Table Etiquette and Food Aboard a Steamboat

Still Life: Corner of a Table, 1873, by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904)

Still Life: Corner of a Table, 1873, by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904)

Only 3 weeks until our Göta Canal cruise!  Now is the time to read up on Victorian table etiquette.

What food could you buy on a Swedish steamboat in 1850?

Augusta never described in her diary what she ate on her Göta Canal trips – did she and her family bring their own food or did they buy food on board? What food could you buy?

The Swedish author, Carl Jonas Love Almquist, in his classic novelSara Widebeck (Det går an), published in 1838, described the dilemma of choosing what to eat aboard a steamboat departing from Stockholm on Lake Malaren:

The family fathers had to “consider very attentively what they may venture to eat on board without becoming completely bankrupt…”  Also, there was the issue of food safety:  “Many gentlemen here still had lingering memories of cholera.” But from the novel, one learns that, depending on social class and the ticket one bought, one could purchase food and drinks from a buffet downstairs, and coffee was provided even to people on deck.

So how will we be dining on our Göta Canal cruise?

It sounds pretty fantastic:

“ When it is time for lunch and dinner, the beautiful dining room is elegantly set with linen tablecloths and fresh flowers.”

“When the gong sounds, it’s time to sit at the table for a two-course lunch or a three-course dinner. Coffee is served in the afternoon, usually on deck, weather permitting.”

“Tradition has it that the guests change to something a bit more elegant for dinner. It does not have to be dark suit, smart casual wear is quite enough.”

M/S Juno dining room

M/S Juno dining room. M/S Juno is the world’s oldest registered cruising ship, launched in 1874.

With this in mind, I decided to consult my new indispensable book on Victorian etiquette and politeness, and copy down the most important points to remember when dining aboard M/S Juno,

Table Etiquette for Ladies

The following quotes are cherry-picked from the chapters on Etiquette for the Guest and Table Etiquette:

  • When you take your seat, be careful that your chair does not stand upon the dress of the lady next to you, as she may not rise at the same instant that you do, and so you risk tearing her dress.
  • Sit gracefully at the table; neither so close as to make your movements awkward, not so far away as to drag your food over your dress before it reaches your mouth.
  • It is well to carry in your pocket a small pincushion, and, having unfolded your napkin, to pin it at the belt. You may do this quietly, without its being perceived, and you will thus really save your dress. If the napkin is merely laid open upon your lap, it will be very apt to slip down, if your dress is of silk or satin, and you risk the chance of appearing again in the drawing-room with the front of your dress soiled or greased.
  • Gloves and mittens are no longer worn at table, even at the largest dinner parties.
  • Never use an eye-glass, either to look at the persons around your or the articles upon the table.
  • Eat your soup quietly. To make any noise in eating it, is simply disgusting.
  • No lady should drink wine at dinner. Even if her head is strong enough to bear it, she will find her cheeks, soon after the indulgence, flushed, hot, and uncomfortable; and if the room is warm and the dinner a long one, she will probably pay the penalty of her folly, by having a headache all the evening.
  • Never take more than two vegetables; do not take a second plate of soup, pastry, or pudding. Indeed, it is best to accept but one plate of any article.
  • If you find a worm on opening a nut, or in any of the fruit, hand your plate quietly, and without remark, to the waiter, and request him to bring you a clean one.

Hmm, I don’t know how I will eat without my eye-glasses, without drinking wine, and only two vegetables. Sitting gracefully in my 1850s dress, and with my chair not standing on Kerstin’s dress, might also be challenging. Eating without gloves, no problem!

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