Proper Etiquette for Messy Foods
March 12, 2013 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Let's say the Queen of England is visiting Mexico, how does she eat her taco? When she visits the US South, how does she eat ribs? Does she take off her white gloves and eat Injera in Ethopia? More or less the question is: How does "proper etiquette" work for inherently messy food items, especially those of a foreign culture, when consumed by someone of high culture/royalty?
posted by wcfields to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Michaƫlle Jean, when she was Canada's Governor General (the Queen's representative), got into a bit of controversy by eating raw seal heart with her fingers. Few people in her position could get away with this, but she is a very genuine soul, and extremely popular here.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:49 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

There are foods that the Queen will not eat. I forget the details, but spaghetti is on the list. It would be a major failure in protocol to cause embarrassment to a monarch.
posted by scruss at 12:52 PM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd always say when in Rome.

Plus, she eats her cereal out of tupperware anyway.

This might also be a good article on royal appetites that might satisfy some of your curiosity.
posted by mibo at 12:52 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does she take off her white gloves and eat Injera in Ethopia?

I wasn't sure if you knew this based on your question, but etiquette requires that you remove your gloves when you eat, no matter what the food.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 1:04 PM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

I do know that when the Queen came to my city, it was commented upon that she ate the asparagus with her fingers. Asparagus is not messy but there's an anecdote for you saying she will eat with her hands when it's proper etiquette.
posted by carolr at 1:05 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

While we are not any stripe of royalty, this discussion was actually had over dinner the other night (launched from discussions of travelling as an executive in a less-than-safe foreign nation in bulletproof vehicles in the care of cautious hosts ...).

Somehow the conversation veered towards eating messy foods, and our speaker mentioned going to a quite elegant restaurant in South America; white tablecloth of course, the equivalent of the top four or five star restaurant (I don't know ratings, just pick your highest) for the city.

The patrons (including our speaker) were in full business suits (it being evening) and/or gowns, and the star course was ribs. Each diner was given opera-length plastic gloves, as well as clear coveralls suitable for the wearer to attend a Gallagher concert in the first ten rows (or act as his onstage assistant).

This was presumably in addition to finger bowls and towels. Clear, I assume, so that finery wouldn't be obscured other than by drippy rib sauce.
posted by tilde at 1:13 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I lived with a French host family for a few months who saw themselves as very traditional. Very big on proper French table etiquette, and they never really ate with their hands. I saw them eat both fajitas and pizza solely with knives and forks. I assume there are some foods they would have to cope with eating with their hands, but posh people can make it work in far more situations than you expect.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:16 PM on March 12, 2013

There are "tricky foods for which there is etiquette" (lobster, asparagus, stone fruit) and "tricky foods that tend to be avoided". A common tale about the All Souls prize fellowship, which includes dinner with a large group of fellows as part of the process, is that you will be served food in the former category.

There are foods that the Queen will not eat.

From my relatively limited experience of what you might call "high table fare", it's pretty circumscribed. (For instance, here's the state banquet menu when Obama hosted Cameron.) If there's pasta, it'll usually be ravioli or cannelloni or something along those lines. If it's in Delhi, then it will be Indian dishes adapted to the setting.

You definitely don't see HMQ tucking into a brisket plate from the renowned local BBQ place.

I do know that when the Queen came to my city, it was commented upon that she ate the asparagus with her fingers.

I was once at a college foundation dinner, which sat the fellows among the students, and asparagus was the starter; all the students waited to see what the done thing was, and the dons showed the way, pouring out a little melted butter on their plates, then picking up the asparagus, dunking it and nomming away.
posted by holgate at 1:23 PM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

For the most part, people simply don't serve that kind of food in formal settings. Even in Mexico, tacos are not generally fine-dining fare. But when dining in a culture where formal dining does include eating with ones fingers, then the Queen, like anyone else versed in protocol, would do so.

There are also foods that can be properly eaten with the fingers -- sandwiches, corn on the cob, artichokes, etc.

She would not be wearing gloves to dinner regardless.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:26 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt entertained Britain's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (mother of the present Queen, who died in 2002 the age of 101), he shocked the chiefs of protocol by serving them hot dogs on the front porch of his home at Hyde Park, NY. (Full menu, PDF). There are no pictures, but presumably the royals didn't eat hot dogs with a knife and fork, because Roosevelt would have picked it up and chomped.

QEII has some race horses in Kentucky and used to come for private visits now and then (including attendance at the 2007 Kentucky Derby). So you'd think she has a sampled the BBQ. Pictures of the queen eating are virtually non-existent, but here she is in a barbecue chow line in Australia in 1970, looking a bit indecisive.
posted by beagle at 2:17 PM on March 12, 2013

As a Louisville Native, I can tell you it's pretty trivial to avoid anything 'messy' during The Derby. There is no shortage of high falutin' wannabe rich folks who get the vapors if there's any sort of tomfoolery in their presence
posted by DigDoug at 3:16 PM on March 12, 2013

I think a lot of messy foods that are still considered fairly formal still have some etiquette attached. For example, in Senegal, meal are eaten by hand. That is to say, not like ribs, but only the right hand, and if one is particularly skilled, even with the red palm oil soaked rice, the oil should not reach above the second knuckle.

That being said, spoons are considered acceptable for foreigners. I feel that a lot of these "messy" things have a way to get out of them, or something that works for the upper echelons of society.
posted by raccoon409 at 3:50 PM on March 12, 2013

The Queen does not eat finger food. I recall an anecdote about a time when she and Prince Philip visited a school in Newfoundland as part of a Canadian tour. Someone at the school thought it would be a great idea to serve burgers. Prince Philip politely requested a knife and fork.
posted by asnider at 6:07 PM on March 12, 2013

I should clarify that I'm talking about formal, public situations. Who knows what happens behind closed doors in Buckingham Palace.
posted by asnider at 6:12 PM on March 12, 2013

You can eat almost anything with a knife and fork and not get messy. I always eat ribs with a knife and fork, as I don't like to get my hands messy.

In traditional formal English settings, even fruit is eaten with cutlery.

I think she would simply not eat anything which could not be eaten with cutlery, and would use cutlery for everything else, including things like ribs and burgers, as in the Prince Philip anecdote from asnider above.
posted by richb at 5:19 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

richb: I think she would simply not eat anything which could not be eaten with cutlery...
Not sure why you're answering with a guess, but carolr's response disproves this.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:33 PM on March 14, 2013

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