One of the many things I discovered in America is the concept of family style restaurant. The first time my friends took me to such a place, I thought it meant food tasted like your Mom’s cooking and I did not understand why everybody was getting involved in my order. (Maybe that was the real meaning: arguing over food and everything else, just like at the family dinner table.) Of course now I know better and I have had many other occasions to enjoy it. And here is my take on it: there are so many ways to get sick already and that are difficult to avoid, why would you want to add more? I come from a place where there still are some traditions that make sense. For example it is still very awkward to ask to share a dish in a French restaurant. I have to admit that dishes are not very big and there is hardly enough for one person anyway! (To be fair, on the topic of small portions, I attribute it to the fact that French people are used to a three-course meal as opposed to a single big dish, and also to the fact that they have not gotten into the doggie bag-way of life—yet.). Sometimes people will maybe share a desert if they dare to brave the disapproving and angry waiter, but this is not the norm. It can be pleasant to taste your friends’ dish, or to order a selection of different entrees and sides for the table but I think there are some easy precautions you can take that would make the experience more enjoyable since you would not go home with your very first cold sore or other unpleasant catches. Without driving yourself crazy, you should be aware that there are a lot of pathologies that are transmitted through saliva. Obviously if you are having dinner with someone who sneezes and coughs, you might pass on sharing that ice cream Sunday. The problem is, though, that some of those diseases may not be noticeable to the naked eye either because the person who has it shows very few and mild symptoms or because the person is still in the incubation phase and does not know he or she is infected. Here are a few examples of such viruses: mononucleosis and cold sores (both from the herpes virus family), cold, flu and other upper respiratory infections, hepatitis B, meningitis, etc. Again, the incubation period can vary from a few days to several weeks; in other words, you can be sick without knowing it.
This said, I would not recommend eating from the same plate, drinking from the same glass or bottle or sharing cutlery, especially if you are more vulnerable to diseases. I remember how surprised I was to see four friends eating the same ice cream that was presented in a deep glass, in a supposedly “gourmet” restaurant in Venice, Calif. I guess they shared more than food that evening. If you want to share, just ask for extra plates and put some of the food in it! So now the question is should you worry about the plates, cutlery, glasses that were used before and that maybe were not washed properly? Not really, unless it is a noticeable dirty place, but in that case there would be many other reasons to worry. You see, the viruses I mentioned earlier do not survive very long outside of our body, so you can relax a bit. My point is more this: let’s try to minimize the more obvious risks when it is easy to do so. Even if the majority of us are healthy and will not catch anything most of the time, I think there some good habits to adopt—like the habit of washing your hands before eating. It’s just as simple as that.