When my Catalan friends Marta and Cristina first arrived in Cornwall all those years ago, they brought to my attention the absence of napkins. They felt it strongly, the lack of a napkin laid beside the place setting in my home.
Of course I had napkins, lots of them, all ironed and folded up on a shelf. They would be brought out and used if I had people round for dinner, or at Christmas or my birthday.
But in Catalunya everyone has a napkin ready for use at every meal - breakfast, lunch or dinner. And usually it is a proper one of cotton or linen. When guests come to eat they may be given only a folded paper one but if you are staying for a few days then you too get one of your own to be used several times. How do you know it is your one? Well, either they are all of different colours or you have individual rings. After a few meals you can tell which one belongs to the Resident Adolescent as it is more wrinkled and covered in tomato sauce!
Isn't it funny how you can change something so basic as needing a napkin or not?
At home in Granollers I decided to always give guests a proper one rather than paper as we have such huge piles of napkins and it is easy to throw it into the next clothes wash if it is only used once.
One of the earliest lessons I remember from my mother was to never ever call a napkin a serviette. There's another funny thing - I still get a frisson of dismay when I hear that word and if I was teaching English table manners I would probably find myself passing on this taboo.