Tuesday 11 August 2009

this fork is for what?

Oh what a horrid dream I had. Those of you who can bear to listen to other people's dreams can analyse this one all you like. If it's very rude and betrays all sorts of vile things about my repressed inner life, please don't tell me.

The Queen was talking to me, in the sort of way that Sixth Formers would speak to the Lower Third, trying to be nice, but struggling not to betray their utter contempt for such an un-evolved form of life. Her Majesty was inviting me to a formal dinner. I was immediately thrown into panic - I don't want to go! I haven't got anything to wear! Noooooooooooo! I couldn't possibly go!

Note: These responses are exactly what I would feel should such a nightmarish scenario occur in real life, and I would have to fake my own death rather than put myself through such an ordeal. I would also hate to be invited to one of those Garden Parties for the nation, where I understand one has to wear a hat as well as the clothes one doesn't have. (The Queen has to see all those dreadful hats, and heaven knows, she has enough of her own to put up with; it must be so difficult to ask everybody "Have you come far?" while trying not to snort or snicker at the feathered dinner plates they are balancing nervously on their special hairdos as they strive to curtsey without falling over.)

Worse was to come. She made it plain, in that mysterious unspoken way that can happen in dreams, and perhaps also in conversations with august personages, that she thought I would have difficulties with all the cutlery. I tried hard to convey politely that, actually Ma'am, I was perfectly conversant with the complex array of silverware necessary for many-coursed dinners (not that this is true at all) - but inside, I was terrified that perhaps I had forgotten, and might try to use the fish knife for soup or muddle up the dessert spoons with the fruit knife. Or the
salad knife with the oyster fork.... It's a silver-plated minefield out there, dining with Her Majesty. Oh, why had my neglectful parents not sent me to finishing school to learn for ever the finer nuances of feeding one's face in refined company?

It was a relief to wake up, although I felt worried and peevish for some little while afterwards, at least until I had finished breakfast (one spoon and bowl, one knife and plate, a mug, no hat).

If you think I worry unnecessarily, read on. This is what Emily Post advises:

Table Setting Guide: Formal Place Setting

The one rule for a formal table is for everything to be geometrically spaced: the centerpiece at the exact center; the place settings at equal distances; and the utensils balanced. Beyond these placements, you can vary flower arrangements and decorations as you like.

Formal Place Setting

The placement of utensils is guided by the menu, the idea being that you use utensils in an “outside in” order. For the illustrated place setting here, the order of the menu is:

Appetizer: Shellfish
First Course: Soup or fruit
Fish Course

  1. Service Plate: This large plate, also called a charger, serves as an underplate for the plate holding the first course, which will be brought to the table. When the first course is cleared, the service plate remains until the plate holding the entrée is served, at which point the two plates are exchanged. The charger may serve as the underplate for several courses which precede the entrée.

  2. Butter plate: The small butter plate is placed above the forks at the left of the place setting.

  3. Dinner fork: The largest of the forks, also called the place fork, it is placed on the left of the plate. Other smaller forks for other courses are arranged to the left or right of the dinner fork, according to when they will be used.

  4. Fish fork: If there is a fish course, this small fork is placed farthest to the left of the dinner fork because it is the first fork used.

  5. Salad fork: If salad is served after the entrée, the small salad fork is placed to the right of the dinner fork, next to the plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the forks would be arranged (left to right): salad fork, fish fork, dinner fork.

  6. Dinner knife: The large dinner knife is placed to the right of the dinner plate.

  7. Fish knife: The specially shaped fish knife goes to the right of the dinner knife.

  8. Salad knife: (Note: there is no salad knife in the illustration.) If used, according to the above menu, it would be placed to the left of the dinner knife, next to the dinner plate. If the salad is to be served first, and fish second, then the knives would be arranged (left to right):dinner knife, fish knife, salad knife.

  9. Soup spoon or fruit spoon: If soup or fruit is served as a first course, then the accompanying spoon goes to the right of the knives.

  10. Oyster fork: If shellfish are to be served, the oyster fork is set to the right of the spoons. Note: It is the only fork ever placed on the right of the plate.

  11. Butter knife: This small spreader is paced diagonally on top of the butter plate, handle on the right and blade down.

  12. Glasses: These can number up to five and are placed so that the smaller ones are in front. The water goblet (la) is placed directly above the knives. Just to the right goes a champagne flute (lb); In front of these are placed a red (lc) and/or white (ld) wine glass and a sherry glass (le)

  13. Napkin: The napkin is placed on top of the charger (if one is used) or in the space for the plate.

In general:

Knife blades are always placed with the cutting edge toward the plate.

No more than three of any implement is ever placed on the table, except when an oyster fork is used in addition to three other forks. If more than three courses are served before dessert, then the utensil for the fourth course is brought in with the food; likewise the salad fork and knife may be brought in when the salad course is served.

Dessert spoons and forks are brought in on the dessert plate just before dessert is served.

I told Roger and Tim about my dream anxiety; Roger (or was it Tim?) reminded me that at home, the Queen has breakfast served from Tupperware containers. Ah yes, but I'll bet she knows the difference between the cornflake and the marmalade spoons, and never uses the butter knife to spread Marmite....


My Farmhouse Kitchen said...

OMG..that is hysterical...LOVE IT !
So funny...great writing...

I totally got into it....

Love the Emily Post bit too..

Thanks for the laugh..

Pam said...

Much more involved and emotional than my dreams, which are usually about forgetting to put my clothes on.

I've never understood that extra big plate under the other plates thing. Why add to the washing up?

There, there, though. Next time we meet for lunch, I'll make sure not to be too fussy about your use of utensils. As far as I remember, you managed fine the last time.

Veronica said...

Hmmm what would Freud say?

Perhaps you just need to clean out your cutlery drawer. Youve been feeling guilty about all those crumbs in there havent you.

BumbleVee said...

she also wipes her bum just like the rest of us...or does someone do that for her? ... poor woman....

In my dreams, if I have nothing to wear to an occasion I usually (after much rummaging in closets looking for dresses, which I don't own) .. and I invariably end up walking naked trying to pretend nobody will notice ... and the really good thing about being naked in my dreams is if I stand up very straight...my breasts are perky...hahahhah.....only in my dreams...thank goodness...just in case any of the people I pass do notice I'm starkers...

rachel said...

OMG, someone has looked in my cutlery drawer and knows about those crumbs!

Linda said...

I am always, always in the wrong in my dreams. I cannot remember ever waking up from a pleasant dream, so to dream about the use of knives and forks would be quite relaxing! And I am with you on garden parties, fluffy dresses and hats. No way, not even for Queenie.

Thursday said...

I get really told off if I use the butter knife for Marmite.

Anonymous said...

Someone I know went to one of the recent garden parties. There was a sudden downpour, and she was "disappointed" that the Queen didn't invite them into the Palace to take shelter.

Maybe that's the point about being Queen? (that and the never ending canteens of cutlery?)


Anonymous said...

I think this dream indicates a certain amount of 'stuff it! no more ceremonial pretense, I'm going to go for it and stuff my face using my fingers' type anarchy. Go for it! The word verification for this comment is 'angsfole' which looks and sounds appropriate...

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