I have long felt like I observe dining etiquette as a sort of anthropologist. I grew up in the very informal rural American west, and my parents absolutely did right by me for every dining circumstance I encountered before college. But I went to a very old university, steeped in tradition, where it seemed like we had a formal dinner with faculty every semester; after college, I moved to ultra-trendy Los Angeles, where I ate out with colleagues four days a week for almost three years. Oh, the range of forks I encountered and conquered. I navigated mostly by moving somewhat more slowly than everyone else around the table, so I could watch and mimic what they did and Google my questions later.

I picked up Emily Post’s Advice for Every Dining Occasion for a dollar or two at a used book store. It delivered on one of my hopes, to learn about the roots of some dining etiquette – I have always loved Emily Post’s basic rule of etiquette, to make others feel comfortable; in that vein, this book explained issues like when to teach children specific table manners based on when they’re capable of learning what.

Most of its advice did not, however, prove easy to apply to making others comfortable in my home. I quickly learned to skip entirely the passages that started with “If you have a butler…” and I am simply never going to dictate that dinner guests at my table alternate their seating man-woman. My life is at a level of formality where I own different shapes of glasses for different kinds of wine, and I’ll include a bread plate in the place setting, but not a level where serving guests
from the left or the right side matters. My friends and the restaurants we visit seem to feel the same.

I’ll keep this volume as a reference for a black-tie wedding this summer and the occasional formal corporate event. Or, you know, if I ever take a notion to turn my napkin into water glass rainbows.