Sunday, September 08, 2013

From green apple to table manners

It all started with a green apple.

We had a gathering in hubby's grandmother's house. There was an apple lying down on the grass, not far from the apple tree. It was still green, so it would be left rotten on the grass.

My MIL saw it, pick it up for me as she knows that I like eating crunchy apple. This immediately put my grandmother unease, "that can't be eaten!' she screamed. Seeing how she reacted, I hesitated between eating it or throwing it. Later, I decided to eat it as I didn't want to waste it. While cutting it to check if there was worm inside, I heard my FIL explained to grandma that my family doesn't mind eating apple when it is crunchy and acidly. "They actually plucked the apples fresh from the trees when they were visiting us" said him. "What's wrong with it?", I wanted to ask but I just kept quiet.

This led me to think about another incident several years back when I was having lunch in grandma's place. She offered me some fruits as dessert so I took an apple. She quickly rushed to pick up a knife while I was already taking the first bite. When the knife was handed to me, I looked at it and didn't know how to react. Ok, this might sound odd, but I actually don't know how to cut an apple without a peeler and a cutting board. In my family, we either bite it directly or we cut it into pieces then present them in a plate. While my BIL peeled his apple and cut it into pieces in his hand, I put down the knife and decided to eat it the way I'm comfortable with. I sensed that she was quite disturbed by the way I ate my apple but she didn't say anything.

While thinking about how different we are in eating habits with all kind of flashback to several similar incidents, we started our lunch with champagne toasting. There I was confronted with a table manner, as I was crossing my glass to toast with someone. Hubby nicely reminded me that this is a no no in their culture, that I should not cross my glass over others' arms while toasting. I suddenly burst up and said I do not want to respect a tradition that doesn't come with a good explanation. In fact, nobody ever told me why we couldn't do this. I made the point that eating for me is a pleasure, I don't want to think about all kind of rules that restrict that pleasure. My French family didn't say anything. I felt guilty but on other hand I really have enough of all these rules including the "elbows off the table" rule that I have violated on purpose in many occasions.

When I finally calmed down, I thought about my daughter. I can ignore these manners as I can pretend that I'm still a foreigner, she on the other hand has to know these rules and respect them. But to convince myself I have to first know why these rules existed.

Strangely, I couldn't find much information on the no crossing rule, it seems that it is not a common rule in the western world. One article explains that it is actually a kind of superstition, that a cross could only be made by the priests, and other who makes crosses will bring bad luck to oneself. As a non-believer it is hard to accept this explanation. As for the elbows off the table rule, many articles said that by putting elbows on table it risks knocking off things or bumping into people sitting beside you. Once again I'm not convinced.

I have yet decided what to do. We will see.


  1. It felt odd when I first learned how to slice apple (or pear, for that matter) at the table in order to "peel" and eat it. Nowadays, I can peel in the way the French does.

    As for the clinking of glasses in a crossover manner, in general, it's just the whole bad luck thing, but in practicality, especially for wine glasses with stems, it can get messy. Accidentally "hooking" someone's glass over can happen leading to spillage (I've only seen this once during an international students party years ago though, and I can't rule out that the amount of alcohol may have something to do with it too) and possible dropping of glass? With the need to respect the person you're clinking glass with and therefore having to maintain eye contact, it can be tricky to not be distracted into keeping an eye on an attempted crossover clinking at the same time.

  2. Me too in many occasions frustrated with these unspoken "rules".

    About the green apple, it's the same for example in the market whenever buying leeks or beetroots, the vendor would automatical twist off the green part and bin it. Which was a shock for me as i don't see why throw away those good fibers while others have no food to eat. I was a little shy to asked them to leave my leek or beet at first but these days i couldn't care less how they or others would look at me..

  3. I grew up eating with a spoon and a fork, that's how it was in a Cambodian family. When eating at with my Canadian friends, we never make a fuss about table manners. When in France, there are so many etiquettes when it comes to food. I used to get up during a Sunday lunch at my in laws, they where asking if something was wrong. I said : no, just going to the wc. I learned after that this is not appropriate and I need to say: can I be excused. And of course, you need you clean your plate, with the bread, otherwise they need to change the plate for the cheese. So many dish washing for nothing. Your daughter must have already picked up the table etiquettes at her grand-parents.

  4. it came from medieval time
    if you cross arms you can't see if the two glasses mix together (old poisoning thing) nowaday it's just bad luck. if you don't look the other in the eyes is seven year without sex !!!!

  5. you can also try to put the bread on the table upside down ^^.
    table etique are a pain and change contry to contry
    in france not finishing your plate -> it wan not good
    in japan finishing your plate -> you are hungry/there is not enough food

  6. Lilian,

    I saw some spillage accidents that were mainly due to too many glasses on the table. I mean you need different kind of glasses for different kind of drinks, it takes up a lot of space.

    We get our vegetables from our local supplier and it comes with leaves and soils. In my house the whole leek is eatable except the root part.

    Me too growing up eating with spoon and fork, as most of the things are already cut into small portion. Here people told me spoon is to be used while you drink soup.

    Yeah a coworker told me about the poison thing, it is funny how the habit is still kept after do many years. Hey I checked out the link, I didn't understand why the author talked about Chinese and Cantonese for tchin tchin, as far as I know Chinese say "kan bei" and Cantonese say "yamsheng".

    Do you mean that we shouldn't put the bread upside down? I have not heard of this. I always think that finishing your plate is a good habit, I'm with the French for this one. :-)

  7. it's a joke : do chinese sais "france france" when they cheer (I learn it when i was in primary school).tchin whith french pronociation = chine.

    putting the bread upside down is considered bad luck (for the supersticious), it's from mediaval time again, the bread put upside down is for the executioner.