It is a feeble boast but I used to think I was quite good at eating. I knew that I was capable attending a formal dinner in my home country and be able to both select and hold cutlery without fear of disgracing myself. The food would then enter my mouth without complication. It posed me no problems. And yet, even after more than a decade in Japan, it would seem that this skill has not crossed continents with me. Here, there is always a risk that I will leave my place setting in a sorry state. I am quite adept at using chopsticks but there are occasions when I see the food and I know that the part of the table in front of me is in for a good soiling. Usually the cause of this is slurpy foods – you know, the noodle dishes or, as was the case today, shabu shabu. I tried my best. I really did, but when we sat back and began with the gochisousamas, I looked around and mine was the only place with a variety of small food items floating in puddles of broth and sauce. It often seems to be that way. The Japanese slurp and make noise suggesting a reckless abandon when they eat but the aftermath reveals an enviable lack of spillage.
I popped off to the loo, a tiny bit ashamed. And then I saw the state of the floor around the urinal. It, too, often seems to be that way and I thought, ‘Well, if that’s the trade off maybe oral dribbles and splashes aren’t so bad after all.’