort of a 'captive audience,' as hubby insists on watching TV during dinner...the news, usually, and pleasant music is therefore not an option for me.

Anyway, that's not the point....they should move it to "prime time" which is a bit later in the evening...with just as many, if not more people watching.

It's not that I do not understand their motivation--I do--and that in and of itself IS THE PROBLEM. We in this country have become virtual slaves to what the advertisers want and their almighty bottom line. I say, "Enough!" It's time for a change.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on May 04, 2013:

Advertisers of those 'disgusting' products you mentioned, Lizzy, want to get the best bang for their buck. So they advertise remedies for same when they can get the best reach - the most folks watching TV. Dinner time seems to be a prime time for same. Just put on some pleasant music instead and save the TV time for after meals.

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on May 04, 2013:

Hello, billybuc,

You may count yourself among the fortunate. I grew up without a TV, as my dad would not allow one in the house on the grounds that, "The commercials insult your intelligence." He was right.

But, in my adult life, both my ex and current hubby seem unable to "survive" without TV, so I've suffered a constant barrage of this tripe for the last 46 years!

Thanks very much for stopping by! I'm glad you are able to avoid this nonsense.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 04, 2013:

I can see where that would be annoying. Since I don't have a television we certainly don't watch tv during dinnertime. :) Problem solved in our household. LOL

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