Hoffman's Houston
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Ken Hoffman digs into his controversial breach of basic dining decency

Ken Hoffman digs into a controversial breach of basic dining decency

Man eating hamburger rude mess
Okay, what's the rule: wait, or don't wait? Photo by Vlad Dmytrenko/Getty Images

I almost started World War III last weekend. I’ll set the scene.

I was invited to a barbecue, kind of a lunch thing, a little like a party, at a lake house in Montgomery. There were adults and kids. The host made burgers and hot dogs and macaroni salad — the usual.

When the food was ready, we were told to “come and get it.” I did. And that’s when I caused polite society to go to hell in a handbag. (A knockoff handbag at that.)

I grabbed a burger and chips, sat down and surveyed the situation. I sat at one end of the table. A couple of kids already had their food in front of them. In the kitchen, adults were standing, plates in hand mulling which to choose, potato salad or coleslaw, like they were buying a house.

So, I started eating. The kids followed my lead.

Oh, the horror!
You would have thought a marauding band of Visigoths were tearing live chickens apart with their bare hands, who could burp the loudest, or it was a Three Stooges pie fight. Oh the humanity! I was eating a burger before everybody was seated!

Calm down, I’ll catch everybody when I go back for my second burger.

I was accused of being a bad influence on the youth of America — at least the kids at the table.

Here’s the thing: I don’t wait for everybody to be served before I start eating. Mainly because it’s a stupid rule of etiquette. Why should I have to wait and let my food get cold because two people are dilly-dallying in the kitchen, or waiters happened to put my plate down first and say they’ll be “right back with the rest of the dishes.”

Hamburgers get cold really fast, and cold hamburgers are awful. Burgers make terrible leftovers. Pizza the next morning, fantastic. Burgers, in the garbage. Or come here, Sally (my dog), daddy’s got a treat for you.

The etiquette of eating, according to Ken
The host whispered to me, “It’s impolite to start eating before everybody is seated.” I said back, “I asked for my burger to be medium-rare and this is well done, so I’m already behind schedule.”

I wanted to say, “Look, I don’t want to be here in the first place. Don’t press this.”

What I should have said was nothing. And fake sick from now on when I’m invited back, which I’m guessing won’t be a problem.

Minding manners (these days)
Manners expert Maralee McKee, who runs the Etiquette School of America, is on my side. Well, possibly, but probably not.

She wrote, “Manners evolve and change to meet the needs and sensibilities of the current culture.” Well, I needed to eat my burger while it was still hot and it made perfect sense to me.

McKee does think it’s time to ditch some other old world rules of etiquette, though, like a man kissing a lady’s hand when they meet. At the very least, it’s creepy. Plus, you may get punched or sent to HR for a warning in your file.

McKee also says it’s no longer necessary for a man to enter the backseat of a cab before a lady. (I thought it was the other way around, anyway.)

And when a man and woman are walking along a sidewalk, the man doesn’t have to walk on the woman’s left. McKee says that rule was from the Middle Ages, when knights wore their sword on their left hip. It would have been dangerous for a woman to walk on that side.

Look, times have changed. In Texas, a gentleman is just as likely to carry his unlicensed handgun in his right pocket.

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