When I drive past restaurants with signs boasting "Family Style Dining" I put the pedal to the metal, leaving skid marks and surprised State Troopers in my wake.

I used to start shaking and biting my lower lip but the medication has helped.

The words "family-style" and "dining" cancel each other out--form an oxymoron--just like "jumbo shrimp" or "academic salary."

Let's face it: the entire concept of "family style dining" scares me.

What does "family style dining" (or FSD as we will call it) mean, exactly?  People yell at you while you eat? 

Your older brother is allowed to grab the bigger piece because he's a boy?

Your cousin will start kicking you under the table even though she is now thirty-eight years old and a successful journalist (two words, by the way, that also arouse suspicion when placed together)?

You have to finish everything on your plate or your car will be towed at your own expense? 

If you ask for water you will be given a look so bitter and resentful that it is ordinarily reserved for the loyal girlfriends of serial killers? 

These are not business-attracting thoughts. These ideas are not the sort of "get-ahead" ideas promoted in marketing classes at any reputable business school.

And I say all this as a kid coming from a family that liked to cook and loved to eat. What do people from other kinds of families think?

I did a highly scientific survey of some of closest friends who could be easily reached by phone and I'm happy to provide the results: they don't like the idea of FSD either.

To my husband (who initially thought FSD was an STD and was suddenly concerned with how my column was catching on), "family style" means that cornflakes and guilt will somehow be involved in the meal, either as a main dish or as a key ingredient in preparation.

To Christine, FSD means that no one will speak during the meal and that the whole affair will resemble a Swedish wake.

To Lili, it means that there will be conversation but it will be on assigned topics in order to prevent anyone from saying anything meaningful which might, after all, disrupt the digestive process.

(Imagine the contrast to my family of origin where it was announced, more or less ritually at every meal--including lunch on the weekends-- that someone's affair was destroying the family or that someone's child had been allocated the wrong paternity).

To Jess it means that everyone will be watching what morsel you eat, silently computing calories from fat and protein in order to tell you how much more you've consumed than any other woman at the table, suggesting helpfully that you should start ordering clothes from a store called "The Biggish Woman."  

I know, I know: FSD is supposed to mean that you can relax when you walk into the place, that you get to know the servers by name, and that you can bring your screaming children into the establishment without raising any eyebrows.

In that case, however, the sign should read "Family-Style Dining: From The Family You Always WISHED You Had."

As for me, I'll stick to Restaurant-Style Dining. That's where you hear the words that no family member has ever said to any of their kin: "Welcome! Sit down and relax and whenever you're ready, please let me know what I get for you this evening."

For that, I'll happily slow down, chow down, smile broadly, and pay up.

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