Feb. 1, 2021

Eating Spaghetti, Avoiding Chatty Neighbors, Starving at Dinner Parties, and More

Etiquette, manners, and beyond! In this bonus episode, Nick and Leah answer listener questions about eating spaghetti properly, avoiding chatty neighbors, attending dinner parties without enough food, and much more. Please subscribe! (We'd send you a hand-written thank you note if we had your address.)

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  • What's the proper way to eat spaghetti?
  • What should I do about coworkers who said rude things during a video conference?
  • What's a polite way to tell someone they don't make enough food for their dinner parties?
  • How should I ask someone whether or not they received my gift?
  • How can I stop my neighbor from making unwanted overtures for conversation?
  • Vent: Making a mess at all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants




Hosts: Nick Leighton & Leah Bonnema

Producer & Editor: Nick Leighton

Theme Music: Rob Paravonian


Nick: Hey, everybody. It's Nick Leighton.

Leah: And I'm Leah Bonnema.

Nick: And we had so many great questions from you guys in the wilderness.

Leah: [howls]

Nick: That we have a bonus episode. So here we go.

Leah: Jumping right in.

Nick: Our first question is, quote, "When I met my husband in college, I learned quickly that we had vastly different ideas about how to eat spaghetti and other long pastas. He knows I love him dearly, but if we're in public, he is not allowed to order a dish with these noodles. Now we have children, and I want to teach them—and perhaps their father, also—how to handle a dish like this in polite company. Settle this dispute, please. Do we twirl, cut or slurp?" Oh, okay. Spaghetti!

Leah: Spaghetti.

Nick: Mm-hmm. So to answer this question, spaghetti is only eaten with a fork. There is no spoon, there is no knife. That's it. That is the rule. That is official. I don't care if your grandmother did it the wrong way. And that's what you think is correct. That is incorrect. Your grandmother was wrong. I'm so sorry. [laughs] So it's really just fork.

Nick: And what you do is you take your tines down, and you go round a few strands and you twirl them against your plate. And I like to use sort of like the curve of the plate, sort of where the bottom sort of starts arcing up. And I twirl a little bit, and you make a little nice little neat packet around your fork, and that's it. And Miss Manners agrees with me, of course. And she says that you, quote, "Twirl until there's no more than an inch overhang." So that is the official explanation for spaghetti eating.

Leah: Hmm.

Nick: And this also applies to linguine, tagliatelle, fettuccine, bucatini, capellini, pappardelle. All of those we do not use spoons, we do not use knives. And I did look up what other etiquette greats had said beyond Miss Manners. And Emily Post, the latest edition, the most modern version, they say you can use a spoon or a knife. Now this is a typo. You should save your receipt and you should send this book back. This is totally incorrect. No, you do not use a spoon and a knife. I don't know why they're suggesting this. This is bad etiquette. This is not correct.

Nick: And I actually went back into history as well, and The New York Times actually did an article about this in 1982, in which they gathered chefs from all of these restaurants in New York City and asked the question: Is it okay to use a spoon or a knife? And all the chefs in this article said, quote, "Spoons are for children, amateurs and people with bad table manners in general."

Leah: Oof!

Nick: So that's it. There is no ambiguity here. Leah?

Leah: I'm a twirler. I twirl.

Nick: *[laughs] Okay, good!

Leah: I was thinking back on my long history eating of noodles, and I'm sure I've thrown in a knife or a spoon when things have gotten unruly.

Nick: Mm.

Leah: And I needed to, like, correct a situation. I'm not above that.

Nick: Okay.

Leah: I have no problem with it.

Nick: Emergencies.

Leah: Yeah. Sometimes you just got—is this a three-foot-long linguine, you know? What just happened? I got to bring a knife in.

Nick: All right.

Leah: I would like to say that this question—I think our letter writer, who is obviously lovely and we appreciate you listening and writing in, I think she's trying to be funny in some way. Like, kind of like, if we're in public, he's not allowed to eat noodles.

Nick: Right. We are assuming that it's not actually prohibited.

Leah: You're not actually prohibiting your spouse—yes.

Nick: She's, like, slapping the menu out of his hand.

