In India, I’ve had to adapt and make a conscientious effort to go with the flow – which I think is pretty standard when adjusting to a foreign culture. As a side note, even in America I need make a conscientious effort at times…my ISTJ personality has inhibited this skill once or twice. 🙂 Here, I wear leggings under all of my skirts, I try to be less direct and I’ve accepted that indecisiveness has to be tolerated, though it drives me a little nuts. Don’t get me started on operating in Indian time – aka everything starts at least an hour later than expected. The latest challenge for me (other than the timing) has been lunch time. In my office, everyone eats together and everyone shares their food, so you end up with a mini buffet. I love food, and I LOVE Indian food, so on one hand I make out quite well. I don’t really know yet how to cook with all of the Indian ingredients and spices, so I get to eat food prepared by others who do, which is pretty great. On the other hand, it means I have lots of critics for my food that I’ve prepared.
I cook pretty simple things and try to eat healthy. When I lived in Kenya, I had no fridge and I lived on my own. This meant I had to eat whatever I cooked or throw it out. Cooking food with a lot of ingredients meant a lot of volume, so I began cooking very simply. Having to prepare each meal individually every single time you wanted to eat was definitely a challenge for me. Also, my stove also only had one burner, so it was twice as much time to cook two dishes as it was to cook one. This meant that if I was hungry for carrots, I would have carrots for lunch. That’s it. Or if I wanted lentils, then I would eat lentils. Not as a side dish, but as a meal. There is also something about seeing so much poverty where people look forward to plain rice and beans that made it hard to prepare more “typical” meals for myself. It seemed so extravagant. Even back in the US, though I had a fridge and used more ingredients, I still cooked simpler meals. Here, though I also have a fridge, it is the same. I am perfectly happy to have a banana for breakfast and a bowl of lentils for lunch – but that is very, very strange to everyone else. Where’s the rice? You haven’t fried them? Just lentils?? So when Tupperware containers of food are passed around to all, my lentils boiled with a little garlic and salt are ‘odd’ and my roasted cauliflower has ‘a different taste.’ I am actually a pretty good cook and I really enjoy food, but I’m not really bothered enough to put in the effort for just myself.
So finally, I decided to set the record straight. I bought coconut milk, a bunch of veggies, and googled spices to make a coconut curry. I even made rice. As soon as I got to the lunch table and opened my containers, people started saying “Rice? Who made you rice? You know how to make rice? Where did you buy that? You’ve made curry?” I passed around my curry bowl and people sniffed it and cautiously tried a taste. “Ahh, chennigede,” someone said and everyone else agreed with a hint of surprise in their voices. Chennigede. This means it’s good or it’s nice or tasty. Success! I now mix up my odd, foreign meals with something that is a more acceptable meal to everyone else at least one or two days a week – they like when I make their food. Fitting myself into the structure and the social norms of different cultures is always one of the most challenging aspects for me, but once I figure it out, it’s pretty great.