Our Desk | Manners maketh man (person)

Anthony Lam


Using the word “man” at the (near) end of the title in no way signifies my approval of referring to all of humankind with one single gender. Apart from Colin Firth and the film, it is the linguistic factors that have made that word irreplaceable. All starting with the voiced bilabial nasal, the three words have a 2-2-1-syllable construction, making it especially rhythmic.


Over the weekend, a friend of mine shared a post on her social media wall from another social media user surnamed Yu, which told a story about a yum-cha experience.
To cut a long story short: Yu was having a normal yum-cha gathering with a group of senior people – not necessarily by age but social ranking – when the Lazy Susan was rotated by the daughter of a “not-so-familiar friend” while Yu was trying to reach for a piece of Har-gow (shrimp dumpling).
The daughter swiftly “wiped out” the crust and the meat from the three pineapple buns with char-siu that she ordered, isolating the bun.
In both instances, the mother did not say a word, nor was the daughter reprimanded. Since parenting is considered a family’s business, it’s excusable that the other people didn’t make a sound.
If you haven’t been to Cantonese yum-cha, it is an occasion where foods are placed in the center of a roundtable for everybody to share. Sharing it means that one single person doesn’t finish an entire portion.
My friend said, referencing to her experience, that opinions on such situations were divided. Some people thought she was making a fuss out of nothing, while she considered such behavior complete negligence of manner.
Manner is such a subtle quality but nonetheless includes a wide range of elements. It can be defined by how a person converses and conveys themselves.
My friend has also pointed out that, traditionally, the most senior in the group should start eating before everybody else. The strictest rule sets out that if the most senior person doesn’t start, nobody should. I hear that the Japanese are still keeping this rule on the table.
I spoke about the issue with my friend on social media. I am not particularly concerned about who gets the first mouthful. I mean, if I happen to be the most senior person at the table, I don’t really mind letting others get the first piece.
The same rule applies to the last piece. In some cultures, there is a consensus as to how the last piece of a shared dish should be taken. The person who attempts to take the last piece should ask if anybody else wants it. Despite being a symbolic act when it comes to the real world, it is a demonstration of respect for others.
For me, that’s not crucial. My co-diners can feel free to take the last piece without even letting me know.
With all that said, what concerns me the most in the “char-siu pineapple bun” story is that the daughter was never – at least not when the incident happened – told that she was wasting food.
Wastefulness is another heavy topic to cover, but if we make it simple: the daughter did not only waste food that she had taken, but also deprived others of the right to eat the food.
I once asked Paul Pun, head of the Caritas Macau, if they ever received unconsumed food from casino buffets. He told me they did but stopped because there were not enough people to consume all.

Categories Opinion