I just lost my appetite. Again.
June 27, 2014 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Where I'm living now, it seems really common for the local people to leave food on their faces while they're eating. This makes it difficult for me to enjoy meals.

I'm not sure why this is, exactly, I've lived in/been to a lot of different countries across several continents, including countries very close to here, and I've never observed this before.

I don't want to sound judgmental, but it completely disgusts me to see pieces of food on people's faces, and it makes me lose my appetite. Unfortunately, I often end up dining in cafeteria-style situations, which means I'll be sitting at a table where everyone has food on their faces. I don't think I should say anything about it, since it seems to be a cultural thing? My current method of dealing is staring directly into my food and avoiding conversation, which is awkward and not at all enjoyable. I don't know what else to do and still be able to eat. Eating elsewhere isn't an option. Is there anything I can do to feel less disgusted? Should I just say something and be perceived as rude? Or is my only option to keep staring into my plate?
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Read while you eat?
Reading is enjoyable, and is less awkward than just staring into your food.
posted by phunniemee at 6:26 AM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Definitely don't say anything, especially since this in the norm where you are living. This is hard to deal with it but if I were you I would try to get MORE exposure to their eating style so that you become desensitized to it.
posted by waving at 6:27 AM on June 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

It is what it is, you're not going to change cultural norms. Making any comment would be inappropriate and rude.

Find a way to distract yourself, or, deal with it as you would any other phobia through therapy (if you're planning to remain in that location).

This is your problem, not the problem of those around you.
posted by HuronBob at 6:35 AM on June 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would feel like you. Can you get takeout and go eat somewhere privately?
posted by zadcat at 6:45 AM on June 27, 2014

Do you challenge this thought when it comes up? You're sitting there, you see something someone hasn't wiped up yet, you start thinking about how it's gross. Do you attempt to stop yourself, reassure yourself that if they don't walk around like that all day then clearly they'll clean up at some point, that it's not like anything's going to spread by virtue of a crumb left unattended for a few minutes? It doesn't work immediately, but if you keep telling yourself it's okay, you'll come much further towards believing it than if you don't.
posted by Sequence at 6:47 AM on June 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

If being in this place is relatively short-term, I'd follow phunniemee's excellent advice. If you'll be there long-term or for the foreseeable future, attempting to desensitize yourself, as suggested by waving, sounds more practical, because isolating yourself during all meals could eventually become just as stressful as this display.

Have you identified why you find this so disgusting? (Don't get me wrong - it would bother me a bit too - but it's just aesthetically unpleasant, right?) If you can pinpoint exactly what about this is squicking you out, perhaps you could logic your way out of your disgust?
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:53 AM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with zadcat - I have the same reaction to seeing food on people's faces and it completely turns my stomach. My way of dealing with it would be to simply avoid eating with people. Maybe that makes me a misanthrope, but I'll live with it if it means not feeling like I'm going to puke up my lunch.
posted by thereemix at 6:54 AM on June 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can't give you much advice except to say that you can get through it. After college I managed a group home for mentally retarded adults, which certainly had its fair share of nasty mealtime habits, but there was one man in particular that at first was really hard for me to deal with, let's call him Charlie. Charlie had a rare multi-system genetic disorder that left him small and hunched. His face was swolen and lumpy and deformed and mostly purple, but also red and yellowish is places. His skin was thin so he often bled, especially where he tried to shave the few hairs that protruded from between the lumps of his face. His facial muscles did not work well either and his massive lips did not help much in containing the food he ate, therefore he drooled and bled onto the table. Charlie was difficult to look at outside of mealtimes. To top it all off, at the time he was born and due to his disorders usual accompaniment with developmental delays, Charlie was packed off to the state institution at a young age.

The thing was, Charlie wasn't terribly retarded at all. Perhaps he wasn't great at logic puzzles or critical thinking, but he was a very wise soul and he had a wonderful caring heart. He loved to read and listen to the radio. He loved dogs and cats and said he loved them in particular because they love you back with their whole hearts regardless of what you looked like. Sadly, he couldn't keep a pet because of his fragile skin and physical limitations.

I was a self centered, naive kid fresh out of college and tasked with taking care of Charlie and his housemates and especially with getting them out of the house and to activities they enjoyed. Charlie loved to eat out and go to the library. Charlie also made people leave restaurants. I had to get over my initial disgust for my work. At first I just forced myslef to get through a meal with him. Eventually, I could do it without losing my own apetite, but more than that. I started to get to know Charlie and eventually I actually learned to really enjoy our time together. He was such a caring person and alwasy had interesting things to say about things he'd read, alone, holed up in his room where nobody looked at him or found him ugly.

Anyway, to get back to the point, if I, an ignorant, sheltered, shallow jackass can not only get over, but look forward to daily meals with Charlie, then surely you can find redeeming qualities in your mealmates to help get you over the hump of some cultural etiquette differences.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:09 AM on June 27, 2014 [83 favorites]

Ugh. I would definitely be grossed out too. Lots of different sights and sounds cause me to lose my appetite and become nauseous. To deal with this, I find it useful to distract my mind.

