Proper toothpick etiquette?
- ipsedixit Dec 8, 2006 10:25 PM
(1) Is it ever OK to use a toothpick at the table?
(2) If it is, what's the proper way to do it?
As to the first question, my understanding is that most Americans find it rude to use the toothpick at the table, but many Asian cultures have no such taboo. True?
As to the second question, some say the way to use a toothpick at the table is to cover up with the free (non toothpick holding) hand. True?
I remember the day I graduated from college, my parents and my future husband (who my parents loathed) and I went to a Sizzler for lunch. (Hey. We were in Conway, Arkansas. Not a lot to choose from.) We were all tense and silent. Until we looked over and noticed a rather rotund gentleman digging into his teeth with a steak knive. Utterly disgusting, but talk about an icebreaker!
But I was raised that in company, not only do you not clean your teeth with a steak knive, you don't use a toothpick either. You use dental floss in the privacy of your own home. And if you absolutely HAVE to do something about dental hygiene, you excuse yourself from the table and go to the rest room.
There is probably a reason that toothpicks are not offered in nicer restaurants. At least not any I've been in.
There are a number of old movies in which a major tough character has a toothpick that he's menacingly twirling in his mouth. That's a long time ago.
Now, as you pointed out, the only restaurants at which I've been provided a toothpick have been Japanese. Ant they're nicely carved, and served in a nice round toothpick holder. This goes right up the classiness spectrum to Urasawa, where the toothpicks were carved and served in a smaller container than the toothpick holders at other restaurants I've been to. So it would seem they condone toothpicking.
I have also received toothpicks in some chain barbecue restaurants. Less frenquently than I used to.
I seem to remember I received them more often a long time ago. I remember always getting them at steak restaurants. Now I don't see them much.
Great observation and comment. I don't know the answer and I'm looking forward to others' comments.
My older Chinese relatives do it all the time. Finish dessert, pass around the toothpicks and pick away while you wait for the bill. I usually decline. They probably think I'm the dirty one.
In the US, I feel like at the very least using a toothpick is something you do as you are out the door at a restaurant. That's why they're by the cashier with the bowl of mints, right?
But now that you mention it, I see toothpicks less and less in restaurants now. Better to do it in private.
For myself, a corollary of this is who the #@$% wants to use one of the toothpicks out of those communal bins?
Have we not seen enough newsshows featuring the legions of bacteria swarming all over the things thanks to the disgusting patrons (at all levels of classiness) who decline the basic hygiene ritual of post-toilet hand-washing?
It's fine in Asia (and, as a corollary, in places that might as well be Asia, like Monterey Park or Flushing), and in point of fact is encouraged in Asia.
That said, you do it DISCREETLY and you cover your mouth with the other hand (it looks a bit like you're playing the harmonica).
In America? Not in public.
On the other hand, you'd put people off their feed if you blew your nose at the table, even discreetly, in Asia -- but it's OK in America, apparently.
How's this for class? When toothpicks were not readily available at our table, an ex (he's Anglo) would use the sharp corners and sides of a Sweet N' Low packet to remove any food particles between his teeth. The couple of times I politely commented were met by responses of, "No one can see me." He erroneously thought that it was acceptable to floss his teeth with a packet of Sweet N' Now packet, apparently, because he had shielded his activity with his free hand.
Needless to say, we are no longer together.
re: Sam Fujisaka
Random anecdote: one time in Hong Kong I was with a friend and we were walking the halls that connect the buildings in Admiralty. In one of them was a big sign that said "No Hawking", with some Traditional characters I didn't recognise.
Right underneath it was someone getting rid of a big loogie right on the ground.
"Disgusting," I said, "obviously they can't read."
Turns out in Hong Kong "hawking" means "selling things illegally" and that the Traditional Chinese said "Do not vend in hallway".
See it all the time with Asian clients, hey whateverr works.
My father used to finish every meal with a camel non-filter and clean his teeth with the matchbook cover.
I wait til the car ride home in worst case or the water pik when i get home.
in Brazil there are toothpicks at every restaurant, on the table through the whole meal (though they're also often used to eat with, as lots of food comes in small pieces for group eating). You just cover your mouth with one hand and pick with the other. I always felt funny doing it, but it didn't seem to be a big deal. I'd never do it here though, I'd just take one and go to the bathroom if it was an emergency.