While reading this list, you may find that you've been a sinner in the past without ever realizing it. Don't worry. Redemption is at hand. And you certainly aren't alone. The sins detailed in the following list made the top 10 list only because so many people have committed them so often in the past.
According to G.R.M. Devereux in Etiquette for Women, published in 1901, after you pick up a piece of cutlery, it should never touch the table again—advice that applies today as well.
- Cutlery. Don't hold your fork like a cello or your knife like Lady Macbeth's dagger. Also, don't wave your cutlery triumphantly in the air to emphasize a point and don't put silverware partly on the table and partly on the plate. After you pick up a piece of cutlery, it should never touch the table again. Knives go on the plate, blade facing in and touching the inside of the plate. Only the handle should rest on the rim of the plate.
- Napkins. Don't blot or rub the lower half of your face. Dab delicately. Don't flap your napkin to unfold it and don't wave it around like a flag. It belongs unfolded on your lap. If you leave the table, place your napkin on the chair and push the chair back under the table. Gently. Watch the upholstery. Don't refold your napkin at the end of the meal because an unknowing server might give it to another diner. Pick up the napkin from the center and place it loosely on the table to the left of your plate.
- Chewing. Never chew with your mouth open. Also, no matter how urgently you want to inject the perfect kernel of wit and wisdom at just the right moment, don't do it with food in your mouth. And don't gulp and blurt. Finish chewing, swallow, and smile philosophically, content in the knowledge that you could have said just the right thing, but had too much class to speak with food in your mouth.
- Appearance. Remember what your mother said: Sit up straight and keep your elbows off the table. If you have any doubt about where your hands belong, put them in your lap.
- Breaking bread. Here is a real bread-and-butter tip. Tear bread into bite-size pieces and butter each piece just before you eat it. Don't butter the entire slice of bread or the entire roll to get it ready for occasional bites during the course of the meal.
- Speed. Take it easy. Whether you're at the Ritz Carlton or Gertie's Grease Pit, gulping down food is not only unhealthy but also unattractive, and it can cross the line into rudeness when dining with others. Dining partners should have the same number of courses and start and finish each one at about the same time. Don't be huddling over your soup while others are salivating for dessert or vice versa.
- Don't pick! If you have something trapped between your teeth, don't pick at it while you are at the table. If it's really driving you nuts, excuse yourself, go to the restroom, and pick to your heart's content.
- Lipstick etiquette. Leaving a lipstick trail behind on stemware and flatware is bad form, especially at a business meal. If you apply lipstick in the restaurant and don't have a blotting tissue with you, make a detour to the restroom or nab a cocktail napkin from the bar on your way to the table.
- Smoking. Even if you're sitting in the smoking section of the restaurant, you should never light up between courses. It affects your dining partners' taste buds and is a jarring note during any meal. Wait until the meal is over and, even then, ask if anyone minds if you smoke. If anyone does object, offer to wait or to smoke at the bar. And, please, never use a plate as an ashtray.
- Purses and briefcases. Keep them off the table. And this rule goes for keys, hats, gloves, eyeglasses, eyeglass cases, and cigarette packs. In short, if it isn't part of the meal, it shouldn't be on the table.