It’s rude to stare

Do you ever forget your manners at home? All greedy gourmets will know what I’m talking about. Imagine that you’re coming to the end of a lipsmackingly good meal. In denial that it’s about to end, you start mining the last dribbles of sauce from the seams of your plate. Perhaps you’ll surreptitiously lick your knife clean. You might even brush a cheeky finger along the edge of the plate and bring it to your lips to capture any errant drops and make the pleasure linger. Suddenly, you’re snatched from your reverie by your mother, who slaps your hand sharply and gives you a dark look, or your partner, who grimaces at you pointedly and asks what’s for dessert. It’s happened to us all.

The same scene unfolds, for me at least, when I’m eating tricky foods alone and hidden away in my flat. Here, in privacy, received etiquette goes out the window and jars of peanut butter are treated as single servings to save on washing up, while visitors might find me hunched over the sink with peach juice dribbling down my chin and arm, or sitting in front of the TV with a plastic bag in my lap to catch the run-off from a particularly effusive orange.

All well and good, right? But I wouldn’t do this sort of thing in public – at least not sober. So why do other people?

I’m currently travelling northward ho! on a stuffy weekend train carriage. Pastie wrappers and half-empty bottles of J20 litter the aisles and other tables. My fellow travellers have, it seems, carefully considered their stance on apple cores: as far as I can tell, it’s bad form to sit the remains of your apple directly on the table in front of you, and equally undesirable to bin it. Instead, the chic thing to do is to nestle the apple core on the peel from the satsuma you consumed earlier and leave it to fester for the journey, lightly perfuming the whole carriage.

Ignore me – I’m just setting the scene. But what’s this? Facing me across the plastic-coated table of my carriage is a girl about my age. No sooner does she arrive, then she rummages in her bag for a – a what? I peep over the top of the computer screen. Not a handily-encased BLT or a chocolate bar or a selection of bite-sized nibbles. No. She exhumes a yoghurt from the depths of the bag. And what’s more, the yoghurt she’s produced is flying solo today, unaccompanied by its traditional sidekick, a spoon.

Off comes the lid, which she rubs her nose in to noisily lick clean. That is set down reverently inches from my computer while I continue to watch the proceedings in rapt, horrified silence. First, she tries to scoop the pot contents into her mouth using the lid. When this proves uncomfortable, she innovates, unabashed: she starts to drink the remaining yoghurt, straining to gain the angle necessary to encourage the last dregs towards their destiny. A few globs of yoghurt drip onto her cheek and top; she brushes them off impatiently and they go the same way as the rest of the pot. With a final flourish, she runs a practised finger around the insides of the plastic container and slurps up her haul. Again and again. And again.

Now, I’m a seasoned train traveller, having commuted to and from London for all of last year (and survived to tell the tale), and I can tell you that snacking open-mouthed inches from a non-consenting adult’s face is not good. In fact, it’s the food equivalent of filing your nails, doing your make-up or – gulp – brushing your hair while shoulder-to-shoulder and face-to-face with three people who got up that bit earlier that morning so that others could keep their breakfast down while sitting in the same vicinity. This sort of behaviour rewards you with a one-way ticket to my personal Room 101.

Time to give this girl a subscription to my blog or, failing that, leave my computer facing her direction while I take a walk. At the very least I could slap her hand disapprovingly or give her a pointed look. Except, of course, I don’t. I don’t know this girl. So I sit here, drinking it all in like bitter medicine, flailing around as I drown in the awfulness. Why? Why? 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