Monday, September 24, 2012

A Moment of Grace

In September of 2005, my family and I were in the middle of culture shock in adjusting to life in the People's Republic of China. We had been in China about 12 weeks. Long enough to really miss some of what we were used to from home, and not long enough to really know our way around or to have adapted to the new way of doing things. Among other things, we were longing for food that tasted and was prepared a bit more like what we had been used to in our home country.  Something like a hamburger would do just fine.

To read more about one of our cross cultural experiences in China, click here ...

Word came from the Director of our children's school that an American might find what we were looking for at the local Middle Eastern restaurant. I say local, but it wasn't really local. In a city of 12 million people, we learned, not only is there more than one Middle Eastern restaurant, but the Lebanese restaurant is distinctly different from the Persian which is different from the Egyptian which is different from the Turkish. But at the time, all we knew was that someone had given us a business card for a Middle Eastern restaurant and told us that we might be able to find a meal there that included some roasted chicken or beef or lamb, some real pita bread, and some vegetables that weren't seasoned with soy. We were even more ecstatic when the taxi actually took us to the right place.

What delight, a menu with photograpos of chicken, a kitchen with the aroma of spices other than soy. I could smell olive oil, lemon, garlic and oregano. I could see real, roasted meat, real, home-made bread. Oh, it looked like almost heaven.

But suddenly, I got a chill.  For the thought that crossed my mind was that on that very day, it was September 11th.

In a moment of awkward enlightenment, I suddenly and acutely became aware that I was the only American in a room full of Middle Easterners.  Looking around me, I became chillingly aware that there were very few women in the restaurant. Among those who were there, my three daughters and I were the only ones who were not completely covered in cloth and head coverings. I suddenly felt very awkward, out of place, and alone. I felt the gaze of stares.  I wondered if perhaps we should leave.  Quickly.

It was as if, our presence reminded everyone of 9-11. I became aware that the restaurant was so silent we would have heard a pin drop.  I noticed the Manager look over at us, from where he was sitting with a group of men. 

Then,  he arose and walked over to our table. Looking at us seriously for a moment, he asked, "You're Americans?" "Yes," we replied. Then he suddenly smiled broadly and said in a very kind voice, "Welcome to Guangzhou, and welcome to my restaurant!"  His smile melted all my fears.  The restaurant returned to its normal chatter.

The food was delicious. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a delightful posting, that reflects so wonderfully on the vulnerability of each one in a different cultural context! The restaurant owner was a great example of providing exactly what was needed to erase cultural differences and make the "different women" feel included and appreciated. We could be prisoners of fear, or we could trust the inner bonding with other human beings that provides the refuge and the comfort.
    Thanks for telling us this experience, I will use it in my conflict resolution classes as a wonderful example of humanity!


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