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Life Arts    H4'ed 1/24/10

You Are How You Eat

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People throw around the words "normal" and "typical" like I do pantyhose Advil. The longer I live, the more convinced I have become that not everyone throws around pantyhose like I do is "normal" or even "typical". I mean, when did picking your nose and scratching your balls through every tomato at the supermarket while sneezing into your hand become "normal'? And as far as what is typical, the only thing I can say about each and every day of my life is that it is typical for me to wake up wanting sex every morning. When that changes, I'm very sorry I won't be able to let you know this has happened. Please accept my apologies in advance.

Part of what is normal or typical about me is that I have a pretty keen eye for a strapping man detail and observation. This does not help me in my pursuit of strapping men happiness. Typically, I notice little behaviors or things about people in the workplace and at social settings like meals that help me determine how aware they are of common courtesy and etiquette. If I notice these little quirks more than once, they now officially become habits. Some habits are perfectly acceptable endearing to some while others make me want to fillet their gullets are tough to break and not normal by any my standards. Because I can't cook does not mean I can't eat. And because I can, I thought I would talk about a matter near and dear to my heart today that has to do with the art of eating.

I grew up in a house where table manners were about as important as figuring out where my parents hid the liquor and the mad money getting good grades. My parents didn't drink and I think they stuffed their money up their butts so you can see that left my siblings and me with little to do but concentrate on getting good grades and having matching table manners. They go together just like peanut butter and vinegar. Try that combination sometime. Trust me, you'll like it. It's all in the measuring. Smooth, never crunchy, FYI.

At a really young age, I learned that we were born with elbows because we needed something to bang unexpectedly body parts that have absolutely no place at the table and a parent to admonish us for even attempting to bring them anywhere near it. Think about it. Did your mother ever scold you repeatedly for putting your ears or your knees on the table? It seems that the only uninvited guests are elbows. My mother must have done a pretty good job. Elbows have been permanently removed from the guest list of any table. The only time I know that I have them is when I smash one of them on my way to a meeting. If I see the elbows of another person getting near the edge of a table today, I suddenly become a Kung Fu master. Chop, chop. (See how I am throwing in some cooking terms here, too?)

Moving right along here, I'd like to state that chomping and slurping are not "normal" unless you happen to live in a country where part of the culture requires you to slurp your soup. Even if you are bad at geography and can't read a map to save your life, let it be known that while freedom of speech is part of the constitution, chomping and slurping are not. It violates other people's ears. There may be an exception to this; I'm not sure about parts of Texas. I may have to get back to you on that. If I can hear you eating, I will probably not be able to listen to anything you have to say because the memory of the sound of your masticating will cancel out any romantic notions make me wonder if you were raised by wolves. My apologies to any wolves that do not chomp and slurp. What are you doing for dinner next Thursday and do you have a nice suit?

Utensil usage (especially here in America) has always fascinated me. I often have business or social lunches and dinners where there are as many as eight people talking over each other sitting at a table. But for the occasional flying elbow, the thing that confounds me more than anything is how people hold and use their knives and forks. It's like watching a game of drunken "Twister" for the hands. Some people carve through their meat as if they are using a hacksaw, others seem to have skipped the class that teaches proper utensil usage not mastered the knife at all and instead, cut everything with a fork. I have witnessed more people than you can shake a chopstick at who hold their utensils like they are part of some advanced arthritis study while others claw on to them as if for dear life. Let's not even get into the switching of the fork into the opposite hand with every bite (this is purely an American habit that makes no sense whatsoever). It doesn't seem to slow the eating process down or reduce food intake. It's just an unnecessary and awkward step.

Let the record reflect that your hand is not a utensil for pushing your food on to a fork. That's why knives were invented. Let the record reflect that the slurping of solid food is disgusting requires continual, annoying practice. Let the record also reflect that pasta is only eaten with a spoon and fork in a tiny section of southern Italy. This idea seems to have crossed the ocean and been made "normal" in America, especially at restaurants that call themselves "Italian". Ask for a spoon to go with your spaghetti in Venice and you could end up in one of those canals. You have no idea what pasta really tastes like unless you spend some time in Italy.

I can learn a lot about a man (all people actually) by the way food is ordered in a restaurant. When I hear (repeatedly), "Give me the".", "I'll take" and (the worst offender by far) "I want" preceding an order, it makes my ears turn inside out with rage and sends me over the edge of sanity and into septic shock. Whatever happened to, "May I please have" or "I would like" as a starter before demanding your appetizer and meal? Not that a server repeatedly calling me "honey" or "sweetie" doesn't make me immediately calculate a 15% tip instead of 20 want to call him or her "nimrod" or "loser" just as often, but many times they have either introduced themselves or wear name tags, so that would just be plain rude. I am many things, but a rude, impolite heathen is not one of them. Yesterday, within a five-minute period exchange of getting carryout, I was called "Sweetie" and "Honey" no less than seven times. I'm sorry, but this is not "normal" but it does seem to be more and more typical.

In short, you are not only what you eat, you are also who how you eat. I'm keeping my eye out on you. The other one is watching your elbows. Please get them off the table.

Thank you.

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Patricia A. Smith is a writer and artist (and sometimes both at the same time). A former columnist, restaurant critic and cruise line executive, Smith has lived in London, Greece, Denmark, Hungary, Egypt, Costa Rica and France. She returned (more...)
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