26

In response to the answer at https://scifi.stackexchange.com/a/183210/21871:

"Never mind, Amos,” said Mrs Weasley. “Sure you won’t have a bit of toast or anything before you go?”

“Oh go on, then,” said Mr Diggory.

Mrs Weasley took a piece of buttered toast from a stack on the kitchen table, put it into the fire tongs, and transferred it into Mr Diggory’s mouth.

“Fanks,” he said in a muffled voice, and then, with a small pop, vanished.

*– Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 11 (Aboard the Hogwarts Express)*

jpmc26 asked:

if she could have simply handed him the toast, why use tongs?
  • 4
    She used tongs instead of her hands, dear JdeBP, because fire is hot. A better question, really, is why she didn't use her wand. – AJFaraday Mar 12 '18 at 9:10
  • @AJFaraday I assume he didn't use the wand because using tongs is more muggle-y :) – xDaizu Mar 12 '18 at 15:46
  • 3
    "Stick out your tongue, mr. Diggory. It's quite cool". Three pieces for the Elven-kings under the sky... – Jeroen Mostert Mar 12 '18 at 16:14
54

Because the book very clearly states that his head is in the (red hot) flames in their fireplace.

Amos Diggory’s head was sitting in the middle of the flames like a large bearded egg. It was talking very fast, completely unperturbed by the sparks flying around it and the flames licking its ears.

If she'd been stupid enough to put her bare hand into the fire to pass him the toast, she would have been burned.

enter image description here

Note that on another instance when using fireplace magic to communicate, Crookshanks was unable to get too close because of the heat.

“Sirius!’ he said.
Harry whipped round. Sirius’s untidy dark head was sitting in the fire again. ‘Hi,’ he said, grinning.
‘Hi,’ chorused Harry, Ron and Hermione, all three kneeling down on the hearthrug. Crookshanks purred loudly and approached the fire, trying, despite the heat, to put his face close to Sirius’s.
‘How’re things?’ said Sirius.”

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 17 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-four)

  • 9
    In the books, at least, Floo-calls were green, not red. And the magic of the floo makes the flames warm but not hot (like the Flame-Freezing charm). So no, I doubt the flames would have burned a fully-qualified witch like Molly Weasley. It was, as JdeBP said, more out of politeness and etiquette. – Jeff Mar 10 '18 at 14:03
  • 11
    @Jeff - Except that she takes it with her hands, then uses the tongs to put it into the fire. – Valorum Mar 10 '18 at 14:05
  • 5
    the toast may be warmer than the floo flames :) also, it can still be an issue of etiquette. She cant serve it on a plate, Digory has no access to his hands and she is uncomfortable with just stuffing the toast in his face. Using a tool is the best option, so Molly takes the tongs, which are the most convenient in this case. – user68762 Mar 10 '18 at 16:37
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    @Lt.Ortega - A British person (and certainly one of Molly's social class when speaking to a family friend) would simply say "excuse fingers". The implication being that if the food is clean enough to be eaten, it's clean enough to be passed with the hands. – Valorum Mar 10 '18 at 16:40
  • 3
    Floo fire is described as being emerald green in colour, so the flames in the Weasley fireplace are probably not Floo flames but regular fire (against which Diggory is presumably rendered temporarily immune while Flooing). As @Jeff points out and A History of Magic makes clear, though, even red hot flames would not have burned a fully-qualified witch if she didn’t want them to. So the flames are likely not the reason. Nor is etiquette or awkward positioning. Which leaves us with… no good reason at all that I can think of. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 10 '18 at 19:15
43

Because it has historically been proper etiquette to serve such food to other people with tongs, rather than touching it with one's hands.

Household guides and books of etiquette going back at least as far as the 19th century talk about all of the things properly served at meals with various sorts of serving tongs: cubed sugar, pickles, sandwiches, cake, sardines, asparagus, steak, and so forth.

Toast is served with tongs, too. Note that, whilst metal serving tongs historically exist, because toast is generally made nowadays in an electric toaster, serving tongs for toast are nowadays made from plastic or wood for electrical safety.

toast tongs from Myrtlewood Factory Outlet of Oregon U.S.A.

