Saturday, May 19, 2007

Etiquette Quiz -- Fun with Soup!

When you are eating soup, you should always spoon the liquid away from you rather than towards you. In other words, you should start with your spoon towards the front of the bowl and move it towards the back and then upwards to your mouth. This should be done in one smooth motion. Lead with the far side of the spoon when you place it into the liquid and sip from the near side of the spoon when it reaches your mouth.

Why should you spoon away from you? While no one took a guess on this rule, it's really common sense. If you spoon away from you, you will be less likely to drip any soup on you or on the tablecloth. If any liquid does drop, it will drop into the bowl instead of on you. It is also a more graceful movement.

So, how does this fit into our definition of etiquette: thoughtfulness towards others? If any of us in the blog-o-sphere ever find ourselves eating soup with you, we do not care to view splotches of tomato soup all over your pretty blouse. Likewise, we don't want to see French onion soup plopping onto beautiful tablecloths. In fact, such sights might put us off our appetite a bit. This is doubly so if we are in some way responsible for a) cleaning the blouse b) cleaning the tablecloth or c) having borrowed great-grandma's irreplacable hand-tatted lace table covering just for this occasion.

As you spoon the soup backwards, remember to skim the spoon lightly across the the top. In most cases, you don't need to bring the utensil very far down into the liquid to get a full spoonful. If the soup contains elements that do settle to the bottom, such as pieces of heavier vegetables or meat in a vegetable stew, you can bring the spoon down to collect them.

In a family or casual setting, here's how to politely obtain those last few delicious spoonfuls at the bottom of a soup bowl: Tip the bowl slightly away from you and continue to use the spoon-away-from-you method. You might even get away with this at a dressier dinner party, though I wouldn't insist on it. When in doubt, notice what your hostess does.

Of course, as my favorite children's etiquette book is named, "Soup should be seen and not heard." NEVER slurp your soup or make any noise when consuming it.

Now, if you really want to delve into soup etiquette, here is a quote from the gently humorous, yet always correct Miss Manners. Let the record show, however, that the Merry Rose will be content if you observe only two "soup" rules: 1) don't slurp and 2) do spoon away from you. The Merry Rose warns you that with regard to any other practice related to soup, you are on your own! So, she will let Miss Manners take it from this point forward:

"Dear Miss Manners: When eating soup from a bowl on a plate, where is the proper place to set the spoon between spoonfuls and again when finished. Is it the bowl or the plate?

"Gentle Reader: Miss Manners is going to drive you crazy on this one. You want a simple answer so you can eat your soup in peace and propriety, and she is about to douse you with technical terms.

"Soup may be served in bowls or cups with small plates under them, in which case the spoon is always parked on the underlying plate, whether you are finished or just resting up for the next spoonful. That would be a simple answer if this were all there were to it, but there is more.

"At more or less formal dinners, soup is served in a so-called soup plate, which doesn't look like a plate because it is a rimmed wide, shallow bowl, but it is called a plate anyway. It goes on top of the service plate, and both are removed together when replaced with the plate for the fish or meat course.

"When a soup plate is used, the spoon is parked in it, not in the flat plate below the soup plate. This is a shock to people who only learned soup-bowl etiquette, and will think you don't know any better, but it is the correct method.

"You can achieve an even greater shock with two-handled soup cups, where it is not strictly necessary to use a spoon at all, but permissible to drink from the lifted cup. However, Miss Manners does not consider herself responsible for the consequences of Fun With Soup."

So, Miss Manners has spoken. Now, some people get into all sorts of other rules about what spoons to use with what type of soup, what type of crackers may properly be crumbled into soup, what soups may be served for lunch and which for dinner, what soup serving dishes may be used at lunch and which for dinner, etc.

However, expending this much thought on the proper consumption of soup gives the Merry Rose a slight headache. She suggests that we skip all of that in favor of going to her favorite "meat and three" for a cup of good old vegetable soup. She promises that she will not frown if you crumble your cornbread on top, if you will not frown at her for doing the same. And, while we're daintily spooning our soup away from us, we'll order a side of turnip greens and shake on a few drops pepper vinegar. Of course, we'll follow this up with some blackberry cobbler a la mode.

Anyone with me?

Who says that etiquette can't be fun!

elizabeth aka the merry rose.

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