Americans don’t just eat food – they participate in it. No where else will a total stranger pass your restaurant table, glance at your plate, and ask, ‘is it good?’ Eating is a shared experience. Ameri-male in love cannot take his eyes from his girl-friend’s face – or his fork from her plate. True love is never having to ask permission.
Friends and relatives do the same, with a tangle of anxious arms criss-crossing the table and spearing food in all directions. Brits are put right off, seeing this as an invasion of privacy and disgusting as well. When visiting America, they live in fear that a casual acquaintance or business associate may ask to taste something of theirs. Should they treat it as a presumptuous intimacy, or a friendly gesture? Does it constitute a binding contract? How can you negotiate tough terms with someone who has your hot fudge all over his face?
Because America is made for sharing, portions come in giant sizes ... usually enough for two or three. Waitresses will provide extra plates without batting an eyelid ... though, recently, some maverick establishments have introduced ‘sharing charges’. These are seen as a threat to the American way of life.
In case dividing the lobster, or the spare ribs, or the onion-ring loaf is messy, plastic bibs and extra napkins are provided. It is OK, even de rigueur in these circumstances, to behave like a slob. The waitress will eventually come around to ask if you’re enjoying your dinner. It will be hard to answer with a full mouth.
American children visit restaurants from earliest infancy, and share their mothers’ dinners. At the age of 6, they need dinners of their own, because they eat more than she does. Brit-kids are not generally ‘taken out’ – unless you count fast-food take aways, or the occasional tea-shop treat. It is considered that they need different diets than adults, and thrive best on a meal called ‘nursery tea’ ... which is specially composed to include 100 percent carbohydrate, and no protein at all. Biscuits, cake, bread-and-butter, crisps and spaghetti-on-toast are favourites, and these must be consumed:
1) in the company of other children, or at most of adult. Brits operate strict rules of nutritional Apartheid.
2) At 5 p.m. latest.
Brit-kids retire early, and not allowed to
a) stay up till 9;
b) eat with grown-ups.
Brit guide to Ameri-portions
1. Char-broiled New York cut steak (8–13 oz)
will overhang the plate on one side. Share with a friend.
Prime ribs of beef
will overhang the plate on both sides. Ask for two extra side-dishes to take overspill.