Etiquette & superstition: licking

Lick machine

Not too long ago, I got bitten on the leg while babysitting a four-year-old. I yelped pretty loudly in response; this four-year-old had never previously bitten me or anybody else that I had noticed. Before I could even ask him what that had been about, he said, “Sorry. I just meant to lick your knee.” Okay, then.

ETIQUETTE: Licking one’s plate or fingers is not acceptable in most cultures. There are some apocryphal tales online about finger licking being a sign of respect to the cook in “certain regions in India” or “some areas of Ethiopia” or “Texas when you’re eating ribs,” but it seems a rather chancy proposition to undertake this custom without observing a respected member of the community doing it first.

If you find yourself absolutely needing to lick your fingers, please do it at the end of the meal and not in the midst of eating – particularly if you are eating with your hands and taking food from a communal plate. Lick the middle finger first, then the index finger, and lastly the thumb. You may also wish to quote the prophet Mohammed: “You do not know in what part of the food the blessing lies.” 

SUPERSTITION: If a newborn baby has a birthmark on his head, the mother merely needs to lick the birthmark for several days in succession if she wishes it to disappear.

Photo by Max Braun on Flickr

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