Leah: Yes. But so I don't actually think that our letter writer is doing the behavior that this sort of makes me think of, which I actually also find rude and upsetting, which is monitoring your spouse in public.

Nick: Mm.

Leah: Or other adults by being like, "Don't eat that." You know, in public, I find it to be very—I don't think this is what—I think our letter writer was making a joke. But there are people I've seen correct their partner's behavior in public, and in a talk down to kind of a way, and I find that significantly ruder than twirling incorrectly your spaghetti. Do you know what I mean?

Nick: Oh, yes. No, that's a good point, yes. I mean, because how do you do this in a polite way? I guess there is no way. You'd be like, "Oh, honey. You know, we talked about this. You're not allowed to eat spaghetti."

Leah: Yeah. Or I've seen people be like, "Oh, that's gross. Don't." You know what I mean? When the person really wasn't—they weren't, like, eating with their mouth, you know what I mean? They weren't being cave people. They just—you know, it's like sometimes we accept people for their imperfections and we don't criticize them in public if they're cutting their spaghetti.

Nick: Right. And in terms of table manner issues, this is not a major crime. Like, there are definitely far worse crimes at the table than using a knife or a spoon with your spaghetti. So on the spectrum of crimes, this is a misdemeanor, not a felony.

Leah: So I assume our letter writer is slightly joking, but I did want to address the fact that it sort of sent up a little ouch in me to be like, I hope we're not correcting people in public and making them feel bad about themselves or embarrassed or self-conscious.

Nick: Yes. I took this as like, "Oh, my husband and I have sort of a debate about what's proper. I say this, he says this. You settle it." So that's kind of where I was taking this. And so hopefully, I have settled it once and for all that we're not going to be using spoons and knives.

Leah: I mean, obviously, it's twirling.

Nick: Obviously, it's twirling with a fork, and we don't use other instruments, thank you. Our next question is, quote, "I just conducted a virtual training session at work using a new video-conference system, which wasn't Zoom. Despite practicing and familiarizing myself with the system first, the interface is cumbersome. During the session, a chat box popped up on everyone's screen where one of my colleagues was gossiping about a presenter while they were presenting. Their first few words of the chat read, 'Not to be rude, but she ...' and it was visible for about three seconds to everyone. It was a rude comment about this presenter's speech pattern, and three of the 20 attendees brought it up on their evaluation forms, and one even called me to complain directly. For the future, I have a plan to keep this from happening again, but I'm just not sure about how or if to address this widely, or if I should just leave it alone." Awkward. Very awkward.

Leah: I wrote next to it, "I'm mad."

Nick: [laughs] Yeah. So I mean, this does happen, I guess. People get caught being rude, and so what do we do about it? For me, the person who should be apologizing is not our letter writer, this organizer, it's the person who wrote the rude things in the chat.

Leah: Absolutely.

Nick: Like, that's where the apology should come from. You can also apologize—and you should—but no, it's these rude people who should be doing the apologizing.

Leah: I don't think she's asking if anybody should apologize, I think she's asking how to address the company for the next one. Like, how does she say, "Hey, we don't write rude things about presenters." Or does she let it go?

Nick: Oh, that's what you're thinking? I thought this more of a, should I do anything now? Like, should I try and clean this up any further?

Leah: Oh, I think the question was: should I send out a company email being like, "We do not—there are no rude comments." And I absolutely think that you should. Criticizing someone's speech patterns? We don't do that.

Nick: Yeah. No, that's beyond rude.

Leah: It's so rude, and I think that it should be addressed.

Nick: And also, any time you preface something with, "Not to be rude," whatever you're about to say is definitely going to be rude.

Leah: It's so rude.

Nick: Right?

Leah: And have you ever done public speaking? Have you ever—it's hard. And if you have a thing you want to think about a person, keep it to yourself. It's so disrespectful. And I absolutely think this person was within their rights to send out a widely address it. Yes, address it. We don't do that. It's not cool.

Nick: I don't know if I would want to widely address it, because the people that did this is only probably two or three people. So I feel like I would reach out to those people directly and be like, "That was not cool, guys, and that's not going to happen again." But to now do a wide email where everybody sees it, and now people who may not have known about it now it's a thing? Like, if I was the person that was being made fun of, I don't think I'd want to see a
mass email to the entire company about this again. Like, I'd just want to put this behind me.

