Culture Comfort Zone

Every so often, in a group here, somebody, while relishing their dinner, will remark, ‘I can’t understand how these Goras eat their bland food. They have no taste. There is nothing like Indian food’.

I call it the ‘Culture Comfort Zone’, where we believe that everything we like, or what we have grown up with is the best. And it happens to the best of us, doesn’t it? For instance, piercing of ears of young children is so common in my culture. We normally have a ceremony on the 28th day after a baby is born and if it is a girl, her ears are pierced. It is said to be easier, because the tissues are softer and apparently the child does not feel the pain, as much(we can never be sure of that, can we?). My mother had her ears pierced at the age of 8 years, and she remembers it vividly, and felt that it is much better to do it at a time when the child is less likely to remember.

Something that is common and totally acceptable in my culture might come across as horrible, and cruel to some others, who believe in letting a child decide when she is older whether or not she wants pierced ears. They might think that we are barbaric to even think of doing it to such a young child. That is again, because of the culture one has grown up in. I am so used to the concept that I did not even have second thoughts about piercing daughter’s ears.

In some cultures, a samosa is a great, delicious treat, while in others it might be fish and chips. And who is to say, that one is tastier than the other? Who is to say that I have better taste than you?

For a vegetarian, it might be unthinkable that someone could relish non-vegetarian food, while for non-vegetarians, vegetarian food might seem so uninteresting.

So many of our likes and dislikes are based on our upbringing, and the influences through our lives. Some of us love to try different cuisines and enjoy it too, while others need that comfort food. What I find difficult to understand is that blanket statement of how ‘my food is better than yours’. Of assuming that other cultures don’t know how to cook.

I know people who like only Indian food, and try to get hold of it where-ever they go, but don’t go around spouting things like, ‘Only Indian food is edible’. They find it difficult to try other cuisines, but don’t try to run them down. That, I think, is perfectly fair. Not everybody can like every cuisine, but surely, that does not mean thatΒ other cuisines are not good?

Maybe, if we remember that just as we find somethings in other cultures different, and difficult to accept, there might be things that others find totally unacceptable in our culture, we might not be so judgemental about others?

39 thoughts on “Culture Comfort Zone

  1. I bet the people who say its bland also eat chips , or fish and chips and mcdonalds etc πŸ™‚

    Not sure about that πŸ™‚

    what you say is so very right.. although i prefer indian food if i can have it thats what i want .. but not because i hate other foods ,

    I can understand someone not liking a particular type of food. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it – don’t judge others for liking something you don’t like..

  2. My Appa is going to love your post

    Few things he taught me

    1. Everyone eats everything..dont judge people by what they eat, judge them by what they are
    2. Eat what is local in the place you go because thats the best
    3. We have the front canine teeth because humans are meant to be carninvores (That he made up I am sure πŸ™‚ )
    4. Always remember not to react to what is not in front of your plate or in the plate of the person sitting with you…its called basic decency and in more Indian terms, respecting the food given to you πŸ™‚

    Well there, I guess it doesnt matter who likes what or eats what, what bugs me the most is when people (I know of such people!) who go Cheeee when they see non veg food..I dont eat it myself, but yet, I think its insulting the food and the person in front of you!

  3. I have often pondered upon this point. When i lived in hyderabad, I tried eating local food that my colleagues shared with me. I couldn’t understand how they could eat such monotonous tasting food with such evident enjoyment. Then, a telugu friend i had invited home for dinner told me plaintively- how can you bongs eat such boring food!

    Exactly! What I might love, someone else might hate!

    The point is, it is what we grew up eating that most decides our tastes in food in later life. I’m pretty flexible about food, so I often have arguments with my husband, who refuses to back down from his claim the’ bengali cuisine is the best in india and the world’

    πŸ™‚ I have heard that sort of sentiments quite a lot:)

  4. Smitha, you’ve said it so well! I really don’t understand this North-South,East-West divide we Indians create in everything – food, culture, etc when actually we should be celebrating our rich and diverse heritage. Lot of people I know dis Belgian cuisine but I do believe it is different and interesting in itself. Yes, or judging others who eat non-veg, it is a choice they make and are free to do it. Live and let live!

    • It is true with anything that is not one’s own.. When abroad people talk about the local cuisine, culture etc.. When in India, and away from one’s ‘native’, people talk about the local place in a derogatory manner, when it all boils down to one’s own comfort zones..

  5. There. You spoke my mind once again. πŸ™‚

    Completely agree with each and every word of the point. As Swaram says, this holds true not only for food, but for everything else in different cultures.

    I am thankful that with the exposure my job has given me, I have come in touch with so many different types of people that I am, today, more appreciative of the differences between human beings than I was a few years ago. I believe that is a good thing. πŸ™‚

    • Absolutely! Getting exposed to different cultures definitely helps.

      ‘ I am, today, more appreciative of the differences between human beings than I was a few years ago. I believe that is a good thing. ‘ – That is certainly true for me as well!

  6. This is why getting exposure to other cultures is so important. You realize there is SO much variety in the world and so many ways of approaching the same issues.

    And yet nothing helps if u don’t have an open mind in the first place. you could be sitting in a tiny town and be extremely broad minded, or you could be sitting in the capital of a very developed nation and still be very narrow minded in thinking.

    • ‘And yet nothing helps if u don’t have an open mind in the first place. you could be sitting in a tiny town and be extremely broad minded, or you could be sitting in the capital of a very developed nation and still be very narrow minded in thinking.’ Exactly my point.. All the exposure in the world doesnot count if one has a closed mind!

  7. I like the term ‘culture comfort zone’ πŸ™‚

    Absolutely agree with you,Smits! Dissing others’ preferences and habits just because they dont fall in our comfort zone comes so naturally to us doesnt it?

