14 Comments

  1. Bernie W.

    I was invited to dine at an Italian restaurant and when the waitress brought out the bread and olive oil, I proceeded to break off a piece of bread and dipped it into the oil.

    I must have committed a gross error in etiquette because our hosts raised their eyebrows, looked at each other and laughed mildly as if to excuse my ignorance.

    They felt the only proper way was to take a teaspoon of the oil from the bowl and place it on his/her bread plate and to dip the bread into the oil in that manner.

    Needless to say I was embarrassed by their reaction and want to learn if what I did was wrong.

    I would appreciate your insights.

    • I always find this practice intriguing, mostly because it isn’t really practiced in Italy. Because this appears to be more of an American custom (I’ve heard that it originated in California, though a few sources claim Spain), I treat it the same way I treat other American dip dishes. I break off a piece of the bread/pita or use a single cracker/chip, and I dip into the common dish, as you appear to have done. There would be no germs transferred in this manner.

      How much oil was there, that each person could dip his or her spoon into it and (without dripping on the table!) bring it back to his/her respective plate? Real olive oil isn’t cheap, and normally restaurants don’t pour out very much onto the shallow plate.

    • Chocobo

      It’s true that in Italy, this isn’t really done. At least not where I was living for a while. Olive oil (and vinegar, sometimes) are left in glass containers and — if provided at all — used like condiments. Each individual pours out what they want to add onto their dish, and it isn’t much used with bread at all. Alternatively, bread might be served toasted to crisp and pre-saturated with olive oil before being served, but the only time I saw that was as an appetizer or snack at a vineyard. There aren’t communal dishes of olive oil shared by the table, and the oil was never flavored with spices or garlic, in my experience. (As a side note, bread is never served with pasta. For the Italians, at least the Northern ones where I lived, it is like eating bread with your bread. Or so I was chided.)

      But that’s besides the point. We don’t live in Italy, and as Just Laura says this is a common American custom in Italian and Italian-American restaurants, and American homes. I don’t think you committed any faux pas. The presentation of the oil is much like a dip, and like other American dips, food can be either inserted (clean) directly into the dip or served separately with a spoon. Since the plate came out with no spoon, your inclination to use it like a communal dip is natural. A better solution, should the hosts or the restaurant want to encourage individual use of the oil, is to put it in a bottle and provide no central plate. Trying to transport olive oil with a spoon is an awful idea, its asking to be dribbled everywhere.

      Even if you were in the wrong, your hosts were terrible to embarrass you so and treat you like a child who needs instruction. It isn’t their place to correct your table manners, no matter what their difference of opinion may be.

    • Deidra

      I think you were well within American customs dipping a bite of bread into the oil, but I personally think it was a major breach of etiquette for your hosts to act in a manner that embarrassed you. Given the diversity of backgrounds and cultures here in the US, you’re likely to find people raised with varying traditions (and what good is using the standard place setting if you’re having sushi or pho). If there’s not a health or safety hazard to the behavior and you’re not correcting your children, it’s best to go with the flow and make everyone comfortable.

  2. Joanna

    A friend just relayed this anecdote to me…thought I’d post here and see what everyone thought, as it struck me as rather bizarre…

    My friend (who lives in the UK) was recently on an elevator with several others. The group consisted of random strangers, except for two women. They were obviously friends, as they got onto the elevator chatting with one another and continued to do so as they traveled the floors.

    The thing was, the women were chatting in another language. After a few moments of this, according to my friend, another elevator passenger suddenly burst out angrily, telling the women, “It’s rude to speak in another language with others nearby who don’t understand!”

    Well, certainly. I don’t anyone will dispute the rudeness of the exchange, were the two women PART of the group they were riding with. However, the others were total strangers, and it was absolutely none of their business as to what the women were discussing. Furthermore, even if the women WERE rude, it was also rude of the man to point out their purported rudeness, if you follow me. As far as this particular situation went, he was basically saying, “You’re being rude by not letting me eavesdrop on your personal conversation!”

