If hand hygiene has always been practised, this does not mean that cleanliness is the rule everywhere.

One author is indignant at the spectacle of certain Alsatian peasants, who sit down to a meal without washing their hands, and take the places reserved for others.  He says that they are also the first to put their hands in the serving dishes and fill their faces before anyone else has started.

One of them is in such a hurry to eat that, blowing on his soup, his cheeks swell up as if he is about to blow down his neighbour’s grange.  Another one puts food, that he has dropped, back into the serving dish.  A third one sniffs all the food.  A fourth one gets merry from drinking too quickly.  A fifth one glugs down his drink so fast that his nose is transformed into a wine fountain.

“Here are some whose mouths are so full that you would think that they are stuffed with straw.  They roll their eyes everywhere, like monkeys.  I do not approve of making noises while drinking, nor that the wine be sucked through the teeth, these noises are annoying.  Some people make as much noise in drinking as cows returning from pasture.  Wiping your fingers on the tablecloth, putting your elbows on the table, rocking from side to side, shaking the table, putting all four arms and legs on the table, like Geispolsheim’s fiancee, staining your bread with sauces, taking salt with your knife which has been used for Heaven alone knows what, instead of taking it with your fingers, are impolite actions.  I could write a book, a whole Bible, of these ugly habits.”

This is happening in the country, just before the Renaissance, at the time of the Knight King and his gallant court.  Manners are not much better in town.

An Austrian law of 1624, which is legal in the landgravat of Haute-Alsace, contains the rules of conduct for cadets or young officers who are invited to dinner at the home of an Austrian archduke.  This gives us an idea of what must have been the beautiful manners of the nobility of the Habsbourg empire at this time, which made the following orders necessary:

“His Imperial and Royal Highness, having deigned to invite several officers to his table, as I have many times had occasion to notice that the officers observe among themselves the greatest courtesy and good manners and conduct themselves like true and dignified cavaliers, however I need to bring to the attention of the cadets who are not yet sufficently formed the following usual measures:

“1 – Present your civilities to His Highness in clean uniforms, both clothes and boots, and do not arrive half-drunk;

“2 – At table, do not rock on your chairs or stretch your legs right out;

“3 – Do not drink after each morsel, because you will get drunk too quickly;  after each dish, only half-empty your goblets, and before drinking, wipe your moustaches and mouths properly;

“4 – Do not put your hands in the dish;  do not throw the bones behind you, or under the table;

“5 – Do not lick your fingers, do not spit on your plates, nor blow your noses in the tablecloth;

“6 – Do not empty your goblets like animals to the point of falling from your chairs and not being able to walk straight.”

All the advice on drinking would not be amiss in certain receptions today, here in Australia.

Fourth part tomorrow.