The International Phenomenon of “The Last Piece”

lemonbarWe have previously chronicled the Midwestern phenomenon in which there is nearly always one piece of food left on potluck serving trays. Well, there’s more to the story, and it has international implications.

The international implication inspiration for this post came from my son-in-law who informed me of the German word andstandreste, defined by him as “the piece which out of propriety one does not take.”  A blog elaborates:

This always remains decency: None takes the last of the coffee from the pot, no one picks up the last sandwiches on the plate. In the gummy bears that Peter has brought his holiday before us, it is again the same way: From each variety is exactly one left. [translated from German to English by Google]

Then there’s the German word andstandstuck, which seems to mean pretty much the same thing.  Of course, the downside of this custom is leftover food, and that can be a shame when the food is particularly good.  One man has tried to solve this problem:

We know this embarrassing situation: No one dares the last piece of cake to take. Lonely and sad it is then

Cake plate with artificial last piece

Cake plate with artificial last piece

on the cake plate and is not eaten, while it tastes so good! To the tragedy of decency piece to finish, designer Sigrid Ackermann has designed a cake board on which there are no last piece. Well, there is already a piece at the end are, but where would any hard nut teeth. And that’s not the only benefit of the pie piece plate decency: The taboo of Torteanschneidens before serving is broken. [yup, Google translation of German]

But wait. Now let’s travel to Sweden for the definition of their word trivselbit:

You know your great-great-aunt, the one who hosted three hour family dinners on real silver dinnerware and looked disapprovingly at you if you stole the last cookie from under her watchful eye? Well, she was teaching you a valuable life lesson for living in Sweden—don’t ever be the one to take the last piece of whatever it is you’re serving. That last pastry or piece of cake is the trivselbit, the comfort or security piece, and leaving it in peace is a sacred rule of Swedish table manners. Take the second-to-last piece, though, and you’re fine.

The last piece taboo isn’t just a European tradition.  If you snoop around the internet you’ll find advice not to take the last piece in Hong Kong and be informed that unmarried people in Chile won’t take the last piece lest they be cursed to never marry.  One even wonders if this is some kind of natural law written on the conscience of people everywhere. But since I particularly enjoy last pieces that can’t possibly be true. 

The next step in this investigation will be how this all started. Is there mythology about someone being cursed for taking a last piece? Did a king die while choking on the last piece?  This must have started somewhere and for some reason. Hopefully there will be another post in the future to pursue these questions.

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2 Comments

Filed under Doodling in the margins

2 responses to “The International Phenomenon of “The Last Piece”

  1. I’ve always assumed that this phenomenon flows from having been taught to be considerate of others. My own hesitation in grabbing the last piece tends to be due to a concern that I should allow someone else the joy of a particular dish rather than to selfishly hog it all. Most folks, having been taught the same thing or having interpreted the passing over of the last piece by others as a group stigma against taking it, leave the last piece to sit unmolested.

    • Here’s a Jewish angle:

      3 litvaks and a chassid were visiting a friend for Shabbos. At Seudah Shlishi, the host puts out a plate with 5 pieces of herring on it and says, “Enjoy! Don’t wait for me, I don’t like herring.”

      Each guests grabs one piece. They are all eyeballing the one piece left on the plate, not wanting to seem like the greedy one for taking the extra piece. Suddenly, the lights go out. A piercing scream is suddenly heard! Just as quickly, the lights go back on.

      There, on the plate, is a hand holding the last piece, with 3 forks stuck in it.

      But to respond, the Midwestern sensibility, like yours, says it is selfish to take the last piece. I’m guessing such an ethic could only take hold in a land of plenty. As for my background, Mainers would think it makes no sense to leave a bunch of leftover pieces, and we might even strategize to get the last piece before the likely prime competitor(s).

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