NZ Woman's Weekly

Colin Hogg on table manners

When I was a kid we never ate meals anywhere but the dining table. It was a yellow Formica one with matching chairs, as I recall. Mum was a good cook. We were expected to finish everything, but it wasn’t that hard.

Even when we were away on our annual holiday at the Alexandra Camping Ground, we all sat around a table to eat. I assumed the whole country did back then. Eating without the support of a table would have been weird.

Not any more, though. These days, one in five New Zealanders almost never eats meals at the table with their family, and that number is growing. It’s a national scandal and we should start wondering what the government’s going to do about it.

The prime minister might need to appoint a minister of meals, because while we’re at it, we could take a look at what’s being served up in the name of breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

Many New Zealanders don’t know how to cook, and fast food looks better served up under dim lighting in front of the TV than it does sitting at the dinner table with the rest of the family.

According to some experts, teenagers who eat with their families are less likely to get into trouble and a lot easier to get on with. But no one seems to want to know, as families drift away from dinner tables and miss out on something special.

My darling wife has admitted that when she was a kid she used to hide the hated capsicum in the gaps in the seats at her family table. Despite this, she’s a big believer in the family eating together at dinner time.

It’s not always the table we eat at, to be honest. We sit together around the serving bench in the kitchen, but we do it together and we don’t watch television. The conversation isn’t always sparkling, but that’s what you get sometimes with two adults and a teenager.

We used to have a rule about each of us telling a story from our day, but that seems to have slipped lately. The teenager is as dark on vegetables now as she was when she was little. But she does know how to use a knife and a fork and even which side of the plate they should sit on, though I suppose utensils are a threatened species as we start to eat alone with little thought for table manners.

Restaurants might end up being the only places left where we eat sitting up, looking at each other and maybe talking. I don’t recall what we talked about around the dinner table when I was a kid. I do remember I had to be sure I didn’t break any of the basic knife and fork rules about what’s in which hand and which way up.

Which does mean I know which way to move a soup spoon – though the way things are going, that’s not going to be much use for much longer.

Issue 1541

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