In September I went to Dublin to stay with my friend Christoph, who was spending a week there visiting his parents. We decided to go to a fancy members’ club, because we had a letter of introduction. We had to wear a jacket and tie, and the whole thing felt about a century out of date. It was a lot of fun.
We decided to have dinner there. The prices on the menu outside the dining room looked reasonable. When we sat down, though, we were given menus that didn’t have any prices, so we weren’t exactly sure how much everything cost.
When the waiter asked if we wanted dessert, we mused about getting some cheese. The waiter suggested we could order the cheese plate and also the stilton, and then share both.
We agreed. The waiter brought us a large cheese plate… which was completely dwarfed by the stilton.
He gave us an entire wheel of stilton.
So Christoph and I were sitting there, thinking we must have spent about a hundred euros on this gigantic amount of stilton. The waiter had crumbled most of the stilton already with a special cheese-trowel. We felt obliged to eat as much as we could, to be polite and to get our money’s worth.
Christoph and I ate and ate that stilton. The crackers ran out, so we called for more crackers. We managed to finish the other cheese plate, but there was still so much stilton to get through. We didn’t feel like we had a choice: we couldn’t waste it. If it hadn’t been such a smart place, we might have asked if we could take it away with us, but we were too embarrassed. This was a grand old Dublin establishment, and we were just visitors, worried about showing our bad etiquette by letting the mounds of stilton defeat us.
After about an hour, we gave up. We had done the best we could, and we had eaten nearly all of the stilton. We were too dazed to pay much attention to the fact that the cost of the stilton on our bill came to only eight euros.
Our plan had been to go for a drink somewhere, but we both felt too ill. Barely able to move, we staggered home.
The next morning, we told Christoph’s parents about our stilton experience. His mother said, “You realise that was probably the communal stilton? You were meant to take a helping and then give them back their wheel of cheese.”
We stared at her in horror. “Surely not,” we said. “There was nothing to suggest that we were meant to share it!”
Then we remembered that it had cost us just eight euros.
I flew home that day, so I missed the end of the story. But a couple of days later, Christoph returned to the club with a different friend. They were being served by a different waiter this time, so nobody recognised Christoph. When the dessert menu came, Christoph couldn’t resist ordering the stilton… just to see what would happen.
The waiter brought them the exact same wheel of stilton that Christoph and I had almost finished a few nights earlier. He said to Christoph, “Help yourself, but please could you leave some for the other guests. I’m very sorry, but our new supply of stilton hasn’t arrived yet.”
So that was the time we ate a restaurant’s weekly supply of stilton because we were too polite to stop eating, and the staff were too polite to tell us we weren’t supposed to.