Ironically, wood would have been entirely unsuitable for the historical way of making buttered toast, which was holding it in front of a fire with a metal toasting fork.

A seventeenth century wrought iron toasting fork from the collection at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

M. Kasson (in further reading) goes into a lot of detail of the explosion of specialized flatware in the middle to late 19th century, and touches upon the notion that many of these were over-specialized by silvermongers to expand their sales catalogues.

In practice, as explained in other further reading, using the wrong tongs is not as gauche as one might think. As Mrs Hale demonstrates, in a recipe For Taking Grease out of the Leaves of Books, when one type of tongs is unavailable another sort will do, substituting hairdresser's pinching tongs for fire tongs in this particular case. (It's below a recipe for using toast for removing wax from velvet, interestingly.)

Of course, fire tongs (which are inserted into a fire, notice, rather putting the kibosh on the idea that this is unsanitary) were a regular substitute or indeed primary kitchen utensil for handling food. Emily Post described some of their uses:

A pair of long tongs is useful for arranging coals and for moving anything that is hot. They are ideal for turning corn or potatoes as they cook in the coals and better for turning a steak than a fork, which pierces the meat and allows the juices to escape.

— Emily Price Post and Elizabeth Post (1975). The New Emily Post's Etiquette. Funk & Wagnalls. p.354.

One can find much the same advice continued today in advice to owners of barbecues:

special charcoal tongs can be bought, but a pair of standard metal tongs is sufficient

— Cara Hobday (1995). Barbecues. Shooting Star Press. ISBN 9781573351102. p. 79.

Further reading

  • Paul Bourcier and Ruby Rogers eds. (2010). "Serving utensils". Nomenclature 3.0 for Museum Cataloging. American Association for State and Local History book series. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780759111936. pp. 148–149.
  • U.S. Fire Administration (October 1980). "The kitchen: toast tongs". Teaching Fire Safety Through Exhibits. Federal Emergency Management Agency. FA-36. pp. 27–28.
  • "Toast, Buttered". Cassell's dictionary of cookery. London: Cassell, Ltd. 1883. p. 979.
  • "Hot Buttered Toast". Cassell's Household Guide. London: Cassell, Ltd. 1869. p. 313.
  • William Kidd (1852-02-28). "Buttered Toast". Kidd's Own Journal. volume 1. issue 9. London: William Spooner. p. 132–133.
  • Judith Martin (1983). "Table Manners". Miss Manners' Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780671722289.
  • John F. Kasson (1991). "Table Manners and the Control of Appetites". Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9781466806634.
  • Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1857). Mrs. Hale's receipts for the million. Philadelphia: T.B. Peterson. p. 63.
  • Alison Ravetz and R. Turkington (2013). The Place of Home: English domestic environments, 1914–2000. Planning, History and Environment Series. Routledge. ISBN 9781135158453.
  • 3
    Then why did she touch it with her hands? – Valorum Mar 10 '18 at 16:27
  • 9
    ^ Valid point. She used fire tongs, not toast tongs. – Mwr247 Mar 10 '18 at 18:20
  • 9
    Using toast tongs might be good etiquette, but using (presumably used, dirty, and unsanitary) fire tongs is definitely not good manners anywhere. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 10 '18 at 19:03
  • 3
    @JanusBahsJacquet: We know that wizards are either less susceptible to muggle illnesses, or more able to cure them. Perhaps they also have less concern about sanitation? Given how dated their society is, it's at least within the outer limits of believability that they have never actually heard of germ theory. – Kevin Mar 10 '18 at 19:40
  • 2
    @JanusBahsJacquet: I think that's the joke in this scene. – Peter Cordes Mar 12 '18 at 2:41
13

Reaching into fireplaces requires awkward and uncomfortable posture

In Order of the Phoenix, Harry uses the fireplace in Umbridge's office to contact Sirius, and the experience is painful:

his knees were already objecting painfully to their prolonged contact with Umbridge’s hard stone floor

By extending Molly's reach, tongs helped her to avoid a similar painful posture when passing toast to Amos.

