My Mother-in-law Uses her own Chopsticks to Grab Communal Food

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a homemaker in my 40s, and I have concerns about people who use their own chopsticks to take food from communal plates when I eat with them.

I sometimes have the opportunity to visit my in-laws and taste my mother-in-law’s great cooking. She is a really good cook. She also takes good care of all of us, and I love her. However, she always uses her own chopsticks for communal plates instead of using serving chopsticks.

When we first had a family gathering after I had gotten married, my mother-in-law said to me, “We don’t use serving chopsticks in this family, so please don’t worry about just using your own chopsticks.” She said using serving chopsticks was too cold and formal for them, so I went along with it. However, I still can’t get used to it. Even now, when she offers to have us take home some of her fantastic food, I don’t really want to when I think about how unsanitary it could be.

With the coronavirus pandemic, I think not using serving chopsticks has become a real problem. While I have realized this, I am probably starting to get annoyed at my mother-in-law and those around her for not having come to the same realization. Please tell me how I can solve this tactfully.

— J, Hyogo Prefecture

Dear Ms. J:

I think we all have our own ideas about manners and what is considered hygienic. There are cultural differences, too. In Japan, we make a lot of noise when we eat soba or miso soup, but in the West, this is considered to be quite rude.

I think while trying to observe social manners as best we can, it is important to not get caught up in minor transgressions. However, I feel the case of not using serving chopsticks is a bit of a different matter. It is a question of what is sanitary, and that is especially pertinent considering the pandemic. I think it would be wise to be careful about using one’s own chopsticks, and I think they should be asked to stop.

The person who should ask them to stop should be your husband. It bothers everyone when others point out that what they have been accustomed to for years is a mistake, and they tend to resist changing it. It may cause even more of a stir when a daughter-in-law says it.

There are newspaper articles about the perils of not using serving chopsticks in this age of a pandemic; why not show those articles to them? They might actually heed the advice if it comes from a third party.

Please graciously accept the offer to take leftovers home. What to do with the leftovers after you take them home is a different matter. While wasting food is not a good idea, I think for the sake of preserving your loving relationship with your mother-in-law, some sacrifices must be made.

—Masami Ohinata, university president