Leah: I don't think the person—we read this so differently that it's—I think they were watching something, and the person who was presenting wasn't at the company.

Nick: Oh, I got this as a virtual training session. I got that this was all just internal.

Leah: I got that it's a training session for, like, a new software or whatever, and they're watching it as a group online. So that person probably didn't even see the comment. It's just that everybody at home saw this person make fun of a person online who's not getting it.

Nick: I see.

Leah: Obviously, if this person is in the company and on the email, I would not send it. I would just address these people. But if it was just they were watching this as a group, and somebody felt like that was okay to comment on them just for people at home to see, then I would send out an email saying, "We're doing another training session. Just in case we're unclear, we do not make negative comments."

Nick: Right. Just in case it was vague about how to behave in public as an adult, here are the rules. Yeah. Okay, so a slight distinction whether or not the victim of this rudeness is internal and knows it happened to them, or if that was an external person and is not aware that this happened. Okay.

Leah: Yeah, I think it's a very different answer if the person knows it happened.

Nick: But as the organizer, I think let's just turn off the chat. I don't think we can trust our colleagues to behave themselves, and the risk is too high that this is going to happen again. So just turn it off.

Leah: But would you address it or not address it?

Nick: I think I would address it to the people that did the bad thing. And I think before the next training, I would just send a reminder about politeness in general. And I think the implication being like, anybody remember the last one is going to remember what happened. So, like, let's not do that again. But just a general, like, "Oh, and as a reminder everyone, let's try and keep comments polite and on topic. Thank you."

Leah: Yeah.

Nick: And, like, leave it there.

Leah: Yes.

Nick: Everybody will know what that means.

Leah: I would definitely send a reminder.

Nick: So our next question is, quote, "I have a friend who invites us to her dinner parties but never makes enough food. When my fiance and I get there, we always take stock and notice that there's one block of tofu, one squash and one small salad. That can't possibly be enough for all of us. It's always buffet style, and since they offer for me and my fiance to serve ourselves first, we are very conscious of the amount of food. So we barely take anything. The last person to serve himself is the host's husband, who will just take everything else and pile it on his plate. I have tried to bring a lot of food so we can leave full, but then I end up making all the food for a dinner party that someone else is hosting. How should we politely tell her that she should make more food if she plans on hosting a dinner party?"

Leah: Hit it, Nick!

Nick: [laughs] I mean, my first thought here was, I don't think there's a nice way to tell someone, like, you're being a terrible host. Like, I don't think you could sugarcoat that in any way. There's not a tone you can use. There's no value-neutral, judgment-free way of saying like, "Oh, you're just inadequate." So my first thought was, you should just eat first before you go, or plan on eating dinner after you leave. And don't think of this as a meal, think of this as a hang-out with friends with some hors d'oeuvres. And so that's how I would approach this. Or decline the invitation. Like, when you go to this person's house for a dinner party, this is what it is. So either you want to have that or not but, like, it's not going to be something else.

Leah: I one hundred percent agree with you, I'm totally on board. I wrote, "I see no other option except don't go." Or go and just be what it is. But you can't be—like, I can't imagine addressing that.

Nick: Yeah. I mean, I was trying to brainstorm ideas of how we might. So here's the two ideas that I came up with. Let me know how I did. One would be to insist that they go first. So, like, "Oh, no, no, no. I insist you go first." So that you're not the first person to take food, and see what they do. Maybe that could work, I don't know.

Nick: The second idea was, if you could land this, you could say, "Oh, is there more tofu, or should I divide this one-inch cube into eighths?" And see what the response is. And if you could do that in a very neutral way, maybe that would be a subtle way to say, like, "Oh, is this microscopic speck of food for all of us?" And see how that goes.

Leah: What if that was all the money they had for food?

Nick: Okay.

Leah: And they're sharing what they have with their friends, you know what I mean?

