Because You Are Polite

by Ginger Philbrick

Remember the recent column with questions from a reader with a good sense of humor? I have since been asked to consider some of the queries as serious and to give advice on them. It is my pleasure to do so, and I am addressing three of them here.

• How many ice cubes can one put in wine before drinking?

Let’s expand the question to ask if it is polite to put ice in wine at all?

Although it has long been considered a faux pax to do so, a check with a couple of wine sellers in our area provided the opinion that doing so is not a matter of manners these days, but a matter of taste.

However, one source offered that a wine purist would likely turn his head in shock at such a thing and cautioned that someone serving you a fine wine might be taken aback if you dropped cubes in it.

The reasoning against ice cubes in red wine is that they prevent desired chemicals from escaping, making the wine taste acidic. It is more acceptable in white wine, but any dilution alters the flavor.

So with this in mind, my answer to the original question of how many cubes is permissible would be to use your discretion, just please don’t crunch it!

• Regarding cheese on French onion soup, how high can one lift the spoon before action is required, and what would that action be?

Not very high. If the cheese has not separated by the time your spoon is about one-half inch from the lip of the bowl, use the side of your spoon or a knife to cut it. This goes a long way to avoiding embarrassing burn marks on your nose and chin.

• When tasting others’ food, does one use their own or others’ utensils to collect what is being tasted? And should food be removed from that utensil with teeth only, or lips?

When dining in public, the best and most acceptable way to share is to use an unused utensil such as a spoon—which is often eagerly awaiting use in a place setting—or ask for a clean fork or spoon. Place the sample you are willing to share on a small plate, such as your bread-and-butter plate, or ask your server for one. Then convey the food to your companion.

In private, or when eating with someone whose germs you don’t mind risking adopting, it is fine to pass one’s plate to your companion for them to take a sample by removing it from your plate to theirs. However, be sure the sharer is right next to you and not on the other side of the table! Oh, although the lips or teeth question then becomes invalid, I vote for lips because it just looks less scary.

I will close with my finding that studies on Chimpanzees show that sharing food releases a chemical called Oxytocin in both parties, thereby causing bonding. I wonder where they get the bread-and-butter plates.