“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Which fork? August 21, 2016Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
Tags: books, food, manners, missionaries, Mormons, stupidity
Continuing on with the chapter-by-chapter dissection of the 1968 guidebook for prospective missionaries.
Chapter 9, Table Manners Care
So let’s review what we’ve learned about the lives of missionaries so far: They are sent to a random location somewhere in the world, they aren’t allowed to contact their family and friends for emotional support, and they are expected to sell a product that no-one needs door-to-door for ten hours a day, six days a week. Then they are expected to cook for themselves, keep their quarters sparkling clean, spend all day every day with the stranger that they have been assigned as a companion, and during their free time they are expected to study, fast and pray. If they are stressed and frustrated, that means that they aren’t believing hard enough, and they need to study, fast and pray more.
So what else do these overworked overstressed teenagers need to be concerned about? Why, which fork to use, how to fold their napkin and which direction to dip their spoon in their soup! This is a fifteen page chapter, and most of it is concerned with fiddly rules that were probably already out of date when this book was written.
But our author was also an etiquette teacher. So why does she say that these kids need to worry about this stuff?
“So what?” you might say. “How does learning to chew with my lips closed help me to preach the gospel effectively?” Well it works like this: what you do may speak so loudly that an investigator cannot hear what you say. Rising slightly from your chair to reach across the table or in front of someone for the butter could be the reason you won’t be invited to dinner a second time at a member’s home, and slurping your soup in your own apartment may so irritate your companion that the precious harmony which must exist between you becomes tarnished. Furthermore you are sure to feel ill at ease and embarrassed if you sit down at one of the meals while in the Salt Lake missionary home or go to a restaurant in the mission field not knowing what to do with your napkin or which piece of silverware to use first. For these reason it is important that you learn and use proper table etiquette before you embark on your missionary career. The following suggestions and rules are minimum and basic.” (pg 75)
So a potential convert may have been considering that a missionary had a message from god, but changed their minds because of a small goof in table manners? Really? So what’s “minimum and basic” anyway? For starters, a long paragraph with details about how the men should pull out and push in chairs for ladies. Three paragraphs just on how to use a napkin. Two pages on how to hold and use silverware:
“If soup is served with your meal, dip the farther edge of the spoon towards the outer edge of the cup and sip noiselessly from the near side (not the point) of the spoon. … Set the spoon down so that its bowl points up. When eating desserts or cereals, dip the spoon toward you and eat from the end of the spoon” (pg 77)
Are you allowed to put your fingers in your mouth? Well…
“…don’t ever lick your fingers to cleanse them.” (pg 76)
“When eating cooked fruit that has small pits, such as prunes, use your spoon to transfer the stones from your mouth to the plate.” (pg 77)
“If you ever do put a too-hot bite into your mouth, swallow it, then quickly take a drink of water rather than spit the food back into your spoon. On the other hand, if you happen to bite into a bad strawberry or something comparable it is permissible to remove it from your mouth with your spoon or fork onto the edge of your plate. If either you were to bite into something hard that you couldn’t chew, simply take it out of your mouth with your fingers and place it on your plate.” (pg 78)
“In addition to removing a medium-sized olive pit from your mouth with your fingers, you may also use fingers to remove fish bones and seeds or small pits from fresh fruit not eaten with a spoon.” (pg 82)
So that’s totally clear now, right? I know I’m confused.
And here’s some things that you’d think would be obvious and wouldn’t need saying:
“WARNING: Don’t ever put a little mound of salt on the tablecloth and use it to dip your celery or green onions in…” (pg 83)
“If pizza is cut into small wedges it may also be picked up and eaten from the hand.” (pg 82)
“Do you scoop out a baked potato, mash the contents with your fork, and put the empty skin on the tablecloth….?” (pg 84)
And I think these bits of advice had already been out of date for years before she included them:
“Whether the french fries are crisp or not, you’ll be more polite everywhere except at a snack bar if you eat them with a fork.” (pg 83)
“Do you butter a whole slice of bread at once?” (Her answer is “no”) (pg 84)
“Do you dunk bread or crackers in your soup or cookies in your milk or turkey in the cranberry sauce?” (Her answer is also “no”) (pg 84) (I’m sorry, but I’m going to dunk crackers in soup and let my kids dunk oreos in their milk. I wasn’t aware that there was ever a rule about this!)
“Corn on the cob is also held in the hands, but butter and salt only a few rows at a time” (pg 83) (Which means that you are monopolizing the salt shaker?)
“Bananas should be peeled only part way then a small piece broken off and eaten before peeling further” (pg 83)
“Do you take jelly, mustard, ketchup, and relishes out of their containers and put them directly on your food rather than placing them on your plate first and then transferring them?” (Her answer is “no”) (pg 85)
And she has lots of advice on how to lie to people.
