叉子与筷子 / Forks Versus Chopsticks

叉子与筷子

作为餐具,西式刀叉和中式筷子各擅胜场。筷子的最大优点之一就是简单高效。只要掌握了基本技巧,一般在用餐时,你绝不会产生 “该用哪根筷子”的问题。我喜欢这点。

当然,在“非典”和“甲流”期间,如果有十个人围着一张桌子吃饭,各自把筷子伸进同一盘菜里,显然存在卫生问题。但很多用餐习俗已经发生了变化,和饭前洗手等措施一样,在餐桌上摆放“公筷”也越来越常见。

西式餐具使用起来要更复杂,习俗因地而异。每当我遇到一种新的复杂用法,我都会回想起筷子的好处。

有一次,我接到一份港督府的晚宴请柬。在1997年香港回归前,港督府向来是历任港督的官邸。那一年大概是1985年或1986年,时任港督的尤德爵士(Sir Edward Youde)是一位倍受敬仰的中国通和外交家。请柬规定要着正装,于是我穿上了燕尾服。

港督府建筑宏伟,四周环绕着漂亮的花园。我刚到时还在想,这是不是一次特别宴会,等进门看到其他30多位客人,我才明白原来不过是一场例行聚会而已。出席的客人包括政府部长、香港舆论领袖、商界领袖等等,无论是英国人还是中国人,都带着来自英伦三岛的口音。大多数来宾是英国人,也有些中国人,还有一个奇怪的美国佬(也就是我)。

这让我想起肖伯纳的名言:

“英美两国是被同一种语言分裂的两个国度。”

我在这群人里绝对是少数派。人们很友好,尽管有些正经和不自然。

在客厅酒会上小谈之后,我走入宴会厅,来到指定的座位,每一个座位上都有一张英文名片,标明哪位客人应该坐在上面。

刚一落座,我就被面前摆放的银器弄得眼花缭乱。我一共数出了14件餐具,包括各种型号的刀、叉和汤勺,还有一排形状各异的水晶杯,有6个。

嗯,该先用哪把叉子呢?我想。最好还是等等,跟着身边的老兄做。我以前也出席过正式的晚宴,但从来没见过这么多种类的餐具组合。那一刻,有个念头在我脑海中一闪而过:筷子简便多了。

晚餐开始,席间的交谈优雅有礼。

用过甜品之后,尤德港督站起身来,按照惯例,建议为女王祝酒。所有宾客都予以响应,“为女王干杯”之声响彻宴会厅内外。我也乐得与其他人一起为女王干上一杯。

随后,尤德夫人起身,挥手示意在场的女士,现在该离席到另外一个房间去喝茶或喝咖啡了。看起来,这是要留下男人们讨论重要的话题(我猜是这样)。女士们得体地跟着尤德夫人去了客厅,房间里只剩下了男士。

波特酒和餐后饮料被及时端了上来(至少在男士这里),烟灰缸也摆上了餐桌,还有雪茄烟。谈话突然转向活泼。少了些优雅,虽说仍然彬彬有礼,但开始天马行空了,其中还夹杂了女士不宜的笑话和趣闻。

显然,人们非常看重为女王干杯的惯例,因为它是一个正式宴会的转折点,干杯之后,你就可以吸烟、喝烈性酒、讲各种各样的故事了。

又过了一会儿,就到该离开的时候了。处处是告别和感谢的声音。对我来说,这是个精彩和愉快的夜晚。

但事后回想,我还是认为一双筷子在实用和方便上要优于14件银器,只要想想它们的碳排放量就不言而喻了。

Forks Versus Chopsticks

Western-style. cutlery (ie knives and forks) and chopsticks both have their intrinsic advantages as eating utensils. One of the best things about chopsticks is their simplicity and efficiency. Once you master the basic technique, there is no question of “which chopstick to use” in a typical dining situation. I like that.

There are obvious questions about hygiene in the SARS and swine flu era when you have ten people around a table digging into the same serving dish with their individual chopsticks, but — as with hand washing and other measures — customs have changed in many places and ‘serving chopsticks’ have become more common on table settings.

With western cutlery, it is a bit more complicated. Customs differ from place to place. Once I encountered a new level of complexity, which brought home to me the advantages of the good old chopstick.

I received an invitation to dine at Government House, the traditional governor’s residence before Hong Kong’s handover in 1997. The year was 1985 or 1986 and the Governor at the time was the late Sir Edward Youde, a much respected China hand and diplomat. The invitation specified that the dress code would be formal, so I donned my tuxedo.

As I arrived at the grand building, surrounded by a lovely garden, I wondered it if was a special occasion. Upon entering and mingling with the 30 or so other guests I realized it was more of a routine gathering. Other guests included government ministers, opinion leaders in Hong Kong, business leaders, etc. Most spoke with an accent heralding from the British Isles, whether they were British or Chinese. Most guests were British, although there were some Chinese people, and this one odd Yankee (me).

“England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

I was reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s famous comment “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” I was definitely a minority in the group. People were friendly, if a bit stiff and formal.

After cocktail chit-chat in a drawing room, we repaired to the dining room and proceeded to take our assigned seats, with English language name cards at each place indicating where each guest should sit.

As I took my seat I was greeted by a dazzling array of silverware at my place setting. I counted 14 items of cutlery in all: knives, forks and spoons of various sizes, as well as an array of six crystal glasses of various shapes.

Hmmm, I thought, which fork to use first? Better wait, wait, watch, and follow the guy next to me. I’d been to formal dinners before, but never seen such a broad variety of eating tools on the table. The thought then crossed my mind that chopsticks are so much simpler.

The meal began, and conversation was genteel and polite.

After the dessert course was served and finished, Governor Youde stood, and in line with custom, proposed a toast to the Queen. “To the Queen” echoed around the room as all present joined the toast. I happily “Queened” along with the rest.

Afterwards, Lady Youde arose, and gave a ceremonial sweep of the hand, which signaled that it was time for the ladies present to retire to another room for coffee and tea, ostensibly (I guessed) leaving the men to talk about serious matters. They duly followed Lady Youde into the drawing room, leaving a room full of men.

Without delay, port and after dinner drinks were served (at least to the men), ashtrays were placed on the dinner tables, and cigars were offered. Conversation took a decidedly livelier turn. Less genteel, still polite, but more free-wheeling, including jokes and anecdotes told in a way which would probably not have been considered appropriate had the ladies still been present.

The custom of toasting the Queen was obviously taken very seriously, as a turning point in a formal dinner prior to which vices such as smoking, brandy, and colorful stories should not be enjoyed.

After awhile it was time to go. Farewells and thanks were offered all around. For me it was a fascinating and enjoyable evening.

In hindsight, though, I reflected on the practical, user-friendly advantages of one pair of chopsticks versus 14 items of silverware. And just think about the carbon footprint implications!


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