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Eet smakelijk and the wider European "enjoy your meal"


Pofta bunaeating in Romania...


I don't like it when people talk about my food while I'm eating. It makes me uncomfortable. To me, that seems normal. To the European, it's normal to wish an enjoyable meal.

I asked a Dutch girlfriend if she likes it when people say "eet smakelijk." She said "no, but you have to."

"Eet smakelijk" is the Dutch equivalent of "bon appétit." It seems as if every European culture has a variant. Spain, yes; Germany, yes. I've asked people from Italy, Poland, and Sweden — they all have a form of it.

The usage is quite specific, though of course there are regional variations. (In France, somebody wished K_ "bon appétit" when bringing her a cup of coffee.) But, whatever the differences, the phrase is part of a strong social code. Within the rules of the specific local custom, this expression is compulsory. Generally, if you see somebody eating, and they are within an appropriate realm of familiarity according to the local custom, you have to wish them a good meal.

You could say that "enjoy your meal" is a literal English-language translation of eet smakelijk. But there's no corresponding tradition, so the literal translation is inapplicable.

A Spanish acquaintance suggested that the reason that we don't share the custom is that the English have no cuisine....

In any case, it is not necessary in English-speaking cultures to talk about other peoples' food — not compulsory, and not normal.

But in nearly every other European language (if not every one,) it's important to wish an enjoyable meal. It's often necessary to do so, in order to be polite,

You just have to accept it. You don't have to like it. You don't have to do it; but it may be awkward if you don't.

And if you don't like other people saying it, you'll just have to get used to that.


— January 2004, Nijmegen The Netherlands


[edited for clarity October 2006]

[edited for clarity October 20012]


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