Chaddhaji’s daughter Bansuri is fast turning into a saxophone. I know that’s such a mean thing to say, but the girl has gained oodles of weight lately, especially in the ongoing wedding season. Sometimes when I see the family going out almost every evening, all decked up, I wonder if they have taken serious inspiration from the Obama party gatecrashers. Even Pappu Singh commented the other day, “Madamji, plate kisi aur ki hai par pet toh apna hai (the food may be paid for by someone else but the stomach is our own).”
So the other day when I bumped into Bansuri, I told her to try the healthy menu at the swish Italian joint nearby. “I too need to lose weight, so while I hunt around for healthy eating-out options, I could be your guide too,” I told her. “Oh no, I can’t ever go to that kind of place,” she replied. I asked her if the thought of healthy food put her off and what she said in reply stumped me. “It’s not about not wanting to eat healthy food. I can’t go to a fancy place because I’m scared of not knowing how to behave.” Huh? And I thought eating out was all about having the money to afford the food. “Money is no problem,” she replied, “but it’s so stressful to eat at a plush restaurant. It always seems the staff is judging you on your knowledge and etiquette.” She went on to tell me how a lot of her friends are nervous about going to ‘hip’ places, be it fine dining restaurants or spas, despite desperately wanting to, sometimes simply because of the stress of not being able to pronounce the names of the dishes on the menu.
I never realised that the lack of trappings—that sadly define sophistication for a lot of us, could be such a big stress factor. When I was growing up, if someone didn’t eat at a five star hotel, it was because they could not afford to. Now there are a whole bunch of people who don’t, because they fear getting embarrassed if they can’t handle the cutlery the way it should be, or swirl the wine in a way that wouldn’t draw a smirk from the wait staff.
I would say that while it’s always important… and fun to learn etiquette, just like learning any new skill, don’t let it become a deterrent to the overall enjoyment of your experience. Trust me, as long as the restaurant is getting it’s money (and the waiter his tip), nobody has the time to judge you if you mispronounce a dish or eat with hands or not know your sushi from sashimi. And if they do, the problem is entirely theirs and not yours. You have gone to a place to enjoy, and as long as your behaviour is not spoiling someone else’s experience, you have every right to relaxed and enjoy.
Life is too short to keep worrying about what people around you in a public place are thinking. Most often, you are not even going to meet those people ever again in your life. Why let a stranger mess up your right to enjoyment? On the subject of social behaviour, I’ve also seen a lot of friends nag their spouses for ‘not being social enough’. It’s sometimes funny, just like parents tell a small kid to do ‘namaste to every uncle and aunty’, we end up nudging our spouses to greet relatives in a certain manner. All that we achieve, in return are arguments and unpleasantness.
The calmness trick this week is— while in public, be confident of yourself and your loved ones. That confidence will more than make up for any lack of superficial trappings. Those who judge you solely on how you’re holding your fork and knife deserve your pity, not your attention.
Sonal Kalra went for dinner to a Japanese restaurant with a nervous friend and asked her to confidently put a finger on any unpronounceable dish in the menu. She pointed to one and ordered for it to be served. It was the manager’s name. Mail your calmness tricks at firstname.lastname@example.org