Disgusting table etiquette?

April 28, 2006 at 11:46 pm 26 comments

My friend, Elaine, sent me this news link from The Chronicle titled, Filipino table etiquette punished at local school. Lunch monitor tells student his eating habits are ‘disgusting.’

This incident happened in Montreal. The lunch program monitor punished a 7-year old Filipino boy because the monitor thinks that the boy’s eating habit is disgusting. The boy fills his spoon by pushing the food on his plate with his fork. This is the traditional way we Filipinos eat our food. I have been here in Canada for 16 years and I have never heard anybody say that this habit was disgusting. Or were people just being polite? I was surprised when I read this news.

The boy’s mother confronted the lunch program monitor after her son had been punished more than 10 times this year and the boy said that he didn’t want to eat anymore. The lunch monitor said, “If your son eats like a pig he has to go to another table because this is the way we do it and how we’re going to do it every time.” Now, come on, he thinks that eating with a spoon and fork at the same time is eating like a pig?

What’s equally shocking and brought the mother to tears is the principal’s reaction. He said to the mother, “Madame, you are in Canada. Here in Canada you should eat the way Canadians eat.” But isn’t this a free country? If it’s not against the law, can’t we eat the way we want to eat? The principal even added that he wants his students to eat intelligently at the table? So what does he mean by that? That the Filipino way of eating is dumb? Really. I find that response very childish.

Just the other day, I was explaining to my kids how we say and pronounce words differently in the Philippines. I told them that in the Philippines, their dad’s name is said Ron, the way they say Ron in the Harry Potter movies and not the same way they say it here in Canada. Eva is Ee-va here but Eh-va over there. My son Ryan said that’s dumb. No, Ryan, I said, it’s not dumb. It’s just different.

I hope the Montreal incident is just an isolated case. Because I’d hate it if my kids were subjected to a situation like that.

My children’s schools promote multiculturalism and they study about the different countries and cultures of the world. And I think that’s good. Knowledge about our diversities should help us tolerate each other’s differences. Right? Because, after all, Canada is a country of mixed cultures. And I thought that Canadians should have learned by now how to tolerate each other’s differences. But I guess not. I think we should educate each other about our differences. But will that cure people of their prejudices? I guess not again.


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26 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Abaniko  |  April 29, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    I wonder if there are Chinese restaurants in Canada. So, Canadians don’t eat in those restaurants because they’re more different (hence, disgusting!) with their chopsticks, huh?

  • 2. Ann  |  April 30, 2006 at 1:27 am

    What more if you eat with your bare hands? hehehe.. ano kaya punishments.

  • 3. Sidney  |  April 30, 2006 at 2:13 am

    I think this is typically the reaction of people who never went outside their own town, city or country.
    But I admit that some of my friends back in Belgium wouldn’t understand the concept of eating with a spoon 😉
    Eating with chopsticks is culturally better known than switching the knife for a spoon. To be honest I don’t know if this is unique to the Philippines or if other Asian countries have the same custom.

  • 4. Major Tom  |  April 30, 2006 at 1:56 pm

    Like you, I hope this case is just an isolated one. You know, the parents of the Filipino kid could sue the school for damages. I guess civil laws in Canada are much the same as in America and the Philippines. This kind of thing should be dealth with by the law properly so that it won’t happen again or as often. It is smack of harassment and discrimination, which I think is actionable for damages.

  • 5. niceheart  |  April 30, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    Abaniko, there are Chinese restaurants here in Canada. I see white people who eat in Chinese restaurants. I just haven’t noticed if they use chopsticks.

    Ann, you raised a good question there. But you know what? I haven’t seen any Pinoy yet who have eaten with their bare hands in public here. So you can tell that we still have delicadeza, right? We still do respect people who are not used to seeing people na kumakain ng nakakamay.

    Sidney, you may be right. People who have never been out of their own town would have a hard time understanding other people’s culture. But we live in cyberworld now where we can learn about different cultures on the internet or even TV.

    I also wonder if eating with the spoon and fork is unique to Filipinos. I hope my other Asian readers can enlighten us on this. Calling on Ange, Hsin, Domestic Rat, Toe or anybody who have been to other Asian countries.

    Major Tom, the mother did file a formal complaint with the local school board. Let’s just hope that it will be dealt with.

  • 6. Jayred  |  April 30, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    Got to read the article last week through an e-group message.

    I think that was the height of arrogance and cultural insensitivity!

  • 7. Senor Enrique  |  April 30, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    Makes me wonder how come no disciplinary action (such as forced sensitivity training) was ever taken against this particular school personnel. Is Montreal so permissive of such bigotry?

  • 8. niceheart  |  April 30, 2006 at 11:07 pm

    Hi Jayred and Eric. I don’t want to be judgmental to and generalize people. But I was discussing this incident with my sister and this came up in our conversation. You see, Quebec (the province where Montreal is located) is mostly populated by French-Canadians. And there was a time when Quebec wanted to separate from Canada. They wanted to be a separate country. Arrogance?

  • 9. Mmy-Lei  |  May 1, 2006 at 12:44 am

    Hi, first time here.

    I read this issue from forwarded email. Let’s just pray that the mother will get justice on this issue and the Montreal School should be awaken from their deep coma.

    I worked in Thailand for a year and they too, uses spoon and fork in their meals. Chopsticks are used for certain meals.

  • 10. bing  |  May 1, 2006 at 1:22 am

    for me, it is plain arrogance. there are certain parts of the world who treat Asians and colored people as inferior, and anything that is connected to them is inferior. the way the boy ate is probably different from the way they use eating utensils. i dont see any reason of violation. what gave the right to punish the boy because of his eating habits. utterly disgusting!

