I could never quite figure out the social sequence of a greeting in Australia.
“How are you?”
“Good. And you?”
To me, that’s bizarre.
One of my first few days at my clinical practice after moving from Singapore to Australia, I walked passed my colleague at frontdesk and said, “Hey Tandy! Have you eaten?” I don’t think you need to be a psychologist to figure out that the contorted eyebrows tells you you’ve just asked a rather peculiar question.
“Oh… erm, have you eaten,” as if she had hearing difficulty.
“…erm, yes. I have.”
Social conventions are cultivated like a hotpot of ingredients, people, and time. In my home country, asking someone “have you eaten,” is akin to “how are you.” It’s a hello, not an invitation to take you for lunch or tell your life-story. Even though I’m by default highly colonised by Western ways of thinking, I had some adapting to do in my social greeting. I still secretly want to ask people “have you had your lunch?”
Culture comes from the Latin cultus, which means care. Today is World Day for Cultural Diversity. We need to go beyond the notion of ‘religious tolerance’ (I mean, saying to someone “I tolerate you” is only something an embittered spouse would say to her husband who has eaten a burger with 2 serves of onions).
Especially in this liminal times, in every culture, we are each other’s healthcare workers. When we begin to un-quarantine ourselves, I recommend we do this through the invitation for a meal.
The table is a fine piece of technology. The table is not just a furniture. It patiently waits for you to bring people together. I propose the table to be the central architectural and spiritual force for diversity.
Want cultural diversity? Ask someone “Have you eaten? Wanna join me for a meal?” Maybe even ask your guest to “bring a plate.”*
*Nearly 2 decades ago, when I was a student in Queensland, it took a kind-hearted Irish lady to explain to my then girlfriend-now-wife and I that bringing a plate means that we need to put some food on top of that plastic dinnerware.