The Politics of Food

Fortune Cookie Messages - For Your Eyes Only?

It's a familiar situation. The platters of lo mein and kung pao shrimp have been cleared. Your friend moans and says, "I shouldn't have eaten that last dumpling." Everyone laughs. The check arrives and with it a tray full of fortune cookies, one for each member of your large party.

"Everybody open and share!," someone cries. A crinkle of the plastic, a snap of the cookie and the missive emerges. You gulp. Do I really have to read this out loud?

I don't know, do you? Convention if not custom dictates that fortune cookie messages are to be shared with your dining companions, but what if the words will embarrass you? Or make someone else at the table feel awkward? Or both?

Imagine, for instance, you're at Fung's Kitchen just finishing up a "team-building" dinner with your boss and co-workers. You crack open your cookie and the fortune reads something like "Your next job will be more fulfilling" or "New work is on the horizon." Ha-ha. But, um, shit, you actually were planning on leaving the company at the end of the month.

Now, I recognize that about 75 percent of fortune cookie messages are positive, about 15 percent are neutral and 8 percent weird/confusing. So, yes, the number of categorically bad/mean fortune cookie messages is a small minority; however, as you can see from the photo, what is "good" and "humorous" is largely dependent on context.

I really believe you should be able to say some universally recognized phrase that communicates you would rather sit out fortune cookie show-and-tell. Something akin to "I'll plead the fifth" but less suggestive of self-incrimination. Something that expresses, "Trust me, we're all better off if I do not read this slip of paper."

Anyway, I'm taking suggestions for this phrase.

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Joanna O'Leary