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Proper toothpick etiquette?

(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?

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  1. I would never purport to speak for all Americans, but I think it is inappropriate to use a toothpick in public, especially at a table. We wouldn't floss our teeth at the table, so why would we use a toothpick?

    1 Reply
    1. re: glutton

      i work in the restaurant business and have seen people floss at the table. ack.

    2. And that from a self-proclaimed glutton. I agree.

      1. 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.

        1. Good question.

          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.

          2 Replies
          1. re: lil mikey

            I find public dental care & noseblowing to be disgusting. So does my girlfriend who is somewhat traditionally Japanese.

            1. re: Leonardo

              The "snot-rocket" is what I find offensive. Too cheap to buy tissues or a handkerchief? Apparently, this projectile release is very common in some cultures. I find it disgusting.

          2. 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.