Well-Intentioned But Not Well-Fed

, , , , , , | Friendly | October 29, 2018

(I was a pre-teen when my family became friends with several families who recently moved to Louisiana from Iran to escape religious persecution. Many years later, I still remember the best lesson I ever got about the differences between our cultures.)

Adult Iranian Friend: “A couple of Americans set up a business meeting around noon with a couple of Persian friends of mine. My friends didn’t eat before they arrived, but when they got there, there was no food laid out. The Americans greeted them warmly but said, ‘We haven’t actually had lunch yet, so we were wondering if you would mind if we ate during the meeting?’ My friends graciously said, ‘No, not at all.’ The Americans then ate their food in front of my friends, completely unaware that my friends watched them hungrily the whole time. My friends learned that they should always eat before going to any meeting with Americans.”

Me: *confused* “Well, yeah? I mean, the Americans weren’t required to feed them. And they apologized, and your friends said it was okay, so they weren’t doing anything wrong.”

Adult Iranian Friend: “Yes, but in my culture, food would have been offered, and it would have been rude to come to the meeting on a full stomach.”

Me: “But your friends weren’t friends with the Americans, were they? Why would the Americans have to feed them? They’re not required to.”

(After a bit more discussion, I finally understood: Americans will schedule meetings through mealtimes and expect acquaintances to rearrange the rest of their day around those meetings and provide food for themselves. Americans may offer a drink or a snack to guests, but they rarely offer more than that to someone they don’t consider a close friend. These were things I’d grown up thinking everyone did. But instead, as I came to learn through regular interactions with my Persian friends, they will feed guests full meals at pretty much every opportunity, and this is completely normal for them. I’m American and I find cooking meals for other people both exhausting and expensive, so I don’t recommend following that Persian custom unless you have time, energy, and funds. But be aware that your Persian guests may have expectations that are different than you’re used to, and be sure to plan your meetings with them accordingly.)

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