Saturday, December 12, 2015

Have You Eaten, Or Not Yet?

Or in America, "have you eaten?"  

Americans are often considerate and polite.  If people visited my house unannounced I would bring them a glass of water without mentioning it, maybe asking them if they’d like some ice in that.  Or maybe offering them a beer, depending on the situation.  But even if it was around the lunch hour I might not mention food.  I’d probably assume that they had that under control.  If I was in the middle of making something for myself, I’d offer them some.  Otherwise maybe, maybe not.  All cultures are different.

People in Thailand talk about food at every opportunity, and other people’s wellbeing is important to them.  So in almost every situation, Thais will ask, “have you eaten, or not yet?”  That’s the formula for such questions in Thai.  “Geen laow ruh yang?”  Or even, “dang an laow ruh yang.” (Are you married or not yet?) 

City people are urban in any culture, and in big cities you can’t worry too much about everybody else, while in smaller settings you can worry about nearly everybody.  In the Thai countryside, it was common for strangers to greet me and ask me to sit for a while and have some cool water if it was hot out.  (And it’s always hot out.)  In small town settings, if someone asked me if I’d eaten yet, and I said, no, they’d offer me some food or a snack of some kind.  It’s that kind of place. 

Those are all gentle things without too much drama in them.  Just folks being neighborly.  Sometimes the interaction becomes more urgent.

I recall when I was younger discovering that black Americans would sometimes ask upon greeting each other, “are you eatin’ regular?”  Maybe the formulation came from an earlier time, an evil time out in the countryside, the Jim Crow times.  Along with that question came, “where are you staying?”  Possible answer: “I’m outdoors right now.”  Maybe I heard these things in older, non-urban songs.  Those kinds of questions carry a poignancy that is almost unbearable. 

I don’t know where to draw the moral from all of this.  Maybe we should just take an opportunity to reflect and agree that we should all just be much nicer to one another.  We’re all we’ve got, after all.  If “we” won’t help “us,” who will?  

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