Table Manners

I remember the first time I realized I wasn’t the only person who was bothered by the sounds people make when they’re chewing–especially when they’re chewing loudly, and especially when they’re chewing with their mouths open.  I was talking to a friend of mine, and although I don’t remember how the subject came up, I can vividly recall her response to it: “Ugh, I can’t stand it when people chew like that.  Emilie, it makes me so mad I just want to punch them in the face!”  I enthusiastically agreed.  It was like finding my soulmate.

As it turns out, my friend and I are far from alone.  Indeed, according to an article in the New York Times, the rage that’s triggered by mouth sounds like chewing loudly, humming, or snapping bubble gum may actually be part of a condition called misophonia (“dislike of sound”).  At this point, the condition has been neither widely studied nor diagnosed.

Now, I’ll be perfectly honest: I wouldn’t put myself in the same category as people who experience blood-boiling levels of anger when exposed to mouth sounds.  I’m also pretty sure my friend was exaggerating when she made the pronouncement I quoted above.  But the very fact that a condition like misophonia exists got me thinking a little bit about manners–table manners in particular.

When I was growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for my parents (and even my grandparents) to lecture me about chewing with my mouth open.  Talking with a full mouth was also viewed as a cardinal sin.  Although my family was and still is pretty far from formal, my sisters and I very quickly learned what kind of behavior was appropriate at the dinner table.  As I go through life, I notice that many of the people around me weren’t taught the same lessons; or perhaps they just weren’t taught with the same amount of diligence.  Whatever the cause, mouth sounds are far from rare, and if you’re bothered by them because of a physical or neurological condition or just because you find them annoying or impolite, you may find that in most situations involving food and humans, you’re out of luck.

To my mind, snapping chewing gum and chewing loudly are not only impolite habits, but also behaviors over which (for the most part) an individual should be able to exercise a certain amount of control.  And yet whenever I find myself in a situation with someone who is noisily chewing away, I feel it would be rude to ask them to modify their behavior.  This is, I’ve noticed, a pretty common phenomenon when it comes to manners in general: although you may feel that what another person is doing is a greater violation of manners than what you’re doing, you hesitate to say anything out of fear of being rude.  It must be some sort of ethical paradox!

What accounts for this hesitation?  Is it a lack of confidence in one’s own code of manners?  A belief that the comfort of others should come before one’s own, even in cases where the comfort of others involves loud chewing?  Whatever the explanation, I think that ultimately the mouth sounds contingent wins.

But who knows?  Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the misphonics unite and lay siege to their loud-chewing counterparts.

By Emilie

Runner, yogini, knitter, Manhattanite in spite of myself. Also blogging at

12 replies on “Table Manners”

I feel the same way. I call them “Enthusiastic Chewers.” My irritation extends to an irrational distaste for people who chew with their mouths closed but move their lips “enthusiastically” as they do so. I can’t handle it, sometimes, and even avoid making eye contact to avoid showing my irritation!


In this instance, I’m convinced I’m the one at fault and I’m way, way, WAY too type-A for my own good.


But honestly, chewing with your mouth open IS rude and it IS gross!

I definitely have this, to a somewhat extreme extent. Having discovered there was a real term for it (i.e. “I’m not crazy!”), I lurked in some online forums, but seeing it covered in the New York Times was really refreshing. It’s definitely affirming to have a name, and a diagnosis, for something that so strongly impacts my daily life and yet most people around me (save a few understanding friends), laugh at or even purposely do things that trigger me because “it’s funny” or “you need to get used to it.” Just today, sitting with lab-mates in the break room, one turned to me and asked why I was so quiet, and I finally just said “I have trouble around plastic bags” (the other was slowly and loudly eating grains of granola from a baggie), though I refrained from adding the bit about the “trying to contain boiling rage.” I briefly explained, mentioned the article. The plastic bag noises didn’t stop. Sigh. You can’t say anything to strangers, let alone many people you actually know. Still, there are an understanding few, and for those who are less so, it’s helpful to have a name and a reason for what some friends call my “spidey-senses”…as well as a reason for some of my strange coping mechanisms as I continue to work on this issue. Thanks for the post!

