In an elegant dining hall on a Sunday evening, one member from each table of formally dressed high school students rises from their chair, raises their glass and calls for a brief toast.
Once the toast ends and the toast reciprocation begins, the students try to make eye contact with each other while clinking glasses rather than when sipping water — or else violate one of the many rules of proper etiquette they learned that evening.
"At dinners, I'll probably start using these techniques," Lakeridge High student Nick Holum says.
High school juniors in the Lake Oswego chapter of the National League of Young Men (NLYM) and the Lake Oswego chapter of the National Charity League (NCL) learned the finer points of dining etiquette at Tualatin Country Club Sunday, March 10. The NLYM is a nonprofit organization for young men in grades 9-12 and NCL is a nonprofit philanthropic and leadership organization for mothers and daughters.
Mindy Lockard, who hosts interpersonal workshops at colleges, in the business world and government agencies, led the etiquette dinner.
"It's one thing for a mom to tell them to talk about manners but being in a group with other peers and hearing from somebody that's an expert makes more sense to them. It's easier to listen to and hopefully digest," says Laurie Daniels, former president of the NLYM Lake Oswego Chapter.
To Lockard, a lack of know-ledge about proper etiquette is both a regional and generational issue.
She says that Americans and especially those who live in the Pacific Northwest generally have a more relaxed attitude about dining than their European counterparts. And at the same time, she says younger generations aren't as accustomed to sitting down and having a formal meal as their elders.
In turn, Lockard tries to correct these purported deficiencies.
"In Europe they start teaching these in kindergarten and so it seems technical when you're learning it because you've never learned it but really it's just simple tradition that's really global," Lockard says.
The students went through a four-course meal — including setting the table, toasting, and eating soup, salad, a main course and dessert — all while learning techniques for proper dining.
Holum and Lake Oswego High student Joe O'Gara say that prior to the event they knew some polite customs but weren't privy to a few of the technical details. For one, they found learning the right way to hold utensils — using the fork in the non-dominant hand, balancing your utensils with your index fingers and avoiding using your upper body — to be a bit unnatural. But say they got the hang of it after some practice.
Holum was also surprised to learn that the first person to grab the bread is supposed to pass it
to the left before receiving it
again and then passing it to the right.
"That was kind of confusing," Holum says. "Some people just take what they need first and then pass it so it's different that you actually give it to someone else first and then you get (it back)."
O'Gara felt that learning the proper way to toast was one of the most important nuggets he took away from the evening.
"I obviously know what toasting is because it's a really common thing but it's something I never would have learned otherwise," O'Gara says. "I think there's specific situations where you need to go in knowing what to do."
Lockard says that more than the technical details, proper dining is about making others feel comfortable and putting their interests above your own.
"Just because you don't like salt doesn't mean the person sitting next to you isn't going to want salt," Lockard says. "So you pass the salt because it's not really about you."
And Lockard emphasized throughout the dinner that prioritizing others and feeling comfortable performing social customs can be a springboard to professional success.
Daniels, for her part, appreciated seeing the young men greet the young ladies prior to the meal and learn to make others feel welcome at the table.
"I think just the social aspect of it, being able to talk a little bit at your table, engage somebody that's not talking, making others people feel comfortable, greeting the young ladies when they come in, goes a long way toward self-confidence," she says.
Though the dinner lasted just a few hours, Lockard saw improvements among the young men and women present that night.
"It's not that they came in as barbarians but they definitely left more refined and with some important skills," Lockard says.
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