Impeccable Table Manners

Josie and Jeremy

What’s the one thing that gives you away? Your particular quirk or habit that you know, once revealed, has the power to turn people off you immediately? I have… well, let’s just say an extensive collection of these petty foibles and yet I’ve somehow managed to get people to stick around me. This is because it’s all about the timing of the reveal. Show your hand – or your underwear, or fillings, or lava-hot fury over odd socks – too early, and it can send your potential pet scurrying back to the corners of the internet whence they came. Manage to hold it in, however, and usually (hopefully) by the time your internal crazy starts to leak out like homemade soup through a Jiffy bag, they’ll have fallen in love (or in like) with the rest of you and, after weighing up the pros and your increasing truckload of cons, decided that what’s good about you is way more important than the bad.

This is why first dates are so hard. “Be yourself!” say facelifted, Californian dating gurus as they lick the last of that morning’s spinach diet shake from their perfect veneers. But being yourself is a nonsense – we are all acting at some point or another. On a first date you have to be the most honest version of yourself you can allow. It has to be all Princess Diana smiles, heavily filtered, PG-rated jokes, and trying to suppress your inner rages – until the wine starts flowing at least.

Taking a chance today are Josie, a 31-year-old student adviser (entire day job: saying, “Start to get enthusiastic about tinned tomatoes on toast and think of debt as being something ‘in the cloud’ that you can sort out later”) and Jeremy, 41, a head of sales. Well. Click on the image to see what happened and then I’ll unleash my crazy.

Everybody is hoping for a laugh on a first date, aren’t they? Or ARE they? Are there some people out there who’d rather have a very serious discussion, perhaps a passionate argument, about something really miserable – no, not Brexit, come on, think big – and do lots of angsty soul-searching? I mean, I’ve got a Tumblr account, I know people enjoy that sort of thing. Perhaps we should stop associating laughing with having a good time – we would probably all be instantly happier.

Try plonking a pack of Opal Fruits (I refuse to call them Starburst, I’m sorry; I can get very Margo Leadbetter about this) into a big bottle of cola and give it a shake, chemistry fan.

Ooh that’s like a big jerky loop on a fairground ride where it looks like you’re about to be catapulted right into the middle of the hot dog stand but at the very last minute it pulls you back and subjects you to another full 60 seconds of being thrown about like a sack of spoons in a washing machine. “NOT MY THING AT ALL GOD NO NO NO oh but actually he looks OK, stand down the nuclear weapons.”

Me, meeting up with the phrase “down-to-earth”.

I always wonder whether people mean it the way it’s supposed to. I know it means practical or plain-talking but I think its often used in place of approachable or ordinary. I’m not sure where Jeremy is going with it here, but if he’s misusing it, why do we hold this in such high regard? Why is the default setting that we expect to find everyone haughty, or sneery, or, flowery, you know, exciting? “Ooh, they weren’t an arsehole, thank goodness!” Are we all that bad, really?

OK, so we have one match in “travel”. Those individual last lines are a killer, though, aren’t they? A head of sales, you see. I wonder if he got his phone out to show her a PowerPoint. I have been on a date where a man did this. One even showed me his fucking CV once, and another a project he did for his interview at drama school, FIVE YEARS previously.

Can I also say that “geekiness” and being boring do not go hand in hand. If you’re going into mind numbing detail about something, your friend’s eyes aren’t rolling into the back of their head because you’re being “geeky”, it’s because you’re being “dull”.

I have mixed feelings about this. Laughing at the ridiculous things people name their children feels a bit… 2003. We’ve moved on from that, haven’t we? We don’t live in a world of Karens, Petes, Sylvias and Bobs anymore, do we? That’s just the way things are going. If someone wants to call their children Entwistle, Chardonnay, Tarmigan, Keanu or even JUSTIN (do not ever do this) then let them be, I say. However…

As someone who grew up with what was then a vaguely unusual name, especially on the council estate I lived on, I have to say you have a RESPONSIBILITY not to name your child something that can easily be chanted, or a punchline to a joke, or rhymed with a sexual position. It also helps if your child’s  name doesn’t sound like a variety of deodorant or a shade of aubergine on a Dulux colour chart. Say your child’s potential name over and over. Do it in the mimicky, prissy voice of a bully, hiss it in sibilant monotone, shout it in anger, try to turn it into a joke. And if it can survive all that, then you go ahead and name your baby Trifle, or Stupenda.

Now, this blog is actually named after the “table manners” question, which used to be the most revealing question of all, but lately ittje answers have been fairly dull and it’s been disappointing, to say the least, to encounter a sea of “impeccable”s and the odd “no complaints”. But just when you thought it was over, plot twist:

Oh, phones are EVIL, have you heard? You may not, because it is a BRAND NEW opinion. Anyway, aside from when my vengeful queen Doctor Foster did it in the first episode of the second series, I have never seen anyone have their phone out on the table during a date.  Damning with faint praise here. It’s one of those things you can’t really fail on. “Did you have a nice time?” “Oh yes, he didn’t fall off a tricycle once during the single date!”

So far, so basic. And now:

A “given”. Don’t rely on a given, Josie. It’s 2017. A vote for remain was a “given”. Hillary winning the election was a “given”. Nadine being the most successful solo star out of Girls Aloud was a “given”. And look where we are: Leave. Trump. CHERYL.