Actually Emilie, your behavior is absolutely correct. According to Miss Manners, Emily Post and pretty much every other etiquette expert I’ve encountered, pointing out someone else’s lapse in manners is a serious faux pas. It may seem like a paradox, but correcting another’s manners, even when you know you are in the right, is like flaunting your superior etiquette and is considered terribly rude.

That’s what the judgmental lip-purse is for. I am an expert. And then when I get home I rant to whoever will listen. Lately I have been venting about wedding invitations and save the dates, because all my boyfriend’s friends are getting married and doing it ALL WRONG. The only time I almost said something was when he received an invite to a friend’s wedding that was only addressed to him. We had been together for about a year and a half at that point, and while we don’t live together (because I made a decision I don’t want to live with someone until I’m married just in case things don’t work out), we are together ALL the time, so it seemed improper to me not to invite me. But the thing that got me was when my boyfriend RSVP’ed for just him and his friend called wanting to know if I was also coming. I almost had to bite my tongue to refrain from grabbing the phone and lecturing him about the point of invitations being to inform a person her presence is requested at an event and if such person is not informed, she cannot be expected to know. Oh, and this was the groom, and the bride did all the addressing, and oddly, NONE of the groom’s friend’s girlfriends were invited.

When I got married, we only invited significant others if the couple was married, living together, or a long-term couple. (I guess at my advanced age, long-term means something different: at least a few years.) Miss Manners and Emily Post assured me that this was common and acceptable. Is that no longer the case?

That was the rule I found, too, and I included my relationship in the “long-term” category, especially because all of his friends knew we were together all the time, and actually, if it were not for my stubborness about living together, would be living together. In fact, I think we had been together longer than the engaged couple by that point.

We had been together only a few months when his family’s friend’s daughter got married. I had not been invited, but his parents were IRATE I was not included. I didn’t think I should have been invited, and according to Miss Manners and Emily Post, they were in the clear. When I think “long-term,” I think “not flavor of the month.” I definitely think one and a half years is long-term, but maybe people who waited 4 years to get engaged would disagree with me. I know a lot of people who have gotten married after a year, and I think by your mid-20s, that’s pretty common.

What made me really mad was the fact that I *had* actually been invited, they just didn’t tell me.

Mouth sounds storytime!

I am pretty phobic of spit. At a party, one of my very good friends (who later admitted that he should have known better and felt terrible) surprised me with the ice-cube-passing game, and I had an anxiety attack. Literally ran over to the bar and was like “water and clear sink, now!” so I could rinse my mouth out.

This one time, my uncle was visiting, and he only ate dinner with the rest of us for the first half since he had to get ready to go somewhere. While I had my fork halfway to my mouth, he suddenly made the “hock a loogie” sound. I literally had to put my fork down and excuse myself. I tried so hard to keep eating, I really did. I think it’s the one time in my life that I was like “Family, I gotta leave dinner halfway through,” which is a pretty big no-no with my immediate family.

Fortunately, this was AFTER the point in my life where my parents’ philosophy on my neuroses was to tell me to suck it up, my dad went and had a talk with my uncle about how that was Not Okay, and we were able to move on.

Also fortunately, several other people have said that while they wouldn’t react as strongly, they’d still find it incredibly rude of someone to make bathroom noises (especially controllable ones!) in earshot of people eating dinner.

Oh oh oh oh! Thank Baby JESUS, another spit-phobe! My boyfriend and I were hiking one day on a pretty popular mountain and this guy in front of me just hocked one up and spat right there. I just about passed out. All the color drained from my face and I felt like I was going to fall over. My reaction totally scared my boyfriend. Just thinking about it is making me anxious. Oh I hate spit. I thought I was the only one. Everyone makes fun of me and tells me to get over it. It sucks.

Although it is certainly true that mouth sounds are The Most Annoying, I’d hesitate to comment on someone’s mouth sounds for a couple of reasons. The most compelling reason to not comment is that the loud eater may have some sort of invisible disability or developmental delay that makes the fine motor control required for eating a challenge.

Leave a Reply