F-o-r-k (four letters) on the l-e-f-t. K-n-i-f-e (five letters) on the r-i-g-h-t.

Etiquette consultant Patricia O’Brien will be offering a free Etiquette and Dining Skills seminar for children 7-14 at the Forest Park Public Library on Saturday, June 23 at 2 p.m.

Table setting and where to put utensils are just the beginning of O’Brien’s pocketbook of etiquette tips, which she says are in short supply because so many families don’t dine together anymore.

“I want to let parents know that dining can be a pleasurable time,” she said. “I know they have busy schedules and they don’t get a chance to sit down and have dinner.”

The library will also host a Princess Academy class at 11 a.m. for girls 7Ð14.

O’Brien said dining skills are crucial to learn, especially for students attending graduation parties, or people looking for a first job.

“You have to practice this. When you go out to get a job, they’re going to take you out to lunch or dinner, but do you know how to dine? Never order ribs or spaghetti, because they are the messiest meals you can eat.”

She also points out that sometimes if children hear not to chew with their mouths open from “someone other than their parents,” it sinks in.

Since so many children grow up eating mostly hand-held meals, such as hamburgers or sandwiches, she introduces her young etiquette students to silverware. Kids work with smaller salad forks, which are easier to hold. They practice cutting bananas.

“If you make a mistake,” she adds, “go with the flow.”

O’Brien, who gives etiquette lessons in private homes, was trained at the Protocol School of Washington where students learn international customs for the world of diplomacy.

She also specializes in tea etiquette and the joys of serving and appreciating tea.

“I teach people how to host a British afternoon tea with sandwiches, scones and pastries. We learn how to serve and how it’s a time to sit down and relax with your friends.” She’s excited to make a Todd and Holland run while she’s in Forest Park, she said.

O’Brien takes her cues from the gracious manners of Southern cities like Atlanta and Charleston, where “gentility is always a given.” Once when she was serving tea to some neighbors, “I was asked what I was selling,” she laughs. “I said, ‘I’m selling friendship.'”

She also teaches children the importance of a proper handshake and introduction, the art of the thank-you note and dressing to respect the situation, including dressing for church. “If you go to a pool party, you’re not expected to wear white gloves, obviously,” she said. “But for church, it’s inappropriate to wear low cut tops and shorts or blue jeans. You need to show respect for the situation.”

She also says learning to dress prevents faux pas when interviewing for a job. “When you go for that initial interview you’d better be dressed in a suit. If you have white socks on or sandals, you’re going to blow it right there.”

And she is adamant about an etiquette dilemma too contemporary for Emily Post: the issue of cellphones at restaurant meals.

“You should never have anything on the table except food and cutlery. If you do put your phone on the table, have everybody put their phones down and the first person to pick up has to pay for dinner.”

Manners, she said, are really an issue of consideration for other people around you.

“Respect is the underlying theory of etiquette.”

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...