The Ultimate Dining Etiquette Guide: The Italian Galateo (Complete Course)

When it comes to formal manners, there is no book more referred to as the Il Galateo. This Italian book, known as Galateo: The Rules of Polite Behavior, is the “bible” of etiquette. Everyone who has a name people care for in manners started with it.

Il Galateo talks about the dos and don’ts of formal manners and ordinary social life. Florentine poet and diplomat Giovanni Della Casa wrote this book, publishing in 1558. The book, after many centuries, was the definitive guide for people looking to manners. Historical figures like George Washington and Lord Chesterfield received influential learning from this book.

If you’re visiting Italy or trying to learn manners for Alta società, this book is for you. We’re here to list you as much as you need to know about the Galateo. We can’t fit everything here since the latest translated book is 150 pages long.

It’s a must-read so you should get yourself a copy. For people who can’t get it, we’re here to give you the most definitive guide we can build. If you’re looking to get some fine dining skills, keep reading.

Understanding The History of Il Galateo

Before anything about these rules of polite behavior, let’s look at some history first. Giovanni Della Casa was a diplomat and papal nuncio born in the 16th century in Florence, Italy. He was born to a wealthy family in Mugello in the same countryside Lorenzo de’ Medici hunted.

During his years, Della Casa was a friend with the archbishop of Sessa near Napoli (Naples). His name, Galeazzo Florimonte, was a teacher and a friend enthused with ethics. This friend encouraged him to write a courtesy book – something Florimonte tried before.

Della Casa did so with a few goals in mind and years worth of experience behind him. With his posts before his retirement, he amassed an understanding of Italian society. He understood the audience he wanted, the inspiration he needs, and for whom the book is for.

He understood the audience was people that needed to learn to present themselves. Manners were big during this time and Della Casa, even with his history, didn’t talk about virtue. He shows more concern about the little things that communicate decency and duties.

His understanding of society comes from his years as a diplomat. His intent was to show what civility is. Della Casa wanted to show how the trivialities of people needed refinement. He wanted to correct small but ridiculous “depravities” that people did.

Della Casa wrote the book for his uppity nephew Annibale. His nephew, being a young but soon to be a potential powerful Florentine figure, was the person he had in mind. He grew fond of his nephew and wanted to give him a guide to the ins and outs of Italian etiquette.

Two years after Della Casa died, the Galateo went into publication. Named after Florimonte, who was paramount of etiquette and manners, the book was a hit. People loved it, so much that the term “galateo” became the Italian word for “etiquette”.

The published book was so good that the Galateo was more in line with two other legendary manuals of the time. The first was Baldassare Castiglione’s “The Book of the Courtier” in 1528. The other was Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince” in 1532.

The Impact Of Galateo On Modern Society

Many scholars try to interpret the Galateo as something more philosophical. This comes from Giovanni Della Casa having belabored his prose and writing style of the book.

Della Casa received praise from poets like Giacomo Leopardi. They noted his prose was comparable to masters like Machiavelli.

The Galateo became a seminal study into Italian etiquette and manners in general. It discussed details crucial to general discourse and how to deal with people. The Galateo also showed how you should act with others around you.

The style of writing is hard to not fall in love with. The writing is vivid, candid, and even colloquial. It sounds like something a concerned but cynical uncle will tell you. It is endearing, to say the least.

While the Galateo talks about general etiquette, its lessons can apply to modern times. In today’s standards, dinner etiquette is crucial to dealing with society. Whether if it’s for business or for Alta Società, the Galateo can help you weave around crucial manners.

Most of the entries we’ll discuss are still relevant even in today’s modern take on etiquette. Many of these can give you an air of sophistication and elegance where it matters.

Della Casa designed his advice to reduce depravities during meetings with society. Attitudes such as gentleman-like behavior receive encouragement. At the same time, he encourages the repression of ideas that will strain your name in people’s minds.

1. Be Polite and Pleasant To Others

When it comes to etiquette, Galateo encourages people to be more genteel. He asks you to be polite and pleasant to other people.

Liberal attitudes are not something that needs repression. In fact, the Galateo notes the importance of a liberal mind. He notes that generosity and loyalty are of more value than courtesy.