    Thoughts?

    • You are correct.
      The women were carrying on a conversation in a public place, and all members of their group understood the language. They did nothing wrong. What if that was the only language they knew, and they were visiting from another country? What if they were Deaf and communicating in ASL or BSL (which are non-English languages)?
      Should we be required to talk in the country’s native tongue when we are in a restaurant, so that strangers sitting at adjacent tables can understand us?

    • Nina

      Hi Joanna,

      I certainly agree with Just Laura’s and Jody’s comments. I have a suggestion for these “gentleman” behaved as he did–racism? You never can tell, but I’ve definitely heard contempt for other cultures disguised “Everyone should just speak English!” before. It’s distressing, but not all that uncommon, sadly.

      • Jerry

        As an ethnic minority, it pains me to hear people throw around the term “racism” absent more clear proof. Why? Because the word “racism” has become so charged, it’s best not to toss that linguistic hand grenade lightly.

        I hear “everybody should speak English,” and I hear (i) frustration with being unable to communicate with someone and/or (ii) annoyance at being exposed to sounds that are meaningless to me. At worst, the comment “speak English” is cultural elitism. It is distinguishable from racism because there is no hatred of the race, only disregard for certain cultural practices. While some may see cultural elitism as the moral equivalent of racism (and there are also arguments that they are not morally equivalent), that doesn’t mean that they are the same.

        Oh, and I agree with everything Just Laura and Jody wrote. If someone had been unafraid of a little confrontation, they could have responded “And it’s rude of you to eavesdrop and inject yourself into a situation where you have absolutely no jurisdiction. Would you like me to continue to point out your faults?”

    • Vanna Keiler

      Joanna. Great question. I agree with your assessment and those of Just Laura, Nina and Jody.

      Yes, it is generally bad etiquettte to point out others’ bad etiquette. Yes to the people speaking in their own language if others are complete strangers on an elevator (temporary space they all occupy). Conversation could not have been more than a minute or two.

  3. Jody

    Definitely agree with you and JustLaura here. The women were their own “group” and were not rude to speak in their own language. The man was the rude one, admonishing them as he did.

  4. Lauren

    My son is getting married and has asked if I would sit at the same table with his dad and his dad’s wife and his dad’s mother as well as the bride’s parents. I found this to be an unreasonable request as it would make me uncomfortable. he has called me childish and selfish. Am I being unreasonable?

    • Elizabeth

      It might help to smooth things over if you are able to suggest an alternative. Very often at weddings the brides and groom’s parents are NOT seated with each other – they have their own tables of close family and friends. Would it bother you to sit with your ex and his wife? Perhaps you could suggest that you sit with them plus your close family, while the bride’s family could have their own table. Difficulties might arise, though, if you need your own table, ex and wife need their own table, and bride’s parents need their own table. Usually the family sits up front near the head table, now they’re having to deal with three parents’ tables. You can see how this could get tricky for the bride and groom to organize. It might be best if you agreed to the seating as they suggest it, but strongly request that you have your sister or best friend sit with you. At a certain point, you have to weigh your discomfort with the bigger picture – can you manage your discomfort for the length of a meal? After that, during dancing and socializing, you won’t spend much if any time in your seat – you’ll be going around greeting guests, etc.

    • Alicia

      No you are not unreasonable. It is very common for each set of parents or if divorced for each parent to host their own table. However for sake of harmony you may decide which you would prefer to agree to make your son happy or to ask that you get seated at a different table.

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      I suggest you show him this: http://www.etiquettedaily.com/2012/05/separate-seating-where-to-seat-divorced-parents/. It sounds like it would be better for the wedding altogether if you were at separate tables. Maybe if you told him this way you would be able to entertain a table full of people and his father would be able to entertain another table full of people so more people get the privelege of being at the parents tables, he’ll see your view.

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