You have heard of the Super Bowl, Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl, but have you heard of the Finger Bowl?
Well, you will not find it in common restaurants anymore. It was presented with the check in expensive restaurants. Today, you just might find it still in super upscale sophisticated restaurants and at gala dinners for high society people.
This is after all my Good Life column and I like to bring subjects which teach us how to create that good life which make us feel good with simple gestures and customs repeatable without much expenditure or efforts.
During the course of centuries French restaurateurs brought the finger bowl custom around the Western world. In Italy, my country, there are many places, including many homes, where one can still enjoy the luxurious treatment.
In America the custom was lost with the advent of the two World Wars, after which people demanded faster restaurant services and packaged items, as salt, pepper, sugar, coffee cream, various sauces and even food.
To add to the loss of this custom, the health department banned the usage of brass finger bowl and substituted it with the glass bowl, easy to wash and easy to sterilize.
I am one of the few people still using this custom at my dinner parties. However, I must admit, it surprises the guests who are not familiar with a glass bowl filled with water, flavored with lemon juice and lemon slices and a few rose petals floating in the water. I can see their puzzled faces at once.
I bring it out together with a possible “messy dish” (depends on how one looks at it) such as shellfish, fish, finger food, or BBQ ribs. It is set on the left side of the plate in line with the glasses and it gets taken away when the course of messy food is finished. The bowl comes with a small plate and a napkin to dry the fingers after they have been washed in the scented water. I don’t let my guests use the dinner napkin, I provide an extra napkin just for the finger bowl.
I always make an introductory joke to relieve the discomfort some guests may sense from not knowing what it is that I am bringing with food:
“Please don’t drink the water and eat the flower petals as the character in the book Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath did”.
Punctually, that makes everybody laugh and relieves the pressure, then I gently explain what is the bowl for.
Some restaurants and some airlines I fly with when I travel to Europe use hot towels rolled up in a ceramic dish in a similar manner as finger bowl and present it to the guests before and after dinner.
Recently, I went to Japan and I was treated during a family meal with the same custom of a hot towel rolled up before and after dinner. Frankly, restaurants do not dictate the etiquette trends, we do, the people who like to treat themselves like human beings. I am all in favor of this civilized custom and if we think about it, did our mothers tell us to wash hands before and after eating?
The time is right to start talking and thinking about etiquette again.
Copyright © 2012 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved
Valentina Cirasola has been a lifetime designer in fashion and interiors. Her extensive knowledge of colors and materials led her in both directions successfully. Among designing and remodeling homes, designing custom-made furniture and writing books, Valentina is now teaching etiquette, manners at the table, table setting and life style. Her new book on colors is almost ready to be published. Stay tuned for Red-A Voyage Into Colors.