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Position at table shows rule of order in some families

Joyce Walter writes about the kitchen and house rules
Reflective Moments by Joyce Walter

With all the blood and guts, murder, mayhem and cheating seen in so many television shows, it is seldom that a program has a message that makes the viewers stop and have a discussion about what they have just seen.

We had one such edifying moment recently in our household as we sat through a new comedy that is sandwiched between two shows that we traditionally watch. Housemate watched the first show in this new series and deemed it “Ok to watch once in awhile.” 

The next week I remained seated and spent 30 minutes figuring out the characters and the educational messages being sent. I agreed with the previous assessment, but the following week we both watched, either being too lazy to shift channels, or on the verge of being hooked.

The story’s main characters are a newcomer to North America and the soldier for whom the newcomer translated during combat conditions. The soldier’s family — daughter, sister, father and separated wife make up the balance of the cast. Al, the newcomer, is amazed, bedazzled but still shocked by North America and its habits.

For instance, as he tried to teach about his home customs and respect for his elders, he pointed out that in his country, a woman, whether mother, aunt, daughter or sister, always sits where she is most able to access the kitchen. That seating arrangement makes it easier for her to serve the family, whether by filling serving dishes, removing plates from the table, bringing back beverages and desserts, or clearing the table after the meal. 

His message was received in some disbelief by the ladies in the TV cast. I was about to make a suitable comment about women’s equality, when Housemate asked: “Where did your mother sit at the table?”

I visualized our large eat-in kitchen. The stove was along the east wall, the fridge on the west wall, the sink on the south and the table in the centre of the room. The north opened to the large living room and occasional dining room. Mom sat on the west side nearest the fridge, Dad sat on the south end, and my spot was on the north end of the table. 

So considering that placement of bodies, Mom had access to all the kitchen points, but so did the rest of us, and we all had our jobs. Even guests were included in the division of labour, sometimes taken by surprise when handed a tea towel for drying dishes.

In Housemate’s home, two families lived together, with the two wives dividing and sharing kitchen/cooking duties and thus their positions were close to the kitchen area while the six men and boys took up spots with the least clear access to the kitchen, but easy routes to the living room couches after the meal.

In our first home as spouses, I sat on one side of the table and Housemate on the other. In our second home, the kitchen was so small we were equal-distance to the fridge and stove but not at the same time. Our First Avenue home had an odd-shaped kitchen and when we had company we moved to the dining room and I sat at the end with Housemate beside me.

Without much thought to our access to the kitchen, in our home since 1978, I have sat with my back to the kitchen and Housemate sits facing the outdoors but with no obstacles to the ice cream in the fridge or the extra serving of salad on the kitchen counter.

The most important rule at our table is that no one leaves the table until everyone is finished eating. I’m a slow eater so dessert is not available until I’ve finished my roast beef and mashed potatoes with extra gravy.

One of our young cousins expressed his displeasure at the rule and spent a good portion of the meal sitting under the table, barricaded in by the legs of the table, chairs and dinner companions.

Another guest has always been blocked in at the table where she cannot grab the plate out from under my hovering fork. I sense her frustration, but I enjoy every last bite.

Now I’m left wondering what lesson Al will have for us in the next episode of this new show. Perhaps he will talk about who sits where in the television room or which family member pays the bills.

Housemate is closest to his wallet.

Joyce Walter can be reached at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.