The Ugly American (when he's eating)

The one that bugs me is eating and/or drinking while shopping. I mean actually in the store, not taking a break at the mall. Really, you and your kid can get through a trip to Target without a snack. (There’s also the issue of people making sure their child has something to eat or drink at every waking moment, but that’s another topic.)

That’s hardly fair (leaping to the defense of Japanese dining). Usually, quantity is not of much interest to a Japanese person, except when it’s expensive beef. For some reason, having a large piece of expensive beef is some kind of achievement worth noting.

Otherwise, Japanese slurp their noodles when they are in soup (you try to eat soba without slurping and see how far you get) but not when they are on a plate. Japanese men will sometimes stuff huge mounds of rice into their mouth, although that is considered somewhat low-class behavior. You will never see such dainty eaters as Japanese women. So, on the whole, I think your point fails.

Hell, lunchtime there near many city centers is built around open fast food counters (Schnellimbisse) and food trucks.

I don’t even know what you’re talking about. This doesn’t describe the daily eating habits of any Americans I know.

If you’re referring to the eating competitions you see on TV, most people consider them jokes worthy of an eye-roll.

I can’t help wondering- I constantly run into web posts (not just on the SDMB) and blog posts asking, “Why are we Americans so awful, so disgustinng, so crude, so unsophisticated??? We can’t be be like Europeans, who are so much better than us in every way???”

Does anyone in other countries ever start threads like that? Does anybody in Europe ever ask, "Why can’t we be like Some Other Much Better Country or Society?

You know what’s really ugly? Fat Americans when they’re eating (I’ve waiting for this to come up here…)

I experienced this when I was visiting France. My dining companions actually asked me why I was eating so fast, and I think I responded something like, “Well, the food’s here; what else am I supposed to do?” I wasn’t rushing; on the contrary, I felt I was having a leisurely meal. But to me, they ate almost comically slowly. The host served us our meals, and I immediately tasted mine and complimented him on his cooking. Everyone else just sat there as if nothing had happened. Then every few minutes, one of them would absentmindedly take a bite, and then forget they had food again for a while. It almost seemed rude to me, as though they actually hated the food, and were just picking at it to be polite. I mean, I can appreciate taking time to savor a meal, and would agree that I don’t do that as often as I should. But to me, part of savoring the meal is enjoying it while it’s at its peak. If food cools down or warms up too much, it can dramatically change the taste and texture. I’m fine with sitting and chatting for hours, but periodically nibbling on cold, congealed, wilted food doesn’t enhance that experience for me.

Another thing that I’ve had remarked upon is the idea of drinking a beverage - particularly water - during a meal. I went out to dinner with some students visiting from Korea, and they asked me why everyone in the US drinks water while eating. It wasn’t just a matter of different customs; they actually seemed a little disgusted by it. I didn’t really have a good answer, and still don’t. I guess I’ve just grown up doing it, and it feels uncomfortable to me to eat without periodically sipping something. My in-laws are also Asian, and don’t typically drink anything with their meals, but at least they don’t seem to be bothered when I do.

Roderick, yes, you’re quite right that we should distinguish between “competitive eating” as a sort of metaphorical description and competitive eating as an actual event (which happens to be popular in Japan). Maybe the portion sizes Americans often tackle make it seem as if they’re in a competition, but I’m sure that’s rarely their actual intention.

The part about making your food unbearably spicy as a kind of macho thing does strike me as peculiarly American though. I could be wrong, but I have not seen this elsewhere.

I do. Most people get a little thirsty as they eat.

Where do you guys live that people think it strange that you eat European style?

I’m 43yo old and have eaten that way my entire life with out nary dubious glance. Not only that, but my parents taught me both ways were perfectly acceptable. And my mom is a real stickler for manners too. Napkins always went into the lap and no elbows on the table.

