When dear Rodent said, “I fancy a crumpet,” I realized for the first time that I had fallen in love with A Foreign Person.
How could I tell this darling brilliant man, this magnet of my heart, that he sounded like Mary Poppins?
Instead, I asked, “What’s a crumpet?” Thus ensued five minutes of UK/USA comparisons of biscuits, cookies, pancakes, flapjacks, bread, toast and crackers. I concluded: “OK, a crumpet is an English muffin.”
Then Rodent said, “I’m feeling peckish,” and I maidenly blushed—until I found out that “peckish” means hungry (something to do with chickens?).
Rodent not only talks funny about food, he eats funny, too. On our first date I didn’t notice how oddly he ate because after he’d taken several bites and stopped to talk, I said, “Are you going to finish your spaghetti?” and commandeered his plate.
Many meals later, though, I could see that Rodent handles his cutlery like a pro—-a really strange pro. Three times a day, he performs food surgery at the dining table, and I get to watch, fascinated.
Rodent’s a cutlery wizard. He never puts down his knife and fork, never shifts them from hand to hand. He slices sausages, broccoli and potatoes into tidy bits and knifely smooshes them onto his fork in layered packets. The more food groups on the plate, the more layered the packets.
“Does everybody in the UK eat like this?” I asked.
“I suppose so. What other way is there?”
Clearly, he hadn’t been watching me, bowl in hand, spooning up my meal like one big stew.
Which brings us to the Spoon Conspiracy and the Eyes Down Conspiracy.
There’s a kind of cutlery conspiracy going on in the UK, but like other grand old conspiracies, the perps’ progeny have forgotten why they’re conspiring. Actually, it’s more of a discrimination than a conspiracy. People in the UK have an unconscious hatred—or fear—of spoons. And, being UKers, they don’t talk about it (thus, the Eyes Down Conspiracy).
My first night out with dear Rodent’s grownup kids, we dined at a terrific Thai restaurant. It became evident that spoons were outcasts or outlaws in the hierarchy of eating implements. They were brought only with some of the “puds” (i.e., puddings, meaning desserts).
Before we ate, and seeing no spoon at my plate, I raised my hand to signal the server. Instantly, Rodent and his children cast their eyes down, not really focusing on anything in particular. They were apparently occupied with some thought or feeling.
The server, smiling, came quickly, and Rodent and his children looked up courteously. I asked the server for a spoon, at which everybody looked down again until she returned with one.
I said to the server, “This is a tablespoon. Could you please bring me a teaspoon—a smaller spoon?” All eyes went down again until she returned with a smaller spoon and took away the tablespoon.
“What’s up with this no-spoon thing?” I asked Rodent.
“We don’t need them—-except sometimes for puds.”
“But how do you scoop up food juices and gravies and such?”
“It just isn’t a problem,” he said.
When I pushed the topic further, he said, “Hmmmm…..I guess sometimes we use bits of bread to soak them up.” And that was that.
The meal had been fabulous, but I couldn’t finish mine, so I stuck my hand up for the server. All eyes cast down until she appeared. I said, “Could you please bring me a doggie bag?” All eyes down.
I had to explain to the confused server what a doggie bag was (apparently UK restaurants don’t do doggie bags), and several minutes later she brought a brown bag and a plastic bag. My loading the food into the brown bag caused considerable anguish for Rodent and his kids whose eyes had to be down for the entire uncomfortable procedure. With no eye contact going on, I found it impossible to talk until after I’d loaded the doggie bag.
The next time we had a night out with Rodent’s kids I considered taking a spoon, but refrained. This time we were at a huge, busy Chinese restaurant. It proved the best possible place for an extraordinary Eyes Down event.
Once fitted out with two spoons next to my chopsticks, I tucked into the chicken-cashew entrée—-and came up with a spoonful containing a little blue square ceramic tile.
“Good God! Look at this! I could’ve broken a tooth on it!” I passed my spoon to Rodent who inspected it with shock and horror and passed it along to his kids.
My hand shot up for the server. All eyes cast down. I felt betrayed. Wouldn’t any of the family come to my defense? Did I have to handle this all alone? Would any of them ever look up so I could see their expressions? Why wouldn’t anyone look at anyone? And why didn’t anybody talk?
The server appeared and I showed her the ceramic tile on my spoon. I had to repeat that it might have chipped my tooth or even caused me to choke to death. She excused herself and said she’d be right back.
She returned with the manager who solicitously listened to me and gave considerable thought to the situation. At last he pronounced: “We are so sorry for what happened. We don’t know how it happened, and it never has happened before. Of course, you’ll not be charged for your meal, and we will bring you another entrée of your choice.”
Everybody at the table was happy now. We talked about my “free” meal and how delicious their entrees were, and I was delighted with my replacement dish, an abundant helping of crispy duckling which I couldn’t finish.
I signaled for the server. Eyes Down.
She came (Eyes Up), and I said, “Could you bring me a doggie bag?”