MIDWAY: Count your own blessings
I did not know how to serve a roasted turkey until the day a Brazilian lady invited us for a dinner on Christmas Eve. When handed over with a knife and a fork, I got embarrassed at not knowing where to start. Is it the head or the tail or the body? Feelings of inferiority engulfed me. What will these people here think if I do it the wrong way? How to say I don’t know? Not wanting any humiliation, I waited for others to take the lead. And ditto I followed.
Like Mr Bean in his serials, I was quick turning my head left and right and finishing almost half the menu while others were hardly done with their first servings.
In much the same way as the guest-is-always-right philosophy rules, in the hospitality industry, foreigners-are-always-right philosophy rules most of us. When it comes to dealing with a foreigner we stigmatise our ways as inferior. And in revealing our ignorance of something new and untried, we are tongue-tied. While a foreigner visiting us always wants to get accustomed to the local practices, live and enjoy in the local way, we tend to do it otherwise.
An Indian author married to a Westerner had different preferences while occasionally visiting India.
While his Western wife preferred travelling by a second class train, visiting the countryside, mingling with the locals at railway and bus stations and halting at the local “chayewalaas” for a cup of tea, the hubby, being an Indian, preferred travelling by air, would go for a burger at the McDonald’s rather than at a roadside “pao bhaji” stall and would not buy apples from a hawker. He avoided giving a picture-perfect reality of his country, its people and their lifestyles to a foreign lady.
Westerners, having gone too far away in uprooting their traditional culture and values, are now realising the identity association in keeping terms with the traditional practices.
Though late, they have started preserving the last remnants of what gives them the identity of being a European or an Englishman or an American.
Our traditions, food habits or our attire may look too old fashioned in their ways to some but these reflect our cultural identity in no uncertain terms. There is nothing embarrassing in letting others know or try them.
Knowing how Brazilians celebrate Christmas with roasted turkey dinners might add to our inter-cultural knowledge base but it certainly is not necessary to know how they turn their forks or how they dice the bird. Let’s learn to count our own blessings.