You ever noticed how it is so different between different countries how the tables are cleared in restaurants? Specifically I mean the timing as to when the table is cleared. I really gotta say that adding it up it has got to be some cultural meaning to it with far greater symbolism than actually just taking empty dishes from a table.
In Sweden it seems to be a matter of servant honor to be perfectly aware of the exact moment plus a few minutes that everybody at the same table has finished their plate. Being a waiter in Sweden means you have a lot of tricks to check whether the table is ready to be cleared or not, cause it is really very important that everybody at the table is definitely ready but at the same time equally important that the table is not left sitting with empty and uncleared plates too long after having finished their contents. Should the waiter happen to approach a table with the intention of starting to clear it before everybody is finished it is with much apologies that he or she immediately leaves the table again. It is an embarrassment and since Swedes are eager to do things the right way and to help both the waiter and themselves from embarrassment but prefer not speaking about it, we are very diligent when it comes to using our cutlery to show that we are finished eating. Bottom line, we put our fork and knife into a joint four o’clock position on the plate and enable the table to be cleared to everybody’s pleasure, just a few minutes after everybody at the table has finished.
In Croatia the plates are cleared at the very instant they are finished. Individually. So at the one and same table, plates are cleared not all at the same time, but each one straight when it’s finished. Meaning while you’re eating and enjoying your dish the plate of the friends you are sharing table and spending the night out with, can be cleared. In fact it seems so important to immediately clear finished plates that they are occasionally even cleared before finished. Not intentionally I presume, but it happens. So eating out in Croatia means you watch your plate and make yourself look busy with it. Never ever letting your cutlery be lying still for too long, no matter which time they are showing.
Having recently visited Macedonia I can say they seem to go by a totally different system. There, it seems to be honourable to actually leave the plates on the table for as long as possible. So they just stand there, the plates that is. As a person non accustomed to this type of behaviour, and in addition to that being Swedish, and on top of that having spent my University years working extra as a waiter in Sweden, it’s safe to say I was sweating on a couple of occasions. A few times I was worried dessert would be served and they would then realise the main course plates were still on the table. But that was not at all so. They were perfectly aware our plates still being there, so it was not a mistake. On the contrary, in fact they seemed to have perfect control and their timing was intended. Meaning it’s a cultural significant on how you do it in Macedonia.
All in all a real interesting feature of cultural differences in my opinion. I’m still trying to figure out a pattern though, what’s it about? Economical development? Gourmet versus gourmand? Historical traits? I’m not sure but the search continues. When did you last lift your eyebrow at how your table was cleared? Or not cleared?