Some foods simply should not be eaten on a first date, or during a job interview, come to think of it. Wearing a good silk blouse sets up a red alert of its very own.
Take spaghetti, for instance. The books tell you that it should be eaten without a spoon, and that's the way they eat pasta in Italy. So what does that mean? If you order spaghetti or any of its long skinny cousins you have the choice of announcing you're a clod by employing a soup spoon or by splattering yourself. If you insist on ordering spaghetti, the big secret is putting two or three strands at a time in your mouth.
Or so they say.
There are other foods that are best avoided, too. Anything with chopped spinach in it. Or chopped parsley. (At Halloween it might be OK.)
Fowl on the bone can also be difficult. Quail is probably the worst of all. Unless you are sitting in a very dark cave, never, never order whole small birds. Trust me on this.
Sushi or Chinese dumplings should be approached with caution, as well.
I was reminded of all these foods when I read about the new trend, so called "etiquette dinners" that are a big thing nowadays. One was held at Buffalo State College by the college's Career Development Center just last month.
Such etiquette dinners, I am told, aim to teach ease in sticky social situations. They tell you how to make small talk - an art I have never mastered. They tell you how to introduce people, how to use the right fork (work from the outside of the plate in).
They also tell you how to handle a few tricky foods when others are watching and maybe even judging. But my thought is - why bother? A really clever person would avoid difficult foods altogether.
Discretion is the better part of valor. Think ahead. With that in mind, here are a few other items to stay away from if you feel you are under scrutiny. We are assuming that these are more or less formal situations, of course.
Whole lobster in any restaurant with a white tablecloth. Unless you are ensconced in a cove in New England with the traps in front of you - lucky you! - give the crustacean a wide berth.
No finger bowl or Wash 'N' Dry created by man will ever ever clean you up.
Shish kebabs or food on a skewer. The trick is to daintily hold the end of the skewer with one hand and use the fork to slide the items off it. Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn't. Being dainty is a difficult thing.
Corn on the cob.
Any good etiquette book can help you with suggestions. But interestingly the books are not complete. As our culinary world expands, there are certain foods the tomes haven't caught up with.
What do you do with vertical food? I'm talking about the plate that arrives at an upscale restaurant with a beautifully composed tower of vittles in its very center.
One suggestion might be to pretend you're an earthquake. Use your knife and fork to push the whole structure over. That way you can attack those tempting foods with dispatch.
Also, I can find no instructions about pizza. Eating the pie with a knife or fork never makes it taste as good as eating it with your hands. Probably the best rule with food is to check surreptitiously what everyone else is doing. How's your peripheral vision? And when all else fails ...
... simple gruel usually works out well.