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August 2022

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SWB on the eating habits of others…

I heard once of a chap who’d completed a PhD on ‘The vocal inflections of Presbyterian Clergy in the North of Ireland.’ Surely then, if such obscure topics are acceptable subject matter, I could propose a doctorate on ‘Differing Approaches to the Buffet Breakfast in Continental Europe.’ Having just spent a fortune staying in two different hotels, I believe I am fully equipped to being my studies.

Here are a few weird things I noted:

  1. A man wolfing down a KETCHUP sandwich. Boke.
  2. Putting fried eggs, baked beans and bacon on a plate, with a pastry popped casually in the side, where it could get covered in the grease and sauce. I had to avert my eyes.
  3. Eating coco-pops out of a coffee cup. Other crockery was available, so this mystified me.
  4. The over-eating of pork products. Now I love sausages and bacon as much as the next carnivore, I saw a man, who appeared to be in rude health, tucking in to a plate of at least ten bright red mini sausages (not at all like our good Irish chipolatas) and a few rashers on the side. It resembled a coronary on a plate.

On to some other observations. I do hate to generalise, but the organisational skills of the Germans are unparalleled in the dining room.

I tend to be like a blackbird, skiting hither and thither, deciding what to gorge upon next. Germans hold no sway with this haphazard approach. Instead, they adopt a leisurely, but thorough swoop and grab, setting everything out smorgasbord style before they dig in. I admire this tactic, but in my impatience to get at my food and coffee, I wouldn’t have the discipline. Except of course, that it’s not really coffee is it, in a Spanish dining room. It’s just a warm, brown liquid secreted by a machine, which bears no resemblance to a café con leche in a local café. If one accepts that it is just that, a warm milky beverage of brownish hue, then one isn’t too disappointed. It has taken me a while to accept this, but I think I’m finally there.

The Catalans take their breakfast of Catalan toast very seriously. Slicing baguette, rubbing it with tomato and raw garlic, dusting with salt, before carefully slicing fuet on top. I saw quite young children preparing it for themselves and admired their dedication for something which was going to vanish in three bites.

On to our Gallic friends, the French. They’re powerful for the dipping, are the French. I hiked with a chap in the mountains of La Réunion, and watched as he dipped a cracker into a cup of water. Why, just why? My children were similarly bewildered as they observed grown men, (often bearded and muscular) submerging whole pain au chocolate pastries into cereal bowls filled to the brim with hot chocolate. There was a shocking amount of drippage, involved.

Let us now consider croissants. May I ask, if it is not impertinent, how you eat yours? I prise mine apart with my fingers, then smear on butter and jam, before applying it to my face. I believe this is good practice, where croissants are concerned. Not, apparently for the French, who set about it with a KNIFE AND FORK. Now, if it were to be of the savoury variety, filled with Emmental and jambon, this would be acceptable; (who needs molten cheese running down their wrists of a morning?) But for a SWEET croissant? Catch yourself on.

An entire sub-section of this post could be allotted to the eating habits of teenagers at the buffet breakfast, especially teenage boys, as what they can put away before ten is something to behold. One young lad sat down a bowl of boiled rice with two hard-boiled eggs plonked in; a selection of pastries (five at a rough estimate) and a dinner plate full of watermelon. I would hate to have been cleaning up his bathroom after that.

And don’t get me started on the watermelon. Regardless of the nationality, they were all MAD for it. The poor staff would leave out a fresh tray and have to race out and replenish it within minutes. They must have had a specific waiter for the melon alone. ‘Quick Luis! Scoot out there with another before there’s a riot! I heard theres a family from Belfast in for breakfast today!’

Again, they adopt the cutlery approach to this. I watched a German lady work her way through a large plateful as her dessert one evening, taking one careful mouthful at a time. She was of course, svelte and sophisticated, the type who didn’t even have ‘pool hair’ when she was in the flipping pool. She also appeared to swallow the pips, unlike me, flicking them out with my nail (on the table, not the floor mind, in case you think I’m a total barbarian) before I started slurping.

Another pet peeve is folk arriving to the dining hall with extreme body odour. You can be as posh as you want with your croissant, but if you can’t hop in the shower, or at least change out of the tee-shirt that you’ve obviously SLEPT IN, then be off with you. Standing behind some fecker at the toaster who stinks to high heavens makes my stomach heave. I realise that Spain suffers from water shortages, but not washing yourself is an extreme response. Perhaps I’m more sensitive to this after Covid, and I had forgotten how much I liked certain aspects of the restrictions. I’d like to impose a rule which should be displayed prominently on the restaurant door: ‘Clean Your Pits and Bits Before Admission.’

I’m sure many of you have your own idiosyncrasies when it comes to the buffet breakfast, so don’t be afraid to let me know. Back home now from my jaunt and recovering from my first (and Please God make it the last) bout of Covid, I could do with all the craic I can get.