Everyone likes food.
The thought of connecting with people from cultures other than our own can be a little daunting. Many of us would like to connect but when we start to think about it, we don’t know where to begin. Part of the problem is the vague feeling we might have of the vast differences between us. If we connect best with people whom we share similarities with, how can we hope to build relationships with people who are so fundamentally different?
If we think about it, however, these vague feelings are often arise because we view a group of people ‘from a distance’; we define them all together with a common, abstract label, such as their ethnicity. However, when we move from distance to something concrete, we find that the people we’re trying to connect with are really people like us in so many ways. All of us are human and therefore at the core of who we all are there are things we share in common. Food is one of those things.
Across many, many societies, food stands at the heart of family and community relationships.
It’s interesting to ponder why that is. It’s not just so we can do something to pass the time while we chat. Something about sharing food fosters deep connection between us. Sharing and enjoying food is the bedrock on which day-to-day relationships are built. Food unites us together in significant events of celebration and of mourning. It’s like a glue. For some reason, sharing something as basic as food involves sharing our lives, our very souls.
When I was a kid inviting people over for a meal was just a part of life. Over the years, hospitality has declined in our culture as we’ve become busier but we still connect with friends and loved ones by eating out together at restaurants. For other cultures, shared meals in the home remain the cornerstone of relationships.
When it comes to connecting across different cultures there’s an added element. People feel very proud of their cultural cuisine. That’s something we Aussies can’t really understand, having never had the opportunity to really develop our own (However I suspect most of us wish we had more of a national cuisine in which we could feel proud – I often do). When people share with us their cuisine that’s different from what we’re used to, our appreciation of their food can be a real point of connection across difference.
Could you build a relationship with anyone cross culturally over food? Sometimes I worry that I won’t like the food of another culture. Felt like that the first time I was about to try Persian food and first time I was about to try Ethiopian food. Both times I was wrong. In fact, at least 9 times out of 10 I discover new delights previously unknown to me. And the one time out of 10 (or 20, really) I survive!