“Tell us about the worst trip you ever took.”
Oh dear. I don’t want to go into too many details on this one, because I don’t want to give a negative impression of either the country visited or the person I was with. But needless to say, the low point was over a meal.
The country is known, adored even, for its culinary character. The trip was one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures, but definitely on a budget. And the meal was the best I could afford–a chef’s tasting menu at a hospitality school–a spectacular meal at a spectacular discount.
I had been looking forward to this meal the entire trip. My companion, not so much, but those are the sorts of trade offs you make when traveling: you get your peak experience, I get mine. I had one request, use the appropriate table manners. My request was denied.
Obviously, I am pretty passionate about food, and that includes how you eat it. If the culture eats with the right hand, do not use your left. If it uses a spoon and fork, a spoon and chopsticks, or just chopsticks, grab hold and dig in, or at least try. Understanding how people put food in their mouths can give you an immediate connection to the people you are dining with or the culture you are dining in, if only because it’s easier to talk about how to eat something than how it tastes.
Assuming, of course, that you are interested in how other cultures experience the world.
Sometimes you can make a mountain out of a molehill and sometimes it’s the thread that makes the whole cloth unravel, and this was the latter. This particular moment revealed that my companion and I had fundamentally different views of how to move through the world. Strange how a little thing like manners can signal that it’s time to move on.