POSTSCRIPT / April 30, 2006 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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We are what we eat -- and how we eat it

TABLE MANNERS: A story circulating in the Plaridel e-group is about a seven-year-old Filipino boy in Montreal, Canada, who was castigated and insulted by school authorities for his Filipino way of eating with fork and spoon.

Most Filipinos have the habit of using the two implements together, with the fork pushing food first to the spoon instead of directly to the mouth. The spoon also serves as a knife to cut food on the plate.

The last report of Andy Blatchford in Montreal’s The Chronicle said that the boy’s mother is asking for a public apology from the administration of École Lalande, a 387-student school in Roxboro, Montreal.

Over the last several months, according to the boy Luc Cagadoc, the lunchtime day-care monitor moved him about 10 times to a table to eat alone because of his unacceptable table manners. The caregiver called him “disgusting,” he said.

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EATS LIKE A PIG: The boy, whose parents emigrated from the Philippines in 1999, said he was disciplined for using a fork to push his food onto a spoon, which he then brings to his mouth. That was how they ate at home.

His mother Maria Theresa Gallardo phoned the school about the punishments, and she was shocked by principal Normand Bergeron’s allegedly telling her that her son ate like a “pig.”

The school board received a complaint from Luc’s parents on April 18. The Commission scolaire Marguerite Bourgeoys spokesperson said: “The story at the school’s level is that it’s a disciplinary problem.”

Luc’s mother said her Grade 2 son told her last April 11: “Mommy, I don’t want to eat anymore. My teacher is telling me that eating with a spoon and fork is yucky and disgusting.” When he eats with both a spoon and fork, instead of only one utensil, he said the lunch monitor moves him to a table to sit by his lonesome.

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WHEN IN CANADA…: Gallardo confronted the lunchtime caregiver the next day. On April 13, she phoned the school principal, Normand Bergeron.

She said she was brought to tears upon hearing him say: “Madame, you are in Canada. Here in Canada you should eat the way Canadians eat.”

“I find it very prejudiced and it’s racist,” she said. “He’s supposed to be acting like a professional. This is supposed to be a free country with free expressions of culture and religion. This is how we eat; we eat with a fork and spoon.”

Luc’s father, Aldrin Cagadoc, remarked: “I can’t believe even the principal would say that. A person of that caliber, I wouldn’t expect him to say that.”

Gallardo operates a day care out of her Roxboro home. She is almost done with her studies in early childhood education. She disagrees with the lunch monitor’s approach to teaching children how to eat. She says it is emotionally abusive to the boy.

But Bergeron says it was Luc’s eating technique combined with his table manners that was inappropriate that day, which is why he was moved.

(Part of the story was forwarded to Plaridel by Maripi Leynes in Toronto, Canada, although the first mention was by Deancollas. Since not all Postscript readers have Internet connection, I thought it best to share it here.)

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REACTIONS: Among the early reactions and comments of Plaridel members:

Pete Lacaba — OK lang kaya sa West Island (where Luc’s school is — fdp) ang paggamit ng chopsticks? Mas lalo pa siguro kung kamayan ang kainan.

Armando Malay Jr. — ‘Di ako tutol sa paggamit ng kutsara at tinidor lamang kapag kumakain. Ang pangit lamang makita yung mga gumagamit ng gilid ng kutsara para magsilbi bilang kutsilyo. Nakagawian ng mga Pinoy ito, kaya kahit mayroong kutsilyo sa mesa ay kutsara pa rin ang ginagamit para panghiwa ng karne o gulay. Umiiwas na lamang akong tumingin.