  • 11. domestic rat  |  May 1, 2006 at 11:11 pm

    Hmm.. I’m shocked to read about this. It’s not only the Filippino way of eating but rather for most Asians!

    Talk about discrimination. I get better treatment when ppl think I’m a Japanese, all thanks to my fair skin but not when they think I’m from China.

  • 12. earthember  |  May 1, 2006 at 11:17 pm

    Well, it occured in Montreal right? People there are probably not as exposed to diversity compared to other parts of Canada.

    Where we are, Caucasians are often seen eating at Asian restaurants using chopsticks.

    I agree with Domestic Rat that I get better treatment when mistaken to be a Japanese.

  • 13. niceheart  |  May 1, 2006 at 11:27 pm

    Mmy-lei, thanks for the visit and that info about Thailand. Now, we know that using the spoon and fork is not unique to Filipinos.

    Bing, racial discrimination is really ugly. Nobody should consider themselves superior than others.

    DR and Ange, that’s interesting what you said about being treated better when mistaken for a Japanese. Hmm.

  • 14. PhilippinePhil  |  May 2, 2006 at 7:55 am

    Then again, being exposed to human meaness and intolerance can also be a valuable experience for a child. People can be downright nasty. I’ve lived in lots of countries and some folks have been sweet, and others cruel. It’s all a part of the human experience. I don’t get too worked up over silly stuff like this. People are capable of a LOT worse than lunchroom bullying. Litigation? Give me a break. That sounds American to the extreme!

  • 15. watson  |  May 2, 2006 at 11:40 am

    Hello niceheart. Looks like we got hold of the same terrible news. This said, let us not generalize all Canadians as such. I just hope these people responsible for these demeaning acts learn first about others’ customs before judging. Yes, they need schooling too. O punishment kaya? hehehe

  • 16. niceheart  |  May 2, 2006 at 11:13 pm

    Phil, I understand how this can be a valuable experience for a child despite it’s nastiness. I’ve had pretty bad experiences myself that made me a stronger person. But the child is only 7 years old. And the bullies are a teacher and a principal. I can’t blame the mother for filing a formal complaint.

    Watson, I agree. People shouldn’t demean or judge others just because they are of different cultural background.

  • 17. BW  |  May 4, 2006 at 11:43 pm

    It is more of ignorance than anything else. If this monitor sees someone eating hamburger with a knife and fork she would probably say – use your damn hands!
    Well, I heard it is customary for Brits to eat the burger with knife and fork! It’s more cultural than anything.

  • 18. TK  |  May 7, 2006 at 5:58 am

    Despite of this isolated incident, Canada is still perceived as more tolerant than the US. It’s just one case. right?

  • 19. niceheart  |  May 7, 2006 at 10:52 pm

    BW, ignorance, yes. But that monitor should have been sensitive especially to a child.

    TK, this is the only case I know of. Canadians are pretty much polite and acceptable of other cultures.

  • 20. Anonymous  |  May 8, 2006 at 1:24 am

    I still prefer to use spoon, especially when there’s green peas in the menu….they’re unmanageable with fork.

  • 21. Anonymous  |  May 8, 2006 at 9:45 am

    TK and Niceheart ,

    You perceive Canada is polite and better than the US, think again.

    For better understanding, try these
    websites :


  • 22. work-in-progress  |  May 8, 2006 at 11:26 pm

    HI Niceheart,
    I just heard today that the boy was videotaped eating very sloppily, and that it has nothing to do with using a spoon. THAT SAID…my family discussed this and agreed that even if the boy DID eat like a pig, the school could have handled it better. Unfortunately, if this video is really out internationally, it results in humiliation for the boy, and he’s only seven years old! I am wondering, what kind of educational institution is that Montreal school?

  • 23. niceheart  |  May 9, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    Anonymous, I think the testimonies in the websites that you mentioned don’t represent the majority of the immigrants here in Canada. There are doctors and professionals from other countries that are able to continue their profession here in Canada. Not everybody can expect to pursue their same career in another land because every country has their own standards and requirements.

    Work-in-progress, I was also discussing this with my family over the weekend. It crossed my mind that perhaps the boy was eating rice with sabaw. And the article also mentioned that the boy may have shown inappropriate behaviour. But still, he shouldn’t have been humiliated like that. And perhaps it’s the behaviour that should have been addressed and not his eating technique.

  • 24. Anonymous  |  May 10, 2006 at 11:17 am

    nicehart , youre right , not everyone can get the same jobs that they have before. But you see , they are in the majority .

    You are probably one of the lucky ones .The CIC websites dont give the right picture especiallly with regards to skilled immigrants.

    Canada from afar looks good . If you look closer…………….

    its just so sad.

  • 25. niceheart  |  May 11, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    I myself didn’t get the same job I had back home. I’ve experienced doing manual labour and earning minimum wage. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And even with that, I was earning a lot more than I did in the Philippines. But since then, I’ve found a better job, one that’s just fine with me and I have learned to enjoy it. My family is here with me and we are doing just fine. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Perhaps, I have a better experience than you did. I could just wish you the best in your future endeavours.

  • 26. phantomrealm  |  May 2, 2008 at 11:07 am

    I am not a philippino and I eat with spoon and fork because its my own preference. Is there anything wrong with it? NO. I can sympathatise that the principle is trying to bring up the point that when in Rome, do as the romans do. But yet again, we are entitled to our rights. We can choose not to follow others. This is human right. The right to your own choices, own decisions, your own culture, your own background. We may not like what others are doing but we can never condemn them. Habits that we don’t like shouldn’t concern us at all. As the world is now multicultural, multiracial, we should learn to be more forgiving against things that are taboo to us but not to others.


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