Good manners is child of morality and social conventions. Of course they change, following the change of morals and society. During the last years of 19th century and first thirty years of 20th century, Greece faced major crises, military mobilizations, wars, political conflicts, a National Schism, economic insecurity, the problems of thousands refugees who arrived in waves between 1855 and 1932 from Crimea, Caucasus, Eastern Romylia, Thrace and western Asia Minor, overseas emigration etc.

Under such difficult conditions good manners became not only a way of keeping the civilization in every day life but also the hallmark of a cosmopolitan upper social class.1

The cookbooks of this period explains the rules relating to guests at lunch or dinner party. 

A guest eats slowly and politely, not hastily.

A guest never gets much food.

A guest eats using fork and knife; he/she never uses hands. He/She never carries food to the mouth with a knife.

A guest puts the napkin on his/her thighs and knees, never tucks it into his/her collar.

He /She cuts meat and other foods into small pieces so as to avoid stuffing the mouth full of food.

When he/ she needs salt he/she uses the special spoon or a clean knife, never the hand.

A guest takes bread  with the fingers and cuts it into small bites. He/She never dips his/her bread into the sauce, nor cleans his /her knife with a piece of bread.

A guest never smells his food. However it is acceptable if he does it at a small restaurant.

Fish must be cut off with specific knife.

 A guest uses the napkin for mouth whenever necessary, so that he/she will not soil his/her glass.

A guest cuts cheese into small pieces and eats it on a bit of bread. He/She never carries it to the mouth with a knife.

Fruits are cleaned and cut with a small knife and a small fork. Nuts are broken open with a nutcracker, never cracked by teeth. Sweets are meant to be eaten with small fork and knife, never with hands, apart from small dried sweets and cakes.

A guest cleans his/her teeth only with a toothpick.

A guest doesn’t try to catch a knife or fork that has fallen accidentally. This is a job for the servant.

He/She chats without raising voice. He/She does not shout down to the ear of the people seated on either side of him/her.

A guest does not lean on the table but leans over the plate each time he/she takes a bite.

A guest does not ask a second round of the same dish.

He/She sets the pits of olives on the edge of his/her plate using his/her fork.

A guest does not drink wine in one swallow.

He /She does not rest the forks and knives on the table but on the special utensils.

He/She does not spills wine or sauce on the tablecloth and napkin.

He/she is always careful with his/her words and manners.

After the meal the guest goes to the coffee room.

When its time to leave, a guest thanks the hosts for their hospitality.

1 During this period the Greek population was heterogenous (Greek, Hebrew in Northern Greece, Greek, Italian in Dodecanesse, Greek, Turkish Cretan in Crete etc.) and the upper social class had cosmopolitan character.

Tag: table manners


8 thoughts on “GOOD MANNERS

  1. Βασιλείου εκδ., Η νοικοκυρά τι πρέπει να γνωρίζει. Ζαχαροπλαστική, Μαγειρική,
    Καλή συμπεριφορά. (Αθήνα 1929),
    Εφημερίς των Κυριών (1887 – 1917)
    Εφημερίδα ‘Ακρόπολις’ έως 1930.

  2. These mostly sound like pretty good rules for any time and place! Especially, “A guest does not drink wine in one swallow.”

    I’m still thinking about: “A guest never smells his food. However it is acceptable if he does it at a small restaurant.” Hmmm… 🙂

  3. During the first quarter of 20th century many restaurants and taverns offered fine cuisine, however a lot of small restaurants, taverns and inns served so bad quality inexpensive food that could ruin someone’s health. In such cases smell warned if food was stale or tainted and smelling the food was a way of self protection.

  4. Ok, that list does not sound fun. No mopping the plate with your bread? You’ll miss some of the finest flavors. No eating with your fingers? Does that mean no snails or bony fish? No seconds? I’m glad not to be upper crust!

  5. A very interesting posting. I would be very interested to know the answer to Maria V’s question and how that links to your footnote that Greece was highly heterogeneous at the time.

    Manners are very much a manifestation of the society you live in and I would guess that this list of manners is only one of a group of possible ways to behave at the table which existed at the time.

    I’m guessing these are from Greek cookbooks and are designed to homogenize eating behavior in Greece. Probably they are recognizable to Westerners as good behavior because Greece was giving up Ottoman forms of behavior and turning to the West as its model. In a slightly different area of social behavior, I think about some pictures of Venizelos in a frock coat with top hat.

    I wonder what the eating behavior of the Jewish communities, the Muslims, and Italians looked like in the Greece of this period. Where was there similarity and where were these cookbooks’ authors trying to change peoples behavior to create a simultaneously Greek and modern nation?


  6. During 19th century Greece was populated by many different minorities as a result of the Ottoman heritage. Religion was the main distinction between people. At the late 19th – early 20th century this multicultural and multiethnic region became a nation state, still inhabited by different minorities. For example, in 1910 many Muslims and Bulgarians lived in what we call Greek Macedonia while a large Greek minority lived peacefully in Southern Bulgaria. Thessaloniki itself, was an extraordinary mixture of races, cultures and religions. In 1900, the largest single element of its population (80.000 among 173.000 habitants) was Spanish – speaking Jews. Having the control of trade and banking they held the central place in local life. Thus, Thessaloniki, as well Constantinople and Smyrna, was a combination of Oriental markets and shops selling European luxuries, Byzantine churches and muslin minares etc.
    Until the population exchange, the commerce of Ottoman Smyrna and Istanbul was dominated by Greeks who had enjoyed enormus wealth and attracted immigrants from Greece.
    The sophistication of cultural and culinary life of those cities was remarkable. Of course, their European educated upper class followed the European manners at the table. At the late 19th century, the emerging upper class of Greece (merchants and professionals) was also tremendously impacted by European culinary ideas. The section of cookbooks and woman- magazines which refers to the manners at the table follow exactly the same route.
    Andrew, this list of manners is a compilation gathered from different cookbooks and magazines of late 19th – early 20th century (Vasileiou ed. The housewife- What does she must know? 1929. The Ladies’ Newspaper 1887 – 1917, Akropoli Newspaper,- 1930.). They were mainly designed for the emerging middle class which was not completely aware of the ‘good manners’ subject; rich people knew very well how to behave at the table. However, in real life, the eating behavior of inferior classes and several minorities was still near to Ottoman model. And at the time that the first modern Greek cookbooks were appearing (1866), it is unlikely that the inferior classes or most women could read them or would have access to them.

  7. This was so interesting Mariana; you reminded me of my late grandmother, who lived in Egypt and spoke Greek and Italian and French and whose insistence on etiquette was paramount. It was a hallmark of those generations and social classes. How much of it is left now?

    btw, glad you tried the mock knafeh!

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