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Should I wear a bib?

"Life's too short to worry about what other people think"

This week one pair of trousers has been washed twice because I spilt some food on to them with a resulting stain that needed to be removed before forgotten. Alas this is a fairly common experience, and really there is no excuse. Not just because of my messy, or to be somewhat kinder, careless eating technique, but because it could have been easily prevented. And the spaghetti shown here is the primary offender. Although there are others - soup, salad dressing, tomato on toast - bruschetta I suppose. Ditto for sardines on toast, and of course hamburgers ...

It happens to me a lot, so when I saw this rather quaint photograph below of some Italian gentlemen in Piedmont gathered round bagna cauda, swathed in bibs I wrote down in my 'ideas' book 'bibs'. You've seen the photograph before in that bagna cauda post. It also reminded me of our friend Mike, somewhere around Lake Maggiore, who ordered a pasta with seafood in a slurpy sauce, and was presented with a bib. He was somewhat taken aback, and probably a little embarrassed. Well we all thought it somewhat droll - and I think he pretended to as well. MInd you he also probably blessed its arrival when he came to eat his pasta. The Italians of course just took it all in their stride. Some Italian restaurants here, may also do it. No other country with sloppy food - and that's every country isn't it? - seems to do the same.

When I was spending far too much time looking for appropriate pictures for this post, I came across quite a few of, mostly men, with napkins tucked in their necks, which looked slightly uncouth I have to say - and honestly you rarely see anyone in a restaurant doing the same do you? Eventually I settled for this rather wonderful painting called The Gourmand, which title rather implies that once upon a time it was considered to be, etiquette wise, an approved thing to do. Tying it behind the neck as shown here definitely looks rather more polite - and efficient - than tucking it into your shirt's collar. Napkins, however are not a bib, and deserve their own post. However, the picture reminds me that I did find a little bit of history about the bib.

The word seems to have first been used in 1580 and is thought to come from 'bibben' meaning to drink, which in turn comes from the Latin verb meaning the same thing 'bibere'. I'm not sure whether adults used them however - they may have just been used for babies and toddlers - who definitely need them, as you can see. And now that I think about it, why are toddler bibs so small? A small baby bib may be OK but a toddler needs an entire garment. I know the photo above is a bit extreme, but I'm sure we all remember similar happenings.

Historically speaking the bib (and possibly that napkin used as a bib) may have led to the cravat:

"Cravats came into fashion in the 17th century in imitation of linen scarves worn by Croatian mercenaries in the French army. They were believed to be worn to hide shirts which were not immaculately clean and are considered the forerunner to the modern necktie. And what is the biggest complaint about the necktie? They get ruined from food spills." Diner Wear

So what to do? Well there are two distinct approaches here - prevention and protection - although maybe we need both, as prevention may not always work.

Prevention. There seem to be a few options here, some of which are acceptable and some of which are not, depending on what part of the world you live in and where you are eating. I am talking about eating in public here - I'll come to home later. One is to eat very carefully, only moving small portions to your mouth at a time, a notion that Jay Rayner amusingly, although I suspect not really seriously, decries:

"The ones who manage not to spill everything down their shirts are obviously not doing food properly. They must be half-filling every spoon’s bowl. They must lean in over their barely laden fork, top lip trembling with the effort. Me? I’m shovelling the food away, like a builder digging the foundations of a new home." Jay Rayner

Or you can both shovel and lean in - one does not preclude the other. For another approach, that I saw frequently recommended, was to lean over the table as you lift the food to your mouth. And yes this can be achieved discreetly I guess, as long as you don't lean over too far, and as long as you still keep those spoonfuls small. Otherwise you will look like this and it's not a good look is it?

Asians often eat out of bowls, as do the Italians but instead of leaning down to the bowl, they bring the bowl to their mouths. Now I am vaguely aware that in some nations this is good etiquette, in others it is not and how close to your mouth may also matter, but I'm not sure which. Or is it the slurping thing? It's a very good idea though, especially if, like me, you are not very proficient with chopsticks. I'm guessing that how you hold the bowl is also important.

The last way to prevent spillage is to choose your food carefully. But:

"This is hard with things like salads, giant oil-covered leaves flying about," emjaybee/Meta Filter

So stick to dry things, without a lot of sauce, and easily handled food as well. Not great nests of spaghetti or noodles all tangled together or things that are going to squirt out juice or sauce, or those leafy salads. Or icecream that drips. Or massive hamburgers. I never eat a hamburger in a restaurant because it's impossible to eat one even halfway elegantly. Eating food is a nightmare isn't it?

