â€œTo me, food is supposed to be about happiness, so I don’t really care what you do.” This line from my date stopped me in my tracks. There we were, eating a fancy dinner at a fancy place where we were clearly the oddballs, and I was trying to laugh off my inability to eat mussels in a neat and tidy way.
Because, being the lover of all things proper like I am, I was embarrassed to realize that I was probably eating this delicious dish in entirely the wrong way. However, rather than just assume my dinner partner neither knew nor cared how to properly eat mussels, I excused my own lack of knowledge, and in doing so, drew unnecessary attention to it and to my own discomfort.
We won’t always know the rules. You’re going to forget to use your silverware from the outside in, you will make the mistake of talking across too many people, you will drop your napkin on the floor and pick it up and have someone see you do it. You’re going to grimace when you taste the wine, drop food into your lap, and talk with your mouth full because you got too excited about a subject. You are going to get food stuck in your teeth, put your elbows on the table, and slurp your soup.
Accept it now.
It’s going to be okay.
Because, as I was reminded at dinner the other night, food is supposed to be about happiness. When we dine with others, it should be a pleasant occasion. We should enjoy not only the food on our plates, but the pleasure of one another’s company. An inability to pronounce French words should not stop you from ordering the duck confit. If you enjoy it, if it makes you happy, no one should gainsay you.
The fact is, most people will never notice when you’ve done something improperly. If you act like everything is fine, everything will be fine. The number one job of a hostess is to make her guest feel comfortable and at ease. The number one job of a guest is to make her hostess feel the same way. If everyone is enjoying herself and the situation never turns stressful, I guarantee whatever event you’re at will be deemed an unqualified success.
Food is supposed to be about happiness. And it turns out, I do know how to eat mussels. It’s just a particularly undignified business.