Ask Aunt Chelsea, July 17, 2013
Dear Aunt Chelsea,
I grew up with a very proper upstate New York Mom, and she worked very hard on my backwoods Vermont Dad to improve his manners. Of course, all us kids were brought up to know how to set the table, what not to say around certain guests and so forth. My mother never corrected my dad when he blew his nose at the table after a meal. And, boy, does he let out a loud honking blow! So, naturally, I always thought that it was no faux pas to blow my nose at the table. Recently, at the dining hall (I’m a college freshman), I blew my nose after eating and my friend hissed at me to stop, insisting that I was being rude. So, Aunt Chelsea…is it okay or not to blow my nose at the table? Is it culturally correct in some places and not in others?
What we have here is a thoroughly befuddled adult child suffering from a classic case of mixed signals. As Aunt Chelsea’s wise old Uncle Jimmy used to say, the only constant in human nature is our lack of consistency. “Pobody’s Nerfect,” he also often said — and boy, was he right. Even your upstate NY mum, who sounds like a heavenly soul hell-bent on raising polite children, is not immune to muddying the clear waters of proper etiquette with her own toxic loopholes.
What good is a properly set table if the meal is capped off by a nasal salvo across the bow? What good is sparkling dinner conversation tailored to the temperament of your guests when pop’s rogue honker is sure to be the number one take-away topic of the night? It’s no wonder you’ve grown up, moved away and been called out for behavior that simply doesn’t pass muster in the very public (and diverse) setting of a college dining establishment.
In this hallowed hall, it is certainly not appropriate to let loose with a sinus-clearing snort once the last crumb of dessert has been gobbled up. In fact, as I believe you already suspect, the only “culturally correct” place for this germy mealtime coda is at your own family’s dinner table. All other places are, as they say, off the table.
Outside the confines of our own homes, what qualifies as appropriate varies wildly, from clubs to colleges to cultures and to countries. That’s why, when breaking bread with strangers, it’s best to tread lightly before we let our family freak flag fly at full staff. So just dial it back a few notches until you’ve sussed out the likes, dislikes, customs and quirks of the company you’re keeping — and defer to what makes them comfortable. That’s the only ingredient you’ll need to ace Aunt Chelsea’s own personal recipe for being the perfect guest, or host.
Good luck, hon, and keep a big jug of antibacterial on hand for others who might make the same ill-advised faux pas as you and your pa!