  • 2
    I'm assuming she wouldn't put the toast into the fire with her face – Valorum Mar 10 '18 at 16:03
  • But this is the same fireplace that neatly holds grown people at full height. The fireplace in the Gryffindor common room is not intended to be used for Floo transportation and has normal dimensions; the Weasley one is clearly different. If you can stride into it, surely you can pass a piece of toast into without awkward positioning as well. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 10 '18 at 19:01
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet - I'm assuming that the flames aren't as tall as people, and that Amos' head would appear near the ground. – Gaultheria Mar 10 '18 at 20:03
  • 4
    @JanusBahsJacquet - When a person reaches a certain age, there's a cost (in pain) for kneeling or bending at the waist, and using tongs in this case would be a trivially easy way to avoid that pain. – Gaultheria Mar 10 '18 at 20:13
  • 1
    @Gaultheria No, the issue is whether your proposed explanation sufficiently explains why Molly Weasley would do as she did, which it does not. Of course some people experience pain when bending—some experience pain just lying down; that doesn’t mean Mrs Weasley does. There isn’t anything to indicate that she would, whereas there is plenty that indicates that she wouldn’t. So yes, I think we can end this discussion here. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 10 '18 at 20:33
4

It's always been considered intimate to feed something to someone's mouth with fingers. Tools are always used except in the case of a close relationship - parent to child, child to parent, or lover to lover. Even if the food is handled with fingers in the process - such as moving it from a plate to the tongs - the intermediate step of tongs is needed to prevent either party from feeling too intimate with the other when intimacy isn't appropriate.

It's not that it's rude - it's actually the opposite, it's too intimate. The choice of tool is reasonable, as forcing her to stoop, kneel, etc would be even more distant - that of a servant, rather than a friend.

So the tongs provide a reasonable middle ground - close friend, but not intimate.

  • The question we should be asking is why not magic rather than tongs? For that I guess we'd have to answer why they choose to sit at a table and eat using fingers and utensils when they could use magic to feed themselves while working on other things. – Adam Davis Mar 12 '18 at 15:36
1

Because that's how one would normally place something somewhere in a fire, and while the author could have come up with all sorts of magical ways around it (the fire not being hot in the circumstances, Weasley being able to protect herself from the heat, directing the toast mouthward with a levitation charm) combining two normal things (putting something on a fire with fire tongs and giving someone toast) that can't normally be combined (the toast would go on fire, not to mention the diner) emphasises the magic at work more than adding more magic would, as well as being a humorous image (all the more for the childlike position of being directly fed).

The toast serves to highlight the magical setting in an amusing way, rather than moving the plot forward or giving us much in the way of exposition besides a rather peculiar piece of breakfast etiquette.

  • I'm fairly sure I said that – Valorum Mar 12 '18 at 17:34
  • @Valorum you don't cover why she can't just stick her hands in because magic. – Jon Hanna Mar 12 '18 at 17:41
1

Possibly because the connection was open on both sides and Molly was cautious to enter the space that connected the Diggory's place at that moment with the Weasleys'.

What we know about floo powder and the network:

  1. Throwing floo powder into a fireplace and saying a command - i.e. the address or in which direction to go, for example 'diagonally' (which, I admit I have no idea what it means in such a space) will connect two points in space,

  2. the object(s) entering the fireplace from point a. will be transported to the destination, but at the same time will stay at the place of origin until their whole body enters the fireplace. The transport will be complete only in the condition that the whole body of the person enters the fireplace. If only a body part (say a head) is inserted, a connection will stay open until the person decides to withdraw or to enter completely.

We know that it is a two-way connection - sound waves, light, carbon atoms etc. can enter both ways through this space, we don't know, however, what would happen if a wizard would target the fireplace with magical energy (i.e. levitate a piece of toast there) or partially enter it while it is occupied by another person. It is possible that such an action will cause a magical accident, even if the wizard entering in point b. is protected by a flame-freezing charm.

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