Came across another cultural difference , but not one between Germany and Canada as I have been documenting here from time to time. This one surprised me.
We were invited to dinner in a village about a 40-minute drive from our home in Sulzburg. Our hosts were celebrating their new apartment.
They came here as refugees from Afghanistan three years ago. During that time the family of three lived in a single room in a “heim,” a refugee centre that I think was once an army barracks. Now, with a baby on the way, they finally have their own place in a different town.
When we sat down for dinner it wasn’t at the dining table in the kitchen. Initially I thought that was because it was too cramped a space for six of us, but it turned out there was more to it than that.
The wife spread a tablecloth on the living room floor and placed the serving dishes there. We sat around it as if it were an extremely low table, a two-dimensional one. My arthritic knees were not happy at being asked to sit cross-legged, but I refused the offered chair. I figured I should try and be culturally sensitive, and the pain was what I would describe as annoying but manageable.
During the course of the dinner conversation (mostly in fractured German) the wife said that she prefers eating on the floor. She finds sitting at the table to be uncomfortable.
That would never have occurred to me. I would have thought sitting on a chair would be easier on the body, but I guess it depends on what you are used to.
I know that in many instances cultural differences are neither good nor bad. We are just different people who grew up in different systems. So I won’t say that sitting at the table to eat is better or superior to sitting on the floor. What I will say though is that my body prefers the system it is used to. Not to mention that when the food is served on the floor I don’t know what the eating etiquette is. Do I pick up my plate so it is closer to my mouth when I eat? Or does the fork travel a further distance than usual, with a greater chance of me making a mess of myself and the surrounding area? I can see soup and rice being especially problematic.
Still, next time, I expect to once again be sitting on the floor. I want to show respect to my hosts – and when they visit my home I expect we will eat at the table. After all, we don’t have a tablecloth.
(I snapped a quick photo before everything was placed on the floor, and I have edited the people out – the thought of trying to get permission to show their picture, when we don’t have much of a common language, would require more effort than I want to make today.)