Plate rage

A few years ago, I’d just finished a plate of noodles at a music festival when I felt something thump me in my back. I looked round and saw a woman I’d never met before. I thought she’d drunkenly lost her balance and fallen into me, but no – she had deliberately punched me in the back. Why? Because I was eating my meal sitting on the floor, picnic-style, and I’d put my paper plate down in front of me rather than holding it in my hand. She was furious about the “littering”. Not furious enough to approach me face to face, obviously, just furious enough to punch me in the back. (I was sitting with three other people and we all had our plates in front of us, but I think she chose to punch me because I was the least tough-looking. So there was some method there.)

When I was ready to get up, I put my plate in the bin, which I would have done anyway even without being attacked. Later, I found out that the woman’s (male) partner had thumped at least one other person, also someone who’d just finished a meal, and shouted at him for “littering”. Both the woman who attacked me and her partner were clearly very unhappy about the idea that you might leave your used plate on the ground in front of you for a moment.

So far, so loopy. But I was reminded of this a few years later when I went to a post-funeral gathering. There was a buffet but you had to get drinks from the bar. I was carrying my used plate when I went up to buy a drink, and I put it down on the bar for a moment while I got my wallet out. The barman immediately shoved someone else’s dirty crockery on top of it and told me to “take it away, because I don’t fucking want it”. He looked very angry. Others told me that he’d spent most of the afternoon shouting at mourners who put their crockery on the bar.

I forgot all about this until last week, when I went to the pub with a friend who freaked out at the idea of sitting down at a table with dirty plates on it. I was happy to wait until a member of staff cleared it, but my friend insisted on hurrying them and looked quite anxious until the plates were gone.

Is this a thing? Is there a taboo about dirty plates? If so, it obviously isn’t an etiquette thing as such. It must be a hygiene thing or it wouldn’t provoke such extreme reactions.

Personally, I’m happy to finish a meal and continue sitting with the used plate in front of me. (I actually think it’s rude when hosts or restaurant staff start taking plates away before everybody has finished – it’s divisive and both finishers and non-finishers feel bad for different reasons.) I’m also happy to stack used plates in my kitchen without washing them immediately and leave them for a few hours, maybe even overnight. Is this unusual? Has anybody else experienced “plate rage”?

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One Comment on “Plate rage”


  1. […] finding out about is… plates. I’ve already blogged about the inexplicable phenomenon of “plate rage”, but remained hazy on what size of plate “officially” corresponds to what […]


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