OWe visit the in-laws and greatly appreciate their hospitality. Only my son finds it insufficient, constantly demanding cookies from his grandparents with the urgency that you or I could flag down a paramedic in the middle of a cardiac event. “LIGA!” he shouts, referring to a deliciously bland brand of baby biscuits he adores, common here but not in England. We scold him for being rude, but we haven’t yet managed to break that practice, especially since his passionate hosts indulge him every time.
You may have seen that recent map of Europe, which colored dark blue where you would always get food from someone, and dark red where you never would. Southern Europe, from Spain to the Mediterranean and all the way to Turkey, was the darkest blue, places where “receiving food at someone’s home” seems synonymous with “force-feeding seconds after being arrival”. Scandinavia and the Netherlands were at the other extreme; tinted red so dark, you better eat a whole day’s worth of roughage before jumping in for a play date.
Most fascinating was the bifurcation of the UK and Ireland, with England and Wales in light red, indicating “unlikely to give food”, while Scotland and the whole island from Ireland in light blue, saying that hospitality there was more about food.
“Could there really be such a difference between our English cousins and us? I thought as I ate my third forced meal of the day on a trip to Ireland during which I was fattened up like a prize calf. The basic standard of hospitality here is to hold a banquet within minutes of your arrival; cold ham and chicken, boiled eggs, breads, sliced beets, salads of all kinds, two types of coleslaw (regular and fancy) and often some kind of weird cold curry rice with raisins for no reason. It is customary, if not obligatory, for this to be presented with profuse apologies for the scarcity of its offerings, despite the table in front of you being so overloaded with food, it appears that the police have called a press conference to announce the transport of an illegal farmer’s market.
Wherever the food menu was posted, it was striking to read many puzzled comments from Scandinavians, Dutch and, yes, English, defending the practice of withholding food from guests. What if the hosts only have a limited amount of food, they said, or the guest never asked?
In Ireland the concept of asking for food in someone’s house is so bizarre it’s almost unimaginable but, for the sake of science, I’ll give it a try. Asking for food would be like asking to turn on the heating – roughly the social equivalent of setting fire to the clothes your host is wearing. Only among family or friends so firmly enmeshed in your social circle, that no one ever needs to learn of their disgrace once you leave, would such a thing be appropriate or even possible. .
Maybe it’s my son’s English that makes him not afraid to make the implicit explicit, to be the squeaky wheel that wins La Liga. It puzzles me, yes, but I will try to respect this other culture, as he respects ours. These cookies are from the Netherlands, after all. Without them, Dutch children might never eat.
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