Ultimacy of stuff and etiquette for the taking
One of the great social landmines in the UK coincides with something done nearly every day – the sharing of food. For some reason it’s looked upon as a great taboo to take the last piece or slice of anything. The reasoning seems sound – if there’s a finite amount of a thing to be shared, then the person who takes the last piece is therefore depriving everyone else from the opportunity of having some/more. Mathematically, if the Number of Slices (we’ll use slices, for ease) is greater than or equal to the number of people, then nobody really need experience angst about depriving someone else. But angst there is, and you can see people timing their run at a buffet so they’re not even taking the penultimate slice if likely to be observed, as it forces someone else into the last slice conundrum.
Among my circle of mates in Adelaide we dealt with the issue in a fairly pragmatic way – say for instance you’re having beer and pizza. It’s acceptable for someone to grab the last beer, or the last slice of pizza, but unless they’re a latecomer and haven’t had any at all it was poor form to grab both.
There’s a couple of strategies that I’ve seen develop to handle this syndrome.
One technique I’ve seen is the “half-life” approach, where if you’re down to the last slice you don’t take it, but rather cut it in half, so you’re not taking the actual last slice. Trouble is, after 2 or 3 runs at that it ends up being ludicrous, and you’re dealing with a slice that’s one pizza molecule wide and impossible to pick up with the human hand. So that doesn’t really work.
Another is to get permission so that you don’t have to deal with the crippling guilt of taking the last slice – asking in a loudish voice addressing nobody in particular, “Does anybody mind if I have the last piece?”. It’s a risky strategy, because if nobody hears you then you haven’t really gained approval, but if too many people hear you then one of them might say “Oh, I wanted that”. That’s always deflectable by then cutting the slice in half, but it all seems a bit tenuous.
The approach I’ve recently developed is to attract the attention of a couple of people nearby, pick up the final segment, and enquire, “Is this the English slice?”. And while they’re busy trying to work out what than means, walk off with it. The moderately amusing part is that they usually conclude, “Yes, I suppose it is”.
It turns out that buying 2 pizzas doesn’t always cure this quandary – that merely provides 2 final slices to get angsty about, although can be temporarily fixed by transferring one of them into the same box as the other.
You Earthlings are funny.