Eating something new might be a challenge, but how you eat can be equally challenging, too.
It wasn’t hard to miss, I was always the last one to finish my meals. Always. People were getting bored, sitting tapping their fingers on the table, looking at their watches, yawning waiting for me to finish. How’d they eat so fast? It wasn’t like they were picking up their plates and scraping the food directly into their mouths, I’m sure I would have noticed something like that. I was doing everything right: elbows off the table, chew with your mouth closed, cut your food, put your knife down, switch fork to other hand, put your free hand on your lap, food in your mouth, chew, swallow, repeat. I wasn’t talking too much (and certainly not with a full mouth) either. I was doing everything I was taught to do as a child. No, something was decidedly different. What?
It’s my observation that men in general are faster eaters than women here. Not all, but most. I’ve been told that that is due to them having to go through the obligatory military service. For some reason you learn to eat faster there. I don’t know, maybe they have a course: Speed Eating 101. But that insight didn’t help me because I certainly wasn’t going to sign up for military service to learn to eat faster. There must be something else.
Ah ha. Firstly, Europeans do not put their hands on their laps while eating, THAT is considered bad manners. Once again, I was cut slack for being a neophyte. Okay, keep both hands on the table. Secondly, speed is achieved if you do not put your knife down and switch fork hands between cutting and putting the food in your mouth. Your fork stays in your left hand. In fact, unless you stop to take a drink or hold a speech you don’t put down your utensils at all. It’s called multi-tasking, while you are chewing (with your mouth closed and your elbows off the table, naturally) you are either cutting the next piece to be put into your mouth as soon as you swallow, or you can fence with your neighbor who is also holding his knife, ready to attack – ‘En garde, êtes-vous prêts, allez!’ (only kidding, I’ve never done that). It does speed up things considerably, I must admit. Although I did get some major cramps in my left hand in the beginning, I can handle it now even though I’m still more often than not, the last finishing my meal I eat considerably faster than before.
Keeping both hands on the table has an advantage. A friend of mine was also a slow eater. Her fork always ended up on the right side after switching the fork back to the right hand to put the food into her mouth. When she put her fork down it was next to her knife, like 20 after 4 on a clock. Unfortunately she was unknowingly sending signals to her waiter that she had finished her meal. More than once her half full plate was cleared away because the waiter thought that she had finished. By putting your fork and knife on your plate next to each other and not like 20 past 8 on a clock, you are saying that you have finished. Now, if both hands are on the table and the waiter comes and takes your plate prematurely, then you can do a quick grab and swipe it back. Ha!
Still eating. Finished.