Correct chopeing etiquette


In Singapore, you reserve tables in food courts by putting a small worthless item, like a packet of tissues, on the table and then wandering off to get your food. I find this a bit annoying, although the person I discussed this with on the way to lunch today thought it was great, but he admitted he was biased, because somebody else always choped for him. Coming from London, I don’t like it. I think you only truly have claim to a seat if you’re sat in it, or perhaps if your name is engraved on it. Blame this on formative experiences when I heard people grumbling that somebody (my parents) had laid claim to seats in a crowded restaurant just by depositing their child (me) on them.

But my heightened table-claiming reflexes, heightened from years on the mean streets of London, the sharpened-elbow world of Hong Kong, and from drinking an extra strong coffee this morning, mean I’ve become a chopeing machine.

There were ten of us in need of seats. I came round a corner and saw a set of eight, just vacated by somebody who’d left an enormous mound of dirty plates. Equidistant to the table, two other potential diners moved slowly towards it.

I couldn’t help it. Instinct kicked in and I pounced, three quick strides propelling me into table range and then sliding my buttocks onto the closest seat. Table claimed.

Now, anyone with any chutzpah would sit down opposite me at the table, realizing I’d only managed to lay claim to one chair at the table. Why eat sour grapes when you can be a dog in a manger? Instead, they stood there with bemused and grumpy looks on their faces, like drunks who had just lost a bet (thanks to Lucy Porter’s A Good Life stand-up show for that neverendingly helpful simile). But that’s too bad. There’s no rule saying that if you thought you saw a free table first, it’s yours. Things are much less ambiguous: first person to get to it, gets it. If they’d been dangling a pack of tissues over the table and I’d slid underneath them, like an occult curling practitioner, they could claim to have been robbed, but this was a fair victory.

They didn’t agree, and started yelling.

Unfortunately for them, or fortunately for me, they yelled in Chinese, and they yelled at one of my colleagues, who’s of Chinese ethnicity, and therefore has to understand what’s being yelled at him (notwithstanding the possibility that Mandarin and Cantonese could be mutually incomprehensible, or that at least some people might be brought up without learning a Chinese language, despite their ethnicity. Almost as if it’s possible there might be people who immigrated from China to England decades ago, and had kids. But what’s the chance of that?)

Sometimes, not understanding what people yell at you is an advantage: there’s no opportunity to get offended. They wandered off after that, rather than lunchtime descending into a West Side Story style Jets vs Sharks showdown. I worry that even now, somebody is grumbling about foreigners coming over and stealing all the good tables.

The only thing for it, I recognise, is for me to avoid future tensions by going to the food court half an hour before anyone else and putting a packet of tissues on every single table. Then there’ll be no more arguments provoked by supposedly unfairly higher speed.


4 responses to “Correct chopeing etiquette”

  1. I truly didn’t realise there was a word for table grabbing. Does chopeing rhyme with hoping? True etiquette I am told is to wait until you have purchased the food before laying claim to a table. This is negated by a) having small children or b) a companion of advanced years who might keel over if left without a seat !

    • Well, the word only exists in Singlish, so I wouldn’t try to chope a table in London. As well as being a neologism, it’s apparently quite a new thing: only from the middle of the last decade, before which I assume it was a complete free-for-all. Which probably involved more shouting…

  2. Ah yes, I remember every holiday I was deposited on an empty seat in the Croydon McDonalds. I am a long experienced choper, although as you say, I have never done it myself.

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