A few of us were chatting in the newsroom recently, and we touched on the topic of table manners. In particular, we compared the Asian tradition of slurping noodle soup with the Western acceptance of nose-blowing at the dinner table.
Slurping has something of a childlike innocence to it. It also signals the slurper’s appreciation of the dish. That said, a slurp can seem interminably long and irritating, and when numerous diners are slurping, the cacophony can be disquieting.
Still, I have to say that, growing up, I never understood what made nose-blowing acceptable at the table.
It’s something of an unwritten rule; someone somewhere some time ago decided it was OK, so some nose-blowers act with impunity. And just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean you have to do it.
What is also irksome is when the honker has a handkerchief that is already sodden with mucus, and he or she has to fold it over to find a dry spot.
To add insult to those present, the offender then refolds the rag and returns it to its place of origin, not infrequently before digging into a nostril or two to remove some other unwanted substances.
I would rather see both practices kept away from the dinner table, particularly in public.
Chen Weihua, China Daily USA deputy editor and chief Washington correspondent, is firmly in the slurpers’ camp. In fact, the visiting Chen said he was headed out to a noodle shop in Manhattan on Monday evening, where he admittedly would quietly slurp. And Chen said contemptuously that he has heard nose-blowing at some of the capital’s finest establishments.
“There is no doubt to me that blowing your nose, especially at the dinner table, is much more disgusting than eating noodles with some noise,” Chen proffered. “Of course, in Chinese and Japanese culture, eating noodles with the sound means they are delicious. But that of course is not seen this way in the Western culture.
“There are many Chinese who don’t approve of the noise, especially loud noise, at the dinner table,” the Shanghai native said. “It is not considered good manners. But eating noodles might be one of the exceptions. I think it is because the Western civilization prevails in today’s world, so Western standards are used in unfairly judging the Asian culture. But blowing your nose should not be allowed at the dinner table, especially by those people who deliberately blow as hard as they could.”
“Chinese tradition calls for a birthday girl or boy to slurp a bowl of noodles as a celebration of the many years ahead,” Lawrence Lo, founder of LHY Etiquette Consultancy Limited, said in a 2011 story on CNN’s travel page. Lo said “that long strip of noodle is a metaphor for the long walk of life. Yet this tradition comes with an addendum: Do not cut the noodles. That symbolizes cutting your life off.
“You should slurp your noodles,” he added. “That means it tastes good. It’s like swishing wine in your mouth so that it mixes with oxygen.”
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization website, “noodles served on a wooden tray are simply picked up in bite-size portions. If served in a hot broth, alternate between picking them up and lifting the bowl to sip the broth. Slurping is a sign of a good appetite and eating with pleasure.”
As for discharging one’s nose, a 2013 Etiquette Daily blog on the Emily Post Institute website called for restraint: “Nose-blowing at the table should be limited to small puffs. If what is required is big, noisy nose-blowing, this should be conducted away from the table. It is distasteful to others to hear or see someone beleaguered by mucus deal with it at the table.”
Belching is another bodily function that repulses most Westerners, but in some cultures it is a shoutout to the chef.
Here in the US we also have the annual Nathan’s hot dog-eating contest on Coney Island in New York. My quibble with this, beyond the nitrates one would consume by downing 70 hot dogs, is that the contestants wet the buns before they shove them down their throats. Wet bread is not appetizing.
Despite how one feels about dinner table issues, no one should take the approach that a Minnesota man did in 2015 when, according to The Smoking Gun website, he bludgeoned his 84-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer because she blew her nose at the table.
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