Manners matter

LIVING ALIVE - LIVING ALIVE By Dero Pedero () - September 18, 2005 - 12:00am
Sometimes we are caught in situations that are embarrassing because we don’t know how to react and deal with them. There are many social practices, mores, and conventions that we have to be aware of and conform to so that we won’t look horribly uncivilized or uncultured to others. Here are a few questions about customs and how to behave in today’s world:

Whenever I go to a wedding or a formal function, I always find myself confused about which utensil to use, from all the forks, spoons, knives, teaspoons, etc. laid out on the table. What should I know to prevent myself from being embarrassed?

Indeed, formal dining is an art, and it can be quite confusing, especially if you are served a series of courses. It could be intimidating if in front of you are the bread and butter knife, the appetizer fork, the salad fork and knife, the soup spoon, the main course fork and knife, the sherbet teaspoon, the dessert fork or teaspoon, and the coffee teaspoon, not to mention the wine glass, the champagne flute, and the water goblet. There are even specialized fish, oyster, and crab forks, steak knives, cheese knives, lemon squeezers, tea filters, and other gastronomic what-have-yous!

The safe thing to do is to start from the extreme left and extreme right of the utensils and cutlery, or from the top (those placed above where the plate rests), and work your way in towards the plate. In some social circles, using a spoon is frowned upon, except for soup (the soup spoon is round, while the ordinary spoon is oval or egg-shaped). If you are in a real fix, it’s okay to ask the person nearest you. You may also wait a while and see what the person next to you is using, then proceed the same way. At least if he makes a mistake, and Ms. Manners across you smirks and the waiter shakes his head, there will be two of you embarrassed.

I am bothered every time someone uses his spoon and fork to get food or sauce from the plate or serving tray. I am squeamish about having a spoon or fork that has been in somebody’s mouth touch the food or sauce that I will be ingesting. I am scared of germs and contagious diseases! What should I do in this situation?

In a firm but cordial tone, simply remind the person to use the serving spoon when getting food or sauce. If there is no serving spoon, ask for one before everyone starts eating.

I have a friend who, every time we eat out, scoops out a huge portion of my food claiming to "taste what I have ordered." This pisses me off a lot, but since I don’t want to hurt his feelings, I just remain silent and contain my ill feelings. I think what he does is rude but can’t get myself to tell him directly. What can I do to make him realize my resentment gracefully?

There are quite a few people who are in the habit of doing what your friend does. Not only is this action rude; it is also impolite, unsanitary, and a great turn-off. If he is really your friend, you should be able to tell him straight. If that doesn’t work, try scooping a huge portion of his food, too, next time, to drive home your point. If you don’t have the guts to do this and since he does it every time you eat out together, ask the waiter for a small plate right away and set aside a reasonable portion of your food to give to him for "tasting."

I love to eat and I enjoy dunking doughnuts in my coffee, and pouring all the broth of sinigang on my rice. My friend says it’s impolite, gross, and that it looks like pig feed. I’ve done this all my life and I think it is a part of Filipino culture. What should I do?

Dunking and inundating soup or broth on rice is a cultural thing. But it is best to play it safe, especially before people who find such actions deplorable. You can dunk churros in chocolate (that’s the Spanish way), and doughnuts in coffee (only when you are at home or in Dunkin’ Donuts!) Regarding Filipino foods with a lot of sauce or broth, refrain from flooding your plate, making it look like soup. Using your spoon, scoop some sauce or broth only onto that part of the rice that you are about to eat – not the whole plateful. You will enjoy eating more because you will be able to distinguish and savor the different flavors with each bite. If you mix your food all together, your plate will really look like hog feed, and your taste buds will be confused, with flavors overlapping each other. Keep your Filipino urge to mix until the halo-halo dessert!

Is it all right for men to pluck their eyebrows? I have been thinking about doing it but my buddies say it is only for women and gays.

If you have extremely bushy eyebrows and think a little plucking would help make them look neater and better, then go ahead and do it. Make sure you don’t end up looking like the old Hollywood stars Clara Bow and Marlene Dietrich who had but a thin hairline left. I guess your friends discourage you from doing it because they fear you’ll overdo it and end up looking feminine.

In the US, Europe, and Japan, young men are very conscious about their brows. I’ve seen kids in Tokyo with obviously plucked eyebrows who are actually not gay as they appear to be. Blame it on Michael Jackson and avant-garde unisexism for the blurring of the sexes. It’s best to go to a grooming salon that can eliminate those stray and unruly hairs for you. If you do it yourself, use scissors (but be very careful not to cut your skin) instead of plucking. That way, if you make a mistake, the hair will still grow back!

While trying to impress a date during dinner at a fine restaurant, I ordered white wine, which I found out later was the wrong choice to go with her filet mignon and my roast beef. What are the rules on wines? Please help me try (or at least pretend) to be knowledgeable about wines, so that I will know what to order next time.

There is no need to be so conscious about your lack of knowledge in oenology. If you were uncertain about what to order, you could have asked your date what she preferred to drink. (For all you know she might have enjoyed a simple soda with her meal!) A wise recourse is to ask the mâitre d’ or waiter for his recommendation from the wine list.

The wine basics are pretty simple: Red wine goes with red meat; white wine goes with chicken, veal, fish, and seafood. White wines are chilled; red wines are served at room temperature. This may raise a few eyebrows but I personally like my red wine slightly cooled to air-conditioned room temperature. I feel the Philippines is too warm for us to be gulping warm wine, unless you are serving sake, the Japanese rice wine. Whenever I serve red wine slightly chilled, my friends love it! I explain to those who think it is a sacrilege by refuting that ordinary room temperature in Europe and temperate countries is actually equivalent to cool Baguio weather here. Summer wines like zinfandel and other flavored pink and sparkling wines are served chilled; Nouveau Beaujolais is the only red wine that may be chilled.

You need not memorize all the names or brands of red and white wines. Ask for a wine list; besides, what good is ordering a wine that is not on the list, meaning, unavailable. Consider California, Australian, Spanish, and even South American wines. They are a good alternative to expensive French wines, can please your palate as well, and are kind to your budget, too. It is a good habit to write down the names (and year!) of the wines that delight you so you can order them again the next time around, and look like a real wine connoisseur!
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For your comments, e-mail DeroSeminar@yahoo.com or text 0920-4053233.
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