Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Painful Etiquette

The other day, the Philippine Senate disproved all theories that it is an august chamber. Name-calling, mud-slinging, off-color idiotic remarks and absolute lack of contrition for apalling behavior should be grounds for removal. At least at most dining tables, the erring participant at the meal would be banished for the duration, no such luck with our elected officials. In fact, some time ago, we had a so-called President caught cheating in the elections. We didn't banish her.

In Maryknoll High School, our cooking classes were tied up with lessons on manners -- and not just table manners, mind you. We were taught the Emily Post dicta, no less. However, it puzzled us girls, how far they could be from the reality on the ground -- or, at the tables.

For example, we were taught that on the occasion when two acquaintances of different genders meet, it is the obligation of the woman to approach the gentleman as it would have been extremely inappropriately forward of the male to presume to do otherwise. It would have horrified our gentle teachers if they knew that a girl approaching a boy on any occasion would have been considered "loose" behavior for us high school denizens.

The rule of course, did not extend to telephone conversations. A boy must always ring up the girl. At least thats what lola said. And calling up a boy on the phone, was, in high school, scandalous behavior.

It may seem archaic now, since the specifics of etiquette vary with the times, but its no wonder we were confused. The basic rule, then, Mama tells me is that etiquette is merely a way of being considerate. Everything else are details.

Food etiquette on the other hand is intensely cultural and the rules surrounding them far, far more confusing than gender politics. For instance, for those who do not like dirtying their hands during a meal, they will find to their horror that their practise of using paper napkins to hold sandwhiches, pizza or fried chicken, is incorrect. These are "finger foods" and hence, must be eaten with the fingers. Paper napkins are for wiping, your mouth, fingers, minor spills, blood... it is not supposed to touch food. No need to emphasize the point then, to a friend who rendered me aghast over her squeamishness handling a......... brownie. Hmph.

But the traditional manner of eating with one's hands is the Pinoy way. Personally, I'm terrible at it, because I suffer from occasional bouts of terminal clumsiness. But eating traditions can be fascinating, Take noises and spitting, for instance.

Eating at table in Bulacan where my father comes from, I was expected to eat with my hands. The food was heavenly -- very fresh shrimp and newly caught fish (Papa had a fishing boat in Hagonoy). If we were there in the evening, I would have to join the fishermen and my dad at the evening meal. I was also expected to enjoy my food, and this meant noisy eating. If I did not suck at the shrimp head, I would have been considered wasteful. If inedible parts of the fish or shrimp found their way into my mouth, it would have been perfectly polite to spit the erring part out. However, one was to be very careful that no edible material or saliva came out with the shell or bone, because that would have been rude. Burping was fine, but signaled the end of your meal and you would be exhorted to stop or be considered greedy. That is, unless you were asked to keep eating, in which case, the gas would have been forgotten.

A friend of mine who will remain anonymous if I want her to continue being my friend, once looked at me in horror when I spit out a fishbone at table in my house. All sorts of names were blooming in my head and I held my hand up to stop them from spilling out her mouth. I said, in Japan, noodles must be eaten with relish, which means, noise. If you would not dare stop the Japanese from their own cultural practises in their own place, do not attmempt it with me. That stopped her and we are still quite close.


Anonymous said...

Moral of the lesson, don't be rude. But being rude means many different things

vic torres said...

i've always wondered about the filipino etiquette in eating. for example, "plate piling" which is usually done in parties and buffets with complete disregard if one dish mixes with another as to sauces and stuff. is it proper etiquette? some may be shocked at this, but that is the way we eat. i remember my mom once telling me that whenever kare-kare was served at their dining table, her father (my lolo) would get annoyed whenever they would pour a little of the peanut sauce on their rice. "kailangan lawa ang sarsa sa kanin kapag kare-kare!" but again, for some, a "flooded" plate can be unappetizing.

juliuscesar103 said...

some people frown at the way we use the spoon to shovel food into our mouth. a seven-year old student in canada was suspended for eating in the school cafeteria in this manner. the mother sued the school and won the case.

DeliSyosa said...

I'm not sure if I would consider "plate piling" a tradition. A fellow cultural worker once explained to me that its an attitude fostered by poverty. The fear of one being left out of the feast, or of one not having an opportunity to again partake of it or the fear that the food will run out are fears coded into us by prevailing poverty. Remember the phrase, "Para ka namang mauubusan"?
Its actually rude, because as Pinoys, we are known for our generosity and kindness to strangers and guests. Plate piling is simply being greedy. But poverty does have a long term effect on culture

DeliSyosa said...

The way we use a spoon is no different from the way other Asian's use chopsticks. They are adapted to it. To reject a child because of food or eating customs smacks of racism.

Anna said...

for example, "plate piling" which is usually done in parties and buffets with complete disregard if one dish mixes with another as to sauces and stuff.

If this is any consolation, plate piling is not just something Philippine. It's a dining practice -- but buffet style, that's prevalent in many dinner parties I've attended where I sit.

And I can assure you the folks I've seen do this are far from being impoverished.

My guess is that people (those who do that sort of thing here) find it a bore to have to go back and queu for food, so they stuff/pile their plates with all sorts of goodies and be done with it.

Could it be that the same goes through the minds of those folks in Pinas who practice this sort of dining gymnastics?

Anna said...

By the way, Trix, I truly enjoyed reading this story.