    Talking of food, the first thing that comes to my mind is Gujarati cuisine in which sweet is such an integral ingredient, but I personally dont like a sweet tinge in any sabzis or curries so I stay away from it. Similarly I am sure if I am to serve them a molagooshyam or an aviyal they may cringe at the bland look and probably even find the taste bland :D. Just an example, but I get your point!

  8. Agree!! πŸ™‚
    Its not just food, its almost everything!!
    I love trying out different cuisines from different parts of the world! πŸ™‚

  9. doesn’t this apply for all other aspects too? “Keep your judgement with yourself.. No one is interested in knowing them”.. I admit that I have made such a comment in the past at Japanese cuisine as how people eat “Sushi” that raw fish.. but not anymore.. If I can eat that spicy spicy chicken curry then they can very well eat Sushi and other people can eat the blands..
    I am actually in the phase of teaching this to Adi as she makes the sound of puking if she doesn’t like the smell of the food on the table. I eat the same food in front of her and try to explain that its not table manners to make that sound.. It gets difficult when she does this in public 😦 hope she will understand it sooner..

    • Absolutely – it applies to all aspects – no doubt about it.

      We all must have done this at some time – the important thing is that we learn from it, and learn not to do it again. Rather than think that, that is the way things should be, you know..

      Adi is a child πŸ™‚ I am sure she will soon grow out of it πŸ™‚

  10. I am not sure if I have left a comment on your blog before; but you have been on my reader for a long time. I really like the word culture comfort. So true! As many have told, this extends beyond food too. Live and Let Live is the way to be. To each one’s own!

  11. Your post reminded me of that scene in Swadesh where SRK tries to reason with the people in his village that just because you think your culture is superior does not mean the other cultures are inferior.
    I have always loved British food. Infact, I have stopped liking Indian food after being in England. πŸ™‚
    I believe that trying out different cuisines and appreciating their individuality is not everyones cup of tea. Its similar to painting or drawing. Not everyone can do it. It is as simple as that.

  12. Very well said Smitha. I guess we need to be a little more patient & accomodative in life. My MIL though lovely people are of the belief that the life that they have lived & the things that they have done is the only way to do things. They feel that theirs is the best way and rest all is not good. This attitude really pisses me off sometimes.
    Sometimes people do not understand that each individual lives a different life & has different experiences to show off.

  13. How right you are Smitha! It is very easy to find fault with another cuisine when one is used to one’s own. When I first tasted Arabic food, I never liked the taste but now I love it πŸ™‚ .. even then it may never take the place of the much loved Indian food since I have been eating it for a longer time.. but not so for my children who love Arabic food as much as the Indian food.

  14. I feel judgmental behavior comes naturally to us cuz we are exposed to it so much by living and growing up in a multi-cultural but not so tolerant nation..we hear judgmental sentences from parents, relatives, neighbors, friends so it becomes ingrained in us!

  15. I think, you have highlighted a very interesting and valid point. Culture and their eating habits – this has always intrigued me. Personally, I would always choose a kebab and grilled chicken over blank food, and in parallel with the traditional South Asian curry(s).

    But, the equation for me is balanced, or atleast to the extent that English people as well as liking Indian food also like Italian and Middle Eastern type food – but because we have nothing to do with those continants it doesn’t come up on our radar. Like for example, when we buy a different car, before long we start to see them everywhere – but before purchasing it, we never really looked out for it, so who’s to say they weren’t common then?

  16. Whatta post as usual. Like I have said many times before, I wish I had your way with words to express such issues in a calm manner. Just recently, I almost rammed my horns into a friend who was sitting with us in a Persian restaurant eating away to glory and with every bite cursing the cuisine 😑 I got pretty irritated and told her that if she dislikes it so much she should leave it for us and go grab some Indian food to which she replied “How can I leave it if I am paying so much for this stupid thing”??? 😯 I swear, I almost picked up her plate and wanted to smash it on her face…like they do it in the movies πŸ˜₯

    It’s kind of common here to hear Indian glorifying their regional cuisine and making faces at other cuisine 😐 Sometimes, it’s so hard for people like us to always agree to eat out at Indian restaurants just bcoz one among the group can’t bear the sight of anything that is not Indian.

    The other thing that irritates me to no end is when people comment on how my husband who is a brahmin must have started eating non-veg because of me!! As if the man will do anything and everything that I say πŸ™„ In fact he is more tolerant to any kind of food than me. As I grew up in a muslim household even now I can’t think of eating pork (guess the mullas did really scare me with gory details at a very tender age), but the husband and the son will eat anything that is edible and I don’t stop them as long as they don’t tell me to try it.

    err the only compliment I ever get as a mother is for the eating habits of the boy. Put a plate full of good food in front of him and he won’t even ask what it is and finish off everything πŸ˜†

    Aah the hormones…..see what all I wrote for a simple and short post from you πŸ˜₯

  17. I wish to utter a blanket statement here – Indian cuisine (especially the variety in vegetarian dishes) and Indian music are one of the best in the world, if not THE BEST. I cannot say that about other aspects of Indian life, but I don’t have much doubt about these two. But I do hope that I am wrong and there are other cuisines that are as tasty as Indian food. It’s good to have options πŸ™‚

    Destination Infinity

    • πŸ™‚ I am quite sure a lot of people will agree and a lot will disagree with you πŸ™‚

      There are some cuisines I like a lot more. I need variety – I get bored of the same fare – and I really like trying other cuisines.

  18. Very well said, Smitha! I totally agree with your views. Although I’m a vegetarian, I find other vegetarians very annoying when they make a face at non-veg food. It’s their food! And then there are those non-vegetarians who go, “how can you eat all this ghas-poos?” Quite irritating.

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