Manner Monday: Formal dinner rules – ‘Time to turn’

As seen on:

I thought it would be fun to share something I noticed during a recent episode of Dowtown Abbey.  At dinner one evening, Mary was engaging in polite conversation with a gentleman suitor seated to her right.  Mid-conversation, she politely smiled and said ‘time to turn’, as she then turned to the gentleman to her left to engage in polite conversation.

Back in ‘the day’ there were conversation rules during formal dinner.  The ladies were to keep an eye on their hostess and when the hostess ‘turned’ her conversation to the person on her opposite side, you were to follow suit.  I have a fabulous book in my arsenal, ‘The Rituals of Dinner’, by Margaret Visser.  In it she shares more detail on the topic:

“At the merest turn of the hostess’s head, from the guest on her left to the guest on her right, every couple has to interrupt their conversation.  The women take the responsibility of turning in the direction the hostess has initiated; the gentlemen, turned from and turned to, merely submit.  It would of course be exceedingly rude, not only to the host but to everyone present, to become so engrossed in conversation that you failed to notice the command, or refused to change partners; chorus line precision is required, or else at lest two people would be left ‘staring alone at the their plates.’”

Do any of us need to know this information… probably not?  But is it a fun fact to know?  Yes (or at least I think so).

And hey, let me know if you have a chance to eat with a Queen, Dowager Countess, Earl, Lady, or some other dignitary and this information actually comes in handy!

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