Viewpoint: Table manners

As LSM has already reported, May 4 is Latvia's Restoration of Independence Day. This year in fact is 26 years since the country's official resurrection, and the powers that be are asking everyone to make a little extra effort in celebrating.

Quite apart from the problems that restoration of Independence Day already has – it is forever destined to play second fiddle to actual Independence Day (November 18) – it arrives in a particularly busy section of the calendar. We've just had the Liela Talka (big clean-up day), Easter (western and eastern flavors), May Day/Labor Day (May 1) and Constitution Day (also May 1).

Then as soon as May 4 is done we go into another middle-league festival in the shape of Europe Day and the controversial Soviet Victory Day/Russia Is The Awesomest Day on May 9.

And now officials preparing the way for celebration of Latvia's centenary in 2018 at the Latvian Institute – a body tasked with promoting the country's image in other countries – have come up with a new Day: White Tablecloth Day.

"The Latvian Institute would like to encourage Latvians throughout the world to start a new tradition on May 4, the Restoration of Independence Day – to gather around white-clad tables with friends and neighbors to celebrate this occasion."

The basic idea is quite good, in an understated Latvian sort of way. Gather family and friends around a table with a white cloth on it. Enjoy some food and drink. Talk about Latvian stuff.

If White Tablecloth Day had been left at that, all would be fine, though any ordinary Latvian family might inadvertently find itself doing exactly the same on many other days of the year, without official sanction.

The last time I was sitting around a table with my extended family, hands linked, talking in serious tones about the past and hopes for the future, we were attempting to contact the spirit of a departed maiden aunt in order to ascertain the location of a will reputed to be of considerable value to one of us.

Sadly Aunt Agatha was not in a talkative mood from the 'other side', probably because none of us had bothered to visit her for the last ten years of her life. All we got for our efforts was a bit of table tipping, suggesting that death had not robbed Aunt Agatha of her talent for sarcasm.

But back to White Tablecloth Day. Where it starts to grate is in the list of supplementary suggestions, framed so as to seem like official requirements.

The food and drink should be in moderation. But one man's moderation is another man's decidedly tipsy. Where precisely should we draw the line? And does the suggestion that "culinary heritage" should be considered mean that it's grey peas and beer a go-go (an explosive combination)?

Are second helpings acceptable, third helpings deplorable? Far from castigating cousin Janis as an unpatriotic glutton for gobbling up all the remaining sprats on the table, we should praise him for increasing domestic consumption in response to Russian sanctions. Every fish that disappears down cousin Janis' gullet represents a job saved in Salacgriva.

Latvians are not renowned conversationalists at the best of times, but with the official advice to discuss matters appropriate to the occasion preying on their minds, table-top conversation could grind to a complete halt.

"[Participants should] share memories and perceptions of May 4, 1990, of the importance of earning freedom and its role in shaping the Latvian state today and in the future, highlighting and honoring local people of significance."

So, er, Porzingis is having quite a season, isn't he?

Awkward silence may well be for the best given that it is not uncommon for members of a single family to have wildly different political views. For the love of God, no-one mention Aivars Lembergs during discussions about "prominent local figures" on May 4.

Even the tablecloth itself is no mere piece of linen. It is "A unifying element and a symbol of self-confidence and pride."

Plus it catches the avalanche of cake crumbs that fall from the mouth of Little Neice Anna whose parents really should teach her to close it while chewing.

Finally it is suggested that participants might like to round things off with some dancing or possibly games or sports. This may be a piece of medical advice aimed at reducing the incidence of deep vein thrombosis caused by all that sitting around.

A table top, snacks and drinks, smart clothes, serious chatter, competitive games. Exchange the White Table Cloth for a green baize alternative and we would have the perfect setting for a national high-stakes poker tournament.

This is not intended to denigrate the event, which is fundamentally a good one. But after all, one of the great things about regaining freedom is that you no longer have to kow-tow to authority or conform with its ideas regarding what constitutes an appropriate celebration.

Enjoy the holiday on May 4, with or without a white tablecloth.

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