According to strangers on the internet, one can easily distinguish an American from a crowd of Europeans by the way they eat. If you’re thinking, “Well, of course. I’d just look for the person attempting to order food that isn’t on the menu while violently butchering the local language and somehow managing to be the loudest, most obnoxious individual in the restaurant,” you wouldn’t be off the mark—but I’m after something different. According to internet folklore, during WWII, an American spy’s use of cutlery exposed him to his enemies and led to his untimely demise. It’s an utterly unverifiable anecdote, which is my favorite kind of anecdote.
For whatever reason, those of us living in the United States will often eat meals thusly: We place the fork in our left hand and knife in our right when cutting food, then set our cutlery down on the table, picking up the fork in our right hand to eat with the fork tines facing upward.
Meanwhile, Europeans hold the fork in their left hand with the tines facing downward, using the knife to cut and move food toward the fork, then pick up food with the fork remaining in their left hand.
The American way of eating seems inefficient, and if we’re honest, I’m too lazy to set my food tools down to switch hands when shoveling foodstuffs into my face. I’ll make things work with the least effort imaginable.
Interestingly, my niece prefers the American method of dining, and I guess that’s a fitting observation since most of the world sees us as loud-mouthed children. We are, and we’re damned proud of it, too—cue Team America: World Police theme song.
Thinking about all this reminded me of the unspoken customs and language among motorcyclists. Most of them are self-explanatory, like pointing at the fuel tank or extending a foot to signal toward debris, but others are a little more obscure.
Tapping the top of your helmet is the universal sign for “Watch out for police.” How all two-wheeled enjoying individuals agreed upon this signal is beyond me, or how tapping one’s head translates to “police,” but I’m glad it’s there.
Many times, a random motorcyclist has tapped their helmet to warn me of an officer deviously lurking not far up the road ahead, twisting his mustache, cackling menacingly as they aim their radar guns in my direction. And due to my natural disposition to buck any authority, I return the favor to fellow motorcyclists. Remember, kids, you’re not breaking the law if you don’t get caught.
There are other signs, too. When traveling around, riders sometimes have subtle or not-so-subtle pieces of clothing that identify them as motorcyclists. Those attending Sturgis, Rossi fans, and ravers from the ’90s are some of the least conspicuous folk I can imagine. Branded hats, shirts, backpacks, and the like are usually a dead giveaway. Those things can lead to the awkward conversation in elevators of “So…what do you ride, bro?” Then, for the next few minutes, two grown adults spout spec-sheet information at each other while everyone around them grows increasingly uncomfortable.
Of course, how could we forget about the telltale shifter mark on the commuting motorcyclist’s boot? They may have dressed down discretely and packed their frumpy Aerostich suit into a top case, but the branding of a shifter mark is unmistakable. We know what it is and what you’re doing before and after work…we know.
Climbing deeper into this rabbit hole, we can take things further and look at actual riding habits. A few friends of mine typically spend their day’s trail riding and rarely touch pavement. The idea of leaning with a motorcycle instead of counterbalancing is unheard of and borders on some deviancy that should be looked at with disdain.
Conversely, I spent most of my seat time on the asphalt, so when the road ends, it takes a few seconds for me to remember that attempting to stick my knee out like Márquez is a sure-fire way to drag your knee, and your elbow, shoulder, head, etc.
Our body language can often give us away: Those riding a trail with their elbows in, hunched over, and looking directly ahead of the front wheel probably feel stressed. Likewise, a street rider who sits bolt upright and seems more rigid than a flagpole is experiencing similar feelings. In either case, those riders would be wise to take a deep breath, chill out, get their elbows out, and work on looking much further ahead.
Language and communication is a funny thing. We often engage others without being cognizant of it, or even having an idea of what we’re saying to those around us. Right now, you’re reading words from what’s most likely a mobile device, according to our data analytics, perhaps wondering what your gear or style says about you in the world while sitting in the Thinking Room. Or, maybe you’ve just been wondering if you should start holding a fork and knife more efficiently. Anyway, the sign on the door isn’t just for employees: Always wash your hands after using the restroom.