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Is finger-lickin’ ever considered good manners?
September 24, 2013 - Anita Hanaburgh
By ANITA HANABURGH
Last week, I joined my Massachusetts sister and friends at Saratoga Race Course. They had reserved a table at the Turf Terrace on the fourth floor of the Club House.
The Turf Terrace requires an advance reservation, a seating charge of $7.50 per person ($20 on Traver’s Day) and a minimum lunch order of $25 per person. Arriving around 1 p.m., I was pretty hungry. I placed my bet as I walked in and was looking forward to some serious food.
It was a beautiful day. The table was set with white linens and the goblets were full of frosty ice water. The table had a full view of the finish line. The waiters were in black and white, and customers were dressed in attractive Saratoga style. It was going to be a fine day.
After meeting my tablemates, I was directed to the seat between my sister and “Debbie.” We all began to chat of horses and our personal history. Debbie and I began to get acquainted. The waiter brought drinks and placed a big bowl of Saratoga Chips in the center of the table. These greasy, all-natural chips are delicious, and Debbie certainly thought so. We helped ourselves.
Debbie reached over and took several, bringing them directly to her mouth. When finished, she cleaned one finger at a time: “Smack, smack, smack.”
She then finished with the thumb: “Smack.”
Soon, she reached for more. Her still-wet fingers reached into the shared bowl of chips. “Smack, smack, smack, and smack ...”
Sometimes, two fingers went in her mouth. Sometimes, she looked at them to make sure they were clean. Sometimes, she held a finger in her mouth, cleaning off each bit.
“I like the darker ones,” she exclaimed, as she dug into the basket.
I tried to look at her as we chatted, but with each smack, I had to look away. I looked at her tasteful dress. I looked at her striking jewelry. I looked down at the unfolded napkin on the table to her left.
I wanted some chips. I reached into the bowl, carefully picking ones on the side, pushing away any possibly tainted with the outside of my fingers. Debbie decided to help me and grabbed a handful and placed them on my bread-and-butter plate. She then helped herself.
Is finger-lickin’ ever OK? I say no.
In the case of Debbie, it was dramatically poor manners. She not only licked her fingers, she licked each finger with relish, and she made sounds.
She looked at me and talked as she licked her fingers, with no attempt to be discrete. We were at a luncheon, not camping. She double-dipped her salvia-coated fingers in the shared pot of chips. And what surprised me the most was that she looked as if she should have known better! A lesson to me.
I say finger-lickin’ is never acceptable — not at home, not at a picnic, not even at KFC.
Though “fingers were made before forks,” as grandma used to say, “Not yours.”
There are many finger foods, and eating with your fingers can be perfectly acceptable, but licking the fingers is not. I say it is bad manners in America’s general culture. Every manners site or book or article that I checked gave no or very few occasions when it is acceptable to lick your fingers.
I found it was OK to lick your fingers if your nationality actually feels it is a sign that you are enjoying the meal or you are following a Sunnat (directive) of the Islam religion that suggests one should lick the fingers at the end of the meal as a cleanliness practice.
But finger-lickin’ is not OK?at a fine-dining luncheon. I am not grossed out easily, but when Debbie ordered the brochette, I offered to switch seats with another on the pretext that I had the best view of the track and it was time to let another enjoy.
After writing most of this article, I went to a cocktail party with only hors d’oeuvres and finger foods. To be honest, I caught myself almost finger-lickin’ about 10 times and actually finger-licked five times.
Oh, busboy, I don’t think anyone saw me.
P.S. In my One Minute Oatmeal Cookie recipe, published two weeks ago, I should have omitted the reference to milk in the directions. Also, in last week’s article, the dude ranch activities were too “ranchy,” not too “raunchy.” I need to remove automatic spell check!
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