Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Table Manners

I was sitting at the dining table at my friends house, my fingers were drying from the sambar that I had already licked off it. My Plate had dried up too and I was done with the dining table for now, but the rest of the table was abuzz with activity. I had such an urge to get up, pick my plate up, put it in the sink and wash my hands. With a huge restrain I waited for ten minutes and when I could no longer hold back, I stood up and excused myself.

Back home in India I could never have sat this long at the table after having finished my meal. Mom absolutely denounced that behavior. It was then my mind started racing trying to figure out the differences between the Western practice of not eating before everyone has food on the plate and not leave before everyone is ready to finish and the Indian way of eating as soon as you have food in your plate and leaving the table when done. And guess what? I think I nailed it…

Long before we knew otherwise we South Indians ate our meals on a leaf which we still continue to do so on certain occasions. We also ate in the floor using our fingers instead of spoons and forks.

Also in South India we typically eat rice with sambar/dal/rasam or other flowy alternates and some side dish and probably pickle and an appalam. So the minute the sambar or such is poured on top rice, you better start attacking it or else you will run the risk of letting it flow over to the ground or the table whatever the case may be. If you are going to sit and wait for the rest to join you, you might as well lick the sambar off the ground. There, I solved the first piece of puzzle.

Again, as I mentioned above, most Indians use their fingers to eat and if you have never done that, you will never know how annoying dried up fingers can be. Also, since India has a lot of flies and ants, if you let your leaf open with remnants of rice and sambar, you are just inviting the insect population living around for a buffet at your leaf. So, the rule is to get up from your place as soon as you eat and remember to close your leaf at the very least to make sure that your neighbors who got served after you can eat in peace without having to battle annoying flies.

So what is considered as table manners in the Western Hemisphere cannot be applied to Indian living conditions and households. Well, we probably can incorporate it now that we eat the same food in plates and sometimes with silverware too. But my point is, I absolutely hate it when Indians look down upon their fellow Indians for not having adhered to the Western Mannerisms. I wonder what gives anyone the attitude to judge me on what has probably been ingrained in my gene pool for 1000’s of years. I guess that is why I gave this topic so much of a thought and decided to pen it down too.

At least to the time when I still lived there. And today after 30 plus years of having lived my life in that fashion, changing it seems very difficult. I am inevitably the first person to finish eating irrespective of when I actually got food on my table. And if I am sitting with a bunch of people who are not my friends, I hold myself back and wait for everyone to finish, and if I am with friends, I politely excuse myself and get up.

I really hate to have dried up fingers and worst of all, dried up plates to put in the dishwasher or worse wash them myself…

As far as all theories are concerned you will always find postulates and what I have written here might not work for a Punjabi family eating Roti and sabzi but this is the gist I can make from my own life experiences…please comment if you agree or disagree!

9 comments:

shilpa said...

Totally agree. I am usually the first one to finish eating and hate hanging on to my used plate, so I excuse myself!

Samatha said...

@Anu - I never knew the not leaving until everyone is finished was a Western thing?1 I always that was the Indian way. Go figure! But it was a funny post (not sure if that is how you intended it) to read your logic behind the sambhar and flowing on the floor thing. It cracked me up :)!

pujathakur said...

Ohh... it is sooo true!! Though I do prefer eating with spoon/fork at times, most of the days I use my fingers to eat that delicious biriyani or khichdi!! And I could never understand how people manage to eat roti/naan/paranthas with fork!!
I agree that some of the practices are not in agreement with each other. But I usually do get up and wash my hands and then come back to the table. That way I give the rest of them company without feeling dirty!

Geeta said...

I miss sitting on the floor, eating off banana leaves on Shivaratri :(

But you nailed it. You simply can't apply Western ideas of "manners" to Eastern. They're too different - and frankly, no one should expect you to sit there and wait for them to finish... in fact, they should all want to get up immediately as well!

Nitin Vaswani said...

excellent scientific analysis on a socially sensitive topic....kudos to u to have found ARGUABLY, the most acceptable diagnosis.
Another postulate supporting the same could the now defunct Indian joint family system, which might have compelled members to have meals 'by turns', for smoother logistics

Megha Bansal said...

i have a feeling you've written about this before.
but that aside..my mom always taught us to eat after everyone was served and not leave until everyone had finished. hehehe..i can't stop laughing!

remabh said...

I agree too... Like you said, if I'm with friends, I will start attacking food the minute it is on my plate :D... and yes I hate sitting in front of an empty plate, waiting for others to finish ... well one of the reason is that... to give them company, I treat myself w/ any sweets or dump more food on to my plate :D

Amudha said...

Well said Anu... This is what I'm doing now which annoys ppl around... What to do? I can't change.... by the way.. guess you've written about this already... i remember i've read this... do u want to re-iterate anything?

Sum said...

I too feel ou've written about this before.. remember reading almost all of it earlier... Sitting with dried hands is on tough task!