Etiquette & superstition: leftovers

If you are an American of a certain age and from a certain region, you may recall restaurant takeout bags referred to as “doggie bags.” A current Google image search, however, will reveal that most items these days referred to as doggie bags either carry doggies or something made by doggies. This is one more reason you should keep up with your vernacular terms.

ETIQUETTE: Long ago in the US, it was considered gauche for a diner in a restaurant to ask for their uneaten food to be wrapped up so they could finish it later at home. Sometime around the early to mid-20th century, a workaround was devised in the form of “I’m quite finished, thank you, but if it’s all right I’d like to take the rest of this steak home for my pet to consume,” and the “doggie bag” was born.

This desire to not seem overly greedy has now turned around completely, and in the States it is completely normal to ask for one’s uneaten food to be wrapped up for later consumption; the “this isn’t for me; it’s for my dog” cover story is considered to be a bit absurd, and pretty much nobody calls it a doggie bag anymore. You can go to some rather well-respected dining establishments and they will not bat an eyelash if you ask them to box up the uneaten portion of your meal. A really fun place may even give you your food wrapped in a foil swan.

However, this way of thinking is not very common in the rest of the world. In Canada, go for it. In the UK and Vienna and South Africa, it seems to be fine in places that offer takeaway food. But in Australia, depending on what state you’re in, it’s either a normal practice or illegal. In most of Europe and in Japan, you are going to get a look from the waitperson at the very least, you will embarrass your dining companions, and the restaurant will probably not accommodate your request. Eat up at the table, doggie.

SUPERSTITION: In Spain, if it’s Ash Wednesday and you’re at a feast you can ask someone to box up your food. They’ll be happy to do it, but you’re going to have to carry it in a procession and then bury it with a whole lot of fanfare and I’m not sure that’s what you intended when you asked them to box your food.

But Ash Wednesday was a while ago. Let’s talk about food from this week. I sure hope you didn’t bring home any leftovers from your Walpurgisnacht feast. If you did, you should throw them out because they aren’t really leftovers anymore. Some fairies came and ate the leftovers and made some fake food out of sod and left that in place of the leftovers. I’m serious. That’s what they do. Jerks.

Photo (greaseproof!) by julia k via Flickr

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