Sara at A Little of That Too, as a student of psychology, has been working on a Gori Racial Identity Development Model. Although the exercise is a bit tongue-in-cheek, I think a lot can also ring true in this potential model.
So far her development stages include 1) “Pre-Partnership” (aka “normal”), 2) “Courting South Asia” (aka “omg my eyes are opened to this AMAZING culture!!”), and 3) “Re-immersion” (aka “oh yeah, I used to like that”), with several more steps to follow.
She was looking for some stories, which made me think of something—
When I first started dating P a lot of things were new. Language, food, music, clothing, religion, holidays, points of view. Some of these I embraced right away—curries, spices, cooking—others not so much: have I mentioned my Nepali skills are still pathetic?
One thing that I embraced relatively quickly was eating with my hand– or I should clarify, eating wet foods like curry, rice, daal, etc, with my hand (I guess you can call this phase 2—courting South Asia).
The first summer we were together I was living in an apartment with 3 Nepali guys. We would take turns making dinner, and eat together at the table each night. Not long after moving in one of our Nepali friends took away my fork and insisted that I eat with my hands. “The food tastes much better this way!” he insisted (something I’ve heard again and again). At first it was mostly a joke—pick on C and see if she could eat without making a mess, but eventually it was more about feeling comfortable eating that way, and learning the way that they did it. It wasn’t long before they didn’t have to take the fork away; it was my decision not to use it.
School started and I was back to my old ways of eating at the university cafeteria, but when we would cook in the International House kitchen late at night, I could pull out my “yeah, I’m a white girl, but I can eat with my hand just like you” skill, which felt particularly satisfying when sharing food with other non-Nepalis, like I was “in the club” because I knew the “better way,” the “more authentic way” of eating this type of food. It was the same type of pride I still feel when I get compliments on my momo wrapping skills.
The second summer we were back in an apartment—3 Nepali guys and I, sharing the cooking duties and eating with our hands. That spring P’s dad had come for his graduation and he stayed with us a few nights at the apartment before traveling to visit other relatives. When we all sat together to eat, P’s dad asked one of the boys to get me a spoon, but P explained that I knew how to eat with my hand—again a source of pride, my skill had been unexpected. This would come back to haunt me my first night in Nepal, when nerves made me eat so slowly with my hand that I was demoted to a spoon.
The semester after that summer I studied in India, and felt like a rockstar when I was able to show off my hand eating skills the first few days we were in Delhi to my American colleagues. They wanted me to show them “the right way” to do it so that they would also look competent and “in the know” when staying with local families and eating dinner. In a silly way it made me feel more “cultured” and more prepared, like I had an extra “in” with South Asia.
At some point after I returned from the trip and after being demoted to a spoon in Nepal, I just stopped doing it. I don’t remember when, or why, it just lost its appeal. I didn’t like that the turmeric tinged my finger nails yellow and that my hands would smell more strongly of onions and garlic even after washing them. It was like all of a sudden I didn’t have to prove that part of my “in-ness” with people any more, and it allowed me to “see” that I didn’t really want to eat with my hands all the time. Where I once enthusiastically dug in fingers first at home with P, I now grab a fork or spoon.
It’s not that I stopped eating with my hands entirely—I’m still a voracious momo eater with my hands, but I just don’t feel I have to anymore. Even in Nepal, I often ate with a spoon during our visit in 2009, unless I was visiting another family’s house, in which “American eating with her hand” was a surprise revelation. So I guess that means I’ve transitioned in this regard to phase 3—Re-Integration to my fork using world.