An American dinner party

A colleague hosted a farewell party for our ex-Boss at her home last night. This was the first time we visited an American home or attended a non-desi party outside of office hours. It was a different and very interesting experience for me. Some random observations:

Christmas is approaching and a lot of people have already put up their Christmas decorations. So far I was only able to observe the outdoor decorations and was pleased to get the opportunity to see some indoor decorations last night. There was a beautiful Christmas tree of course, plus some lovely red and green flower arrangements all over the place and colorful stockings hanging from the fireplace. Very pretty decorations, conjuring up a lovely festive atmosphere.

The colleague’s husband is a keen hunter and they had put up busts of various animals that he had hunted in their drawing room. There were different types of deer and a bigger animal that looked like a small rhino. It was a fascinating as well as horrifying moment for me, the animals’ eyes looked so life-like that I could picture them leap out of the wall at me. I immediately thought about Salman Khan and his run-in with the law over this very reason. I definitely don’t endorse his behavior, but isn’t it strange that something that is perfectly commonplace in one country is considered a crime in another? The explanation given by our colleagues, that hunting needs to be allowed in this country because there are no wild animals to keep the deer population in check, seemed logical but did nothing to lessen my revulsion. I guess it must be a culture thing, so let’s leave it at that.

The colleague’s teenaged kids were lounging around the place in pajamas. Nobody expected them to dress up for the occasion or help their mother entertain her guests. I am not sure if this is a good or a bad thing. I remember dreading the thought of accompanying my parents to grown-up parties when I was small. On the other hand, it did seem strange to find them completely uninterested in greeting their mother’s guests or making some effort to be nice. Although I wouldn’t expect my kids to be part of every party that we host, I know I wouldn’t want them to be so indifferent either. When the desi gang from office had come home a couple of months back, we had invited spouses and kids too. I was surprised to see a colleague’s teenaged daughter turn up. She chatted with everybody for a while and then asked if she could catch a quick nap in our bedroom. A perfect happy medium, I thought.

Americans are afraid to try desi food since they usually find it too spicy. But whoever dared to try the appetizers we had brought loved them and came back for second helpings. They are also wary of the amount of garlic we use in our cooking for some very obvious reasons. Our ex-Boss told us he loves Indian food but hates sleeping on the couch after a nice Indian dinner! It was fun trying to explain samosas (fried dumplings stuffed with mashed potatoes and peas), pakoras (fried spinach dumplings covered with gram flour) and jalebis to everybody. One of them labeled the jalebi as a sugar pretzel and we found it a convenient way to describe the jalebi to whoever asked us about it later!

I have seen desis get progressively more emotional and sad when drunk. The Americans got more and more boisterous as the evening progressed, laughing at inane jokes while we were struggling to understand the humor. I was puzzled – did we miss their subtle humor or was it the lack of alcohol in our system that was paralyzing our laugh buds?

Our ex-boss, in whose honor the party was given, hugged and kissed me as soon as we arrived. This was again a very alien and slightly disconcerting experience for me. I know this is not true for all Indian cultures/socio-economic strata, but in my family and immediate social circle close physical contact is definitely frowned upon. Even my mother shies away from hugging me and will give me a hesitant peck on the cheeks only in moments of extreme emotion. I feel very differently about it though, I think it’s nice and reassuring to hug and kiss your loved ones and I plan to smother my kids with hugs and kisses till they push me away in exasperation. What about you, dear readers? Are your parents physically demonstrative with you? If not, do you plan to be different with your kids?

I was so busy observing the home and listening to the boisterous American conversation that I never realized how time passed. The husband, however, was bored. He found the conversation superficial and lacking in a certain human touch that he thinks is characteristic of desi conversations. I agree with him to a certain extent, but there is such a vast difference in the two cultures, with pros and cons to both sides that I feel disinclined to judge one as better than the other. Yes, a desi gathering would have been warmer and less impersonal, but don’t we completely deny each other our personal space in the bargain? Besides, as an outsider we might have been missing the various nuances and sub-texts to the conversation, which is why I feel uncomfortable making a judgment. I like to think of the two as just ‘different’ rather than ‘better’ or ‘worse’ and leave it at that.

All in all, it was an enjoyable and memorable evening for me. And lastly, I was glad to find an American home sans a dog, I had been dreading the thought all day and was glad I was able to enjoy the evening without constantly looking over my shoulder for a dog pouncing on me!

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4 responses to “An American dinner party

  1. Good observation! For some reason, I feel I would have felt exactly the same for all that you’ve mentioned above.

    About showing affection physically, I think I’ll stop it at ‘hugging with an applied discretion’. Now, dont ask me what that means cos its in my mind :-))) and I really dont know how to put it down here.

  2. I guess its cultural issues…hugging is perfectly ok…i do it to my mom,Dad, cousins my relatives my aunts, uncles, friends…..i would not do the same thing with my relatives in india…the reason being simple……

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