I am not as anti-sharing as you might think. No. Honestly. Some types of food are meant to be shared. Tapas being one of them. I do sharing. I go to Polpo.  If you’re straight with each other at the outset about what you want to order, and whether you’ll be up for sharing it, then it’s fine. But you have to communicate, you can’t expect. I mean, somehow you’ve got to the age of 31 without the social skills necessary to eat tapas but allow me to pipe this one out of my speakers for you.

“Ooh, everything looks so nice, doesn’t it? Shall we get, say, about 5 or 6 things and share? Is there anything you don’t like? Or what about something you really like? We could get two of those if we both like it. Y’know, so we can have one each!”

IT IS THAT EASY. Do you want me to run through the Green Cross Code for you next? I mean, I can’t believe it didn’t come up. Did you both really sit there and order your own dishes, the concept of sharing not coming up at all, like the elephant in the room (© Alexandra Burke)? Jeremy has to shoulder some of the blame in this. I mean, it’s tapas. You need to have the discussion. It could go something like this:

“OK, Josie, so I am what’s known as a food bastard. This means I’m fairly particular about what I eat. So I’m going to get the albondigas and the prawns in garlic and some of those patatas bravas and I need to be crystal clear here: I don’t want to see your fork dangling over my dishes in expectation, nor your (just-licked) fingers hovering within germ-leaping distance around my croutons. I don’t share. If you want to share, however,  then let’s order a few dishes I don’t actually like because, in my years of experience of being a food bastard, the person suggesting we share usually takes at least 80% of the food before I manage to get to it, so I’d rather we get a few dishes I’m not too worried about missing out on.”

Like marriage and taking the last car on the waltzers, sharing really needs the total agreement of at least two people to really work. Sorry, Josie.

Well, this is good. Carry on.

What a shame her fork never got to travel over to any of your tapas you BRUTE etc etc.

OPEN, to everything but sharing his jamón tortilla.
AMIABLE, except when I commented his banderillas looked tasty.
FUN, like a tear-and-share packet of cheese and onion crisps would be – with anyone but Jeremy because Jeremy. Doesn’t. Share.

NATURAL, like a day when you accidentally leave the house without anti-perspirant.
GENUINE, like that Ming vase your gran picked up at a car boot, or an antique terracotta tapas dish.
SMILEY, like a balloon with a face drawn on it.

If he’s not going to share his chorizo with you, he’s hardly going to part with his tongue, is he? Even temporarily.

Ah, the question that elicits the most dishonest answer of the entire column. You can always tell, because they default to food rather than any other part of the evening that might have caused them night terrors. Obviously Josie *should* have ordered more food, since Jeremy’s stack of croquetas wasn’t going anywhere near her, but what she really means here is: “I would change that strange feeling that came to me, right around the moment he bit into his third and final empanadilla, of the future. It was a future filled wth hastily written Valentines, wilting petrol station flowers, forgotten birthdays, arguments over grab bags of Quavers, and a miserable morning spent in a solicitor’s office recounting all this to a bored graduate trembling his way through a three-day coke-over.”

Jeremy probably would have had another mojito – “no, not a jug to share, just two glasses, thanks, no no they’re both for me” – but he’s just living his best life so y’know. The search continues. Avoid tapas.

A zero. And a 1.

So, dare we ask whether they exchanged numbers? Was Jeremy willing to share his digits, or did Josie have to extract them by force with a cocktail stick?

The little things we do give us away. All too soon.

Photograph: James Drew Turner; Graeme Robertson, both for the Guardian

Note: My first novel, THE LAST ROMEO, is coming out early 2018 and is available for preorder on Amazon.

Note 2: Sign up for my mailout, The Truth About Everything*!

Note 3: My writing lives and dies on being seen. If you liked it, share it if you can, and hopefully it will get me some more work down the line.  I need a winter coat. Thank you!

Disclaimer: The comments I make about the couples are meant to be playful and humorous and are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which have usually been edited for space, brevity and drama. Get in touch if you want to give us your side of the story. And keep your hands off my meatballs.

No Comment

  1. This had made my Saturday after a shitty week. And yes, ordering tapas doesn’t mean you have to share. I speak as someone who has lived most of their adult live in Spain!

  2. As I believe I have remarked before, I cannot stand sharing. Funnily enough I don’t mind someone else “trying a bit”, but I do need to know what is *mine* and what is *yours*. I find the social game of who gets the last whatever-it-is massively stressful. Food that divides exactly into two (such as pizza – not that I’d ever be satisfied with anything less than a whole one mind) must immediately be divvied up before eating, if sharing has been agreed before hand.

    Phew, I’m getting blurred vision just thinking about all this…

    Oh, enough about me, so for the record: (1) Josie definitely should have ordered more, but I agree they should have had the sharing conversation (if only to make it clear there would be none), and (2) Jeremy is *my* usual type; he’s bloody beautiful! (sorry, back to me again).

  3. I read a novel a couple of weeks ago with a VERY ATTRACTIVE HERO called Justin, so I am feeling quite in favour of it as a name. But yeah, everything you said about being Justin can also be applied to being Alicia. And no one pronounces it properly.

    1. I think Alicia and Justin are both lovely names. (Although in the former case there might be some transferred Good Wife affection going on. I’m not above that.)

Leave a Response

%d bloggers like this: