Samui Wining & Dining
Mind Your Manners

How to be a ‘nice person’ on a small tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand

 

9 One aspect of Samui is that it’s become a melting pot of all sorts of people from everywhere. And if you dip your spoon in deep enough, you’ll not only come across peoples and attitudes from 30 different nations, but you’ll dredge up a whole mix of social situations, too. Surfers in beach bars, ex-pats in local cafés, backpackers around the street stalls, families looking for the finer kind of dining experience – they’re all woven-in together. And trying to find some sort of common ground of acceptable politeness – dare I say ‘etiquette’ – is a bit like trying to eat noodle soup with a spoon. You end up with a tangle that’s hard to get to grips with.

    So let’s start off simply and gradually work towards the 5-star pinnacle of napkin etiquette. The essential basis of any ‘etiquette’ is politeness. It’s the avoidance of being rude. And although differing lifestyles certainly carry different ideas about this, there’s got to be some common ground – especially in a multicultural playground like Samui.

      Firstly, a really basic rule! Please keep your nakedness to yourself! Swimwear is for the beach or round your hotel pool. It’s just not nice to go to a restaurant in your ‘underwear’. In Thailand, it’s considered the height of bad manners, and I really don’t want to see you sitting next to me in a restaurant at night, sweating and stripped to the waist, either, thank you. By doing this you’re saying ‘I don’t give a hoot about what other people think’ – and that’s just plain rude. If the restaurant’s on the beach, fine. But, as a rule, away from the beach, think about the sensibilities of others and cover up a little.

 

Your napkin should be folded in half and
placed across your lap – and that’s
where it stays.

 

       I suppose the temptation is for people to think – ‘this is only a small Thai-style restaurant and not a big hotel, and so people are more tolerant’. But the very fact that your behaviour is being ‘tolerated’ should tell you that there is something about you that others feel that they just have to put up with! The same goes for all sorts of similar aspects, too. Unless you are watching a game of football in a sports bar, please don’t yell or shout. Look around you – is there anyone else screaming and banging on the table? No! People are trying to eat in peace.

       And why do people have to SHOUT into their mobile phones? It seems to me that half the people out there don’t need phones at all – everyone can hear them for miles. If it’s too noisy to use your phone – then go outside. Which is where you should be, anyway, if you’re on the phone and in a restaurant.

       Most restaurants in the West now discourage the use of mobile phones – as do theatres and cinemas, and for the same reasons. But then, most restaurants in the West are far more formal than their counterparts on Samui. Well, no, they aren’t really. Here, they’re more tolerant, perhaps (there’s that word again) but if you’re eating-out in anything more than a tin shed or a bar full of football fans, then you will be expected to dress accordingly and act ‘politely’.

       And that doesn’t mean a collar and tie, either. Slacks – or even clean jeans – and a Polo-type shirt are fine. And, if the truth be known, you don’t really have to be au fait with the finer points of dining etiquette – although it will be to your credit if you are. Believe me this will be noted by the restaurant staff or management – there are now a great many people working on this little island who have served their time in some of the finest hotels in the world.

       ake napkins, for instance – often a subject of some confusion. Your napkin should be folded in half and placed across your lap – and that’s where it stays. It’s okay to dab your mouth once in a while, but it is considered trés gauche to end up with a messy napkin. If you have to leave the table, place it on your chair. If you are eating finger-food, or getting messy with king prawns, then ask for some tissues, rather than grease-up your napkin. And at the end of the meal, fold it neatly, and leave it on the table to the right of your place.

       And when you’ve finished a course, leave your plate where it is – don’t push it away across the table. Signify that you’ve had enough by neatly placing your knife and fork together on your plate. This is pretty much a universal signal, and you’ll find that even the little local Thai eateries take this as an indication that you are done.

       But it’s actually the state of play at the end of the meal when most signals are given and judgements are made. It’s a bit like your hotel room in a way – not really a lot to do with etiquette, but more about the basics of politeness and consideration. Do you leave your room looking like a bomb has hit it, or do you spend a minute or two putting it straight for the cleaning staff? Your dinner table – is it left thoughtfully neat? There are some people that have the attitude they are the paying customer and it’s everyone else’s job to run around and take care of them. But it only takes a moment of consideration to make the world around you a happier place – and a politer one, too.

       I’ve deliberately avoided going into the ins-and-outs of conventional table manners and etiquette, because this is a laid-back holiday island where very few things are frowned-upon. And it’s probably one of the few places where you can enjoy some extremely fine dining without being restricted by the usual social conventions. But every one of us is known and measured by what we do – not by what we say or the tips we leave – and what we do is the sign of our worth. Way back in the 14th century, the writer and philosopher William Wykeham once famously decided that “manners maketh man” – and it’s still just as true today.

 

Rob De Wet


 


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