The rituals of dinner: the origins, evolution, eccentricities, and meaning of table manners
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The rituals of dinner: the origins, evolution, eccentricities, and meaning of table manners

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  229 ratings  ·  22 reviews
The Rituals of Dinner This work explores the evolution of the eating ritual, covering every aspect from seating, serving, cutlery and invitations. Providing examples throughout history, from the ancient Greeks to modern yuppies, this book provides a history of table manners. Full description
466 pages
Published August 10th 2000 by HarperPerennial Canada (first published January 1st 1998)
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Perhaps a bit dated (first published in 1991), this sweeping overview of the history of table manners, across cultures and across time, nevertheless retains charm and insight. It catches your attention with an opening chapter on the cultural rules of cannibalism in the different societies that practiced it. This is followed by a chapter on how children and novitiates are socialized into correct etiquette in all cultures, and then the basic steps of all feasting or dinner gatherings are overviewe...more
Visser starts with cannibalism, and from there, follows the development of meals and their accoutrements, as well as the social behaviours that allow us to eat together. Visser writes with both detail and touches of humour, providing a very sound basis for exploring the topic further. An extensive notes & bibliography section is provided, as well as an index.

Overall, a wonderfully detailed look at how and why we eat, in terms of sociology & human relationships.

I read the majority of thi...more
Lisa Kelsey
A fascinating look at an endlessly fascinating subject (to me at least!): the origins of dinner table manners. One thing that I found particularly interesting as a mother is the comparison between etiquette and healthy eating. Here, Visser compared the French family table with the American: the American family will pressure kids to eat their vegetables "because it's healthy." French children are taught to sample a little bit of everything simply because that is what is polite. It seems to be mor...more
Rachel Smalter Hall
This is where I found out about exo- and endo- cannibals (one kind eats his enemies, the other kind eats his friends), and the French Fourteenths (did a dinner guest cancel leaving you with an unlucky thirteen guests? Call up a Fourteenth!), and so much more great cocktail party fodder. One of the more fascinating books I think I've ever read, backed by a convincing argument that we'd all eat each other given the chance.
Visser's The Rituals of Dinner is definitely one of the most scholarly works I've read on food and eating. It is, quite simply, a sweeping survey of the rules and customs that govern our behaviour at the table - from why we have rituals and customs in the first place, the different rules that govern what we eat, when we eat, how we eat, with whom we eat, etc. It's challenging to give a sense of how broad the scope of Visser's book is; it's all in here - from cannibalism to chopsticks, carving (t...more
Visser is a brilliant and thoughtful author, and I loved "much depends on dinner", but this book is far too scholarly for me. It reads like a textbook.
why do we eat the way we do? Margaret Visser's analysis of manners begins with the assumption, quite correct I think, that eating with others is a dangerous undertaking. After all, everyone is armed with a knife. Manners, born to tame the terror, become comforting and safe ritual. I often thought of Judith Martin's axiomatic motto: if everyone had good manners there'd be little need for ethicists. As an ethicist I found her pithy observation quite true. Here's to Margaret Visser and good manners...more
Jun 17, 2008 Maureen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Maureen by: CBC Radio
Once one knows what one is eating, what is the next logical step? To examine how one eats. That is the premise of this book, and although Visser's training may have been in Classics, she is really a cultural anthropologist. Beginning with cannabalism and forging ahead, she delineates why we use the utensils we use, where our manners came from, and many other topics along the way.
Pithy, comes to mind. I spent a long time reading this book because I could only absorb it in small scetions. It was rich, much like eating truffles. A little bit goes a long way.

Originally picked this up for research. Stuck with it because it was engaging.
This historical anthropology of table manners is one of the most intriguing books on my shelf and provides marvellous insight into everyday practices and rituals. I doubt that anyone wouldn't find it interesting.
It was really slow moving, it jumped around and didn't have a plot line, and I couldn't get in to it. I got to page 200, so I did give it a try. Maybe I'm missing something, but it just wasn't that great.
filled with lots of information from many cultures, but because it is packed with so many examples the reading goes quite slow. i do see this book to serve as a good reference though.
LOVED this! I read most of the chapters for a food anthropology course I recently took in college. I bought the book to finish off any I may have missed.
More like 3.5. Fascinating anecdotes about food and etiquette from around the world -- just don't let the opening chapter on cannibalism put you off. ;)
Oct 18, 2008 Liz rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Liz by: Robin
The detail is very rich -- I dipped in and out of this book over a really long period of time, but it wasn't a problem!
Sep 22, 2008 Linnaea marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
This has been on my to read list for at least a decade. I hope it lives up to my expectations. :-)
Very very good, packed with stuff on all aspects of dinner...
Everyone has rituals.
Raymond Djaya
Everyone has rituals.. Everyone should be on manners, especially in the dining table :p
Oct 21, 2012 Laynerussell is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
It starts out with a discussion of the etiquette of cannibalism. I have high hopes.
Becky Pliego
I enjoyed reading this, though at times, it seemed like too much information.

Saya Hashimoto
Social sciences rule ok! :P
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Margaret Visser writes on the history, anthropology, and mythology of
everyday life. Her most recent book is The Gift of Thanks, published by HarperCollins. Her previous books, Much Depends on Dinner, The Rituals of Dinner, The Way We Are, and The Geometry of Love, have all been best sellers and have won major international awards, including the Glenfiddich Award for Foodbook of the Year in Britain...more
More about Margaret Visser...
Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal The Geometry of Love: Space, Time, Mystery, and Meaning in an Ordinary Church The Way We Are The Gift of Thanks: The Roots and Rituals of Gratitude Beyond Fate (Massey Lectures) (CBC Massey Lecture)

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