Example: which foods are eaten by hand that aren’t in, say, Western Europe? US/Europe uses hands a lot less than certain countries. The left hand is used which may be weird in some places (but not Europe). And I think sushi is eaten by hand rather than chopstick more often in Japan, but not (IME) the case here,

What is a “course”? I can’t think of mid-priced restaurants that have them. Usually a meal is the soup/salad, a plate with multiple foods on which I don’t think anyone would ever ask for a fork for each part, and a dessert if you have the room. Usually a table starts with a knife, spoon, food fork, and salad fork. Use the fork if you get a salad, they’ll give you a soup spoon if you get soup. Dessert usually comes with a new spoon etc. People complain about the quantity size, etc. so a plate is usually enough for most to eat. Asian food is often 2 chopsticks and that’s it, unless you ask for a fork (may be regional).

Or as my parents said if we balked at the appearance of food, “it all ends up in the same place!”

Fancier restaurants do seem to have courses and exchange silverware more often, though.

Disgusted? I need liquids with food, and sometimes not even water cuts it. Perhaps unusual in some places is the US et al. custom for putting ice in water.

This. Makes me nuts. My stepmom used to open a bag of chips or something while she grocery shopped. She’d put the empty bag through the checkout and pay for it at the end, but until she paid for it, she was stealing in my book. I was just horrified that she couldn’t get through a 45-minute shopping trip without eating something. Didn’t we just have lunch? :eek:

Once in a great while, if it’s really hot out and I’m really thirsty, I will open the bottle of whatever beverage I’m about to purchase and take a swig. But I draw the line right there.

Not to sidetrack the thread, but as an American-style fork juggler I’m a little unclear on the European method. For the European-style eaters, a couple quick questions:

If your meal combines something you cut, like say steak, with something you don’t cut, like say mashed potatoes, what do you do with your knife while eating the mashed potatoes? And how do you hold your fork? My understanding is that the European-style involves holding the fork “upside-down”, the reverse of how you’d hold a spoon. So do you turn it over and scoop the potatoes with your left hand?

Second question, related: What if the entire meal is food you don’t cut, such that you don’t need a knife at all? How do you hold the fork then?

EDIT: I’m intrigued by the European style and am thinking of adopting it, but then I realized I don’t understand the logistics of it apart from eating a chunk of meat and nothing else.

I actually have trouble with things like salad using the European method. If I’m just cutting meat and the sides are all easily to capture on the fork, I’ll use the European method. I learned it from a Swedish friend. I watched her and thought it seemed more efficient.

I never learned to switch over the fork but then my mother’s parents had emigrated from Europe so maybe we just followed family tradition. I never even noticed it until I went to college.

Now I mostly eat SEAsian, with a lot of rice, and it’s with a large spoon in my right hand, fork in my left. It looks weird to me when I see people here trying to eat rice with a fork.

When eating the mashed potatoes, the knife gets put down and the fork or spoon goes to the right hand.

Also, I’m not sure what you mean by holding the fork upside down. In the neutral position, the pointy thing is held upright with my index finger pointing outward to act as a stabilizer when cutting the meat.

The fork is held similar to a way you would hold a peice of chalk while drawing on a chalkboard.

I eat European style, since I was born in the UK.
I would eat the mashed potatoes with the fork in my left hand while still holding the knife in my right hand.

The fork would indeed be turned over and held scoop-like in this case, but in some cases: salad, vegetables, and steak even, the fork is held with the tines pointing down.

Upside down for Americans means like a scoop, and not with the tines pointed down, which is the polite way.

I had dinner with an American about six months ago. He told me a story of how he received multiple looks of utter disgust in Italy while eating a McDonald’s breakfast on a city bus. He didn’t know it was considered barbarian by Italians.

Cool, thanks much. That makes sense.

What about the case of a knife-less plate of food? Trying to think of an example but am having trouble off the top of my head. Just imagine there’s some meal you eat with a fork but there’s no need for a knife.

Maybe some sort of pasta?

I didn’t learn the European way of holding knife and fork was wrong until I was in college. Dinner at my girlfriends house, her mom started yelling at her son to use his knife and fork correctly,even though he was using them exactly like me. I didn’t figure it out until later that he was copying me and she was actually dropping a very strong hint that I was doing it wrong, wrong, wrong.

As for Americans eating with our hands - If Europeans knew how to make decent fried chicken they would learn to eat with their hands too, the poor souls.