YOU ASK! WE ANSWER! YOU DECIDE!
By Callie Gordon, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace
QUESTION: My husband is from another country. Manners were not something that were stressed during his upbringing. Part of that extends to the way food is eaten at the table. For example, in his country it is acceptable to pick up your soup bowl and use your silverware close to your mouth when you dine.
Going along with that includes a great deal of slurping and lip smacking. I have tried numerous times to speak to him, delicately and not so nicely about this issue. He works in a professional field and I am concerned that his colleagues are as repulsed as I am. What else can I do?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: Unfortunately if this is normal in his country it is probably habitual for him. If I were you I would try to keep having chats with him, although I hate that advice because you’re not his mother. Good luck!
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: It sounds like you have done what you can to help him understand this country’s accepted customs and manners. Maybe you could point out that if you were to visit another country, you’d try to learn their manners, too. A normal gesture in one culture might be obscene in another, so it’s always good to understand another point of view. If not, perhaps you can enlist someone else that he trusts to be direct with him or find a way to use humor to make the point.
This is also a good time for others to take the time to get to know someone who comes from another culture. It’s hard to undo first impressions and people don’t always take the time to understand why people act the way they do. While it’s important from a business standpoint for him to adapt, it also could be interesting if possible to use some of these habits as a way to initiate dialogue about what it’s like to grow up outside the United States.
HELEN’S ANSWER: Slurping of food is not pleasant to hear or see. You should always consider others at the table. Your husband should try to learn the manners of the country where he lives — in this case, the United States, and since you have already tried to talk about the issue, maybe it is time to bring in someone else he might listen to. Is there a relative, a minister or a friend who could remind him of how he should eat in front of others or what is expected in the professional field where he works? This may be very important in his business.
It is certainly important that his manners improve if you have children, as it is hard for children to witness impolite behavior from a parent. You don’t want them to be ashamed of eating at the table with him, either at home or at a social event.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Hilarie Blaney, etiquette and international protocol consultant: In today’s global economy, we are doing more and more business at the meal table.
In fact, these days employers are making final interviews over a meal. When you are looking for a job or trying to get a promotion, your business etiquette skills are what can make or break you. I would stress to your husband that this is important enough to businesses that companies and individuals hire people like me to coach, train and educate their young professionals as well as executives that want to “brush up” their skills.
For you, this topic becomes more challenging with his country of origin, coupled with years of habits. It is my opinion that as an employee of a U.S. company, he should learn proper business etiquette, because his employer and clients expect that of him. Secondly, reading the book “The Power of Habit” will help you understand how luckily, habits really can change.
Once more, I would tell him how important this is to you and to your enjoyment as a couple, because eating is sometimes a social or romantic event. Not to mention, if you have children, you have a responsibility as guides and educators to be role models for them. Last, but not least, maybe Mr. Slurping and Lip Smacking would have some time to contemplate the importance of manners if he were eating alone in the other room!
Callie Gordon is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.