Even then, pleasant habits are still a useful characteristic when dealing with people. It allows for the largesse of spirit and notes how useful these are in daily discourse.

If you deal with people daily and talk to them daily, having a liberal or fortuitous heart is less in demand. People, however, will remember you better for having a polite or pleasant attitude. Even without big gestures, people will remember you as a respectful person you are.

The Galateo notes how you can go further into your societal goals. By being pleasant and proper than being virtuous and noble, you arouse kindness.

How do you use this at the dinner table?

The Goals Of Etiquette

Dinner etiquette has two goals, regardless of the financial power or station that you have in life. These goals are:

  • Make others comfortable around us
  • Prevent us from embarrassing ourselves

If you know anything about dining with others, we had the chance to eat with someone having a gruff attitude. It can be someone with bad hygiene or even coughs over the food. It can even be someone who tries to push their agenda so hard that it makes everyone feel awkward.

You don’t want to be the one who others see as “gruff”. To do so, you want to be as polite and as pleasant to others as possible. While you don’t have to change who you are as a whole, you want to understand how pleasantries work.

Try to watch over how you act around others. You want to be generous enough to show that you’re not there to be an annoyance to the people with you. Dining etiquette dictates that you make it a habit to watch over how you act around other people.

Being nice and controlled is free. It’s easy to show that you’re pleasant to be with and it should come easy to do so. How do you know if you’re being pleasant and nice?

Try to look around you during dinner. If people are not acting naturally around you, that’s discomfort you see. Make sure that you take care to see others’ pleasures rather than your own delight.

In doing so, people will feel more comfortable around you. They would want to be around you more, which is a great precedent. For business dinners, pleasant etiquette can get you more mileage.

2. Avoid Invoking Disgust In Others

One of the major points of The Galateo is to rebuke any action that can show disgusting things. According to the Galateo, disgusting things can offend the senses. It can even offend the imagination and people’s desire.

Further, it notes that etiquette, in general, should disallow having people to deal with anything fetid. It’s your job to show manners becoming or above your post. To do or even mention any detail that is disgusting is obnoxious behavior.

Following Galateo, people have a prescription to show they are of proper manners. They can achieve so by being in their best outward form to their peers. Any level of dishevelment communicates that you finished relieving yourself of something disgusting.

Any article of clothing you have out of place should be for correction before anything. Change only during your time in private so others will not think of you as disorganized.

You should not lead yourself or others to something foul or disgusting. This includes everything from asking people to smell something gross. Never so much as attempt to show yourself washing hands as people can imagine you being grimy before.

This goes for your voice too. The voice can be a powerful tool for or against disgusting etiquette. If you are going to talk or perform for people, you want to keep unpleasantness like yawning low.

Why Prevent Others From Feeling Disgust

So, why would you need to prevent looking disgusting modern dinner etiquette? Why should you prevent even the idea of disgusting human actions?

Good manners and etiquette show that we should have appropriate behavior when around people. Anything that involves your body fluids is an affront to the people you are dealing with. This includes your sweat, your saliva, your cough or even wet hands.

The pleasantries should extend to the other senses of people you are with at the dinner table. For example, even something like tone-deaf singing is a no-no to the Italian Galateo. Yawning is another disgusting behavior that you should not ascribe to.

Dining etiquette needs you to always be in your best self. Any crass behavior like disorganized looks and disagreeable actions can disgust people. As your aim in the dinner table is politeness, acts like yawning and coughing are the opposite of such.

The mere idea of disgusting things can pollute the minds of the people around you. If people see you washing hands after you use the toilet, this gives them an idea of where you’ve been. If you’re yawning, you’re communicating that you rather be elsewhere than that place.

3. Being In Your Best State

When following Galateo manners, remember what you are doing is open for misinterpretation. Part of your responsibilities with good etiquette is to be in your best state in front of people. This includes physical and mental states.

Through your appearance, you want to show that you prepared for the people present. This shows off a good impression of yourself instead of one of indolence and lethargy. It’s crucial to make it a habit that you abstain from doing anything with body fluids.

