It’s midway through Sunday lunch somewhere in England. Roast beef with all the trimmings. There sits, on your Nan’s prized serving dish with the dainty pink roses delicately painted around the edges, the Last Roast Potato. You want it. You crave it. And you know that the rest of the family is secretly vying for it too, including, whilst smelling of his usual Old Spice, Uncle Colin who managed to usurp The Last Potato of Loveliness the last five Sunday lunches. You need to make your move now.
“Excuse me, does anybody else want the last roast potato?”
The grizzled stares come your way. Your family shakes their heads and mutter their noes while you grab the Golden Starch of Deliciousness as your trophy for your clever timing and your Montgomery-like battle strategy. For you, you Clever Clogs, have triumphed in possessing The Last Roast Potato.
The complete inability to say, “I want _____,” at the dining table is one of those strange English etiquette things that I have no idea how to explain. All I know is that you are treated as if you grew another eyeball if you so much as lay claim on the last of anything. Being that most people do not have the refrigerator and freezer space to hold lots of leftovers, the English do not have the propensity to make extra to ensure everyone gets to stuff themselves silly. So, we are left with Last Roast Potato standoffs like the ones we see above.
The Boffin here…let me interject: One of the joys of a Roast Potato is the crack of the crust as you slowly break it open with your knife or fork (usually the latter). If cooked correctly, they are crisp on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. As a result, the last roast spud cannot be shared because only one person will get that pleasure while the other scenario leaves two people with two piles of mush. If an argument does ensue over whose turn it is to get the last potato, then Uncle Colin usually reaches over and surreptitiously solves the problem.
In my family, if no one would touch the Last Roast Potato at the table, once the plates were clearly away into the kitchen, the food was fair game. Since we weren’t bound by etiquette at the dining table, we could reenact Lord of the Flies with tubers. And don’t think this mode of behavior is only tied to potatoes. The Last Yorkshire Pudding has left many resentments amongst relatives.
OK, it’s Karen again. Let’s flip the coin. Imagine, if you will, a poor unsuspecting person who didn’t know the game. A foreigner. An American. Someone like yours truly who actually took the roast potato when it was offered, but I was also a guest who was eating roast potatoes for the first time. So I was creating an English etiquette wormhole. I can imagine what was going on my my hosts’ minds because I certainly felt the tension.
“Must be gracious to our foreign guest who loves our food and is thanking us profusely, but she is taking the Last Roast Potato! Neurons short-circuiting!”
It would help if the U.K. issued a pamphlet to us when we first entered the country.
“Don’t talk in lifts.”
“A chicken salad sandwich has cooked chicken with lettuce and tomato. What you want is chicken mayo.”
“Don’t take the last roast potato or Yorkshire pudding when offered.”
It really would make life a lot easier.