Nick: I think that when entertaining—and I think this comes up a lot for weddings—is that you should have the party that's within your budget, but you still need to be mindful of taking care of your guests. So if you don't have a lot of money to entertain, then you should not do a type of entertaining that requires something that's out of your budget.

Leah: Right.

Nick: So then this should just be coffee cake and pie and punch, and leave it there. Like, don't have a dinner party if you can't afford a dinner party. So you should just have a party that fits within whatever your budget is, and make sure whatever that is, is delightful for your guests. So I would say if it's a budget question, like, just do a different type of entertaining. Make it more casual, make it a potluck. Like, just do something else. Don't sort of skimp on the basics of hosting.

Leah: Yeah. I mean, the host isn't the one asking this question, so we can't be like, "Switch what you're doing."

Nick: Well, the host doesn't realize there was a problem.

Leah: Yeah. Host doesn't realize it's a problem. I do like your idea of just eating before and being like, this is just a catch up.

Nick: I think that's your best bet.

Leah: Put this in my mind in a different category.

Nick: Yeah. Just think of this as, like, "Oh, it's a nibble, but this is not dinner for us."

Leah: Yeah.

Nick: And I don't think you should bring food to try and feed everyone else. I don't think that's on the table.

Leah: Yeah, that's not going to work out in the long run.

Nick: It hasn't.

Leah: Yeah, you're just getting more upset. So I think that's not working.

Nick: Yeah. So I think that's your answer. So our next question is quote, "This past Christmas, I sent my now former boss of three years a thank you gift and note to him and his wife. I never received a text or note back from them, and recently heard that they are moving. I'm worried that the gift didn't make it due to the move, but I feel awkward asking. What should I do? P.S. The tracking information says the package was successfully delivered before Christmas."

Leah: You know me, I'm always up for a double check.

Nick: Yeah!

Leah: I see nothing wrong with being like, "Hey, just so you know, I saw that you're moving. I sent you a package to your old address. Worried you won't get it." Boom!

Nick: Done. Yeah. And as long as it's not with the tone of, "Surely you got it, because I have the confirmation and you're just a bad person who doesn't write thank you notes," as long as it doesn't have that tone, then you're good.

Leah: But I've also—and I know I'm the benefit of the doubt person here, and so I—but I have had a friend text me, "Hey, I have a confirmation that you get this. Did you get it?" And I hadn't gotten it. One of my neighbors downstairs had it.

Nick: Oh, yeah. You know, the number of times a package is actually not delivered, very high. I mean, there's some crazy statistic that, in New York City on every given normal day, 90,000 packages go missing.

Leah: I mean, that's ...

Nick: Every day.

Leah: Wow!

Nick: 90,000? Like, I mean, so chances are it is possible that they didn't get your gift.

Leah: It's absolutely possible.

Nick: Or they did get it, and they will now be embarrassed that they didn't acknowledge, and they'll be like, "Oh, let me look for it. Oh, it turned up! Oh, here's my thank you note." So, you know, it gives them an opportunity to save face too, which is also very polite.

Leah: Yeah, I think it's the way to go.

Nick: But yeah, you should never be embarrassed about following up on a gift you sent if you did not get acknowledgement.

Leah: Yeah, I agree.

Nick: Great. Our next question is, quote, "The best feature of my suburban backyard is the privacy and tall fencing. I consider my backyard private space, but my neighbor insists on initiating unnecessary conversations by shouting over the fence, and makes his agitation known when I don't respond. Is it rude to ignore his unwanted overtures? What's the most polite way of dealing with this unwelcome intrusion?"

Leah: I just wrote underneath it, "Panic attack!" [laughs]

Nick: [laughs] I just wrote, "Is this Wilson on Home Improvement?"

Leah: Right? It feels like a comedy show.

Nick: Yeah. I mean, I don't have a yard, so I guess I have a little trouble relating to this, but I guess people just go to their backyards to sit quietly and read. Like, what do you do back there?

Leah: I think that's what people do. Or they do a little gardening.

Nick: Right. Okay.

Leah: You know, they just sit there doing their “them time.”

Nick: So I think it's fine to want that as a sacred private space without intrusions. I think that's a very valid feeling.

