Daily Life in New France
Among officers, meals were eaten sitting at a table, with a place setting for each man. "French service" was customary, 118 meaning that the dishes were placed beside each other on the table and everyone served himself, a little like a modern buffet. In the seventeenth century, officers dined in their coats, wearing their swords at their sides and their hats on their heads. Long tablecloths covered their thighs and protected their clothing from spills, because serviettes were not yet used. Some innovations had taken root however. Plates were replaced after each serving, and instead of eating soup from the same bowl, everyone had his own small bowl and spoon. Good manners were highly valued. Food was not eaten with the fingers. Licking one's fingers was an even worse offence, "the height of slovenliness," surpassed only by the ultimate impropriety of cleaning one's teeth with a table knife!
Eighteenth-century dinners were less ceremonious because hats were not worn. However, gracious manners were de rigueur, and everyone had a serviette. It was improper to ever put your elbows on the table, hold your knife "as village folk [did]," or show your hair or "other disgusting things," which could find their way onto your plate. One was not supposed to "smell the meat," and it was better to wait to be served by your host than to help oneself. Officers seem generally to have observed the table manners of the time, whether dining as the governor general's guests in the Château Saint-Louis or eating in a rudimentary fort on the Western prairies, for every gentleman had to "know how to behave at the table."
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