Something that is all too common to me now never occurred to me while I was living in Europe: the doggy bag. The cultural phenomenon of taking food home is nearly absent from European restaurants, even though it has its origins in ancient Rome (the napkins that the Romans used for personal hygiene also turned out to be handy to package leftovers).
Who knows why the Romans and the rest of Europe stopped, but the modern day doggy bags were originally intended for carrying food scraps home to Fido. Economic hardship encouraged pet owners to pass along their food to their pets. Eventually, this evolved into diners wanting to take food home for themselves.
Many chefs in countries such as Italy and France would tell you that they cook the appropriate amount for each person and different courses should not be mixed or eaten at a later time. The American diner may be more interested in value and expects to have enough food to enjoy at another time.
In my case, I did not grow up with doggy bags and did not even realize that this was an option. If you leave food on your plate while dining in Europe, you either did not like it enough or the meal was too much to eat. Whatever the reason may be, what was on your plate will go into the trash.
When doggy bags aren’t available, you could eat more than you can handle or slide your plate over to the person in your party known to have a bottomless pit. If you are brave enough to ask for your food to be boxed up, reactions may range from surprise to disgust depending on the country you are visiting. But why? You paid for it, didn’t you?
I’m a proponent for doggy bags. Besides the fact that you should be able to do whatever you please with the food you purchased, saving leftovers combats food waste. Just the other day our department went out for lunch and since I had too much food on my plate, I was excited about the prospect of enjoying that salad a little later during the day. The helpful waitress even came back with two sizes of boxes for me to pick.
Things may change for the better in Europe, but it may take some drastic measures. France recently adopted a law which states that restaurants serving more than 180 meals a day are legally obliged to provide a type of doggy bag if the diner requests it. Currently, many diners do not want to walk around with doggy bags or are worried that they come across as stingy.
Paul Buckley, senior lecturer of consumer psychology at Cardiff School of Management hits the nail on the head: “To go against the norm in society takes a lot of confidence. There are unwritten rules in society people will follow automatically. When these adapt, so do people’s actions.”
Just remember that the doggy bag still is a typical American custom. Bring your appetite when you dine in Europe. You may have to skip dessert.
As a Dutch American, I am well aware of cultural differences. In my series, Abroad Perspective, I will tackle the challenges of international travel.
Have you been able to get away with a doggy bag outside the USA? Feel free to share this or any other cultural shocks with us in the comments below and your idea could be featured in the next blog!