Of course the sight of my eight year old’s gap-toothed mouth churning up food like some cement mixer is not pretty. Of course it is important to teach her how to act at the dinner table. So I have to side with my busband when he tells her, ‘Close your mouth when you’re chewing’.
My daughter really should chew with her mouth closed. There should be no debate. There should be no reminding her every single day. Chewing with your mouth open is bad table manners.
But in my mind it is equally rude to say, ‘Chew with your mouth closed,’ at every meal time. Even if you’re the parent and you’re instructing a child.
We have to be role models for our children. Is it ever ok to criticise someone bluntly over a pleasant dinner? I don’t think so. Discussing matters of manners needs careful consideration of manners itself.
It is not polite to openly point out another’s flaw. If a criticism must be made then it should be done with a degree of class and subtlety, so as not to put the bad-mannered person down. We should always assume that they forgot themselves momentarily and not suggest they are downright ill-bred. However vile the behaviour we should never show a lack of respect for a person’s feelings. So, yes, perhaps once it would be correct to say, ‘Can you close your mouth please?’ But if a criticism needs to be repeated then this has become a greater issue. If impolite behaviour continues once it has been pointed out then this has escalated from ‘an act of bad manners’ to ‘a failure to take responsibility for an act of bad manners’ and this is getting serious!
I believe the sensitive and correct way to handle a repeat, breach of social grace is to react quite differently upon the second incident. You should never repeat yourself. To repeat yourself would draw attention to the open-mouthed-chewer and it would also draw attention to the-failure-to-act-on-the-comment-about-being-a-mouth-chewer. This is pointing out a double-character-flaw and this is beyond rude, it is almost an act of hostility!
I think the correct etiquette for a repeat mouth-chewing incidence is to mention it in a subtle way, assuming the bad-mannered-subject will need only a mild alert now their attention has first been drawn to the problem. We should always give the ill-mannered respect enough to consider they are willing to change. A good approach might be a lingering glance at their open chewing mouth. Another polite way to deal with this would be with humour, perhaps just a smile and a comment like, ‘I could tell you how many pieces you’ve chomped your spaghetti into!’
But in my mind you shouldn’t open your mouth, interrupt the flow of polite dinner conversation, and bash out a brusque description of another’s weakness. I think that’s just plain rude.
Now I need to consider the correct way to tell my busband about his character flaw…