One of the strangest and most difficult aspects of interacting with other people is discovering those areas which you consider to be so basic, so foundational, so obvious that you don't even think about them—until you run up against someone for whom they are not basic, and maybe not even important.

For me one of those givens is that you don't take food from a common dish and then put it back, and if your hands touch something on a common plate you take it, even if you didn't mean to.  Thus I find it particularly unnerving to watch at church potlucks, or <shudder> restaurant buffet bars, as folks violate those maxims repeatedly and egregiously, with no consideration for those behind them in line.  I'm not speaking particularly of children here; the adults are just as likely, sometimes more so, to be the offenders.

This raises two questions:  Is this really a matter of fundamental hygiene and common courtesy, or merely a particular, culture-specific custom?  I do hope not the latter, or I may have to stop eating away from home.


What are the habits that seem perfectly normal and natural to me, yet cause in others the stomach-turning reaction I experienced this morning?
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 12:30 pm | Edit
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This reminded me of two things:

First, there was an episode of the show "Seinfeld" in which the charater George (who is an oaf to begin with) gets into hot water for "double-dipping". That is, he takes a chip, dips and eats part of it and then dips it again. Now THAT is disgusting because it has already been in his mouth. Now granted, this was a TV show, but I think the idea came about from something that had been noticed in a real situation. I am sure there are many people who don't even realize they are doing this.

The second thought that came to me was about my family and doughnuts. Every once in a great while, my parents would splurge and get Dunkin Donuts for breakfast. They would buy a dozen, but a variety. It was really hard to choose! The doughnuts would be piled on a plate and the rule was, "if you touch it, you have to take it" the idea being you weren't allowed to paw your way through them. Well.....if I touch it, I have to take it, hmmm...what happens if I touch them all? Ha!

I guess I have never noticed anyone at church taking something and then putting it back.

I will say that in serving at the soup kitchen strict hygiene rules are much more seriously enforced than they are when we serve our own congregation. In our own church, we do not have plastic gloves to wear when preparing the food to be placed on the tables. I expect that everyone washes their hands before they put the dinner rolls on the plate, but who knows? If I were standing in line behind someone who picked up a roll and then decided to put it back, I would probably avoid that roll. Should I remove that roll so that others don't eat it? Possibly, but I probably wouldn't. I wouldn't want to eat it, but I also wouldn't want it to be wasted.

Now use that same scenario except instead of a roll it was the most delicious dessert made by one of the best cooks in our church. It is also the last one. Chances are I would go ahead and eat it (especially if it were chocolate).

Posted by dstb on Monday, March 17, 2008 at 8:55 am

Good point about the doughnuts! Rules often have unintended side effects. Like the story B told me today, about how his cello teacher "rewarded" those who knew a piece (as opposed to those who should have, but didn't) by telling them to stand up and take a bow. This embarrassed him enough that I could hear the wheels turning in his mind, "Hmm, if I don't learn the piece, I won't have to be singled out like this...."

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, March 17, 2008 at 8:31 pm

Yes, it is interesting about the reward. It probably would motivate some kids to try harder so they could be the one having the attention drawn their way. That is not true with my kids.

I know I certainly wanted to do well in school, but not so well that I would be valedictorian or anything. It would have been torture to be called upon to make a speech or otherwise draw attention to myself.

I don't think Tommy told you, but he won a chess tournament last week and will be getting a trophy. One of the local libraries has a drop-in chess club and after months of talking about going, we finally went. I think he was excited about winning it and proud of himself, but when I asked him if he wanted to tell you, he got all shy about it. The competitive side of his nature wouldn't let him lose, but he doesn't like the fuss.

Posted by dstb on Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 8:40 am

Hooray for Tommy! Congratulations! Soon you'll be beating Uncle Porter. :)

Posted by SursumCorda on Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 9:36 am
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