Speaking Your Mind

ven a cenar

Sheen says:

 

Why is it OK nowadays to say whatever you want even when you know you’re hurting somebody?

 

It seems to be a virtue, as though frankness were the most valuable quality a person can have. I have thought hard and long about this, believe me, and I am practically completely sure that this just ain’t the case.

 

Maybe I’m old-fashioned or eccentric, but I reckon that “respect for other people” ought to be up there in the Number One spot, and “frankness” around third or fourth place. Maybe what I call frankness is what other people call sincerity, which would allow them to rate it so highly.

 

Now, why am I bothering to write this garbage… OK, here we go. I have to confess I have become addicted to a TV show called “Ven a cenar conmigo”. I believe it’s the Spanish version of a British programme; I daresay the format has been reproduced all over the world, but the only version I know is the Spanish one, broadcast every evening on Antena 3, whose title translates as “Come and have dinner at my place”.

 

Four or five total strangers meet up in each others’ house on consecutive evenings, each taking turns to prepare a meal for the others and generally entertain them. Each diner then gives the host a score out of ten, and at the end of the week, the overall winner pockets 6000 euros. Each programme lasts just half an hour, which is about the limit of my attention span in any case. There is an obnoxious unseen narrator who uses childish puns to explain what’s going on.

 

The four or five contestants usually get on well the first day, things start to get a bit tense on Tuesday or Wednesday, and by Friday there are always two who loathe each other.

 

As a rule, I hate these reality shows (Big Brother, etc.) but Ven a cenar conmigo is so compressed, and focuses on the meal that one of them prepares, that it is, in fact, rather entertaining. 90% of the dishes they cook up are crass, but I have occasionally got a few ideas from watching this show. They invariably daub their first course with balsamic vinegar, an undeniable symptom of cretinism, in my opinion; the plates they use for the main course tend to be tastelessly enormous; they use far too much cream in just about all their dishes; they have absolutely no idea about what wine to serve or how to serve it; the host relies too much on surimi, the blender and garish table décor; meat dishes always arrive at the table stone cold because the host has been too busy “decorating” the plate with meaningless colourful items.

 

Apart from the purely culinary aspect of the show, the main attraction is to observe how the people interact. There’s usually one stuck-up pedant who finds fault with everything and everyone, one boor who uses this TV opportunity to show the world what an idiot he is (and it’s usually a “he”, but not always), one brutish gormless oaf who laughs at other people’s jokes without understanding anything, and one highly-strung, well-meaning woman who breaks down in tears on Thursday or so.

 

I’ve often thought that if I were invited to a complete stranger’s house for dinner, I would be on my best behaviour. I would aim to be polite, witty and tolerant. If there’s something on the menu I don’t care for, I wouldn’t shout about it. If somebody makes a nasty comment about me, I would brush it off, and if they make a nasty comment about anyone else, I would delicately suggest they apologise. Rudeness to the host is unacceptable, even if it’s supposed to be amusing.

 

However, in this programme, it would appear that to be the perfect guest, you have to “speak your mind”. It’s perfectly acceptable to insult other people, brag and criticise everything as long as you’re being “sincere”. You lie to your host and say the hake is divine, then when he pops into the kitchen you say the food’s crap. You compliment your neighbour on her dress, then bitch about her when she’s out of earshot. Then you get out of it by saying, “Hey, at least I’m being sincere.” Excuse me??

 

The mechanism of the programme allows each person to change their vote on the last day. The vindictive losers take this chance to knock down the vote they originally gave to the person they thought was going to give them a 7 but actually gave them a 3. The loud-mouthed trouble-makers usually cancel each other out so the winner tends to be the person whose anodyne dinner and watery personality didn’t get stuck in anybody’s throat.

 

Heen is convinced that all the people around the table are actors. Nobody would behave the way they do, he argues. It’s true that there does seem to be an exceptionally high percentage of extravagant weirdoes and foul-mouthed hooligans competing every week, all of whom are nevertheless capable of serving the most elaborate dishes. I find it hard to believe that these people are a representative cross-section of the Spanish population.

 

You might be forgiven for thinking that I am not the most qualified person to criticise people for speaking their mind. It’s true, I can be as rude and offensive as the most unpleasant contestant on this show, and then some. What’s more, I think I deserve a diploma in “Creative Humiliation”. I usually reserve my spleen for unhelpful shop assistants, smarmy taxi drivers, etc. My vileness comes out as a defence mechanism, often pre-emptively, but never unwarrantedly.

 

Come and have dinner at my place and you will see I am the charmingest hostess you could dream of. And if you dare to say my cheese soufflé is dry, I’ll vomit all over you and yell in your face till you regret you were ever born.

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