Story type: Essay
Were it not for the fact that we are usually eating at the same time, and so in no mood to criticise the mastication of others, I am sure that not half so many people would fall into love, nor be able to keep up the passionate illusion when fate had pushed them into it. For to watch people eat is, as a rule, to see them at the same disadvantage as the housemaid sees them when she calls them in the morning. Very few people can eat prettily. The majority “munch” in a most unbecoming fashion. For, say what you will, to eat may possibly be delightful, but it is certainly not a romantic episode of the everyday. True, restaurants have done their best to add glamour to our daily chewing. And the better the cuisine, the less time we have for regarding others. That is why hostesses are usually so harassed over their menus. Very few guests arrive really hungry. So she has to entice, as it were, the already replete stomach by delicacies which it really doesn’t want, but is not too distended to enjoy. Thus they are kept busy all the time, and have no leisure to observe. But I always wish that part of our education included a course of lessons in the art of eating enough, and of eating it elegantly. Not one person in a hundred is anything but a monstrous spectacle in front of a plateful of stewed tripe. But, as I said before, we are, happily, so busy with our own plateful at the time that we have usually no leisure to regard their stuffing. Personally, I always think that the only way to enjoy a really good dinner is to eat it alone. People are delightful over coffee, but I want only my dreams with salmon mayonnaise.
Of course you can eat and talk, but only the exceptionally clever people can talk and enjoy what they eat. I always envy them. Many an excellent dinner have I lost to all intents and purposes because my companion insisted on being “lively,” and expected a “certain liveliness” on my front at the same moment. If you must eat in company–then two is an ideal number. But don’t place your companion opposite you. Many a “sweet nothing” has been lost in bitterness because the person to whom it was addressed saw inevitably a morsel of caviare preparing to become nourishment. No, the best place for a solitary companion at meals is, either on the right or on the left, never immediately in front. I have sat opposite some of the most handsome people, and wished all the time that I could have changed them into a “view of sheep”–even one of a brick wall would have been better than nothing. When you are talking to someone at your side, you can turn your face in their direction for the first few words, and then look at something else for the rest of the sentence. But if you turn your head away while talking to someone immediately in front of you–if not necessarily rude, it gives at least the impression that you are merely talking because to talk is expected of you, otherwise you are slightly bored. I know that the popular picture of an Ideal Dinner for Two is one of an exquisitely gowned woman sitting so close to the man-she-loves that only a spiral table decoration prevents their noses from rubbing; with a quart bottle of champagne reclining in a drunken attitude in a bucket of ice, and a basket of choice fruit untouched on the table. But if you examine that picture of the ideal, you will always discover that the artist has missed the ugly foundations of his fancy, as it were, by jumping over the soup and fish, the joint, the entree, and the sweet, and has got his lovers to the coffee, the cigar-and-liqueur stage, when, if the truth be known, all the hurdles over which the “horse of disillusion” may come a nasty cropper have been passed. So, if you be wise, sit on the side of your best-beloved until the nourishing part of your gastronomic “enfin seul” is over; and then, if you must gaze into his eyes and he into yours, move your seat round–and your evening will probably end by both of you being in the same infatuated state in which you began it. It is only by the strictest attention to the most minor among the minor details of life, that a clever woman is able to keep up the reputation of charm and beauty among her closest intimates. She realises that Nature has given to very few people a “sneeze” which is not something of an offence, and that not even one possessing the loveliness of Ninon de l’Enclos can look anything but a monstrous spectacle when a crumb “goes down the wrong way.” But there are other “pitfalls” which it is in the power of all of us to avoid, and the “pitfall” of eating ungracefully is not the least among them.