STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Speaking of mysterious ingredients, with the annual brace of holidays approaching, we felt it might be a good idea to remind dinner guests and hosts of a few basic rules of etiquette beyond the obvious ones: Arrive on time, don't burp, help clear the table.
And who better to do the reminding than NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg?
SUSAN STAMBERG: British writer and phrasemaker Quentin Crisp once said, nothing is more likely to drive a person into a monastery than an etiquette book. Still, British writer Thomas Blaikie has produced one. He calls it "To the Manner Born: A Most Proper Guide to Modern Civility." Mr. Blaikie, are you trying to drive us into a monastery with this book?
THOMAS BLAIKIE: Yes. Well, I'm very glad that you mentioned that because indeed not. I really have tried very hard to make manners reasonable and manageable and not to have this kind of gargantuan, complicated system that just seems to be designed to catch people out and make people feel embarrassed and foolish.
STAMBERG: Well, that's a great relief, although I do have some qualms. Because I wonder what a Brit can tell us about how to behave. You people wear tiaras and you have a queen.
BLAIKIE: I know, yes. Well, you like all that, don't you?
STAMBERG: Well, some of us do.
BLAIKIE: Wish you had it, too.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
STAMBERG: Well, look, let's hear your ideas on holiday etiquette. First, for the host or the hostess. You say, don't make the menu too complicated.
BLAIKIE: That's right, yes. And the British cookery writer Nigella Lawson has a very good story about how she once went to dinner with a woman who was obviously desperately trying to impress her. And there was course after course and huge great long gaps between each one. And after about the fourth course, she heard the poor hostess sobbing in the kitchen because she was just so overwhelmed by all these terrifically complicated recipes she was trying to cook.
STAMBERG: Oh, goodness.
BLAIKIE: So, yes, keep it very simple and very straightforward.
STAMBERG: Okay, good. So that's it. Keep it simple. Now, again, for the host, what do you do about fussy eaters? You know, it seems everybody's allergic these days and picky about...
BLAIKIE: I know, yes. They're very annoying, these picky eaters. And you find if you have put something that you think that's going to be nice into your dish - like olives or Sultanas - the...
BLAIKIE: Special thing. And there will always be somebody who'll pick them out. And not only will they pick them out but they'll arrange them very conspicuously all around the plate just to make the point.
STAMBERG: Yes, but if you're sitting next to them, you can go snag some. I love olives and raisins.
BLAIKIE: But yes, don't you want those?
STAMBERG: Yes I do.
BLAIKIE: Good. But, yeah, I'm sorry to say I'm pretty intolerant of that sort of thing. I think it's good manners if you go to dinner to do your best to eat what you're given.
STAMBERG: What if you as a guest are served something you simply cannot stand?
BLAIKIE: Okay. Well, I think what you have to do is you must follow the advice of Nancy Mitford, who was once sitting next to a very young man at an extremely grand dinner party in Venice. And there was lobster for dinner. He put a little bit of lobster in his mouth, and he then turned to her white-faced and said - ignoring the rule, you know, that you must never talk with your mouth full - said, what shall I do? I think it's off. And she replied, swallow it if it kills you. So there we are.
STAMBERG: Now, Mr. Blaikie, at my house every year I offer a Thanksgiving delicacy that guests can be quite cruel about, and it may be because it's a shocking pink color. It's a cranberry relish. And it consists of onion, sour cream, sugar and horseradish plus the raw cranberries. Is there some tactful way that my guests might express their dislike short of saying yuck?
BLAIKIE: No, I don't think so. I don't think guests should be expressing their dislike of your food. Outrageous. Are you thinking of dropping this...
STAMBERG: Oh, never.
BLAIKIE: This cranberry relish, no?
STAMBERG: Oh, never. It's an absolute tradition in my house. And by the way, if you are interested, Mr. Blaikie, the recipe for Mama Stamberg's cranberry relish can be found at NPR.org. And even if you're thinking yuck, I hope you'll try it because it sounds terrible but it tastes quite good.
BLAIKIE: It sounds very nice to me.
STAMBERG: What perfect manners you have.
BLAIKIE: Well, I'm doing my best.
STAMBERG: Thomas Blaikie's etiquette book is called "To the Manner Born." Happy Thanksgiving to you.
BLAIKIE: And to you, Susan.
STAMBERG: I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.
INSKEEP: This is NPR, National Public Relish.
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