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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Silent Lunch Treatment

The silent lunch is the school child's most dreaded punishment. He'd rather stand against the wall at recess than miss chatting up his table mates in the cafeteria.

School teachers have a predilection for silent lunches. While students want to hear themselves talk, school teachers say they want to hear themselves think. It isn't clear whether the teaching profession attracts people with mental illness or if the voices in teacher's heads arrive after years of wrangling kids into reading, writing and arithmetic.

The established existence of imaginary friends in the minds of teachers is affirming, however, for every person ever called down unjustly, for every student who ever whined, "But I wasn't talking." No matter how or when the thinking out loud started, silent lunches make it a heap easier to hear what the voices have to say.

A New York City restauranteur is taking diners back to the school cafeteria of their childhoods. Nicholas Nauman is enforcing the silent lunch philosophy, an idea which he claims he derived from an interaction with Buddhist monks. At Eat restaurant in Brooklyn, patrons are required to sit quietly - probably with their hands in their laps, another teacher favorite - throughout the serving of a four course meal.

The chef instituted this "fine dining experience" after observing that Buddhist monks in India eat breakfast without exchanging words. Why he needed to go all the way to India to see a.m. abstention from verbal interaction, I don't know. Some people just like to make life hard.

It's not only Buddhist monks who refuse conversation first thing in the morning. No one speaks at breakfast! It would be regrettable to start the day with eggs, bacon, grits and severe words one couldn't take back. It's best to sip coffee and let the caffeine settle on the brain before uttering anything other than grunts. One doesn't have to be a Buddhist monk to know that.

In an interview, the chef said that eating a fine meal in silence is a different way to enjoy the food. Forks clattering on plates and dishes clinking in the kitchen creates whimsical background music. He said that he senses great energy in the restaurant when noise is subdued. He attests that requiring his clientele to shut their traps improves their enjoyment of his fare.

Obviously, what's really going on here is that the chef has voices in his head. They have a lot to say and he needs to hear himself think. The energy he feels is due to diners who also have a lot to say, much as they did in the cafeteria in second grade. They will burst any second and negotiate standing against the restaurant wall in exchange for being able to tete-a-tete with others at table.

In his school days, Chef Nauman was was among the few children who looked forward to the silent lunch treatment instituted by teachers on bad days when the voices were particularly talkative. He cites Buddhist monks as the inspiration for his restaurant's institutional atmosphere because that explanation seems more enlightened than admitting his surly first grade teacher, Mrs. Sundwretchen, taught him everything he knows.

There is no other explanation, because the chef's testimony that food tastes better when the only sound in the room is other people's chewing and slurping is hogwash. Anyone who ever ate in a school cafeteria will witness to the fact that silence didn't make the mystery meat any more appetizing (or less of a mystery).


William Kendall said...

The very name Sundwretchen reminds me of a teacher named Wilhelm... who could have taught lessons in torture to Hitler, and probably did.

Lucy Adams said...

Hitler may be a good, but extreme, example of what the silent lunch can potentially do to a person.

Jo said...

Don't ever remember a silent lunch, we may have had them, just my memory doesn't stretch that far back. I can see the point of eating in silence, but not sure I would like doing so with a lot of others chomping and such all around me.