Primitive Eating 101
Yet another cultural deal I had to get used to: eating with my hands. Growing up, I’ve been trained to eat everything with chopsticks: fruits, soup, rice, noodles, pizza, potato chips, you name it. If chopsticks were not accessible, I had to make way with forks and knives. Even then, I was a failure at the Western way of dinner table etiquette. My white friends in college found it too funny how I failed at knifing my chicken and holding the fork properly. And last month, I had to do away with metal utensils and use my hands as utensils. In the beginning, I was grossed out and hesitant to use my hands. I remembered the RCC canteen where I ordered curry and chappathi for lunch (a struggle in itself). Except there were no utensils! I looked around and everyone was using their hands to scoop up rice and sauce. No spoons?! AHHH!!!
Though I got used to eating with my hands, I’m still accustomed to the Western rules of propriety at the dinner table. I had limited options in India. I followed cultural norms. Utensils were usually not available, except at some more upscale places and tourist hot spots. Actually, at the nicer places, when waiters saw me, they’d make sure to provide handy utensils.
Eating with the hands gets messy and greasy. That’s why there are wash stations at every restaurant or eating lounge. I hate getting sauce, food, grease, and spices under my nails. That’s why long nails are considered unhygienic in India. I hate the discomfort of seeing and feeling the oils and food bits all over my hands. I can eat Indian bread with mushy meals, since it’s all about ripping and scooping, but not rice. I had to have a spoon for that. People there mix and ‘stuff’ the rice with sauce into their mouths. I can’t imagine myself doing that; I need my spoon to scoop and carefully place the contents into my mouth.
And when it comes to eating meats, you use the bread and fingers to break off chunks of meat. It’s easier to eat veggie dishes honestly. Meats come with bone and skin. You really have to work for your food in India! Actually, in general, you basically work to satisfy your appetite. All that ripping, scooping and stuffing, plus the sweating from the spice – no wonder you can’t get obese in India!
Oh yea, there are no napkins either. That’s why there’s wash stations for [before and] after you eat! You can wipe with your hands, since you’ll just rinse off the grease and junk anyways.
Doctors eat in this fashion too. You’d think reputed, prim doctors have propriety, but they follow cultural norms nevertheless. I’d see surgeons and doctors eating their Thali lunches in the lounge, with their hands. I’d eat with my hands too, except nothing as gourmet as rice and curry. I’d eat a very pitifully healthy lunch: banana, orange, and vitamin-fortified wheat crackers =D
And my breakfast for several weeks: MASALA RAMEN NOODLES. I satisfied my ramen noodle craving in India. I ate it the Korean way – straight out of the pot. Imagine having to eat with my hands for this hot, slurpy breakfast!
MEN: Many commoners wear togas. Formally, they are called lungi, commonly worn as a casual dress in Kerala, South India. Take an old towel or bedsheet and wrap around the waist. It can be plain white, plaid, or patterned in many colors and designs. You can go au naturel or commando underneath; no one will know. It’s convenient, cooling, and breathable in the hot Indian summer. It can be adjusted to different lengths: long like a maxi dress or folded up and tucked in like a skirt. Men adjust their togas on the public streets, rolling up their sheets and folding them up and forward.
WOMEN: All women wear very decorated sarees, so pretty and elaborate dresses with bright colors and patterns. Women certainly dress more elegantly and fashionably than men do. They wear light, flowy pants or long dresses to cover up. On top, they are clad in beautiful tunics with scarves and jewels. Female doctors also wear their usual dresses and tunics and sarees to work. No wonder I appear so different, me in my leggings and shirts. On the beaches, women also don’t wear bathing suits or bikinis. We are talking about a conservative society here. They dive in for a dip right in their long sarees. Men hop into the waters in usual swim trunks. It was funny when I was at Kovalem Beach, a group of European girls laid on the beach tanning, while a batch of Indian men sat on the boardwalk oogling at them. Men, they need to get their dosage of skin and boobs, and I guess it’s not often they get it from Indian women.
Anyway, women are well put-together in India, not revealing too much skin. Young females are thinner and more covered up. Older women are more plump and wide at the waist. The thing is, they seem to flaunt their fatness. Older women wear half shirts on the inside and sarees diagonally across the front, revealing the outpour on the sides. The bulging abdomen and jiggling muffin top are exposed – unnecessary, excessive, and unattractive. I thought Indian women would be more conservative with their bodies and appearances, but I guess not. What they wear could be attractive and gorgeous, if their attire suited a hotter, more youthful body…
I notice that the poor are very thin, while the rich are more rotund and ‘healthy-looking.’ Body size correlates with money and status. Larger men, not as far as obese, are fuller and happier. Larger women, who probably are happily married and settled down, let go around the abdomen. It’s like what Russell Peters joked about: Indian women are drop-dead gorgeous, and then they hit 35 and disaster strikes…
Either way, Indian female fashion is rather ornate, vibrant, and traditional. If you have the perfect body, you would be drop-dead gorgeous and fashionable. My leggings and huggable tunics are bland next to these angelic sarees. I like their dresses: simple, ethereal, glamorous, and cool for the cruel, hot summer. Maybe next time, I’ll try it and see how I feel. I’m curious as to how I’ll appear in these traditional Indian dresses.
CHILDREN: Little girls are dressed up like baby dolls. They are donned in vibrant dresses and jewels (not the fake plastic ones from Toys R’ Us), sometimes even makeup. It’s too cute!
Students wear uniforms. Guys wear dark pants and white buttoned-downs. Girls wear colored pants, white top, and colored sarees across the front. And they like to wear pigtails that fall over their shoulders onto the chest. They look rather innocent, shy, and playful. The uniform style comes off as more proper and clean. In Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and England, girls and boys wear neat and conservative uniforms. Private schools in America require a dress code too, but not in public schools. I always wished I could wear a school girl uniform so I would not have to wrestle through my pitifully unfashionable wardrobe every day and see trashy Americans wear cheeky shorts and cleavage-bearing tank tops in school. America’s all about freedom of expression, so that’s what you end up finding in the school systems: too much skin and flubber. No such thing as conservatism here …
Which reminds me what I dressed up as for Halloween last year. My friend and I dressed up as school girls: I was an American school girl and she was a Japanese school girl =D Fantasy satisfied after all…