Cultural Differences Between India and other Countries: A Dinner Invitation

This was an article I wrote eons ago for Chillibreeze. I had even forgotten that I had written this article till I came across it today.

Food forms an important part of any culture. The Indian culture prides itself on its various cuisines and flavors. Exporting these varieties to Australia, a young land where people love their food fast and mild, it provides an interesting view to what role food plays in culture.

I was invited to a dinner party my second week in Australia. And the note said it was a ‘Bring a Plate’. The ‘Australian slang book’ gives us the explanation of these phrases. Perhaps because it starts with ‘b’ or it relates to food, they are important words you should be wary of. BYO – ‘Bring your own’ could refer to drinks, food or dessert. And ‘Bring your plate’… your hosts will definitely give you the plates, mostly paper plates… saving hours of cleaning and washing. But you carry a dish for the others to eat. But nowhere did it specify that you should cook this delicacy. I got take-away from the nearest Indian restaurant, hoping it would make up for my ineptitude in the kitchen. It was a choice between that or the instant masalas available for exorbitant prices. As I drove to the party I wondered how people would react in India if I invited them to a party and said ‘oh could you also bring something to eat?’

India prides itself on its motto ‘Athithi Devobhava’ meaning ‘The guest is a God’. As a host, you ensure that your guest’s every wish, whim and need is fulfilled. We are known for our hospitality across the world. I do not remember a single occasion when my grandmother ever asked the guest to bring anything to a party. They had to bring themselves and the more they ate AND the more they drank, the hosts were happier. My mother, though, carried a bottle of wine or a basket of fruits as a gift to her host. But when she threw a party, she cooked for every man, woman and child invited, irrespective of the number.

But I rather liked the ‘bring a plate’ concept. It saved me from hours of shopping and cooking. It helped add variety. And it also stopped the hosts from stressing out over their guest’s food habits. Nobody had to sacrifice their diet, religious beliefs or other quirks. And people constantly discovered new flavors. But it had been ingrained into me that it was shameful to ask your guest to aid you in treating them right.

I wondered between the concepts of an ‘easy culture’ that allowed me to socialize and maintain my friendships and relationships and the concept of a ‘traditional culture’ I had grown up in, which stressed on the importance of being a good host and serving the right food, making the guest feel valued and welcomed and treasured. But would asking your guest to bring a dish make them feel unwelcome? It is food. We need to experiment, diversify and discover new flavors.

The parties in Australia were as warm and as beautiful as the ones I attended in India. The food I got from the restaurant were rather appreciated, even as some people teared up over the spices. Perhaps we need to try something new, a mix of cultures that would heighten the cultural difference between India and another country, and blend our food, creating a new culture of food.

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5 thoughts on “Cultural Differences Between India and other Countries: A Dinner Invitation

  1. If I took food to my mom’s house or my sister-in-law’s house, they would be seriously insulted. It would be the same as saying their cooking is bad. They take pride in (over)feeding their guests.

    On the other hand, bring your own (called “potluck” where I live) makes a more relaxed atmosphere, takes the stress off the host, and allows people to have friends over even if money is tight.

    One time, though, I was invited and informed that I was to bring macaroni salad. I don’t think it works when you tell guests what to bring; neither my husband nor I like macaroni salad, so we have no way of knowing if the dish we brought was even edible.

    (PS. I love Indian food!)

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    1. I’ve been into the “potluck/BYO” bit forever… I just never consciously noticed it till i started living alone and became responsible for the food to be taken I guess.
      It is curious how much of trouble Indians (Asians in general I guess) take to prepare food for the guests. Now that I have quirky eating habits too, I feel a little guilty about my tiny appetite or not eating red meat when I go to someone’s house and they try to over feed me (usually with the line “you need more flesh on you”)

      I carry at least fruits or icecream if it is a formal dinner invite. Feel too weird to go empty handed. But I guess mom and sister-in-laws don’t count. What about other Indian friends?

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  2. I received a casual invite from our new neighbor we met in passing, who’s from India. Her family and ours are both in a third country (not India and not the US). I offered to bring something and she said that there’s no need to bring anything, and she had made it clear that it’s a simple dinner if we don’t mind. I feel awkward going empty-handed. What should my family bring to the dinner?

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    1. Hi… I’m not very sure but you can always take fruits (strawberries and such that can be eaten right after dinner). I generally do carry wine or fruits in India, no matter what they say because I feel horribly awkward going empty handed. Else, I take icecream (particularly if the family has kids).
      Hope that helps. Have a nice dinner.

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