Surely it is a mark of civilized society to sit down as a family and have intelligent, stimulating and courteous discourse at the evening dinner table. One (unintentionally) hilarious blogger has gone ever farther and suggested that in order to restore some decorum to middle class society, North Americans should also “dress” for dinner. She suggests, much to the amusement of my sister (who has two sons), that boys over the age of nine be required to wear formal dinner jackets.
I found this NY Times Fashion and Style piece interesting, since the author talks about her own childhood experiences of table talk: with her family of origin (practically non-existent: “benign neglect”), and with her friend’s family (invigorating but occasionally terrifying). She also discusses the dinner-conversation styles of various other families, from the obscure to the famous: the Kennedys, Tiger Mom Amy Chua, and the Obamas (who have a “rose and thorn” feature at family dinner wherein each member shares a high and low point of his/her day).
She suggests that the exercise ought not to be contrived, citing one family’s experience:
“It wasn’t as easy as just legislating that every dinner was going to be meaningful,” said Mr. Gordon, whose oldest son is now 18 and in college, and whose other children are 15 and 7. He has tried to introduce serious subjects of debate, ideas about the redistribution of wealth or taxation, into conversation. “More often than not, my kids were like, ‘Oh, God, do we have to do this?’” he said. “My attempts at meaning were transparent, and failed sometimes. But with a little elbow grease, if you picked the right subject, something would happen.”
The author rightly concludes that regardless of the style or topic of conversation, what’s really important is simply that family members are genuinely interested in each other, and that they communicate each day around the dinner table. I couldn’t agree more, but I have one further observation-suggestion to make: first you’ve got to get them together at the same place and time, something that, sadly, too many time-crunched North American families are still unable to achieve.