Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Close your mouth
The picture is cute, the subject of my story is not.
There is a woman who works at my school who is a goddamn nightmare of social eater. I'm just going to say it.
I understand that each culture brings with it new suggestions of what table manners are appropriate or not. For example, in Korea, it's unheard of to drink soup from a held bowl, but it's perfectly fine to do so in Japan. In fact, in Korea - they don't even want you to touch the bowl - even when it's holding something as potentially inoffensive as rice... probably why the things are usually made from very thin stainless steel and the heat goes right through the thing into your fingers. Hands-off! I learned the hard way.
Anyway, I have noticed that a small number of Koreans seem unflustered by the idea of talking with one's mouth full of food. I know it's not a big deal, and at times I find it rather cute - one particular Korean counter staff member back at my hagwon had a very unique pursed-lips noshing technique that I thought was irresistible. I also fully acknowledge that there are almost certainly things that I do at the teacher's lunch table that piss off the other teachers - perhaps it's keeping my mouth closed or not eating meat, but I've beaten that one to death.
Anyway, I swear that this one particular woman does NOT open her mouth UNLESS she has just recently filled it with enough food to create a serious choking hazard. I could daily flip a coin, and for every time it comes up "heads", she is sitting directly across from me at lunch time. I know that I don't understand 95% of the fast and casual Korean spoken at the table, but I am amazed - truly amazed - by the fact that most other Koreans seem to understand what the hell she is saying through her half-masticated bits of pork-chop blended with the mushrooms and cabbage from a few bites ago - even if they are blinking and flinching for fear of being struck in the eye by an errant grain of saliva-soaked rice.
Mostly, I wonder what percentage of her outcast morsels are making their way onto my plate or into my soup. I finished lunch early today and paid attention to this while I waited for others to finish. No shit - in the last five minutes of her meal she had to wipe leaking soup stains from her chin three times, had an entire broccoli tree fall out of her mouth while she uttered a particularly loud expletive at a teacher a few seats down, and she actually had to pause mid-sentence once while she manually rearranged the overflowing contents of her mouth with a spare hand. It seems as though her food is fighting a battle - it wants to be consumed, but it has to fight tooth and nail against her need to speak through the first stage of digestion.
Here's hoping the coin comes up "tails" tomorrow.