What I find bizarre is the habit of putting restaurant napkins in one’s lap. What purpose can they possibly serve there? Are they supposed to catch bits of food that fall out of one’s mouth? That would only work for extremely skinny, flat-chested, flat-stomached people. And if they are so thin, what is the likelihood of them eating so greedily and sloppily that clumps of food would keep plonking in their laps?

I hate this habit because the darn napkin always slips to the floor and it’s a drag to have to fish it out every five minutes.

18 thoughts on “Napkins

  1. This is funny — I grew up poor, rarely eating out at restaurants (and when we did my parents would embarrass by shoving cups, plates, excessive amounts of condiment packages into their purse) and never ever did the “napkin in the lap” thing.

    But during college days, a girlfriend and family were aghast when I ate dinner at their house and didn’t put my napkin in my lap like everyone else. It marked me as a crude, unmannered ruffian devoid of proper social etiquette.


  2. I’m just guessing that napkins in the lap come from a time when people were supposed to sit up straight and a little distance from the table (not leaning over it).
    The weird way Americans cut meat up and switch the knife and fork between hands and setting down and pickin gup the knife constantly supposedly was to encourage people to eat more slowly and maybe the upright posture was intended for similar reasons. It’s hard to eat European style (keeping the knife and fork in the same hands and over the plate when not using them) without leaning somewhat toward the table which makes napkins useless.
    I remember being surprised that they aren’t generally an option outside the US (though if one is present I use it out of force of habit and swing wildly between US and European knife and fork etiquette)


  3. I can only guess it’s not polite to have your mouth daubing napkin in sight (apparently the only polite thing to do with a napkin) and these rules were designed for men. Otherwise why would you be putting the napkin on the chair when you excuse yourself?


  4. Depends on the type of establishment you do business with.
    Pricey restaurants with cloth napkins embrace (and expect one to indulge) this practice.
    Restaurants, cafes, fast-food joints, and coffee shops that only use paper napkins—you can set those on the table and simply use them to wipe your mouth (or hands) as needed.


  5. I also guess the American habit of keeping your hand in your lap (as opposed to elbows on the table) when you’re not holding a utensil helps people keep the napkin on their lap? [I was told the French think it’s weird. ]

    At this point I’m happy if people sit at the table and chew with their mouth closed. :/

    How well is Klara able to follow your lead with table manners at this point?


    1. Gosh, Klara is the one teaching manners to me. Today, she had to remind me not to eat things off the floor. And she doesn’t let us get up from the table until we have asked to be excused.

      I think the talk on “what you need to know, little one, is that mommy is a pig” is coming soon.


  6. I use napkins at home. I hate paper ones. Just a habit my family had and when I moved to the US I couldn’t get used to the paper ones.


  7. I do not know whether my experience is typical or not, but I had a great aunt who from time to time gave lunch to my younger brother and me. She did not use napkins, and taught us to wipe our hands on our pant legs if we got something (a bit of gravy, mayonnaise, or anything) on our hands. This horrified my mother, who told us that that was the reason you had a napkin in your lap when eating. My great aunt died in 1952, wh3n I was 8 years old, so I don’t really remember this well; I remember it only because I was told it by my mother over the years. But it is certainly true that having a napkin in my lap has always seemed natural and convenient to me, so that I can wipe my hands unobtrusively if necessary.


  8. You’re obviously eating at ritzy restaurants that some of us can’t afford! Nobody puts a napkin in her lap at Outback or Applebees.


    1. I’m very fortunate in that both of my travel destinations this summer have restaurants where I can eat without provoking a cholecystitis attack.

      I’ve decided to retire in Naples, FL. Not now, obviously, but eventually.


        1. No napkins on the laps at Denny’s either.
          Sure as hell not at McDonald’s or Wendy’s either.
          All depends on where one eats and to what caliber of social demographic said establishment caters to.


  9. I’ve always eaten like the Germans — both elbows on the table and with the fork permanently in your left hand (which makes more sense than continuously switching the knife and fork back and forth in your hands).

    I eat this way because I’m left-handed and have no manners. The Germans historically keep both hands on the table so their dining companions can be sure that the other hand isn’t holding a dagger.


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