Is it good manners to open someone else’s refrigerator?

Through the lens, lightly

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Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 16 Jun 2022, 6:44 PM

These days, one of my favourite pastimes is reading up etiquette columns. You see, because we’ve become so strange after the Covid isolation, and so warped in the head, the way we perceive other people’s — and our own — mannerisms, has become a prickly matter. Earlier, things we wouldn’t notice — or even if we did, wouldn’t pay much heed to — have suddenly become amplified. Stuff like: “Has so-and-so been ignoring me?” “Did I just feel someone give me the baleful evil eye — oh God, I’m not even wearing my evil eye bracelet, the one that promises to ward off all evil?” “Have I become a bore — why is everyone constantly looking at their phones while they pretend to talk to me?” And so on.

So, one talking point that was tossed up at me was the ‘issue’ of how comfortable we are when guests at home randomly open our refrigerator to check out what’s chilling inside. Is it an invasion of privacy? Should I be annoyed? And by extension, if I am over at someone’s place, should I ask for permission before I yank open their fridge door?

In India, where I’ve lived for most part of my life, lack of privacy is a slam dunk. Someone you barely know comes over, and the first thing they do is open your fridge. There’s apparently a reason: they can then judge you by the look of its contents and the state of disarray that is on display. “Hey, do you have chilled water?” someone may well ask, and before you can say yes or no, you find them peering into your fridge.

In pre-pandemic times, I’d probably be a bit concerned about the optics the innards of my fridge presented. Every time I had guests over, I’d spend a good half-an-hour cleaning up the mess inside. When I was in Delhi, and my mother would be visiting from Calcutta, the first thing she would do was open the fridge door and lay bare the mess. “There,” she triumphantly proclaimed on her first visit. “I knew it!” Then, she proceeded to do the cleaning honours herself, while I squirmed in embarrassment. That was the time when I wisened up to the fact that I should clean my fridge the next time she came over. Or anyone else came over for that matter. My own mother was judging me, couldn’t begin to imagine what the others were even thinking… “Is that apple from last year?” [stifled scream].

These days, it’s no longer about optics. If someone opens a fridge door, I experience a frisson of flutter. I feel like someone is opening my wardrobe, and maybe checking out my lingerie drawer. And I have consciously trained my central nervous system to not go anywhere near a fridge at anybody else’s house — unless I’m specifically instructed to: “Can you be a dear and get me tonic water from the fridge? I’m feeling too lazy to get up, and you’re closer to the fridge than I am.”

The other day, when some friends were over, I espied a box of strawberries on my centre-table, right next to a deluge of dim sums I’d ordered. “That was definitely inside my fridge,” I said to myself. So, I vocalised my concern, while trying to appear “chilled”: “I think I’m losing it — when did I get the strawberries out, did anyone notice?”

“Oh, you didn’t,” one of them, from the assorted gathering, tittered. “I got the box out from your fridge — I thought they’d pair well with dim sums.”

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