Sunday, January 11, 2004

Food and cultural difference

There’s a HSBC advertisement on television here in England that bears a freakish resemblance to an experience I had when I first arrived in Hong Kong at the end of 1997.

The ad is set in a Chinese restaurant and there is a very stuffed looking white guy in a business suit with a plate of food in front of him. The voiceover goes ‘In England it is considered rude not to finish what is on your plate. In China it is considered rude to finish all the food that is in front of you’.

As the poor guy finishes plate after plate of exotic animals, his Chinese hosts keep calling the waiter to bring more. Although I pride myself on being able to adapt to different cultures this is one custom that I will never get used to, having been trained as a kid to never leave anything. My Dad always used to tell us how his mum would keep food that he didn’t finish and bring it out again cold at the next mealtime. He couldn’t eat anything else until he had finished the previous meal.

Another food related custom that I struggle with is the Indian tradition of eating at the end of the night. Life without toilet paper I can handle but eating late at night I can’t. I’m used to eating earlier and socialising after the meal over coffee or tea. After all the meals I’ve had in Indian homes I still can’t see the point in sitting around hungry and drinking tea all night and then going to bed completely bloated.

But the prize for cultural confusion in the area of food goes to a restaurant that I’ve spotted on the way to Merry Hill. It’s called ‘The Olympia’ and it’s painted with the colours of the Italian national flag. The sign on the side advertises its specialties as ‘Fish and Chips, Burgers and Kebabs’.