Don’t eti-quit your Etiquette

Each year, students dressed in in business professional attire gather in Campion Ballroom to hear the many wisdoms of an etiquette expert who will coach them through a three course meal of manners.

The Etiquette Dinner is hosted by Career Services and Albers School of Business and Economics, and this year’s speaker was Scott Flanary, an energetic recruiting manager.

It was a bit intimidating, because I truly felt like he could’ve called me out from 12 tables away for drinking my water the wrong way. Admittedly, I’d also take that intimidation anyday over a stuffy monotone voice preaching to me about how to properly wipe my face.

First off, I would encourage you, no matter how intimidating performing the perfect napkin lap fold may sound to you, to attend the Etiquette Dinner. If nothing else, it’s good food that you can pay for with your meal plan, and I actually had a proper vegetable for the first time in nine days. Also, I now know how to fold a napkin properly in my lap, with corners touching and seems facing away from me, which is a fancy, convincing way to trick people into thinking I’m neat and tidy.

Although the speaker kept reminding us that etiquette is not comprised of rules, but rather guidelines for how to behave, I still couldn’t help but feel the pressure of looking out of place. I now understood how protagonist Mia Thermopolis from “The Princess Diaries” felt when she had to be coached by Julie Andrews on “How to Be a Proper Princess.” However, Julie Andrews was (unfortunately) not present at this dinner and I was not going to rule the land of a small Western European country. Instead, I was sitting uncomfortably in the Campion Ballroom, wondering if I had crossed my legs correctly.

I stared at the bread rolls wrapped in a linen napkins in a basket for about eight minutes while the etiquette speaker talked about proper business attire with a powerpoint featuring appropriate Google Images examples. No one at my table reached for the rolls, even when we got the go-ahead from the speaker. We were forewarned that proper bread-eating etiquette was coming up later in the powerpoint, and I was risking ridicule by going for the rolls early. But I was hungry, and the little butter balls on the small bread plate looked cute, so I gingerly called for the basket and not-so gingerly stuffed a rosemary roll into my mouth.

The proper terminology for how to eat bread is to “pop it” in your mouth. So as everyone tore off a piece of bread to daintily toss it into their mouth, I was on bread roll number two. Which, proper etiquette says, you should only have one roll (“It’s not your dinner folks, you get one roll, blah, blah, blah”).

By the time the main course came around, my table was out of bread and I was well-versed in the art of flawlessly interjecting into important people’s conversation and weaving in the Olympics as a conversation topic. The main course was chicken, covered in a creamy rosemary sauce with potatoes and string beans. Last year they served spaghetti, and I couldn’t help but feel extremely grateful that my inner Italian didn’t have to silently shrivel and suffer in the ridicule that my improper spaghetti twirling would have prompted. Not to mention, the sauce splattering would have been an added obstacle.

The Etiquette Dinner is orchestrated to allow participants to have conversation at your table when the main course comes, similar to a real business situation, where the bulk of your conversation happens over the main course. The speaker took a break from the jokes and the etiquette powerpoint to eat, and let everyone do some chatting. During appetizers, salads, soups and other small foods, you are supposed to talk mostly about sports and the weather (naturally).

The real star of the night was the dessert, it really took the cake. It was, in fact, a very large, very chocolatey cake, with little chocolate shavings on the top that made for a very pretty slice. After stressing over whether to use my dessert spoon or my salad fork to eat the mammoth slice, I decided a fork made more sense, although technically incorrect. The dessert spoon did come in handy when my cake literally toppled off my plate while I was almost halfway through, landing upside down on the white tablecloth. I instinctually flipped the cake with my fork and spoon in hand to hoist it back onto my plate.

I don’t know how that cake catastrophe would’ve gone over at a business function, nor do I know if eating two rolls was too ambitious, but one would hope that first impressions aren’t as technical as the Etiquette Dinner makes it seem. At the very least, I hope that my future employer would respect my tenacity, enthusiasm and risk-taking when it comes to things someone should really care about, you know, like chocolate cake.

Jacqueline may be reached at
[email protected]