Leah: Oh, absolutely, I think so. I think the question is how to relay that to the neighbor in a way that successfully makes it—you know, they are your neighbor, you're going to have to be next to them.

Nick: Right. Yes, I think we can't ignore them. Pretending you didn't hear them say hello, I think is not an option. Like, we can't do that.

Leah: No, I think you have to say hello. And then I think you could say something—I would be like, "Hey, how are you? Oh, I'm good. Thank you. Have a good day. Bye-bye." You know, that two-minute obligatory neighbor thing. And then could say something like, "I'm doing a little meditation out here, so I'm going to have my headphones in. Or explain, "Oh, I'm engaging in an activity where I'm not talking. Great to say hello. See you next time."

Nick: Yeah. I don't think we actually have to go through elaborate I-have-headphones-in explanations ...

Leah: You know me.

Nick: ... for why I'm not going to talk to you more. But definitely like, "Oh, nice catching up. I'm gonna, you know, do a little quiet time in my backyard, but nice seeing you." And then make it feel very final.

Leah: Yeah, I think that's perfect. I say that because I always have headphones in when I'm trying to get rid of the sound of others around me.

Nick: But it sounds like all the overtures are unwanted. So even that, like, nice, "Hey neighbor, how's it going?" Like, that's unwanted, too. I don't think you can shut that down.

Leah: No, I think you might have to say hello. I mean, you don't have to do anything. It's your yard.

Nick: No ...

Leah: But throwing out a hello. I mean ...

Nick: Yeah. I mean, you don't want to be that neighbor that everyone hates because you're not "friendly," quote unquote. So you got to at least give a little of the pageantry of the, "Oh, how's it going? Oh, your azaleas look nice."

Leah: "Oh, the weather! Oh, did you see the full moon?"

Nick: Yeah, perfect. So any of that, and I think it really does take 90 seconds.

Leah: Yeah.

Nick: Like, that's really not more than that.

Leah: And then shut it down at the end.

Nick: Yes. Now what if they keep interrupting you, though? Like, you're in your lawn chair and you're reading your book and they keep yelling at you about stuff?

Leah: That's why I love the earphones. I say, "I have my earphones in," and then I'm done. I've told you I can't hear you.

Nick: So even if you don't have earphones, you're just gonna pretend that we don't hear you.

Leah: Oh, no. I'm gonna have earphones in because I don't want to hear them.

Nick: Oh, okay. So this requires you to have earphones.

Leah: I always have earphones. I can't focus if I'm hearing other people.

Nick: Well okay, but for our people out there listening for advice that may be useful who don't have headphones ...

Leah: I'm telling you headphones are helpful, I guess is what I'm saying.

Nick: Okay. Always have headphones.

Leah: Maybe they should be our sponsors. [laughs]

Nick: Right. Headphones.

Leah: Noise-canceling neighbors.

Nick: Okay, so I think just to summarize, we must say hello and acknowledge their presence. So we can't ignore them altogether, but that conversation can be brief and then you end it with something that feels very definitive, like, "So nice catching up with you. I'm going to go read now, but hope you have a great rest of your afternoon." And then scene. And then that's it.

Leah: I think that's so perfect.

Nick: All right. And then, whether or not you actually have headphones in or not, that's up to you, but your mileage may vary.

Leah: I guess we'll just ignore if they talk past that point.

Nick: Yeah. I think the tricky thing though, is if they keep yelling at you with questions about something, and want to keep the conversation going, ignoring is really tough.

Leah: I know we're not into explaining, but be like, "I come back here. Great chatting, I come back here for my, like, 30 minutes of—"whatever word you want to use for "me time." "So I'm just gonna read right now."

Nick: And you're like, "This is my sanctuary, and you're ruining it."

Leah: Yeah.

Nick: [laughs] Okay. Yeah, there's probably a nicer way to say that which explains, like, why this is important to you. But I think if you do do that and set that boundary in a nice, polite way, then you might want to then offer as an alternative a separate time to catch up with them, since they clearly want to catch up with you. So maybe offer time to, like, "Oh, let me come over later or tomorrow or this weekend and we'll, like, catch up over lemonade."

Leah: Yeah. I mean, clearly, our letter writer doesn't want to talk to them at all.

