Thursday, January 28, 2010

lunchtime thought

My life has been a complete whirlwind recently! I'm not even pretending to try to run this week. But more on that later.

I just finished eating lunch--delivery from Jimmy John's. As I was eating, I had the same thought I often have as I eat at my desk: "Does my lunch offend anyone?"

It's a more complicated question than you might think. I've had officemates from Egypt, Nepal, Chile, Brazil, China, Japan, Scotland, Palestine, India, Indonesia, etc. Taste in food varies across these places, based both on religious context and cultural preference. So there are three things going on here:
1. I can't possibly keep straight the food rules that go with each religion common in each country
2. Academia is not exactly rife with devout folks, so there's a good chance that even if I could remember the popular religious affiliation of someone's country, it might not really apply to them
3. Cultural preferences come out of freaking nowhere. They are even more difficult to define than religiously-based food choices.

Take for instance one of my current officemates. He is from Nepal and tells me that in his country people of all faiths welcome one another, and cultures mesh easily. How literally does he mean that? Second example, a former officemate I had, from Scotland. Peanut butter like we know in the US just isn't available in Western Europe. It isn't something people grow up loving, and consequently even the smell of it made her sick, which I didn't know for a while. How in the world do you keep it all straight?

Perhaps the more fundamental question is this--what constitutes being culturally sensitive? Certainly behavior cannot be adjusted to be 100% acceptable to all people at all times. How boring we'd be, and crazy from the effort of it. So how do you navigate office etiquette in such a diverse workplace?


Run Jess Run said...

...but it's delivery Jimmy John's!!

Unknown said...

Your mind is a mysterious place Joanna, a very mysterious place.

...and maybe just a little bizarre.