As a general rule, it’s best to respect people’s senses at the dinner table. Any action should not attack their sight, smell, taste, hearing, or even touch.

When it comes to food on the table, the Galateo gets particular when it comes to personal space. In the Italian Galateo, wine is a crucial part of dinner you need to respect. Sniffing other people’s wine is offensive, much like offering a glass you drank from.

Lip-smacking and chewing noises from food can also be a problem. It is disgusting and offensive to other people.

The same is true with other people’s food and their plates. One of the crucial recommendations is to not sniff people’s food and keep personal space. The only exception to the rule is when doing so with a person you share intimacies.

Even then, a close friend or a loved one can feel offense towards such unruly behavior. Keep your personal space to yourself and to others. Don’t invade or make light of it as it can cause eventual social suicide.

4. Be Polite and Discreet In Your Observance of Others

Another part of Italian Galateo is being polite in observance of other people’s faults. If you are keeping with your etiquette, you will notice people’s behavior around you. You will see the best and worst manners of people you are with.

When doing so, you will see even the littlest faults in people’s personal manners. Small things like these can seem harmless, but they can also be the source of annoyance. This can not only annoy you but others too.

To add, small problems in manners can also tarnish the name of the person. This can be problematic especially if you care about them. If you think it’s in the person’s best interest to learn about this bad manner, tell them.

Even then, you need to give them the politeness and honor that their station affords them. It’s crucial to not shame these people in front of other people. Discreetness is essential to exude a level of politeness.

Walking The Line of Concern and Rudeness

When considering dinner etiquette, it’s vital to remind yourself that you need to be polite. Pointing other people’s mistakes is, in itself, something that can be an offense. Knowing how to point it to others is a skill that needs a good sense of manners.

It is in your best interest to prevent any other people from hearing your observations. Your aim is to help preserve the dignity of the person you are talking to. Doing it with others hearing it won’t help your case and will only offend the person you tell it to.

Be polite when talking about other people’s faults. If you notice something awry at the dinner table, wait until after to tell them about it. Be gentle in saying the problem.

Choose your words with care. Manners and etiquette are a sensitive issue that needs delicacy. It’s tough to hear it from others that you have a problem.

It’s best to not mince words but be gentle. Communicate what you saw and be accurate about it. Don’t speak in a manner that they can misinterpret or see as an attack on who they are.

A good note to remember is to afford everyone politeness but mind your station. While someone of higher station than you can use your opinion, here’s a problem. It’s not in your best interest to overrule someone like your host or benefactor.

It’s best to mind your connection to the person. Will they appreciate a polite, good-hearted opinion from you? If they will, go for it.

5. Be A Pleasure When Conversing With Others

Many of the details on Galateo put a heavy focus on the ability to converse with other people. Conversations, in dinner etiquette, is a fine art that needs refinement and succinctness. Knowing how to deal with speech, yours and others can give you command of any situation.

There are people whose manners in speech make them so eager that they forget their point. If this happens to you, remember that speaking should have a goal and form. You want to speak only when your ideas are in full form in your head.

Do not speak only to hear the sound of your own voice. You don’t want to catch yourself grasping at straws for details. Remember the names of the people you are conversing with and you’re talking about.

Your speaking voice should not be hoarse, sharp or irritating to the ears. You should not show lethargy when conversing or have food in your mouth. If you’re unable to correct any speech problems, practice by yourself or with a willing partner.

When speaking, talk in a well-modulated voice that is neither loud nor soft. If someone requests clarification, talk loud enough to not disturb others in the dinner. You want to be clear and concise rather than eloquent but flowery.

You want your speech to be easy on the ears of other people. Speak in good cadence, neither slow nor fast – like a moderate man. Do not chew on your words so people will listen with gladness that you are talking to them.

Dealing With Other People In Conversations

When dealing with how others speak, you will encounter many displeasures along the way. People, for example, will tell stories you know or grasped before. Don’t interrupt or show displeasure if it is a simple matter of storytelling.

Don’t ruin others’ pleasure but don’t let labored stories that go nowhere pin you down. If you think that the speech is not pleasurable to you anymore, do not interrupt. Find a way to excuse yourself in a polite manner that does not offend the other party.

