One evening at dinner in a local establishment, friends Fred Mayo and Michael Gold were appalled by the behavior exhibited by other patrons. Then and there they decided to do something about it— to create a guide to good manners. Fred would write and Michael would supply the accompanying photographs. The result is Modern American Manners: Dining Etiquette For Hosts and Guests by Fred Mayo and Michael Gold (Skyhorse Publishing)
Fred Mayo grew up in a home where good manners and proper etiquette were a given. Sunday dinners at the grandparents were a ritual, complete with elegant table settings and family members in their best clothes and on their best behavior. Table manners were reinforced with a daily mealtime game that kept everyone sharp and aware.
A retired professor of hospitality and tourist management with a history of hosting etiquette dinners for students at NYU, Fred, whose hobby is entertaining, is uniquely qualified to advise and guide the rest of us through the choppy waters of being good hosts and guests.
This book isn’t designed to be read cover to cover, but it can be a wonderful resource. It covers a range of topics, including conduct becoming both a host and a guest, setting your table, manners at a cocktail party (can you hold both your plate and drink in your left hand? I can’t!), as well as proper manners for a myriad of social and business settings.
Fred begins by differentiating between etiquette and manners, the former being defined as “the set of rules for what is proper in situations ranging from letter writing to extravagant weddings to simple dinner parties,’ and the latter as “proper and appropriate behavior in a range of social contexts.”
By giving very specific examples, beautifully illustrated by Michael’s sometimes humorous photographs, the reader can see and understand what is appropriate in each situation. As one reviewer for the New York Times put it, “accompanying photographs [are] reminiscent of Glamour magazine’s old Dos and Don’ts pages…” This is not a stuffy “Miss Manners” sort of tome. Fred’s friendly, casual writing style draws the reader in, feeling like a conversation, not a lecture.
Although to me some of the material covered was common sense, Fred explained that many younger people, fresh out of college or new to the business world, have not had the advantage of nightly family meals where acceptable manners could be modeled. Single-parent homes or homes where both parents work and children are constantly running to after school activities are much more common than not. And our world is a much more casual place that it once was, so when faced with a more formal situation, many people are at a loss as to how to handle themselves.
When I asked Fred the best way to use the book, he suggested you might want to keep a copy on your coffee table, pour yourself a glass of wine, and randomly explore any of the covered topics. Or introduce it at one of your own dinner parties—your guests might get a good chuckle out of it. Everyone might learn something, too.
You can purchase a copy of Modern American Manners via Amazon, or, even better, try a local bookstore. You can also find it at the Gardiner library.