Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Just tuck in

When I was young, there were endless rules about how to eat and drink, and how to do it politely rather than rudely. Thank goodness most of these pointless rules have now been binned and we can be more relaxed about what should, after all, be an enjoyable experience rather than a nerve-racking test of good breeding.

As a child, I was constantly admonished for speaking with my mouth full, slurping my drinks, eating with my fingers, eating too fast or too slowly, putting too much in my mouth, playing with my food, and countless other shocking habits. No wonder not many people actively enjoyed their meals in those days, seeing them more as fuelling stops than sources of pleasure.

I suppose one of the few advantages of my boarding school years was that teenage boys ignore every rule about eating and just shamelessly stuff their faces in whatever manner suits them. The school staff had clearly long given up trying to instil more suitable behaviour, so mealtimes were always wonderful uninhibited binges free of the petty criticisms of home.

Nowadays the emphasis on enjoying your food rather than showing off your table manners means that most of the old dos and donts have bitten the dust and we eat and drink in whatever way we're comfortable with, and we're happy for our eating companions to do the same. And if someone else has cooked the food, wholehearted appreciation of what they've provided is more important than exactly how you're eating it.

Obviously I'm not saying you should shovel your food into your mouth like a pig at a trough, but what's wrong with emptying your plate enthusiastically if the contents are mouth-wateringly tasty? Why take dainty little portions when you could take a good hearty mouthful?

I guess the increasingly relaxed attitude to how we eat stems largely from the surge in foreign travel and our discovery that people in other countries actually see food as a feast for the tastebuds rather than an etiquette check. And if you're picking delicately at what's on your plate rather than eagerly tucking in, they don't think you're being polite, they think you don't like the food. Mamma mia, non hai appetito?*

* Mamma mia, don't you have an appetite?

23 comments:

Baino said...

I had table manners drummed into me as a kid and sadly I now judge others by the way they hold a knife and fork. Then there are somethings that just shouldn't be eaten outside the privacy of home, spare ribs, mangoes and possibly tacos. Never can keep the things together.

Nick said...

Baino - Some foods are virtually impossible to eat adeptly, even with all the correct implements. Sometimes you just have to be messy and slobbish, there's no alternative.

Yes, I was always being told how to hold a knife and fork correctly. I never took much notice though.

Grannymar said...

We grew up with starched table linen, nearly as much cutlery as in Downton Abbey. I had to keep my legs under my chair, and elbows in a box! If you didn't eat something for your dinner, you were threatened with it for your tea.

I am glad we have relaxed about food, but I do like to sit to the table with friends and enjoy our meals.

Jenny Woolf said...

I tried using chopsticks the other day since we had a japanese friend staying. Not only did I make a right idiot of myself but it made me realise why Japanese people are often so slender- it takes forever to eat anything with chopsticks! I mean, even for them. (Hm... perhaps I should go in for it more, I could do with losing a stone or two...)

secret agent woman said...

The primary point of manners is to no make other people unhappy or uncomfortable. And I love a relaxed dining experience. So eating enthusiastically - sure. I take that as a compliment if I'm the cook. But eating in disgusting way - I hope that doesn't become acceptable. I want people to chew with their mouths closed and not slurp their drinks. Those things make me cringe.

nursemyra said...

I often eat with my fingers but I still judge those who hold their knife the wrong way.

Many of the people I work with are Asian so I'm used to the sound of slurping noodles now (though it took a while in one particularly enthusiastic eater). Can't abide open mouth chewing though.

Are elbows allowed out of the box yet? My mother would roll in her grave if she saw I now put mine on the table at times.

Nick said...

Grannymar - My parents weren't as grand as that, and I don't remember having to control my legs and elbows, but there were still plenty of restrictions!

Jenny - I last used chopsticks many years ago and actually managed them quite well. But they certainly slow down the eating process.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - Very true, it usually just makes people uncomfortable. I find noisy drinkers and open-mouthed chewers mildly irritating but not seriously annoying.

Myra - People seem to be quite free with their elbows these days, that old rule seems to have been firmly discarded. Eating with your fingers has long been quite normal for lots of things - like sandwiches and fruit.

e said...

It is nice to know I wasn't the only only kid corrected unceasingly at the table. Manners reflected breeding and class, in several senses of the word, and my mother was a stickler. The older I got and the more I saw, the more grateful I've become for her efforts.

Nick said...

e - Well, some people do overdo the casualness, I guess, but it's good that eating is no longer a minefield of etiquette.

Scarlet Blue said...

I would throw up if I saw someone chewing with their mouth open.
I think of this as revenge.
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet - I'd love to see you throwing up in some posh restaurant, preferably all over the offending chewer's table.

Wisewebwoman said...

Interestingly enough, I was out for Indian today with a friend and I was shocked to see her pick up just about everything on her plate with her fingers and then lick her fingers. With gusto.
I've never gotten used to the Canadianness of this since I arrived here. I do it privately of course, but never in public, it really grosses me out.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - It may be the local custom, but if you've been brought up to eat in a more genteel fashion, it's hard to tolerate. Clearly it was finger-lickin' good!

Roses said...

I love this post!

My grandmother was a menace in a restaurant. She would critique other diners eating habits...loudly. My mother was slightly less judgmental.

Me? In the grand scheme of things I've got other things to worry about. Boy would not pass his great or his grandmothers muster and that's fine with me. He can eat with chopsticks.

Rummuser said...

My brother had come to stay with us and to take charge of my home while I went through surgery and recovery. Our sister joined us towards the end for three days. We had not really had so much time together in decades and among the things that we chatted about was exactly this topic and how now children are being brought up differently by our children. Life moves on and if we can laugh as the three of us and our sister in law did too, at the old ways, I think that we have passed the tests with good grades!

John Gray said...

I dont think I have ever been to a really FORMAL dinner party... I prefer a Nigella ish night myself. when everyone just tucks in... I do however hate small screaming kids at a table with adults.... but that's the old fart in me!

Nick said...

Roses - My mother used to be very critical of other people's eating habits but she's got more tolerant over the years. Indeed, in the grand scheme of things there are more important things to worry about.

Ramana - You can only laugh at our parents' strictness and how absurd it was. I doubt if the Queen herself was as punctilious.

Nick said...

John - Small, screaming, out of control kids are one of my bĂȘtes noires. Why can't their parents keep them in order? I avoid one particular branch of Pizza Express precisely for that reason.

blackwatertown said...

You have a great eye for striking pictures to illustrate your posts.
As for showing appreciation of one's food - according to a great uncle of mine who worked in Saudi years ago, it was good manners to belch loudly after eating - even if the dish was sheep's eyes.
(Throwing up was not encouraged.)

Nick said...

Blackwater - I'm always a bit fussy about finding just the right picture!

I think belching loudly to show your appreciation is common in a lot of places. Can't say I think much of the custom myself.

Liz said...

I've been known to scrape my finger round a dish if the food was good enough ...

Nick said...

Liz - Me too. It really annoys Jenny, her eating habits are much more "correct".