Visitors from Afar and Thoughts on Food

A couple of Norwegians recently came to town for a few days. Ingrid and Trygve are related to Jon’s mom. They stayed with Jon’s parents, who gave them the abridged tour of Savannah (in three days or less). Jon, Anna, Will, and I met up with the four relatives one evening for dinner at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, a fine sample of Lowcountry seafood. The restaurant, for those who don’t know, is Paula Deen’s (of Food Network fame) brother’s place, and Paula has filmed her show (Paula’s Party) there. Anyway… so we meet the Norwegian relatives, who were quite pleasant. I just love meeting people from other countries… with accents, different perspectives, different customs, searching for the right word in English… So the funny thing is here we are at this Southern seafood restaurant and Ingrid orders a salad and Trygve orders a hamburger. They live on an island in Norway and Trygve runs a big freight ship, so I’m guessing they eat seafood, but for some reason that’s not what they ordered at Uncle Bubba’s. And they ate everything with a fork and knife – chicken wings, hamburger, and all! Apparently there are no finger foods in Norway? I don’t know.

It certainly gave them an air of sophistication, being all proper and tidy like that. And it made me wonder if there is a latitudinal connection relative to how involved people get with their food. Silly thought perhaps. But this couple lives way up north and they used utensils for all their eating. Americans use fingers for some foods and utensils for others. In Cameroon, West Africa, villagers ate everything with their fingers (and their foo foo) including sauces and such. Coincidence?

It also made me reflect again on how important food is to people, aside from being mere sustenance. Food is cultural. We identify with our food on a personal level. That’s one reason why changing our diets can be so difficult… it is emotionally a part of who we are. I did not doubt our new friends’ kindness or character for not having embraced the fine Southern cuisine to which we had brought them, or for not eating in the way that we do. But it did underscore our “differentness” and put these little ponderings in my head. Now I more fully understand why, when my colleagues and I went to stay in the village in Cameroon, we were instructed to eat whatever was given to us (as far as possible – I did manage to hide some fish I was given because my gag reflex would not let it pass!) and follow the local customs to avoid offending our hosts. Maybe one day I’ll go to Norway and eat…

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