I understand the need for “etiquette” even today, I really do. It helps you navigate the world without being a dick. There’s a propah way to deal with your dealer, for example, so that you’re not pissing off the person who gets you stoned. It’s good manners to check and recheck a hundred times before taking that unending Zoom call to the shower or the potty. Even when it comes to table manners, it’s nice to not spit in other people’s food or chomp too loudly.
But for “The Royal Butler,” etiquette is served with a side of racism.
Grant Harrold—former royal butler to Prince Charles, William and Harry, a co-founder of The Royal School of Butlers, and who goes by the controversial name of “The Royal Butler” on Twitter—just put out a nugget of wisdom no one asked for.
I take the use of three exclamation marks as a way to say, “Oh you ignorant, uncouth, tasteless heathens,” and find it a bit rude, but other pissed off Asians who have been using their god-given hands for ages are doing the talking for me.
Eating with the hands is common in many areas of the world, including parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In fact, there’s etiquette around this too. In India where I live, it’s customary to wash our hands before sitting down to eat, scoop up mounds of food with only our right hand, and use the left hand to serve ourselves extra portions. And while I might fish out a spoon every now and then to eat rice, much to the amusement of my family, it’s hand-eating that is not just an accepted tradition but often even a coveted artform. Because honestly, whoever eats by hand knows how it connects them to the food they’re eating.
A recent study clarifies what we in this part of the world always knew: that eating with your hands makes not just the food taste better, it makes it more satisfying too. Sure, the researchers did use more holdable foods like cheese and doughnuts but I (and am sure millions of others), can testify that rice is legit finger food. That doesn’t mean we all prefer our hands for all of our foods. I’ll eat my pasta (we eat that too in this part of the world) with a fork, only because it makes sense to do so. Sometimes, I’ll eat my dal with a spoon like a soup if I don’t want to dunk my roti in it. It’s OK, nobody panic.
But more than etiquette, what’s upsetting about The Royal Butler’s tweet is just how laced with racism it is. Asian foods have often been the target of reductive stereotypes by Westerners. In late 2019, American academic Tom Nichols called Indian food “terrible” on a “controversial food opinion” viral thread on Twitter. “Indian food is terrible and we pretend it isn’t,” he wrote. In August last year Slate’s advice column published a story about a father who felt offended that the parents of his son’s friend fed his nine-year-old Indian food without informing him first. And last June, a New York Times’ piece on the Southeast Asian fruit durian was criticised for its problematic, orientalist undertones.
Harrold—whose other unsolicited tips also include: “Gentlemen, let’s remember that a Lady never looks at the bill”—did have the courtesy to reply to one of the tweets calling him out. He defended his absolutely unsolicited advice saying: “My etiquette is British etiquette training not worldwide etiquette training as stated in by bio.”
But, old chap, your Twitter is open to people beyond Britain too and to us, it sure sounds like you want us to carry the embarrassment and shame of our colonisation around, ready to be controlled by those who prefer the knife and fork. It tells me I’m “wrong” in eating with my hands and that my way of doing things need to be controlled. It makes you sound like an authority figure, a supreme leader whose rules we must abide by or burn in the hell of shame. Even if your message was just for the British, what does this mean for the diverse cultures that apparently make Britain’s culture great? Please don’t confuse your “etiquette” for cultural supremacy. Because that’s royally rude.
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