14 July 2012

On Napkins

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!
It must be a sign of my Catalanisation that I too now notice the lack of a napkin when I am eating. People in northern Europe don't have this custom and you are only given something to wipe your hands and mouth on if the food is especially sticky or messy. And sometimes not even then!

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.


oreneta said...

I am sorry to give you only one comment for four posts....I have connection problems here and it is hard to keep up. That was a lovely series of posts......Chuck does the same thing in TO, there is something about thick soft grass that he LOVES and that just doesn't exist in Spain...he spends a good chunk of time rolling around in it. Glad Duna and Bonnie did OK in the car, I was wondering how you sleep at night with them both in the same space.

Odd with the napkin/serviette thing, I use them interchangeably, and my understanding is that in the UK it is a class thing, napkin being more correct and serviette more lower class.


Glad you've made it there and you're all relaxed. I ran into a iaia talking to her grandchildren in Catalan here the other day, and we were mutually delighted to have a bit of a natter, I then went on and greeted some poor people with Hola....and had to apologise!



Christine said...

I seem to remember we called cloth ones napkins and paper ones serviettes.
And I agree, it's amazing the habits you pick up when you live in another country and then find the difference strange in your homeland. It's the custom here in the Netherlands to say something (Alsjeblieft or Alstublieft) when you hand something to someone - money in a shop, for example. And if you don't say anything, it sounds rude.

New Life in Spain said...

Interesting! It's the same in Norway, we don't really use napkins a lot, but in Spanish homes they are always present! (I still don't really use them much though)
I never knew about a taboo around the word serviette! In fact, napkin in Norwegian is "serviett"!