I have lunch in town with a friend just returned from taking a tour to Southern Italy. A sad sight - five men at lunch (business meeting?) awkward, staring ahead, as they have their napkins placed on their laps. They look uncomfortable and probably are. They don’t want this fiddling about their person but are embarrassed to say so or cause a fuss. It’s too late to stop this fairly recent custom, (unless you grab the napkin as you sit down and handle it yourself). But it’s interesting to consider where it came from.
European households use napkins in daily life. People grow up using them, indeed becoming reliant on them, needing them.
European restaurants do not “lap” their guests. I ask Rosa whether the insidious “lapping” has crept into Italy. “No way! They’d get slapped!” The poshest restaurant I ever went to (L’Ambroisie, place des Vosges, Paris) does not “lap”.
Unfortunately, it will start to happen as restaurants and cafés need to accommodate the American and Anglo-Saxon tourists who do not have daily napkin experience. (And here, with families having finger-friendly dinners in front of the TV, casualness calls for no napkins even as the need for them grows.)
So waiters, faced with nowhere to place your food because the napkin is still in place, decide they have to do it for you.
Let’s rise up and stamp this out. Start a movement. Grow up, I say. Claim your space. Take your napkin (unless of course you like your lap fiddled with).