It all started when my British boyfriend called me "uncultured swine" for eating my chocolate chip pancakes wrong at Pitchforks. Aside from cutting too many chocolate chips into one bite, I didn’t realize that there was a wrong way to eat pancakes,and I certainly didn’t care much to learn the right way after a long night of essay writing. Utilizing the practical American single-hand method, I used my fork to both cut and pick up the pancake bites. Why dirty a knife if the pancakes were soft enough to just cut with a fork? He didn’t see it the same way, though. Each turn of my fork dividing the pancake was a personal affront to generations of his tea-drinking kind. What was the point of knives at all if people weren’t to use them?

In wondering the answer to that question, I realized he was right; it is much more aesthetically pleasing and efficient to eat with two hands rather than one. The cutlery-switching-one-hand-American method looks much more awkward, and requires a lot more effort put into eating a meal. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to eat with two hands, though—I just didn’t know how. I’d always considered myself to have good manners—never eating messily and always holding doors open for others—but I could never master the skill of eating with two hands. I learned how to use chopsticks with little difficulty in a few tries before I turned ten; but now, a decade later, I still can’t eat with my fork in my left hand without dropping food in my lap.

Since the pancake incident, I’ve tried to practice eating with two hands whenever I remember—but I’ve had no success. The fork still feels like Jello when I put it in my left hand, and I haven’t gotten used to the feeling of holding silverware in both hands throughout an entire meal. That didn’t matter much on campus, though—no one walking through the Loop would ever notice if you were eating your mac ‘n’ cheese nuggets with one hand or two. That all changed when I did Duke in Oxford last summer. If eating pancakes at Pitchforks was peewee t-ball, dining in the Harry Potter-esque dining hall at Oxford was the big leagues of manners. The Great Hall exuded refinement, with wood-paneled walls and painted portraits of past heads-of-college. It didn’t help either that all of the plates were printed with the college’s motto: “Manners Makyth Man.”

What kind of a motto is that anyways, besides a really old one? What about courage, intelligence, integrity… or any other positive attributes, for that matter? Why manners? Since I couldn’t eat with two hands, was I not a man? Or, well, a woman? I’m still unsure.

With those plates glaring up at me each time we ate a fancy meal—like my short mom when I’ve said something she disapproves of—I’m surprised I didn’t scare myself into learning how to eat with two hands. At the end of the six-week program, I still hadn’t mastered the skill, in spite of the embarrassingly many bites of vegetables that fell on my lap during practice attempts. That was okay, though—maybe it wasn’t meant to be.

Maybe I’m destined to never eat comfortably with both hands, or maybe the next time I eat chocolate chip pancakes I’ll magically pick up the skill. Either way, at least I can say I’m trying. That’s what I think “Manners Makyth Man” actually means—not that someone isn’t a “man” if they don’t have a the right set of manners, but that endeavoring to have better manners makes a person try to better themselves. Especially as face-to-face contact time continues to diminish due to technology, and because "chivalry is dead," it is more important now than ever to try and keep having manners. The point I’m trying to make isn’t that manners are good. That would be lame. But I do think it’s important to try and remember manners every once in a while. Most girls I know melt whenever a guy holds a door open for them on campus, and when a friend has bad manners during a meal, it’s definitely cringe-worthy. So, it’s good to sometimes be aware of manners …no matter how many chocolate chips you drop in your lap in the process.

Jessica Williams is a Trinity sophomore and Recess Photo Media Production Editor