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I study an oral skills course and we have vocab lists based on a book called “Interactions 1”. However, I was practicing for my Midterm when I came across one activity and didn’t know the right answer.

In India, people don’t use/have a form of _______ for eating as one can eat using his hands.

Etiquette or Utensils?

During the course, we learned that 'Utensils' are tools to cook with but after research, it turned out that utensils are also tools to eat with. Moreover, we learned that etiquette is a way of doing the right thing in formal situations; however, I also know that etiquette is highly related to food and table manners, so I am so lost trying to find the right word to put inside the gap.

  • Utensils looks the right answer to me, as etiquette are rules how to eat/behave. – Ilan Jan 4 '18 at 20:17
  • For *utensils", not "a form of utensils" but "a kind of utensils". – user3169 Jan 5 '18 at 1:02
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In my mind, the practice question from your course is poorly written. It's confusing, especially with the way the verb changes on either side of the slash. Moreover, the more I read it, the more it seems to have shades of cultural bias.

Let's try utensils first:

In India, people don’t use utensils for eating as one can eat using his hands.

I don't like this one from a grammatical perspective, especially because of the word can. (Just because I can eat with my hands, that doesn't mean I am precluded from eating with utensils.) Therefore, I would feel better about the sentence if it said one of these instead:

In India, people don’t use utensils for eating, because they use their hands to eat.

In India, people sometimes don’t use utensils for eating, as one can eat using his hands.

The original mixes a definitely (people don't) with a maybe (one can eat).

My versions combine a definitely (people don't) with a definitely (because they use), or a maybe (people sometimes don't) with a maybe (one can eat).

So, grammatically, I don't really like this option. The alternative is to make this about etiquette:

In India, people don’t have a form of etiquette for eating as one can eat using his hands.

This makes me feel uncomfortable culturally because it implies eating with your hands is rude or uncivilized. Yes, people from India may eat with their hands more than diners from Western cultures. However, eating different isn't the same as rude, unmannered, or unrefined. One can dine with hands and still use etiquette; in fact, some cultures apparently do:

The etiquette of Indian dining varies with the region in India. Typically, both in urban and rural settings, Indians wash their hands thoroughly prior to dining, then eat with their fingers, without any cutlery. This practice is historic and premised on the cultural premise that eating is a sensual activity, and touch is part of the experience along with the taste, aroma of the food, and its presentation such as on a Thali, or on a large plate made from washed banana leaf, or stitched and washed leaves. Traditionally, the fingers are also used to feel the temperature of the food to one's taste, and combine flavors such as by tearing a small portion of bread (Roti, Naan) folding it into a small pocket to scoop a desired amount of food. In rural settings, sitting down together on floor mats in comfortable clothes is common. In urban homes, restaurants and hotel settings, tables and chairs are typical, while asking for cutlery and eating entirely or partially with cutlery is very common.

That sounds like a valid form of etiquette to me. So, while I like that sentence from a grammatical perspective more than the other one, it seems to be steeped in cultural ignorance, which bothers me.

In short, I feel about as lost as you do. This seems like a badly-written question and I wouldn't worry too much about it. Hopefully, the rest of the exercises in your course will be more helpful and clear than this one.

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  • in this case we are dealing with a cultural norm rather than a mechanical task so etiquette seems to fit best. – Samuel Feinstein Jan 5 '18 at 2:06

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