A few weeks ago, Hon Rebecca Kadaga, Ugandan Speaker of Parliament made news by calling on MPs and protocol members to be on best behaviour during the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference hosted by Uganda. She stressed on table manners and cited a recent incident where a legislator choked on meat during a presidential visit.
Many might think the Speaker was out of turn for calling out adults on what should be standard operating procedure - acceptable table manners. The thing is even in this neck of the woods, we would not be rated highly when it comes to table manners. Our dining etiquette sucks and sadly it comes to the fore during social events making this a society-wide issue.
We Kenyans like social functions and we like to serve food at all our social functions. The success or failure of these functions is largely dependent on quality, quantity and variety of food served. Reputations have been built and destroyed based on food at events - that is why there is usually a lot of ceremony about the start of the eating section of any social event. How it all starts; the Mcee (another staple of Kenyan events) will announce that it is time to eat. He will then invite a matronly auntie to ‘pray for the food.’
Blanket prayer request
This is when bad manners behave – for these ‘aunties’ tend to get carried away in the name of prayer. Some expand what should be a simple prayer into a blanket prayer request for marriage, for babies, for rain, for elections 2022 and even manage to request those who want to receive the Lord to come forward. The end of prayers signals start of feasting and that is when the next level of bad manners kick in. You have a section of folks who make a mad stampede for the buffet line, stepping on anyone who gets in their way.
It seems that some folks view buffet offerings as an opportunity to test the elasticity of their stomachs and intestines or as if they hope to wipe off daily hunger for eternity. They show no consideration for others as they harass the waiter to ignore the allocated food ‘quotas’. This tendency to bust is often directed at expensive delicacies like chicken and meat. Some have been known to obtain more food under false pretences. Some will request to be ‘served’ on behalf of aging parents, nursing mothers or children. All this is a ruse for after that they walk away from the buffet with mountains and acres of food piled on their plates, showing no regard for others who might miss out.
The most annoying part of this food service is the mixing of courses. Most buffets at social functions will have a starter/soup, main course and of course dessert. Many bad mannered or perhaps ill-informed guests come to these events with no clear understanding of where each course starts and ends. This results in ghastly sights of custard poured atop rice, melon slices being dipped in soup - sights that can put one off food for eternity. I do not know who to blame for the next brand of manners, whether it is the schools or the parents.
Once you have been to a couple of Kenyan events, you will come to the painful realisation that most of us have no clue on the proper way to eat. The proper use of cutlery is alien to many of us since it features nowhere in the school curriculum, plus we know that many housewives did not own any complete set of any cutlery - and that could be the reason for the clumsiness around the use of the tools of eating.
There are folks who cause damage to others and themselves as they try to reduce meat into bite-sized pieces; some who drink from the finger bowl and some who turn the table napkin into a handkerchief.
As if this were not bad enough, others missed the lesson on importance of keeping the mouth shut while eating. They turn the mastication process into a public affair where everyone on their table gets to see how jaw power and peristalsis works - all traumatising sights.
These folks see nothing wrong with throwing in conversation into their public display of chewing technique thus splattering their mouth contents on others.
A special mention should be given to those folks who insist on having some takeaway. These folks are so consumed by the idea of free food that they request (though this is rare), that they carry all manner of foods back to wherever they came from. These bad-mannered folks are a headache for waiters and hosts as they go into “haki yetu” mode about their right to take away food.
As if this were not bad enough, some guests abuse the generosity and hospitality by throwing ‘shade’ about the event. No matter how much they ate or drank (for free), they still find something to loudly moan about. Some suddenly become experts on rice, complaining about whether the rice was ‘real’ Pishori or not.
Some talk about the texture of the meat, forgetting the fact that their belching and farting are evidence that their tummies were full. So, maybe we need to include table manners in our curriculum.
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