When my parents visited the family of our Belgian parish priest in Belgium were first married, in the mid-fifties.
The host’s kids had to wash up after dinner. As they did so grumbling, they said, “I wish we were Indians. We could eat with our hands on leaves, and then throw it away.” My parents smiled. They ate on fine crockery, with cutlery, and the servants washed up.
Perceptions change slowly. We ate at a delicious church buffet the other day with multi-ethnic finger food (samosas, bhajjis, kebebs thai and middle eastern snacks etc.). A visiting Indian said, somewhat rudely, “It’s good; all that is missing is rice.” An older Brit said, equally rudely, “Well, you eat rice with your hands. We use cutlery. This is a finger food buffet.”
I am Indian. I have never eaten rice with my hands, as far as I remember. I looked at Roy, we shook our heads, and smiled.
Socially unconfident Brits are paranoid about using cutlery for everything. I laugh to see them eat chips or pizza or toast with their knife and fork. For heaven’s sake!
I now take up a chicken drumstick with my fingers and happily gnaw on it, saying, “Excuse me, I am Indian, and I think this is so much more natural.” And the Brit sitting next to me, frequently on a couch, at one of these Oxford dinner parties in rooms too small, says ruefully, “I was thinking of doing that too.” And?
This story about Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, from the New York Times illustrates what I am talking about.