I sent out a rather innocent tweet the other day saying, “What’s the deal with toothpicks in Israel?” You should read that in your best Seinfeld voice. Lots of people pinged me back, so many that I promised a blog post instead of just a twitter.
At the end of every meal in a restaurant or private home, for that matter, someone brings you toothpicks. Usually with the check, but sometimes before, and about half the time I’ve also been brought a wet nap.
On one hand this is totally practical. Especially given the herbilicious meal I had yesterday for lunch, having a toothpick to get the basil out of my teeth was appreciated. After late night hamburgers last night, it was nice to be able to get the salt and grease off my fingers with the wet nap.
On the other hand… I don’t pick my teeth in public and it freaks me out a little. Okay, freak is too strong a word, but it’s slightly out of tune for me. Despite the fact that it keeps happening, I’m also surprised every time it happens. Oh, look, toothpicks. More toothpicks. Wet naps. Toothpicks.
Then I started thinking about all the little restaurant things that I’ve learned in different countries that have nudged me back. Ordering at the bar in London, then going to your table and listening for your number to be called, then going back to pick up your food in the kitchen. In Argentina, learning how to use one square of wax paper as the only napkin. In Japan… well, in Japan it was all so different that it didn’t bother me to sit on the floor and cook my own food.
So here, in Israel, it’s the toothpicks and the public use of toothpicks. But, eh, that’s how it is, so somebody pass me a toothpick, okay? B’seder.