The Potluck

Living in a city is an inexplicably unique experience, as the global and local dualism of cosmopolitanism renders a safe haven to the transient and intercultural intercourse that takes place everyday. Having been a city dweller since birth, I am no longer fazed by the multicultural nature of my friends, neighbors and fellow strangers.  However of all the experiences that sleep in the folds of my memory, one in particular refuses to be forgotten as it was an evening marked by a particularly intriguing clash of cultures.  Not too long ago, I threw a potluck and invited a few people from my building.  Living in a housing facility catering primarily to international students, I was interested to see what strange and foreign foods the occasion would rake in.  Katrina, from upstairs, was barely an acquaintance at the time.  I knew little about her, other then the fact that she occasionally vacuumed at 4 o’clock in the morning.  Her origins were Lithuanian, and having been to Vilnius several times myself I was anxious to speak to her about it (and maybe also mention the untimely vacuuming).  She was the first to arrive bringing along with her a traditional Lithuanian dish called “kucia”, which is best described as a kind of oatmeal pudding with sweetened water- absolutely fabulous if ever you are graced with the chance to try it.  My neighbor from Poland, Brozena, brought with her Golabki, which despite meaning “pigeon” in polish, is really just stuffed cabbage. She also brought smoked cheese from her family’s farm.  In all honesty, I’ve never tasted anything better, but after having eaten almost half of it I felt a sting of guilt when learning just how long it took her family to produce. My downstairs neighbor Tom, from China, didn’t bring anything at all- I don’t think he understood the nature of the occasion and thus I suppressed the inclination to regard his actions as impolite. Barbara, from Venezuela, came late with a bottle of wine and after one too many glasses starting spouting off about the evils of Chavez: He may have called Bush a donkey on national television, but his ego does not compensate for his hypocrisy. Cigarette smoke and languages from all corners of the world filled the room baptized in fluorescent light.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect was observing the interaction between a few of my American acquaintances and the other company.  Among the first to arrive, they came with potato chips and beer (talk about perpetuating a stereotype, huh!)  As the night unfolded and new foreign cuisines graced the table, I noticed they were more hesitant then others to try the exotic dishes and within no time broke off from the party and formed their own click in the corner.  When a friend of mine from North African brought with her a traditional Ethiopian dish that she learned as a child from her mother, one of the Americans made the sly remark: how can Ethiopia have there own food traditions, aren’t they all starving over there? There was an uneasy silence, broken only by the cork popping off a bottle of cheap champagne.  Standing as a wall flower in a room crowded with people of countless ethnic and cultural backgrounds, I found myself observing from afar the interaction which was taking place while meanwhile trying to reconcile conflicting concepts of identity within myself.  Experiences such as these I must say are few and far between; and for a fleeting moment in the late hours of the night I was struck with the impression that the intercultural gathering almost served as a microcosm of the world at large.

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