How to Use a Toothpick

Before coming to Thailand, I had not seen or used a toothpick in a very long time. Some American restaurants offer them at the cash register for when you go to leave after your meal. But in Thailand they are on every table, as ubiquitous as the salt and pepper shakers on tables back in the US. Sometimes each toothpick is individually wrapped, sometimes a dispenser has a hole that will let several bare toothpicks out at once and you pick the one you want. Here is the former method from the Cafe at the DPU Place Hotel in Bangkok. 

So I started using them, figuring my dentist would approve. A properly aimed toothpick does about the same job as flossing, at least for the spot it can reach.

After a few days of using these tools again, I made a discovery. There is a proper way to use a toothpick in Thailand. I made this discovery while having lunch one day inside a mall in a fairly crowded food court area. I looked up and three people in various parts of the room had finished their meal and had started in with their toothpicks. I didn't take a picture, so you're just gonna have to trust me here.

You don't just open your mouth, stick the toothpick inside and start picking away! Only a crass American would do that. All three of the people I observed were using the exact same technique. I have seen it other times since, so it must be right. Here it is, in hopes of educating the folks back home to be a little more sophisticated.
  1. Grab or unwrap a toothpick and hold it in your dominant hand. For me, that's the right hand. For my brother, it would probably be his left hand.
  2. Okay, don't get ahead of me here. Do not open your mouth! Not yet.
  3. Take your non-dominant hand and hold it, palm toward your lips, in front of your mouth a few inches away. This is a little privacy curtain that will hide your possibly disgusting open mouth from the outside world.
  4. With that hand in place and always in place, open your mouth and then insert the toothpick with your dominant hand.
  5. Start poking around, seeking out and dislodging particles of food that have gotten stuck in the various crevasses in your teeth. Keep that vision blocking hand in front at all times!
  6. Don't stop until you've got it all. 
  7. Then close your mouth, and ONLY after it is closed, put down both hands and discard the used tool.
  8. You're done.

Now in the Midwest where I grew up, it was not unusual to see a guy walking along with a toothpick dangled out of the corner of his mouth, like a cigarette, ready to be used at the first sign of a piece of food discovered in the wrong place with his tongue. I have NOT seen this in Thailand and I'm pretty sure it would not be considered a proper practice.

Okay, do you wanna see a nice Thai lunch? Well here is one, from the same table as the toothpicks shown above. Notice the little pouch that has been opened up to reveal its contents. What that is inside is shrimp Pad Thai. Back home when you order Pad Thai, you get a yummy pile of noodles and eggs on a plate. Here the noodles are contained in a lovely little pouch, a thin tortilla-like wrapping. The soup is a spicy shrimp coconut milk soup. There were a lot of shrimp, nine between the two dishes. Orange juice to wash it all down. Simple, delicious, healthy. Cost - 176 Baht, about $5.50 US.