Things that I think and do
Usually by the age of eleven or twelve children have mastered the art of using a knife and fork at dinner – certainly the vast majority at summer school have pretty normal utensil habits. The exceptions are always Asian students, who seem to lose all muscle control when faced with two bits of metal and a sausage to eat.
One student, who we’ll call Reggie, had particular difficulties with this. Tackling a plate full of sausage, mash and pasta (not concerned about carb intake, clearly), Reggie’s method was to use only his fork to eat one tube of pasta at a time, scoop potato with into his mouth, and spear the sausage and bite chunks off the end. This was admittedly hilarious to watch, but I stopped rolling around on the floor for long enough to introduce Reggie to his knife, which had been left forlorn and neglected on his tray.
I showed him how to cut up his sausage into manageable chunks, and left him to it. In the kindest possible way, it was like watching a chimp trying to type out The Illiad. He spent over a minute trying to cut through his sausage, with arms and hands at all angles and a bemused crowd gathering to watch. Eventually I explained once more how to do it and finished cutting it up for him.
His potato eating habits were no less bizarre. He had two ice-cream scoops of mash and was trying his best to fit over half a scoop into his mouth at one go. Between fits of laughter I managed to encourage him to take smaller portions, but he didn’t quite understand the concept and started shovelling potato in (admittedly in smaller chunks) but not swallowing until his mouth was completely full.
When he eventually finished his own personal Herculean labour, he was left with a banana (you see some truly weird food combinations at summer school – one Chinese kid was perfectly happy putting slices of melon on his ghoulash and tagliatelle the other day). Surely Reggie could manage to eat a banana unaided. By this point locals had started turning up to watch the spectacle.
Reggie didn’t disappoint, and he had a completely original way of going about it. Instead of peeling each side, our hero peeled just one side completely off and was left with a sort of banana skin cradle – a bit like a hot dog, but more banana-y. He then nibbled the tiniest bits off the end, moving the remaining banana down the banana cradle until it was gone.
It was a truly bizarre sight, but also hilariously endearing – slightly more endearing than seeing all the Chinese students scooping up spaghetti bolognaise with their faces about an inch from the plate. But that’s the way they do things, and I imagine that if I was faced with spaghetti for the first time and told to eat it using a thing pronged implement I’d take a bit of time to work out how. I suppose it would be like me trying to eat soup with chopsticks. Or anything with chopsticks, to be honest – they’re a ridiculous way of eating.
Anyway, they’ve got pizza for dinner tonight so I’ll give Reggie a teaspoon to eat it with and see how he does.