How do I say hello to a King?
October 23, 2006 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I've been invited to a state dinner and am just starting to freak out about it. How do I keep myself from looking like an idiot?

I'll be wearing traditional dress, however, there are other aspects that I know nothing about. Like, what is the etiquette for attending a state dinner? Which fork do I use? Do I bring a gift? Send a thank you card? Is there an Etiquette for Dummies book online? A picture of a formal table setting and what each spoon is used for? Help!
posted by KathyK to Human Relations (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There's a rather good section in Miss Manners' about state dinner protocol. I don't see it either legitimately or illegitimately online, however.
posted by majick at 8:44 AM on October 23, 2006

Best answer: Styles of address for various dignitaries (I assume you want the Canadian version of such things, since you're in [nearby] Ottawa).
posted by mcwetboy at 8:49 AM on October 23, 2006

Tip: with silverware, you start from the outside and move in. Also, when in doubt, eye your neighbors and do what they do.

You can probably find much of what you need to know among these options.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:49 AM on October 23, 2006

Slightly more general than the above, but the same site: Ceremonial and Canadian Symbols Promotion has a few resources.
posted by mcwetboy at 8:52 AM on October 23, 2006

Best answer: Basic rules: work from the outside in with your cutlery, work clockwise with your glassware. Take cues from the people around you, especially if you get difficult food, pass the port to your left, etc. You may be moved in between courses

But 'take cues' is the best advice. State dinners are grand, galumphing affairs that really don't happen too often, and you'll likely be seated among people who know the ropes and those who don't. Those who do will almost certainly enjoy explaining the intricacies to newbies.

Gifts? Only if you're the honoured guest, I'd say. Although a thank-you note to the foreign mission or whoever's organising would undoubtedly be welcomed.
posted by holgate at 8:59 AM on October 23, 2006

Ah, it's this dinner, I presume. Very cool. And if you're at all nervous about anything in particular, give the GG's office a call: you won't be asking anything they haven't had asked before.
posted by holgate at 9:09 AM on October 23, 2006

Best answer: IANAC, but I've been to a number of high-level dinners in fancy venues. The best advice, is, yes, watch someone at your table who seems comfortable with the protocol and follow what they do.

Table manners aside, your idea of what an this type of event is like might be a bit overblown or glamorized by seeing them on television. It will all be quickly demystified for you once you get in the door and get a drink in hand. In truth, the guests are pretty much regular people in fancy clothes with interesting jobs.

My advice would be: warm handshake and eye contact during introductions, sincere but polite interest in others, be prepared to give a quick thumbnail abut yourself in conversation, and bring business cards.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:15 AM on October 23, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far, everyone. It is for the GG's state dinner tomorrow night as holgate sleuthed and I was pretty much laid back about it like thinkpiece mentioned, however, today I've got a terrible case of the willies. I will keep an eye on my fellow table mates and also go to Chapters to look through a Miss Manner's book. Because slurping your soup like an animal in front of royalty is not cool.
posted by KathyK at 9:35 AM on October 23, 2006

Wear something flashy and maybe get out of there with a diamond car with pah-latnum wheels. ;)
posted by jmgorman at 10:16 AM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

See if your local library has a copy of Miss Manners' Guide to Excurciatingly Correct Behavior. It's out of print, I think, so I'm not sure Chapters will have it. But if you can check it out for a week and bring it home to pore over, it would help a lot. She is very sensible.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:46 AM on October 23, 2006

Not that this is likely to happen (but I have seen it happen with folks really should know better):
Eat from the left (small plates for bread and such)
Drink from the right (water glass, wine glass, coffee cup).
You don't want to go picking up your neighbor's water glass!
posted by dbmcd at 2:59 PM on October 23, 2006

Further to dbmcd's advice about left-right eating/drinking the trick I always fall back on to remember is this: hold the tips of your thumb and forefinger together so that they form a circle and keep the remaining fingers straight so your hand forms the letter "b," this b is for bread so the bread plate is on the left; do the same with your right hand so they form the letter "d," this d refers to drink so your glass is to your right.
posted by phoenixc at 3:05 PM on October 23, 2006

If the servers keep coming around with the wine, be careful not to accidentally drink a lot more than you thought you had.

Get people to talk about themselves. Ask pertinent questions, then go back to listening.

By not getting drunk and being a gracious listener, you'll outclass a significant number of people. Relax, and look upon it as people-watching heaven.

Also, everything thinkpiece said.
posted by desuetude at 4:35 PM on October 23, 2006

Best answer: Two Words:

Emily Post.

Chapter XIV, Formal Dinners.
posted by oxford blue at 5:08 PM on October 23, 2006

How does one get invited to a state dinner, anyho?
posted by oxford blue at 5:18 PM on October 23, 2006

An even easier mnemonic: BMW (Bread, Meal, Water)
posted by nekton at 12:20 PM on October 24, 2006

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