Have you read Lessons From Madame Chic* by Jennifer L. Scott yet? I listened to it a few years back, and it was really the first thing that piqued my interest about this concept of living formally. I’ve already given my reasons why etiquette has been important to me, but what about an entire lifestyle change. Is it really necessary?
I love the idea of formal living because it forces you to live with an intention. Particular tasks may be automated, but they are well-considered and a routine is established. I do well with routine, even if it doesn’t come naturally to me. I mean, there are hundreds of articles and books about habits and routine, but they don’t often address how you can modify those to make your life more formal.
First of all, let’s look at the word formal:
This harks back to my post on etiquette, but it delves a little bit deeper into the ceremonial aspects of a particular task or arrangement. It’s not just about being intentional with your routine; it’s taking into consideration how things are done traditionally, and infusing those with your everyday life. I mean, traditions are there for a reason. Why not use them as influence?
For example, I am obsessed with how the French serve dinner. It’s a very elegant and intentional affair, every day (and often, for every meal). There’s no sitting on the couch in front of the TV. Instead, there are courses and table settings and a specified times when the household gets together and embarks on a meal without any type of distractions.
There are a lot of reasons why eating this way is a good idea, the most obvious of which is that it’s just healthier! You’re giving your body an opportunity to both enjoy and digest food properly, rather than shoving noodles into your mouth without any rhyme or reason. Also, it forces whoever prepares the food to be more aware of menus and ingredients. If you are serving a vegetable for the first course, it best be exciting – nobody wants to eat a plate of steamed broccoli without any accompaniments. I mean, look at the lunch menus served in French schools (Karen’s blog on French eating is fantastic). I’m so fascinated by this.
Now, you don’t need to suddenly start regimenting your meals and eating in courses, but there are a few things you can do to make mealtimes a more formal affair for your family.
Set the Table
No, I don’t set formal place settings every evening (though I do love coming up with place setting designs for my weddings). We do, however, use cloth napkins. It’s amazing how this one small intention can make dinner feel like something special. If at all possible, I also prefer to serve food at the table, in which a basic place setting is necessary. This includes water goblets and wine glasses. I’m sure I will post about formal place settings at another time (I do have big ideas for formal dinner etiquette), but for now, just consider how setting the table at mealtimes can cater to a more purposeful eating arrangement.
Turn Off the TV
Oh, this is a biggie. I have always said that when we have children, we will be eat together at the dining room table, every night with no distractions. But why not do that now, even without kids? Obviously children benefit from having structure in their lives, and this includes a quiet dinner with their parents in which to talk openly (and without the television or other electronics) – but adults can benefit from the same ceremony! I’ll admit, every once in awhile we will watch Jeopardy or another show during dinner, but for the most part, we turn the TV off. It gives us an opportunity to share conversation over a meal, something that I think isn’t very well valued these days.
Eat at a Designated Time
Dinner is at seven o’clock in our household. Unless something comes up, Robert knows that dinner is at seven, so he best be home or done with work so that we can eat as a family. Having an established time to eat is really important, once again for your children’s routine, but also to keep everyone in sync. That way, they all know to turn off their phones and come to the dinner table. There’s no question about what they can get away with because the dinner routine is already established. This is what we do and when we do it, no complaining or negotiating allowed. Obviously this is flexible – as much as children need routine, they also need understanding. But for the most part, once you have your meal ceremony fixed, it’s up to everyone to adhere to the rules.
Do you have any tips or suggestions on how you can make mealtimes more formal?