Sunday, August 20, 2017

Spaghetti Etiquette

Old Italian artwork in background on a 1992 magazine cover, shows how pasta was once eaten properly — Today, spaghetti-eating etiquette demand forks. Fists full of wet pasta are simply not acceptable on any 'civilized' occasion.

 "A North American father, presumably initiating his son, aged 15, into the world of adult business affairs, took him out to what the boy described as 'a big dinner meeting.' When the company was served spaghetti, the boy ate it with his hands. 'I would slurp it up and put it in my mouth,' he admitted. 'My dad took some grief about it.' The October 1985 newspaper article does not describe the response of the rest of the company. The son was sent to a boarding school to learn how to behave. 'When we have spaghetti,' he announced later, 'you roll it up real tightly on your fork and put it in your mouth with the fork.'

What he described, after having learned it, is the dinner-table ritual --as automatic and unquestioned by every participant in it, as impossible to gainsay, as the artificial rules and preferences which every cannibal society has upheld. Practical reasons can be found for it, most of them having to do with neatness, cleanliness, and noiselessness. Because these three general principles are so warmly encouraged in our culture, having been arrived at, as ideals to be striven for, after centuries of struggle and constraint, we simply never doubt that everyone who is right-minded will find a spaghetti eating companion disgusting and impossible to eat with where even one of them is lacking. Yet we know from paintings and early photographs of spaghetti eaters in 19th century Naples (where the modern version of spaghetti comes from) that their way of eating pasta was with their hands-- not that the dish was likely to appear at a formal dinner. You had to raise the strings in your right hand, throwback your head, then lower the strings, dexterously with dispatch, and without slurping (there are invariably 'polite' and 'rude' ways of eating), into your open mouth. The spaghetti in the picture does not seem to have sauce on it.

Today, spaghetti-eating manners demand forks, and fist fulls of wet pasta are simply not acceptable on any 'civilized' occasion. The son's ignorance cast a dark reflection upon his father: he had not been doing his duty, had not given his child a proper 'upbringing.' Even if the boy had not seen spaghetti before, he subsequently admitted that what he ought to have done was to look about him, watch how other people were eating this awkward food, and imitate them. In any case, the options were clearer after this demonstration of an ineptitude: either the boy learns his table manners, or he would not be asked to 'a big dinner meeting' again by anyone who had heard of his unfinished education." Margaret Visser, The Rituals of Dinner

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