Good manners: what did a distinguished meal look like in the 19th century?


Cutting the salad with your knife, putting your elbows on the table, refilling cheese… In France, these habits are considered bad table manners. Just like wishing a “good appetite” before starting to eat… Indeed, this expression amounts to encouraging the guests for the digestion of the meal, insinuating that the small dishes simmered by the host would be unappetizing.

Over the centuries, the notions of good manners have evolved. In an issue of Le Figaro gourmand published on December 21, 1889, the journalist Antonin Périvier listed the twelve rules of good manners at the table. What did a distinguished meal look like at that time, more than 130 years ago?

The first “dining rule” enacted by the former director of the Figaro literary supplement involves never eating alone at the table, but at least two. “Alone at the table, the diner suffers from not being able to talk about the satisfactions felt”, explains Antonin Périvier.

According to the same principle, it was essential to stay focused on your plate and not on the person who accompanies us: “In no case, whatever his neighborhood, a gourmand has the right to be in love while he eat”, wrote the journalist.

Finally, among the rules laid down, is the fact of smiling while eating. “The honest man is the one who eats while smiling”, even writes Antonin Périvier.

A few rules, again very precise, concern the aperitif…

It must be said that dinner aperitifs were not popular in 1889. As Antonin Périvier writes, it is not appropriate to “go into raptures” over the aperitif offered by the host: “The hors d’oeuvres almost never worth questioning, it would be pitiful to exclaim: “These sardines are delicious! However, if, as a result of a deformity of taste, one is passionate about one or other of these useless , we will be out of it to take a double share, by stealth”, then notes the journalist.

What about the drink?

The rules of decorum of the time dictated by the journalist Antonin Périvier distinguished three types of people at the table. The drunkard, who drinks to be thirsty, the inept, who drinks to stop being thirsty, and finally the gourmet, who drinks to know if he is thirsty. “Smell, taste, drink”, he concludes in his little guide to eating well at the table.

Moreover, the custom of the time also wanted women not to touch a bottle of alcohol: it was therefore desirable for men to serve and reserve the wine according to the needs of the guests at the table.