When I start eating, I only stop for two things: I finished all the food or I’m so full I can barely breath. This means that once the utensils are picked up off the table, they do not get put back down until I am done. I move with purpose when food is around. The purpose? Getting it into my mouth as swiftly, and elegantly, as possible.
I try not to speed eat, to take my time, chew my food, and enjoy the meal. This zen approach to eating lasts for about three bites and then I am back to shoveling spoonfuls, elegantly, into my mouth between breaths. It is for this reason that I find it very unnerving to dine in Spain. My friends seem to be under the impression that they can put down their forks whenever they want during the meal and simply take a break. I’m not talking about between courses or if they are going to the bathroom. I am talking about straight up in the middle of the meal. As in, a few forkfuls into the main dish, the fork gets placed on the side of the plate and they start conversing.
I always get confused about whether they are done or not. “That’s it ?” I say with shock in my eyes, food in my mouth, and a utensil in my hand. The answer is usually a simple “no, I’m still eating.” To which I always have a follow up question: “Then why did you put your fork down?”
No, but seriously, why would anyone just stop halfway? What could be more important at this moment than the delicious plate on the table? Conversations about any topic can wait until the plate is clean or you are full, it’s just common sense.
The Spanish are renowned for taking their time and enjoying their food during their two hour lunch breaks on a weekday. Or having course after course of tapas at dinner, that started at 9:30pm and ended when the restaurant closed; again on a weekday. I lived in Spain for three years and I applaud such behaviors concerning meal times. We can all take more time to enjoy our meals, and yes, even on a weekday. What I cannot support is completely stopping midway through a delicious meal. I would like more time so I can consume more, not so my fork can take pitstops.
The sight of their hands empty is very uncomfortable for me. Should I slow down ? Should I also stop? Usually this wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that meals in Spain are served family style. So if I keep eating at my pace and they take their ill-timed breaks, someone is going to end up with less food.
I guess this is a cultural thing, because if I ever thought of putting down my spoon mid-meal, in front of my Arab parents, so we can chat a little, there would be a problem. They would definitely ask me if everything was okay, if I found something in the food, and would most probably assume I was sick. Again, I am all for eating for longer periods of time, utensils in hand until the end.