Social Grace

Double dipping; Feeding the boss

Dear Social Grace,

I recently had lunch at a Chinese restaurant with a colleague. The egg rolls we had for an appetizer came with a dish of sauce for dipping. I noticed that she "double dipped," taking a bite out of the egg roll and then putting the bitten end back into the sauce. Not only was it gross -- there was lipstick on the end of that egg roll -- but I was always taught that this was extremely tacky. This woman is well educated and stylish, and we work in marketing for a large company. Sometimes we dine with clients, and now I'm concerned about her doing that with them. Should I have said anything? At the time, I said nothing and just didn't dip my egg roll in the sauce. This woman is my age but my senior in the company.

Later the same week I was getting a quick lunch at the salad bar across the street from my office, and I noticed a woman (also very stylish and professional-looking) picking pieces of ham from the salad bar with her fingers, which she then licked! It was nauseating. The tongs were right in front of her. What should I have done in this situation?

Please help; I think this might be some kind of an epidemic, and I want to know how to act in the future. Regards,
Gag Me

Dear Gagged,

This is why I bring my lunch to work in a brushed-aluminum cooler. It seems that almost an entire generation has been raised without being taught any restaurant manners, for fear it would "inhibit" its members. Well, when it comes to putting their fingers in my food, people had darn well better be inhibited, thanks.

Yes, your colleague's behavior was "tacky" -- and more than a little disgusting. However, it's nearly impossible to correct someone's behavior with a direct reproach (unless the person in question is your child). I would've handled the situation by saying perplexedly, "Oh, dear. The server only brought one dish of dipping sauce." Then I would've asked the server for my own sauce. This works well because it gives your colleague the benefit of the doubt (perhaps she was so engrossed in your discussion that she forgot herself), while likely demonstrating that putting food one's lips have touched into communal sauce is not nice behavior for a "stylish" woman (or anyone). Teaching by example is often your best bet when it comes to getting others to eat correctly.

In the second situation, you might point out the tongs to Lady Fingers (ever so sweetly -- practice "sweetly" at home before trying it out in public; if you can't manage it, don't attempt it). Or you might simply locate a salad-bar employee and ask nicely for a new plate of ham to be brought out, explaining (perhaps just loud enough for the offender to hear) that you saw someone putting her fingers in the ham. Dealing directly with Fingers is likely to be a lose-lose situation, and it's so hard to enjoy a nice salad after an unpleasant confrontation.

Dear Social Grace,

I can't cook at all, and I "owe" my boss dinner at my house. (He's had me over twice.) Is it OK to have my boss to dinner at my home but have the dinner catered? Can I take him to a restaurant instead? Also, what is your current feeling regarding touching up one's makeup while dining out? Can it be done at the table or must one excuse oneself to the little girls' room? Sincerely, Little Rebecca

Dear Rebecca,

You can't cook at all? Not grilled cheese? Hot cereal? Nothing? Well, of course it's fine to fulfill a social obligation at a restaurant or with a catered meal; however, I have an assignment for you. People should be able to turn something out of their kitchens when the need arises. Go to a bookstore. Buy Joy of Cooking -- it gives you instructions for things that other cookbooks assume you already know how to do, such as baking a potato and disassembling a chicken. Then browse around and see if any other cookbooks pique your interest -- perhaps one focusing on a certain cuisine. (I highly recommend the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, for fantastic traditional French fare coupled with delicious stories from an extraordinary life.) When you get home, peruse your new cookbooks and select a menu. Pretend you're at a restaurant and pick a meal that you'd love to have (with an eye toward ease of preparation -- avoid recipes with words you don't know the meaning of). Design an entire meal, from soup to nuts.

Now: Make that meal. Follow the recipes; go one step at a time. At first you might fail, but make that meal again, and again, and again. Practice preparing it while at the same time maintaining witty, urbane conversation with imaginary guests in your living room. Cook in the morning and cook late at night. Make your meal after drinking a couple of glasses of wine (go to a good wine shop and ask which wines would go best with your meal, then stock up on them). Make your meal until your roommates, your significant other, or you just can't eat it anymore. Then have your closest friends over for dinner and make it for them.

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