Because I need to meet her, or at least read her book. I mean, I thought I knew a few things about Czech manners. I knew to always take off my shoes when I walk into someone’s house, even if they tell me not to. I knew to always offer someone something to drink when they first arrive in the office. I knew to eat with both hands showing above the table at all times and to keep my fork in my left hand instead of switching it back to the right. I knew how to use forks and knives as signals to my waiter that no I’m still eating (fork and knife at 8 and 4 o‘clock on my plate), or yes I’m done (fork and knife neatly aligned at 3 o’clock). I sort of thought I had my protocol down.
Just a few days ago, I was out with a good friend of mine, eating Chinese in the middle of nowhere. It was very bad Chinese food, and we were the only people in the restaurant, but it was also the only restaurant within a kilometer of where we were working. So there we dined. And suddenly, my friend said:
F: Julia, why are eating your food that way? Where’s your knife?
J: A knife? For all the giant pieces of identifiable meat that are not on my plate right now? What are you talking about?
F: Because it is bad manners to only eat with a fork.
J: Next time I’ll ask for chop sticks. We’re eating Chinese you know.
F: I mean, generally. You’ve got to always eat with your knife and your fork, like this. Didn’t you realize? (He demonstrates.)
J: Aha! Now I see!! (The light breaks and years of wondering why Czech people needed a pusher to get food on their fork are suddenly clarified.)
F: And if you want to be very polite, you keep your arms tucked by your side. No elbow flapping.
J: (Considering my elbows) I really hope everyone knows I’m an American when I eat out or they’d think I had horrible manners.
F: Don’t worry, they do.
And with that, we changed the subject.
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