While in college, I heard that after every meal you should brush your teeth. If you can’t do that, you should chew gum. And if you couldn’t do that, you should use a toothpick.
I was recently informed that using a toothpick in public is rude. Huh! News to me! Naturally, I tried to come up with the number of times I could have offended someone and realized I usually grab them on the way out of a restaurant or after dinner in my own home. So hopefully I’m not on anyone’s list of rude and insensitive people.
I understand that we all take in information differently. Some, like my kids, require a distraction-free zone, constant eye contact, and repetition all while obtrusively in their personal space. I tend to retain conversations better when I’m almost distracted. Squeezing a stress ball, taking notes, doing the dishes, folding laundry, utilizing a toothpick…
Then there’s the fact that my “condition” is a genetic flaw. For as long as I can remember, my dad and his brothers have always reached for a toothpick after a meal. When we’d have family over for dinner, the toothpicks were passed around like after dinner mints. I distinctly recall the Onchuck Boys all leaned back in their chairs, legs crossed, one arm across their chest, the other wielding their toothpicks as they discussed their plans for local land domination. Their sons, too. And, well, me. It was this ritual that spoke to a great meal, good company, and satisfying conversation. It was these after dinner dialogs that clarified the day’s events, spurred on tomorrow’s plans, and encouraged good oral hygiene.
It’s not like we deliberately spoke with a toothpick in our mouths. We took them out to speak; it actually helped to have to do that first because it gave you more time to evaluate what you were going to say. It also landed an air of sophistication to the conversation… Like a judge’s gavel banging on the podium, it called attention to the speaker. One is clearly busy using a toothpick mulling over some facts of life or what was just said. When one pauses to take out the toothpick after proper contemplation to speak, all those around should wait. And listen. And learn.
The toothpick: a tool of good oral hygiene, yes. An after-dinner family ritual, in my family at least. An instrument of more thoughtful conversation, sure. But if you’re perceived as being Rude while utilizing a toothpick, you’re doing something wrong.