Sarah Hampson: There are these unspoken rules about what is immodest to do in public that nobody ever really talks about. When you go out in public, which I did recently to a major city square in Toronto, you see people eating without really being aware of how they look. There are businessmen chatting on their cellphones, standing up scarfing something down. It's telling, how none of the rules about manners seem to apply in public. Over to you, Beppi...
Beppi Crosariol: Sorry, I was just taking a sip of my latte.
S.H.: That was very rude.
B.C.: I think it depends to some extent on the type of food, don't you? Hot dogs, for example, are a great American public food. It was once almost an act of citizenship to order a hot dog at Nathan's on Coney Island or to have one at the ballgame. So I have rules: Hot dogs, yes. Burgers, yes. Spaghetti - sometimes, actually. I used to have a no-spaghetti rule, but now al dente is okay. But if it's overcooked and sloppy, then you could be in trouble.
S.H.: How do you eat it? Out of Tupperware or with a plastic fork?
B.C.: The Tupperware can't be transparent.
S.H.: I'm going to have to buy new Tupperware.
Sue Riedl: You are quite uptight, Beppi. I thought you would be more laissez-faire.
S.H.: Did you have a craving for spaghetti one day and have to change your rule?
B.C.: Well, it actually came down to a book - Spaghetti and Stars. You get the sense leafing through this book - it's all black-and-white photos of famous Italian and American movie stars in the fifties eating spaghetti - that it's all a matter of confidence and look and what you're wearing. If you're Stephen Harper on the campaign hustings, eating spaghetti might be a mistake; but if you're Sophia Loren in a sundress on the shore in Naples, it can look quite fetching.
S.H.: If there are to be street table manners, as it were, there was this lady in [Toronto's]Nathan Phillips Square, sitting nicely in the shade, and she had her legs together and she wasn't bringing her head down or her plate up to her chin, she was actually eating as if she were at a little table. It was very sweet to see that there were some manners, even though she was in public with an imaginary table.
STICKY SITUATIONS S.R.: My problem is napkin disposal. You need to have two hands for the food and then you've got the napkin, and if you're on a bench you kind of put it on the bench and pretend you're going to remember to throw it away, but wonder if the person you're eating with is noticing that you have this dirty napkin next to you. And what do you do with garbage? Do you carry a little bag to throw away your garbage? When you're talking about business meetings, if you're hungry and you don't have time, is it okay to eat if the other person isn't eating?
S.H.: That makes me think about cocktail parties. Sometimes I will not take anything from the hors d'oeuvres tray if the person I'm talking to hasn't taken something. They're going to be watching me chew it and we're standing, and I might drip it.
S.R.: And you don't know if there's something in your teeth. Then you're left with a skewer from those stupid skewer things. That's dangerous - not only dirty, but dangerous.
B.C.: There are people who actually get paid a lot of money to train young, upwardly mobile professionals who are trying to network their way into high-paying jobs, on how to eat at cocktail parties. They have something called the "two-bite rule" - you should never take anything that is going to involve more than two bites - and that rules out most skewers, I think.
S.R.: One bite, I think, is enough.
S.H.: Especially if I'm really dressed up. There's something unattractive about chewing while you're dressed in your finery, unless it's something you can just pop in your mouth.
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