ImageMost cultures have a way of wishing you a good meal. Now, in England we’ve settled for, ‘Enjoy!’

It all started while watching Jason and the Argonauts (original). The blind man feeds heartily for the first time and good Jason shouts, ‘Good appetite!’ Translated from the Greek I assume. Is this what the Greeks say?

I began thinking of Spain, France and Italy; their wish revolves around the food, your appetite, even exploiting what’s on offer (‘Que aproveches!’) There’s not a hint of having to enjoy anything. The implications of this are so far reaching I feel like throwing my lemon-scented, steamy facecloths at the waiter. Enjoy that!

My problems is that it requires some sort of specific personality trait. More than filling up on food. More than satisfying your appetite. It suggests a mood, a cheerful, smiling attitude while chewing; a smiley disposition, eyes dilated with happiness, a sort of frenzied joy. Can’t I just chew and swallow in my own humble way?

And then the terror that they might ask if I enjoyed my meal. What happens if I just feel quietly pleased with the experience, if I didn’t enjoy it in the way they mean? It’ll give the impression that I’m a sour sod who just wants to be miserable.

My complaint is that it reflects on my character. It has such far-reaching implications about the way I lead my life. Such as, do I enjoy laughter or loving relationships? Do I enjoy any hobbies? Am I even lad to be alive? You don’t need to bring personality into it when you eat. Caveman didn’t. He ripped his mammoth meat from the bone, drooled and slavered and felt fortified and lucky if anything.

Let’s not pretend that wishing companions well before they eat is any sort of tradition in this country. Let’s accept that for millennia suede, bread and ale were got rid of as quickly as possible. (interestingly, we have ‘Cheers’ or ‘Bottoms up’ for drink…)

Maybe that’s how such an unreasonable command came to precede eating here. To take our minds off the taste. To help us forget that we were eating bread and dripping or sparrow (beak intact).

OK that’s unfair. The upper echelons of English society probably did enjoy every mouthful of venison, spit-roast hog, fruit, pie and julienne carrots. The rest might well have dreaded mealtimes. ‘What’s for dinner?’ ‘Bread and dripping…’

So the fake-established order to enjoy is out of place and for me unwanted.

Maybe I’m being awkward and impossible to please. Isn’t it nice that we now have some sort of food-enjoyment-related quip from staff? No.

You can wish me, ‘Good appetite’ or tell me to ‘Eat hearty’ (White Christmas, ahhh) Once you start demanding that I enjoy, my meal’s ruined. I instantly feel I have the wrong personality for that establishment. They’d rather have bouncy, witty customers who can tell charming anecdotes and leave monumental tips.

I’m interested to know if most countries say something before eating. Or do most just hope to be satisfied and not poisoned by their meal?

So far, I haven’t succumbed to this annoying phrase. Even at Christmas, we’ll just probably wish each other well and tuck in. Seems a civilised thing to do in the face no tradition of anything better.


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