“If, after an initial contact, an investigator invites you into his home for dinner and serves you either tea, coffee, wine, or a cocktail, the most polite thing to do is accept it and then just leave it without making any comment as to why you didn’t drink it. Refusing the drink outright with the statement that it is against your religion could get you prematurely involved in a Word of Wisdom discussion which could be a touchy situation if the proper foundation hasn’t been laid. … There may be times when …you will be offered simple refreshments which might include a piece of cake and perhaps a cup of tea or coffee. In such a situation you could either say “Thank you but I’ve just eaten” or “Thanks so much but I can only stay a few minutes.”(pg 79)
“Occasionally missionaries …are invited to eat in a home where … something like a lettuce salad or a glass of milk might be questionable. You can eat a lot of everything else served and then say you are just too full to start in on the salad and drink the milk, or you can fall back on the old reliable explanation that you are allergic to these particular foods and would break out in hives or a rash were you to eat or drink them.”(pg 80)
“If ever you are invited for dinner…where you feel it would be dangerous to eat anything at all, you will simply have to say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, but I have a meeting at that time.” … Should you happen to call at such a home just as the family is sitting down to eat and an invitation is given to you to join them, you can … refuse politely by saying either that you are dieting or happen to be fasting that day.” (pg 80)
Or maybe you could
(I actually saw a missionary use that last strategy a few years ago. A pair of these “elders” had been invited to visit a UU Neighboring Faiths class so the kids could learn about Mormons, and I was sitting in. There was also a higher official watching the missionaries, I guess to make sure they were safe from those “evil UU’s” or something, I don’t know. There were some clementines there for a snack for the kids, and of course they offered some to the missionaries. The missionaries glanced over at their supervisor, then quickly said that they couldn’t because they were “fasting”. Just as they were leaving, one of the missionaries slipped back in and guiltily asked if he could take a few, “for later”. Poor guys.)
You know, it’s a bad sign if you have to try to hide parts of your religious beliefs from the people you are trying to convert. Like the way the Scientologists don’t tell their recruits about Xenu until after they have spent thousands of dollars on auditing.
There’s a lovely two page section titled “Food which is repulsive“. There’s actually some reasonable advice there about how to bring yourself to try unusual foods, her example being raw jellyfish. But again, there’s also advice on how to lie about why the missionary isn’t eating a particular food. Excuses of the everything else was so good, I don’t have room for more sort. And if the hosts really insist on their trying it, the author recommends adding. “but if it isn’t too much trouble for you I’d really be grateful if you’d wrap this up so that I can take it home to eat later when I’m not so full.”(pg 81)
“Don’t, however, make the mistake one elder did who after explaining he was quite full added, “But if you’ll put it in your ice box I’ll eat it later.” Then when he thought his golden opportunity had arrived, he sneaked out to the kitchen and retrieved the food earmarked for him but was caught by his hostess as he was flushing it down the toilet!
There is one other method of dealing with unappetizing food which you can’t make yourself eat, and that is to do as some elders have done and carry a small plastic bag in your pocket into which to drop such food. Don’t ever try this unless you are absolutely certain you can do so without detection.” (pg 82)
Buried near the end of this section is the one real piece of good advice “…you might just explain that it is not your custom to eat this particular type of food.” (pg 82) TA-DA! Instead of pretending to eat things, and making excuses, you just simply decline, with no lying required.
Oh, and “If you drop food on the floor, leave it there and say nothing, but do try to move it with your foot where it won’t be stepped on.” (pg 85)
And as for hanging around and socializing afterwards? That’s apparently right out. “… never linger in a home once the meal is over if there isn’t an investigator present to whom I can preach the gospel.” (pg 87)
So this chapter focuses on all these nitpicky rules that might once have been the custom in white-bread middle class America, and that are likely to be of no use at all if the missionary is posted somewhere where they don’t use chairs, or forks, or have different customs about what’s polite. A quick primer on how to use chopsticks would have been more help than this nonsense.
You know, I could sum up the table manners these kids would actually need in one paragraph:
“Don’t make a mess. Don’t gross out your eating companions. Try new foods. Offer to help clean up, but don’t insist. Watch your host for clues as to appropriate manners.”
Done, and no need for fifteen pages of persnickety details. But that wouldn’t heap any guilt and stress on these kids. Nope, she says,
“If you know that you are neither well trained no well informed in table etiquette, you can’t possibly relax and enjoy yourself, for constantly you’ll be fearful of making a blunder.” (pg 84)
Because that’s what it’s really about here, isn’t it? The point to to put these kids through a metaphorical meat grinder, and to keep them constantly afraid of messing up, even about little stuff that doesn’t really matter.