Raul Pertierra — Sa probinsya kamay ang ginagamit pagkakumain — ito ata ang traditional way of eating — kutsara at tenedor ay bago at sa siudad lang. Kung susundan natin si Norbert Elias ang kutsilyo ay binabawal kasi symbolo ito nang ‘violence’ — parte nang civilizing process ang pagbabawal nang mga symbolong agresibo. (Should it be “tenedor” or “tinidor”? — fdp)

Pete Lacaba (reacting to above comment) — Ngayon ko lang na-realize ito. Nakuha natin sa unang colonizers ang mga salitang Tagalog para sa kitchen utensils (kutsara, tinidor, kutsilyo, kubyertos), pero hindi nila itinuro sa atin ang paggamit ng kutsilyo para kumain dahil peligroso sa kanila kung halimbawa’y may kasalo silang makakahawak ng table knife.

Maria Victoria Go — What’s the big deal? You’re allowed to ‘cut’ with a fork; so why can’t you use a spoon to do the same thing? When you’re in situations where regular knives are forbidden (in airlines that still serve meals) and plasticware is provided instead of ‘silverware’ — a plastic spoon gives one more leverage than either a plastic knife or a plastic fork!

Manners and etiquette are meant to ease communication and interactions with others — when they become ‘social’ restrictions and are reduced to mere symbols/emblems of status — they cease to serve their proper function.

I am reminded of the apocryphal story that tells about a guest sipping from the finger bowl at a banquet. The gracious hostess — instantly did the same, so as not to embarrass her guest. And because she was a real ‘doyenne’ everyone else at her table followed suit — if they knew what was good for them! There’s Real manners and table etiquette for you!

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CULTURAL VARIANCE: With the globe bristling with cultural variance, it is normal that people with different backgrounds act differently — but presumably without ill will or any intention to offend people around them.

In some societies, for instance, it is considered complimentary (to the host, if not the chef/cook) to make a satisfied sound when one sips really good hot soup, but it is bad manners in other settings.

Some people are very strict about not handling the food with the hands, but kamayan proprietors encourage customers to attack the feast with their hands. Some people insist that diners hold their pizza with their hands to better enjoy it, but others scoff at that.

How does one handle crabs with fork and knife? And do we follow what a number of prominent diners do — holding chicken parts and enjoying them “sarap to the bones”?

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TOP DINERS: I have seen pictures of then President Erap Estrada sitting for a “salu-salo” with some squatter families and eating with gusto with his bare hands. It did not look presidential, but the folk loved it.

Will somebody tell us or show pictures of how President Gloria Arroyo grabbed at the food spread on banana leaves at those “boodle fights” with the soldiers in the field in a bid, obviously, to firm up bonding with the men in uniform (and who happen to hold the guns).

If the Canadian Prime Minister visits Beijing, I am sure the Chinese President will reach out with his trusty chopsticks, not fork and knife, to transfer food from the lauriat table to the plate of his esteemed guest. The Canadian premier will not be caught saying, like a school matron, that using sticks is a primitive and yucky way to deliver food to the mouth.

Talking of presidents, check the pictures taken at the last vin d’honneur in Malacanang. Note how differently President Arroyo, her husband Mike, former President Fidel V. Ramos and the Papal Nuncio held their raised glasses.

You would think that steeped as they were in protocol, style and etiquette, they would be holding wine glasses more or less in the same manner. But they did not.

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NORMS: We are what we are. But there are certain norms (accepted by a fairly large number of people we have to deal with) that we are expected to adopt — or at least respect — even if we come from a culture distinct and different from that of our hosts.

In the grueling tests for new foreign service officers, part of the screening is a formal reception wherein the final candidates are observed and graded on how they conduct themselves at a diplomatic reception and dinner.

Is this hands-on test discriminatory or unreasonable? No. But even if it were, it is a necessary screening and preparation for those who would be sent later as our diplomatic representatives.

Of course the boy in that Frenchy sector of Canada is not a diplomatic person, although in a sense he and his parents represent their country of origin, namely the Philippines, in their adopted place of residence.

Assuming that the boy’s table manners were at variance with what the school wants its wards to adopt, there must be a better and more effective way of teaching him how Canadians, for all their faults, do it.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 30, 2006)

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