November 7, 2007

The Dinner

Posted in Cultures, Family, Food at 4: 19 pm by MK

I really don’t think our multicultural dinner could have gone any better.  I must admit I was a bit anxious leading up to Saturday.  We changed the dinner menu at the last minute opting for more of a variety of foods rather than one main course.  P. and I figured this would help to alleviate the what if they don’t like it concern by offering more than one option.  Once my dad and I picked up both families and brought them back to my house, everything was really enjoyable.  Highlights from the big event:

  • I think A. has some carpentry skills that may be helpful in his job search.  Our home is a work in progress, and while we’re 90% there in getting everything finished, we still have some missing molding and exposed insulation (yes, that’s a whole other story!).  A. communicated that he would know how to fix things in our house and could help.  The way he inspected P.’s work, made us think that he has some definite building skills.
  • Kids are unbelievably adaptable and resilient.   It was so endearing to watch all the children interact.  From the helpfulness of the older kids, to the not quite yet ready to share younger kids it makes you realize that kids are kids no matter if they are born and raised in the U.S. or in a Thailand refugee camp.  I think their behavior speaks more to the strong family units the parents have created.  You don’t need to speak English to know that their families are strong and well-bonded.  And thanks to C.S. for the coloring books and crayons– a definite hit.
  • My mother was amazing.  She had two things going for her:  a wonderfully uninhibited personality and 30 years of experience as a public school teacher.  She jumped right in with both the parents and the kids, interacting with them and making them feel comfortable.  She’s also very expressive with her hands and facial expressions–it’s amazing how much that can accomplish when it comes to nonverbal communication.
  • Some cultural norms aren’t easily dismantled.  There were 9 adults and 5 children at the dinner.  My plan was for the adults and the one-year-old to sit at the table (that’s about all my table could fit comfortably) and the 4 remaining children would sit around our counter peninsula (we had bar chairs and stools for them).  As I tried to seat everyone, I quickly realized that the women would not sit at the table with the men.  And the older boy was not going to sit with the women and children.  So the women and girls ended up sitting around the peninsula and everyone else sat the table.  Our Burmese friends seemed quite comfortable with this arrangement, while my family and I felt so uncomfortable.  When is it appropriate to push someone else’s cultural limitations?  Is it ever appropriate?
  • At the end of the meal, A. let out a very loud and calculated belch.  I think this was his way of saying he liked my food, though I’m not sure. . .
  • When P. and I went to dinner at their house we brought chocolate chip cookies.  Our Burmese friends brought us a birthday cake from Price Chopper.  While I of course wish they had saved their money, I really appreciated and understood the gesture.
  • The biggest food hit was my mom’s pumpkin cake.  They loved it.  Mom had made it in a bunt pan, which until we showed them the pan, the shape of the cake was perplexing.
  • My dad is certainly not a big guy.  He’s a bit under 6′ and thin.  He does, however, eat a lot.  I think from the perspective of A. and K. and the other family he is big, and they were laughing at how much he could eat.  I could only imagine what they’d think if they met my husband’s brothers and watched the three of them devour a meal!
  • The digital camera was a hit.  We took pictures of everyone and then let the kids use the camera and take pictures, which they thoroughly enjoyed.
  • I can’t wait to do it again.  I’m looking forward to future dinners and getting to know my new friends even better

1 Comment »

  1. fulwilem said,

    It sounds like the dinner was a huge success! The seating arrangements reveal so much about the gendered norms and roles in Burmese culture. It will be interesting to see how the children negotiate between “home culture” and 21st century American cultural values and norms.

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