I usually try to distract myself through focusing on something else in my immediate environment. For instance, I will use hand sanitizer that has a strong smell before a meal. While I am eating, I focus on the pleasant smell as I bring my fork to my mouth.

Sometimes, if something about a person's body seems gross to me, I try to discreetly focus on something aesthetically pleasing about that body. I try to focus on how soft someone's hair appears or try to figure out how I would describe the person's eye color.

In situations I find really icky, I focus on my breathing and think of something silly like unicorns farting rainbows. Relating the idea of something that is usually somewhat gross (farting) to something beautiful (rainbows, unicorns) makes me chuckle and moves my mind in more pleasant directions. Maybe you could imagine food flecks becoming the background stars in Star Wars or something? That way you start thinking about movies or space or whatever else. Maybe try creating a funny narrative so that the food doesn't seem as gross or as important to your mind?

For me, when something unappealing presents itself, I sometimes need to tell my mind exactly how to minimize the significance of the gross thing.
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 7:24 AM on June 27, 2014

I had a relative over doing this recently, made me feel sick too. This sounds weird probably but I have wondered if older people's skin desensitises a bit so can't feel food on their face as much as it always seems to be older people I see this on.

In conversation could try and talk to their eyes or focus on a 'clean' bit of their head?! Very curious where it is!
posted by tanktop at 7:31 AM on June 27, 2014

I agree that you're not going to change the culture, but if you're eating lunch with the same few co-workers or colleagues every day, it wouldn't hurt to see if you could change the culture of that table only. You could either just straight up tell them that food on faces is a Thing for you, in a sheepish way, and ask if they could try to help you by minimizing it - emphasizing that this is your issue you're trying to work through but you'd appreciate their help - or you could also try something more subtle, like saying "oh, excuse me, you have a little bit of food on your face, here is a napkin" whenever you get the chance, but it sounds like that might come off a little strange or tiresome if it's literally every single person at every meal.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:38 AM on June 27, 2014

If you are a foreigner in this culture, this is your problem, not theirs, and you should aim to just get over it, rather than trying to change your colleagues' table manners as suggested above.

You might wish to examine why exactly you're reacting this strongly. Case in point: when I first moved to the US, I found the size of portions, and the fact that many people didn't finish everything on their plate to be obscene. I reacted with extreme disgust.

It took me a long time to realise that this was my response to living in a culture in which I was the alien: I found a habit which in my culture was considered immoral and latched onto it to show that though I was alone and far from home, my own culture was valuable and I could feel superior to those around me (disgust at toilet habits are a common way of doing this too). Whilst I still get a moral shudder at throwing away food, I forced myself to be aware that my feeling of extreme disgust was an expression of my own lonelinss as an expat and, frankly, if I wanted to enjoy my meals, it was up to me to get over it.
posted by tavegyl at 9:16 AM on June 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Tavegyl's comment is wise. I strongly disagree with the comments that you should politely point out there is food on your coworker's faces or offer them a napkin, or to explain that they should change for you because you feel this or that way. When it comes to food, the specifics of disgust is at least as cultural as it is individual.

I don't know if you are a westerner in a developing nation, but if you are, I believe the long history of Europeans instructing other people in Proper Manners, expecting them to do what Europeans do because it seemed to be naturally better, will -- at least unconsciously -- make your request resonate with centuries of Europeans "civilizing" others even though of course you, as an individual, are not trying to do that.

I would try to desensitize yourself by reminding yourself that many people are disgusted by food on faces because generations of parents taught you to feel that way at a young age. If you keep reminding yourself that it is still the same food that was on the plate, and now just happens to be on a face, you can begin to de-intensify the instinctive disgust response to matter out of place.
posted by third rail at 9:33 AM on June 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm nearsighted enough that I wouldn't be able to see food on the faces of people eating near me without my glasses. You're probably not, or you'd have thought of just taking your glasses off when you eat, but might you be able to get a pair of strong enough glasses to knock faces out of focus? You might need to come up with a story to explain why you wore glasses only when you ate, but maybe not, especially if you wear glasses normally and can just switch to another pair for eating.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:49 PM on June 27, 2014

I would have a problem as it would remind me of the aftermath of vomiting, and it would be very difficult for me to overcome the nausea brought on by seeing partially chewed food on people's faces.

If this is what's triggering you, I think "get over it" would be a very hard thing to do.

I absolutely agree with others that this isn't something you bring up to your companions. It is your issue, but is there a way for you to go to this cafeteria at less crowded times?

Maybe this is crazy talk, but what if you just lose your appetite and don't eat. Same thing the next day and get to the point where you're so hungry that you'll have no choice but to eat? That might override your mind and get you to point where it no longer matters. That seems extreme, though, but probably what I would do.
posted by vivzan at 2:24 PM on June 27, 2014

An idea crossed my mind just now, although it would depend whether you can buy paper napkins there. What about this: you bring a napkin holder to lunch and put it on the table. In the normal way, you use a napkin to wipe your mouth during and after eating. Say nothing. Maybe this will alert at least your table mates to be less unsightly. Maybe you can even pass the napkins around, if that won't be read as hostile.
posted by zadcat at 7:57 AM on July 3, 2014

« Older Half-remembered fairytale   |   Which OS X version is best for a MacBook Pro from... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.