Tanya Kosh has a
both brilliant and entertaining writing style, easy to read, yet stimulating
and surprising at the same time. When I took notice of her book, being an
inveterate foodie as well as an interculturalist, I asked to review it
immediately. Travel and food and foreign company are inevitable in my line of
work, and table manners seem only to be lightly touched upon in most of the
literature about business abroad and expatriation. When They are dealt with,
advice is largely behavioral – one gets tips about do’s and don’ts, but very
little insight about the logic behind local customs and the inner discourse which
supports them as well as raises feelings about their observance or violation.
This book is
much more a reflection on the philosophy behind what we do at table rather than
an international tour guide. I don't think I would be far off to describe it as
auto ethnography, in that the author largely speaks from her own experiences as
an extremely well-traveled professional. In addition, there are anecdotal
treasures found in the author’s interviews and discussions with others. For
those of us who love stories, this approach adds to the pleasure of the read.
The line from Crow and Weasel, a children’s
book, always reminds me, “Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to
On the other
hand, coming from a working-class immigrant family to the USA, I have had a lot
of contradictory etiquette to sort out. I also have many sins to confess and
repent of. Perhaps the most egregious and precocious of these was, as a four-year-old,
gobbling all the maraschino cherries topping grapefruit halves on an elegantly
set table, while my parents and their hosts chatted in the parlor.
The roots and
variations of table manners (even if we eat sitting on the floor), like many
sacred dogmas, are often rooted in practicality and survival. Whatever our
kosher or halal, or our behavior consuming it, it is likely to find its roots
buried in the safety, security, and community concerns of our cultural group
ancestors, if not explicitly exposed, as in the present day abundance of
contemporary “food religions”. These root considerations sprout into spiritual,
ethnic, national, class, and myriad other distinctions, and may be critical in
contexts of business and diplomacy. In interculturalist terms, it is important
to recognize that table manners are part of one’s own identity discourse and an
identity marker for others, while yet, in the age of globalization, the
frontiers are increasingly porous.
though it cannot precise your behavior, helps you stay you alert and keep your
head about you, a useful passport when crossing alimentary frontiers. In
closing, one point that stuck out for me was the author’s clear emphasis on the
fact that you can’t eat and digest well or at all when you are afraid. Knowing
good manners reduces that fear, as does the kind whispered advice of a cultural
informant sitting next to us in an unfamiliar dining context. It is not only
important to act correctly in the situation, but also to quell the
gastro-intestinal butterflies by knowing that we are doing it right and helping
fellow diners to that same comfort. Bon
Hill-walking in the Alps could be very confusing. Don't get hopeful thinking you know where you need to go. One shouldn't assume one understands the signs however clear they are to you when back home...
Bad manners differ in type and magnitude. The Telegraph came up with the list of the 20 most annoying. Some of them are directly connected to table manners, some are not. Interestingly enough, those which are not could be possibly even more annoying if practised at the table. Just imagine that... Oh, no. Better not. Don't. Just read the article without visualising it.
Etiquette is not fixed. It changes. It develops together with the society. You don't need a revolution for this. New technology, new business entering the country. They might pretend they follow your rules and accept your manners.. They even adapt their signs to fit your environment, like McDonald's in Salzburg (Austria)
Interestingly enough, the influence of McDonald's on etiquette is so big, that people even do their degrees studying it.
A little guide on French table manners we found today:http://www.pariscultureguide.com/french-table-manners.html. Most of it could be applied to the majority of European countries, but one crucial thing is missing. The universal rule to using your cutlery everywhere else is something along these lines: using utensils on the outside first and working your way inward (well, there is some less appropriate advice on that page, nothing criminal, but be aware: they cannot decide which word to use - serviette or napkin...). What I came across in France during the rather formal dinners is that cutlery is arranged according to size creating really beautiful, beautiful butterfly wings. The only problem - you really need to be able to distinguish your pudding fork from your salad one. I talked to the French friend yesterday - he reckons this is the thing of the past. The example below is a bit easier. If only every meal were this complicated: The 12 courses include: Caviar, Escargot, Seafood Cocktail, Soup, Fish, Lobster, Entree, Palate Cleanser, Releve(main) Course, Salad, Dessert, Coffee/Tea Try to find the fork for snails on this picture. And please let us know if you think that whoever laid the table in this picture really thinks that salad needs a knife? Otherwise what is that last one for?
And no comments here on the napkin ring. I have been told in England that it is a universal class divider. More on it later.
When I was young, together with a couple of friends I did a very cruel thing. I ordered THIS for my colleague. We were abroad, she didn't speak the language. It was easy. We just said those were the chicken bits. Special recipe. She liked the dish. But didn't like us when we confessed and left the table immediately with a rather wan face.