Thursday, November 25, 2010

The November Trip, Part 1: San Diego

For the past two years, I have arranged meetings and events at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual conference for Boss #1. I reserve rooms, choose menus, invite editorial boards, and create reports to be discussed at these meetings, all without ever seeing how the meetings actually operate. This year, after considerable petitioning on my own behalf, I was finally granted permission to attend the conference and experience the fruits of my labor. Thus, I packed a bag, boarded a plane, and set off for San Diego.

Unfortunately, because this was a work trip, I did not get to explore as much of San Diego as I would have liked. I did manage to eat at a few impressive establishments, run along the marina, and take walks around the downtown area, but the majority of my time was spent in the convention center or in a nearby hotel. However, travelling is all about new experiences, and I certainly had some of those.

Boss #1 is an oenophile (i.e. a wine lover and connoisseur) and therefore had me arrange for both red and white wine to be served at every one of his board meetings, with the exception of breakfasts. Consequently, within a forty-eight hour timeframe, I ate four different meals at which wine was served, plus two additional receptions.

Ordinarily I would decline this much alcohol, free or not. I don’t much care for the taste of alcohol, and I definitely don’t care for drinking around strangers. However, sitting around with strangers who are at least two if not three times as old as me and who only know me as “Boss #1’s Assistant,” I felt almost required to drink. I wanted to seem like more of a peer and less of a minion, and partaking of the “adult-like” portion of the meal—the alcohol—seemed one subtle way to do that.

Thus, I embarked on the tricky task of drinking enough to fit in while remaining completely sober. For an inexperienced drinker like me, this was a definite challenge. However, with eight occasions on which to practice (the four board meetings and two receptions I mentioned earlier, plus two dinners out with colleagues), I mastered my tolerance quickly.

Another trial-by-fire learning experience was determining which silverware to use. I am reasonably confident in my basic etiquette skills: put your napkin on your lap; wait until everyone is served to begin eating; don’t sip/slurp/spit your food, etc. However, I am unaccustomed to sitting down at meals where there are two or three forks, a couple of spoons, and a various assortment of cups. While I doubt that anyone was scrutinizing my eating habits, I know that my boss considers himself to be very cultured and refined, so I didn’t want to make him look bad by proxy.

One trick I remembered was to eat “outside in,” but at our very first meeting, the marketing director (whom I knew and therefore stuck to throughout the conference) claimed that the salad fork was the one above the plate. I followed his lead, but at the next meeting paid close attention to which utensils Boss #1 was using for which courses. As you may already know, it turns out I was right: the salad fork is the one farthest to the left. The dessert fork is the one above the plate.

After learning to “drink responsibly” and “eat properly,” I spent the remainder of the conference selling books, hunting for topics for books, and talking to scientists about writing books. Then, I had the pleasure of leaving work behind and reading a book on my two-hour train trip to Los Angeles. . . .


Kelly said...

Do not ask me why I know all this, but here are more tips for the next time you have a formal dinner:

-The spoon at the top of the plate is for coffee

-When you take butter, place it on the plate. Do not slice the bread in half and butter it all at once. Tear off bite sized pieces, put a little butter on, and eat. Yes, it's slow, but it's the proper way to do it.

-Along the same lines, you cut your food as you eat it, not all at once.

-If you are not sure which side the bread plate is on, or which side your drinks are on, make a circle with your index finger and thumbs on both hands, and keep the rest of the fingers extended. Your hands will form a "b" and a "d" for "bread" and "drink". Bread plate is the top left of your plate and drinks (wine glasses, water glasses, coffee cups) are to the right.

-If you are not done eating, keep your fork at about 8 o'clock and your knife at about 4 o'clock on the plate. This signals to the waiter that you are not yet finished. This also allows you to easily pick up your utensils to continue eating. Depending on the size of the plate, it sometimes makes a little "X" over the center of the plate, which can mean "Do not touch." When you are done, move your fork over to your knife at 4 o'clock. This is the signal for being finished with your plate.

Eric said...

Despite what anybody will tell you, from being a student catering manager in college always use silverware outside in and then up. You'll be right every time. And if you really care, spoon your soup away from you not towards you.