Learn how to be a good listener. Let people tell their stories and interact with them through proper speech. Do not give them quips and one-liners that show off your boredom of the situation.

Speaking too much or keeping silent are despicable in equal terms. Speak in turn with each other, offering conversations full of respect. It is your job to be the bigger person and offer your ear but only so much so.

6. Dress For Success

One of the most crucial tenets that the Galateo holds dear is dressing the part. Dressing for success is the term for it and it is most crucial. If you want to survive dinner with peers, it’s best to dress befitting your age and status.

Your suit and clothes should be in the best quality that they can be. Whether it’s a dinner event with friends or business, your clothes should look good. They don’t have to be the most expensive but they should not look like clothes at home.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Don’t look too extreme in your extravagance that you look ridiculous in your own skin. Blend in as much as you can and be unassuming.

Fit in with the customs and practices of the locals. If you are the host, your clothes should show who you are. Adapt with the prevailing styles and it should suit you and your personality.

7. Don’t Be Disagreeable or Petulant. Be Affable.

In conversations, be neither disagreeable nor petulant. Being self-serving, pompous or contrarian will not win the hearts of people. Judging behavior only encourages people to show annoyance or hatred towards you.

Be affable. Manners do not stop at knowing how to wipe your mouth at the table. It’s best to be a pleasure to others rather than be an ornery piece of work.

People who are affable can make friends and comrades anywhere they go. If you are at a dinner party, dinner etiquette dictates you should enjoy yourself. You want to be a gregarious friend and a good company for everyone.

While your mental health is a crucial concern, you don’t want to be a downer. Let loose your worries and enjoy the company of others who are with you. To brood on a constant basis does not do you or anyone around you a favor.

8. Understand Your Table Manners

When it comes to table manners, there are some crucial points that you need to remember. For starters, you need to follow through things that can disgust people. Spitting, gnawing, and chewing with noises is not pleasant at all.

You are human. To eat with blatant disregard in a disgusting manner is more akin to pigs. You want to act with dignity and constraint.

Eat slow and enjoy the food provided than to eat it with gluttony. Like with many of our modern manners, picking teeth and cleaning nails on the table is rude. Swishing and gulping wine is not acceptable in any manner for your dinner etiquette.

Napkins should go on your lap rather than bib it around your neck. Don’t stuff your cheeks with food and be brusque about consuming what is in front of you. Do not raise your voice only to praise the food, rather talk in a soft manner with dignity.

Sharing food on your plate to your equals is also a no-no in Galateo etiquette. Food sharing is only possible if someone does it has the superior rank to the one receiving. Even then, people may not even like what you offer them.

It’s best manners to not catch yourself being drunk on the table. The core tenets of dinner etiquette are for you to not embarrass yourself and others. Passing out or becoming a nuisance is not a behavior any person should have in such events.

Conclusion

The Italian Galateo is the bible of manners and is the ultimate dinner etiquette guide. While most of its content applies to today’s standards of etiquette, its message is clear.

Politeness, respect, generosity, and carrying yourself with dignity is the goal of etiquette. To give people around you the pleasure to have you exceeds the need to give yourself pleasure. Other people enjoying to be around you is the ultimate pleasure itself.

While you don’t have to read the entirety of Galateo, it’s best if you do. If you can’t, its ideals stand by matters of common decency.

Respect others as they will respect you. If you want a business dinner or event to be perfect, you need to show an outward perfection. Knowing how to bring about dignified manners is the entire value of manners and etiquette.

Do not be disgusting or become an offense to other people. If everyone can follow the manners encouraged by the Galateo, we become a better society. We become people of good conduct and refinement.

The Galateo encourages you to be kinder, be more generous, and be more polite. Righteousness and liberality can carry you in some situations, but only so far. You need to uphold your poise in situations that call for it.

If you have the time, consider reading the Galateo. Understand what it is for and take to heart the advice that it recommends. Read it now.

Matthew Ryan

I'm Matthew Ryan, one of the guys behind MannersAdvisor.com I am passionate about the world of good manners, etiquette and proper behavior to have on any special occasion. Here I decided to share my passion with you!

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