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To the manner born...or not

So now I am looking at the others to see how they go tap, tap, tap and I am thinking dude, this is not doing justice to the crab.



By Bikram Vohra

Published: Sat 28 Sep 2019, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 28 Sep 2019, 11:48 PM

Some people are to the manner born. Nothing intimidates them and they are naturally at ease. Me, I get confused and awkward even if I have to handle complex cutlery. Omigoodness, they will find me out and discover I am a peasant, I didn't use the butter knife to pick up that curl of butter.
The other day I went to a dinner where they served crab which is fine since I never get crabby over crab (ouch, bad pun) but with it came a crab hammer to break the shell. Delicate looking thing, carved with a dragon head at the handle (the hammer, not the crab) but how does one use it. Usually, I pick up the crab with both hands and go crunchhhh and the juice drips down your chin which is half the fun.
So now I am looking at the others to see how they go tap, tap, tap and I am thinking dude, this is not doing justice to the crab. If the crab were alive it would be kicking its legs with laughter, like go on people, dig in, what do you think I am, a xylophone. Finally, of course, a strong jab breaks the shell and the curry squeezes out like in a sharp spurt straight into my eye and now I have to be rushed to wash it and put eye drops and naturally, it turns bright red and burns like fire and it is all because of that dumb hammer and the clarion call of etiquette.
On a rarefied dinner the other day, the people on the table were spooning their soup outwards to come in, like rowers in a boat caught on a tide and for sheer affectation having soup this way in this day and age is hard to beat. Oh, just shovel it in. And you cannot eat a clear liquid, so don't even start.
Then you have that fish knife with its absurd shape. There is fish and there is a knife that will cut the fish into reasonable pieces so you don't look like an oaf but there is nothing that a fish knife will do that a normal knife will not. It is so pretentious to upstage the less initiated by taking that ugly piece of cutlery and brandishing it like a sword of honour.
Talk of stewards in those fancy restaurants or high-end private parties who are better dressed than you and wear their most supercilious smirk. They do not serve you snacks or starters but hors d'oeuvres and canapes. You get these dainty little dumplings or squishy circles of some indistinct mix and you have to lift it with a toothpick shaped like Napoleon's sword. This is now a question of honour and finally despite the steward's curl of lip at the country bumpkin who doesn't know how to manipulate a toothpick you spear the squishy stuff and lift it to the soya sauce and then three inches from your mouth it breaks and falls in a long brown smear on your shirt. The steward raises his eyebrows and says, would sir need a tissue?
Remember there were days before the age of specialisation kicked us into timorous submission and we would just ask for a glass of water and we would get a glass of water. I was invited by a rich man to a dinner in a fancy restaurant and I asked for a glass of water.
Still or sparkling? Carbonated or aerated? Spring or distilled? Room temperature or chilled? Domestic or imported? Mineral or fortified? Tall glass or squat? And then they bring the flipping bottle with a napkin around it and the man serves it from the base and then waits for me to taste it. Perhaps this is where they play the trumpets. It is glass of water man, not Cleopatra coming into Rome.
And people around the table are sipping their waters making thoughtful assessments as if this was a summit meeting to save the world and green signalling for more to be poured like they had just broken the Brexit impasse.
Now you get the designer food and it is two prawns balanced on each other with some red goo in little circles like a child's crayon drawing and a piece of cucumber dressed up in its Sunday best and one carrot shredded to look like a spray with something au gratin because if you say cheese they'll know you are not to the manner born.
Then comes the coffee. Demitasse? Café au lait? (Cappuccino? Espresso?.......Macchiato Mochaccino.Irish.)
On never mind, a glass of water please.
-bikram@khaleejtimes.com
 


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