rumination 12: table manners…

I love watching people eat.

Their mannerism at the table tells you a lot about them.

Some are much more interested in the activity of eating than the food, shoveling it in like a mindless chore without thought, ever-ready to move on to the next thing. Some are too interested in looking good to actually eat, dabbing their mouths with every bite, reapplying make-up between courses, flirting with their reflection in the silverware. Others are happy losing themselves in their company, chatting and laughing over food growing cold.

And then there are those who seem completely disinterested at table, rearranging things on their plates as if solving an organic tangram.

But there are also people who are thoughtful about their food – the ones who are, ostensibly, focused on their plates and present to eat.

Some, are led by their noses, sniffing and smelling everything like hounds before starting in. Some are aesthetes, eating with their eyes first, turning their plates to study every angle before tasting. Others are more scientific, poking and probing their food like subjects on an autopsy table, specimens to be dissected.

Some are graceful eaters. They can dance away a salad or a pasta dish like Fred Astaire.  They are a pleasure to watch.

Some are more practical, they see silverware as optional. Watching them is like watching an excavator move dirt.  They leave halos of crumbs and spatter spots in their wake.

I’ve met people – as I’m sure all of us have (or might even be) – who are segregationists. They don’t like different categories of foods touching each other. Their ideal plate would look like a tee vee dinner tray: vegetables at 3 o’clock, the protein prominently staged at 6, and the starch rounding things out at 9 on the dot. Eating at a traditional Chinese restaurant might render them catatonic, leaving them rocking back and forth in the fetal position in a corner somewhere. I wonder if they are able to compartmentalize life in the same way.

I encounter many more carnivores than herbivores. The carnivores will head straight to the meat or fish and leave the vegetables behind. As one who leans heavily toward the herbivore tribe, I find this tragic.

There are carb fiends. For them, bread is the main sport. Despite the best intentions, they usually peter out before the main courses arrive.  Did the tortoise and the hare teach them nothing?

There are those with sweet teeth. For them, three-quarters of the meal is merely an overture for the finale.

And some seem dead to sugar altogether. Getting them to stick around for dessert requires a favor.

There are talkers, who provide a play-by play, unedited and unsolicited. By the end, you feel as if you’ve experienced your dinner as a soccer match on Spanish television.

There are the interrogators: they must know what everyone else thinks about the dish.  And they often ask right as a member of the staff arrives to service the table.  This drives me nuts.

And there are the poker faces, who eat their meal in near-silence, processing and self-recording their experience internally. One can never tell what they think about the food.

While I’m pretty sure I know my table mannerisms, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to observe myself eating as a third person.

What kind of eater are you?  What odd and interesting table mannerisms have you witnessed?

~ by ulterior epicure on July 31, 2010.

3 Responses to “rumination 12: table manners…”

  1. i’m quite selective to what i enjoy during a meal. my husband notices that when i truly enjoy meal it disappears quietly.

    I’m quite interested in observing table mannerisms, but I find myself being quite self conscious about my own etiquette. I’ve always wondered what other people think, and sometimes this prevents me from enjoying a meal.

  2. A young man at Schloss Berg was using his fork to push food onto his knife and eating from the knife’s end. Bite after bite, course after course.

  3. @yancaneat: Maybe this fella likes living on the cutting edge… :) (Love your name, by the way.)

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