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#30 Eating with their Hands

March 3, 2011

This post comes to us from N.V.

One surefire way to blend in is to adopt the eating habits of the local population. EAWs excel at pretending to be comfortable with and adept at things in which they have no experience. Thus, it is important, as an EAW, to act as though eating with your hands is completely natural to you. If invited to lunch or dinner at the home of a local colleague, the EAW will politely decline any offers of spoon or fork, insisting that they are comfortable eating with their hands, while fistfuls of fufu or ugali splatter onto their host’s dining room table.

At weekend expat brunches, a sure fire way for the EAW working for the grass-roots, locally-driven NGO to set himself apart from the UN office drones is to eschew cutlery, expertly using his right hand to rip off pieces of instant mix pancakes as though it were injera, and swiping it across his syrupy plate.

The novice aid worker will be tested when, upon sitting down to lunch with her local colleagues for the first time, she observes them washing their hands by holding their right hand under the tap and letting the cool water flow over it. Should she make an announcement about the merits of soap and risk mockery? Or dig in, non-plussed? In an attempt to fit in,  she will likely choose the latter. Later on that night, after she has visited the toilet eleven times, she will listen intently  as her colleague sagely assesses her situation, “Yes, “ she will nod solemnly “ I’m sure my stomach will be much better once I adjust to this heat.”

9 Comments leave one →
  1. angela permalink
    March 3, 2011 8:54 am

    i think that food and all it comes with it, eating, cooking, it`s a great way to blend in with local population. they enjoy so much when you ask them how to cook it, or just sharing a meal with them! plus, eating with hands is amazing!!!

  2. Carol permalink
    March 3, 2011 3:12 pm

    Thought for sure that one would mention the challenge of rice and how impressed the locals are when you can master that one with your hands! ;)

  3. March 4, 2011 1:10 am

    Teaching local cooking to the locals is an especially awesome component of teaching local culture to the locals.

  4. March 4, 2011 4:28 am

    Tap? Not here man. It’s the effin kettle.

  5. March 4, 2011 9:01 am

    one only washes their right hand with soap after the meal, so other people do not know what you can and can’t afford to eat based on the scent of you hand.

  6. March 15, 2011 11:53 am

    My anecdote on this topic: I’m South Asian (American) so I grew up eating with my hands (right hand only…don’t get your palms dirty…unless you are from the south, which we are not…and yes, I think it’s weird when food is mushed like that in the palm and then eaten). Was working in Sri Lanka and obviously quite comfortable eating the local cuisine. Lived with a Brit and a German. One night, instead of eating rice and curry, I made pasta. The German lady was setting the table and didn’t give me a fork….I just looked at her and she was like, I thought you were going to eat with your hands…


  7. Ophiuchus permalink
    May 21, 2011 2:59 pm

    One can completely understand the weird fetishistic quality to the “OMG THEY EAT WITH THEIR HANDS” comments made by travelers to other countries. Because we NEVER eat with our hands here in the States, because there are no sandwiches, pizza, burgers, fries, tacos, burritos, corn on the cob, fried chicken, or chips and dip.

    And, yes, I have eaten food with my hands in Kenya, and with Moroccans. Guess what? It’s like, you know, eating with your hands. Like you’ve been doing with half your food most of your life. Yes, you are eating some foods that are of a consistency that would call for a spoon or fork back home, but it is always just the sheer fact of eating with the hands that gets played up (and of having to wash the hand you wipe your butt with, like you don’t do this at home????).

    Want an actually weird experience? Go to an exotic place where eating with your hands is considered strange a rude, a place where they eat pizza or a hamburger and the accompanying fries with a knife and fork, a place like the Netherlands.


  1. Drinking Chiyaa

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