A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

The Most Annoying Dining Habits, According to Science

That’s it, you insist. Your friend has ruined a night out for the last time! But before you make a hasty decision know this: experts say there may be a good reason for her annoying table manners.

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Eating off other’s plates

There’s a scene in the movie Citizen Cohn where Roy Cohn is dining with some political heavyweights including New York’s Cardinal Spellman. At one point, Cohn leans over the table to nab a morsel off the Cardinal’s plate. While Cardinal Spellman was shocked and repulsed, for Cohn, it was just his way of saying, “Hey, I feel at ease with you,” says Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert/researcher and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. “No one will do this if they’re trying to make an impression on someone,” she says. But for everyone else—either due to arrogance or friendship—they feel welcome in coveting thy neighbor’s meal. Of course, that doesn’t mean we have to like it. “I have a friend who orders very little and eats off everyone else’s plate,” Gottsman says. “We all fight over who has to sit next to her.” But Gottsman has a simple solution. “If I lose and end up sitting next to her, I’ll order more. What can I do, she’s my friend. I love her.”  These overly casual texting habits might annoy your friends just as much.

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Slurping food

All this time you thought your slurping, lip-smacking friend learned to eat at a zoo. But as it turns out, there’s a good reason why he slurps his food: it tastes better that way. “Mechanically, slurping helps the flavor and smell to get to where it’s supposed to be,” says Shawn Adibi, DDS, of the University of Texas Health School of Dentistry. “Slurping agitates the food in one’s mouth allowing the food to spread out homogeneously over the tongue, touching all the taste buds. As it does so, it increases the secretion of the salivary glands.” Do it long enough, slurping becomes a subconscious—albeit noisy—habit.  Here are surprising ways that foods trick your taste buds.

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istock/Eva Katalin Kondoros

Being rude to waiters

Here’s the main reason why some people abuse waiters: They’re jerks. But sometimes they’re jerks for a reason. There may be a perception “that a service person is being disrespectful,” David Solot, who has a PhD in organizational psychology, wrote on Eatocracy.com. Did the waiter take too long to bring your food? Did the busboy forget your water? Whether they’re guilty or overburdened by a table of 16, if we feel disrespected, “we’re more likely to act like a jerk in return.” In an odd way, rudeness is built into the water’s day-to-day job. “Every time they come by to clear a plate or fill water they interrupt the conversation,” says etiquette guru Diane Gottsman. By doing so they’re also “breaking the flow of connection with people at our table,” and that interaction is often the reason we’re dining out in the first place. “But,” Gottsman reminds us, “they have a job to do, which means, it’s our obligation to be pleasant to them. That means, at the very least, we occasionally say thank you, occasionally smile, and make eye contact.” And on those occasions you can’t help but act like a jerk, here’s what your waiter is really thinking.

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ISTOCK/Olivier Blondeau

Drenching everything in ketchup

It’s taken months, but you’ve finally landed a table for two at New York’s most exclusive Japanese restaurant, Nobu. Your beau is about to dig into their signature Chilean Sea Bass with Black Bean Sauce, but first, he asks the waiter for … ketchup. Before you flip your soba noodles, don’t blame him. Blame his hypothalamus, which sits square in the pleasure center of our brains, says Dr. Adibi. “There are certain psychological and emotional components to enjoying food,” he says. As a person develops food habits over time, “the hypothalamus measures the pleasure food registers in one’s brain.” Whether it’s hot dogs, French fries, or a fish dish that costs $60 is beside the point: “Your brain is craving something sweet or sour or vinaigrette-y, all of which is satisfied by ketchup. You reinforce that pleasure by eating it and your brain reconfirms it.”

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istock/Izabela Habur

Blowing one’s nose In the napkin

There you are, about to fork a piece of lobster thermidor into your eager palate when *HONK!!* Your dining partner just blew his nose into the napkin before dropping it on his plate. “Check please!” Rest assured, nose-blowing at the table is not an expression of disregard for the dining mate. It’s the very opposite. “People feel free to blow their nose at the dining room table because they’re comfortable with the company,” says Gottsman. “You may not do that on a first date, but after awhile we get a little lax. We’re so engrossed in our conversation and having fun that we let down our guard.” But everyone should remember this, she says: “We tend to think of that napkin as a replacement tissue. The napkin is just for the mouth.”

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Scarfing down food

If you were the lone girl in a family with five boys, chances are you would learn to eat fast. “If you didn’t, the food was gone,” says that lone girl, psychotherapist Irene Rubaum-Keller, the author of Foodaholic. But for others, the reason for eating so much so quickly may have more to do with a newly recognized condition called binge eating disorder. Sufferers can’t control the amount they eat and often ping pong back and forth between starving and gorging. And the reason they eat so fast isn’t because the food is tasty. “They want to get it over with,” says Rubaum-Keller. “People who binge don’t always enjoy it. They often don’t even taste the food.” Rubaum-Keller has approached her binge eating habit with a clever trick: smaller utensils. “I eat my meals with cocktail forks and tiny spoons. Even if I eat quickly I can only take in so much.”  Here are nutrition-backed tips to recover from a sugar binge.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Andy Simmons
Andy Simmons is a features editor at Reader's Digest.