Nick: Right. Yeah, so this may not be great advice. So letter writer? Try this, let us know how it went. And I'll be very curious to see if this was helpful.

Leah: I would too. Otherwise you just have an aggressive neighbor that needs a friend.

Nick: Which, you know, is very sweet. So our next thing is a vent. And it is quote, "This past week, I was privy to an etiquette crime that had me frothing at the mouth. My coworkers were discussing all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants. if you've never been to such an establishment—somehow I feel like both of you probably have—the basic principle is that you must eat everything on your plate. If you leave food behind, you get charged for the plate. Some people will peel the fish off the top of the rice and leave the rice behind, thus filling up on the expensive fish rather than eat the rice with it, as intended. One of my coworkers was regaling us with tales of how he and his friends would try to cheat the system by taking their excess rice and smushing it under the table, or dunking excess rice into the bowls of soy sauce on the table and covering it up with more soy sauce. I was fuming. This is disgusting, childish behavior, and these people have clearly never worked in the service industry or thought for two seconds about the repercussions of their actions. Somebody is going to have to clean that up. They were laughing and bragging about leaving a mess behind for workers to clean. Rude! Thank you for validating me."

Leah: So rude.

Nick: Yeah. And gross, yeah.

Leah: It's gross and rude.

Nick: Yeah. No, to take rice and smush it under a table like it's chewing gum? Like, what? I mean ...

Leah: Like it's chewing gum when we're in kindergarten. I mean, I didn't even do that in kindergarten.

Nick: Yeah. And I mean, it's rude for a lot of reasons. One of the reasons why it's rude is that when you go to this type of restaurant, you have agreed that, in exchange for all-you-can-eat sushi, you will eat all the sushi. Like, that's the deal we made. That's the promise you made to the restaurant and the promise they made to you. And when you break promises, that's rude. That's bad etiquette. Breaking promises is bad etiquette. And so you have broken the promise to eat all the rice. And so therefore this is an etiquette crime. We will validate you.

Leah: Also, as our letter writer so astutely said, obviously they've never had to work in any type of service industry.

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: You know, I've worked in the service industry for so long, you have to pick up things under the table. You're like, do people even think about other people?

Nick: No.

Leah: They don't.

Nick: No is the answer. [laughs]

Leah: And I know I started this episode by being like, let's not mock our loved ones in public, not that I think our letter writer was doing that, but as somebody who's been on the receiving end sets me off. I'm gonna end with saying the exact opposite of what I said, which is if people said this in front of me, I'd have to be like, "Oh, I guess you've never worked in the service industry, because you just made a mess for people to clean up."

Nick: Yeah.

Leah: And I know that we don't correct people's behavior, but I would have to say something, because this is so rude. And the idea that they think it's funny?

Nick: Yeah. I mean, it's mean. Yeah, it's mean spirited.

Leah: It's very mean-spirited. You're making people pick up after you, and you think it's—it's the laughing that bothers me. When people laugh about making other people have to pick up after them, I think they need to be maybe publicly humiliated. Which we don't agree with on this podcast, but I'm riled up.

Nick: Well, we are humiliating these people by talking to them in front of a global audience who will hear this story and agree with our letter writer that this is really bad behavior. So there's some satisfaction there.

Leah: It's so rude, so rude. We absolutely agree with you.

Nick: Yeah, so sorry that happened to you. But out there, as a reminder, you can share your Vents and Repents with us at VentOrRepent.com, so please send us more tales of woe from the wilderness.

Leah: I think what's gonna end up happening is people are gonna send in a lot of vents, and Nick and I are just gonna get a lot of addresses, because I'm just gonna have such a bee under my bonnet with all of these people that we're just gonna have to go place to place and be like, "Excuse me. We heard that you put rice under a table, and we just want you to know it's really rude." [laughs]

Nick: [laughs] Yeah. We will show up, so be careful. So please send us your Vents and Repents at VentOrRepent.com, or any question. You can send them to us through our website, WereYouRaisedByWolves.com. Or you can send us a text message or leave us a voicemail, (267) CALL-RBW. And we'll see you next time.

Leah: Bye!

Nick: Bye