The lady above is both preventing and protecting, by draping a scarf around her neck. The scarf is also patterned, so any drips won't show up as much.

Do not wear a white shirt or dress when eating out. Any tiny bit of spillage will show up. The denser and darker the pattern the better the camouflage. I suppose this strategy neither prevents nor protects, but at least it hides embarrassment a little, even if you do have the same cleaning problem when you get back home. I thought I found somewhere a reference to some kind of portable spot remover, as well, but now can't find that.

Protection Here we are back to bibs. Apart from babies, bibs are also used in various medical situations - the dentist, for X-rays - that heavy lead bib that can be draped over you - and also in nursing homes. Which is probably why making bibs acceptable for public dining use is so difficult. Mind you I did find this in a forum on weird office practices:

"I have just joined a team where people have huge adult terry cloth bibs to wear at lunch time. (The kind that can be bought in bulk for nursing homes.) Mine was bestowed on me this week and I am surprisingly happy about it." Ask a Manager

I suppose that in such a situation the embarrassment might be absent because everyone else has one too and it's company policy. However, generally speaking we associate bibs with babies, and messy toddlers, and dribbling very old people. It doesn't stop people trying though. If you go to Etsy, Amazon or other online merchandisers you will find lots of people trying to sell you 'fashionable' bibs, from the relatively restrained to the defiantly glitzy.

I really don't think an actual bib, unless it's a tradition, or a silly fun thing that everyone else is doing is going to catch on. Even when everyone else is - some of us are so inclined to embarrassment that we still feel that everyone is looking at you and that you look stupid - like those Christmas paper crowns in Christmas crackers.

And yes:

"tucking a napkin into your shirt, though not considered stylish, is more acceptable than wearing an adult bib." Diner Wear

More acceptable, but not really, really acceptable is it? How many people have you seen in a restaurant with a napkin tucked in their collar.

Actually I think the best protection is the scarf notion - somewhat like the Asian lady further up the page. Because:

"no one looks twice at someone in a drapey scarf (except to think what a nice scarf that is)." Adifferentbear/Meta Filter

It should be lightweight, so that if it does get stained it can be removed and put in your handbag, and also so that you are not too hot. They recommend silk, so what better recommendation can that be than to go out an splurge on a designer label silk scarf? It should be fairly big though so that it can be wrapped loosely around your neck with the ends behind your back, so that they don't dangle in the food. Perhaps arranged a little lower than the one in the picture here. But you get the idea.

And if you are a bit of an exhibitionist - and young and beautiful - then apparently the best protection is:

"Low cut tops. My tits don’t get food stains." RevolutionaryStage 67/Reddit

Though what do you do with the bits of food that fall into your cleavage?

Maybe you should just take Jay Rayner's advice - he is a restaurant critic after all:

"The souvenirs of a tikka masala, tomato sauce or a Chinese meal down your shirt front are nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it should be a badge of pride"

Easier said than done however, for the perpetually self-conscious, like me even if in theory I believe in my opening quote: 'Life's too short to worry about what other people think".

And what about the stain removal process anyway. Some things, like that turmeric in the tikka masala are virtually impossible to get out. And actually I doubt that you would really want them on your designer label silk scarf.

At home, of course, anything goes. Who cares? Well I suppose I do. Foolishly. When I am eating those messy on toast things for lunch at home, I do tuck a tea towel around my neck - but not even David is there to see. And depending on the size of the tea towel they sometimes slip out of place at just the wrong moment. I also think that even though it's just David and I, I would feel embarrassed to tuck a napkin into my collar, or tie it around my neck.

I should use a napkin on my lap though - those stains I began with were on my trousers, not my top. I haven't mentioned the lap problem before - not that it is much of one in restaurants because there are always some to hand, even if they are tiny and made of paper. Here at home I have cloth ones and paper ones of various sizes. So perhaps this is my new resolution. And I really should pull myself together and stop worrying. It's sad, is it not, that all those etiquette things that were drummed into you as a child, if not at home, then at school, stay with you forever because:

"While stains and spills can be frustrating, it's essential to remember that accidents happen to everyone. Embrace the adventure of enjoying your meals without fretting over a little collateral damage." HSIA

Or you could just take your clothes off.


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