Thoughts on Etiquette

I sometimes wonder about etiquette. Take the sandwiches in the featured image today. Of course, you can’t actually “take” them; don’t be so literal. My wife, Sena made them for lunch yesterday, after we’d worked on clearing a lot of snow and ice from our driveway and sidewalks. We were ravenous.

Sena ate the neatly cut sandwich with her hands. I ate the messy one and you can see why it’s messier—I used a knife and fork.

I looked this up so there can’t be any dispute: it’s perfectly acceptable according to the rules of etiquette to eat a sandwich with knife and fork.

That said, there are questions about why there would be rules of etiquette about how to eat sandwiches in the first place. Without any research on it, I surmise it’s all about messiness.

Is it messier to have the condiments and contents of your sandwich smeared all over your plate or your face? You be the judge; but just so you know, since I’m writing this post, I’m the authority and I say you ought to keep your sandwich off your eyebrows and your earlobes in polite company.

This reminds me of other points of etiquette I’m often not sure about. What about coconut? I just happen to be one of the many souls who cannot stand the texture of shredded coconut. It’s like chewing pieces of paper. I just can’t bring myself to swallow it.

What do you do if you’ve discovered, too late, that you’ve just taken a mouthful of shredded coconut? What is the proper etiquette? You’ll be happy to learn that I have the answer although I didn’t do any research on the matter.

You should discreetly expectorate the papery mess on the left side of your dinner plate—without making any kind of noise as though you were hawking up a lunger. You’re welcome.

And what do you do with those beer bottles made by knuckleheads who think it’s clever to wrap paper around the neck all the way up over the cap which you can’t just twist off? You try your best to pop the top with a standard bottle opener and you can bet your bottom dollar a piece of paper will end up in your beer. It’s a small piece, just big enough to make you worry that you’ll choke on it like you would on a piece of shredded coconut.

Etiquette might say you should adroitly hold your bottle opener so that paper doesn’t end up floating in the foam. But you’ll have plenty of foam everywhere if you try to be adroit about it; trust me, I know. The bottle will slip, tip over, and smack the countertop which will lead to an eruption of suds all over the place, including you. No matter how hard I scrubbed and how much air freshener I sprayed in the kitchen, Sena called out from down the hallway in the front of the house, “Boy, sure smells like beer in here!”

You could just leave the paper in the bottle, which is the easiest. However, it’s pretty tough not to try to drink around it. Etiquette doesn’t cover that, probably because there is no way to gracefully drip beer from your chin.

Moving on to another point about etiquette although not involving food, let’s get back to shoveling snow, which we did an awful lot of yesterday.

We don’t own a snow blower, even though we live in Iowa, which gets a fair amount of snow. Yesterday morning we woke up to about 5-6 inches (not counting the driveway plug, courtesy of the city plow) of heavy snow and ice. We got out there and I was poised to plunge my ergonomic shovel in the plug when the neighbor across the street walked over and shouted over the roar of his snow blower, telling me he would be happy to let me use it. He offered more than once, pointing out that he was already finished clearing his driveway.

It was tempting. We usually spend about 2-3 hours shoveling after a heavy snow. On the other hand, I had no idea how to operate a snow blower. What would etiquette say about how to respond to repeated offers from a friendly neighbor to allow me to borrow his?

I could have just said “OK” and borrowed it. The only problem with that is I would then demonstrate my total ignorance about the machine. I would probably have the augur cranked down too low and sent spears of shattered driveway into his chest (I’m sure he would stand out there and watch me). How about rotating the chute so that the snow and ice hits me in the face? What does etiquette have to say about that? That’s probably more about first aid and the emergency room than etiquette.

On the other hand, I couldn’t let him know I didn’t know how operate a snow blower. Etiquette amongst guys is clear on that point. I would have had to turn in my man card. So, I did the only thing I could, which was to politely decline the offer, “I appreciate you so much, but I do this mainly for the exercise!”

Then I would proceed to throw my ergonomic shovel into the drifts, twist and hurl the load of snow clumps that were more like stones over my shoulder and slam the shovel into the drift in order to make an impressive show of the proper technique for removing the frozen residue from the inside of the shovel. I paid dearly for that later.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts about etiquette. It’s time for blueberry tartlets. Etiquette clearly allows eating them with a shovel.

blueberry tartlets

Author: James Amos

I'm a retired consult-liaison psychiatrist. I navigated the path in a phased retirement program through the hospital where I was employed. I was fully retired as of June 30, 2020. This blog chronicles my journey.

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