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Monday
Oct282013

Voices in the Crowd

I was eating lunch with my wife today at Santa Ramen in San Mateo, a renowned noodle spot with a line out the door from open to close, and I couldn't help but eavesdrop on the conversation happening next to me. A young man was bringing his parents out to eat ramen for the first time with his Japanese girlfriend, who was trying to explain the significance of the soup to them. The parents were Chinese, so the couple was looking to use similar comparisons in Chinese cuisine to help them understand the experience. The father, however, was having none of it. 

"It's just soup," he said dismissively after the girl asked him what he thought. "It's nothing special. I eat won ton soup all the time."

"I think it's really about the broth," said the girl. "They cook it for eight to ten hours here and that's why it's supposed to be special."

"It takes hours to cook won ton soup, too," grumbled the father. His wife disagreed with that statement, but was critical of the soup's spiciness. "This isn't spicy at all," she griped. Until she got to the broth and almost choked on the fiery goodness. There was pretty much nothing the poor girl could do to get her future in-laws to appreciate the Japanese ramen. The father ended up leaving the table before the lunch was over after getting upset about the ten cent charge for a plastic to-go bag (a charge required by law now in San Mateo county). 

"They have to charge you for the bag," the girl said. "It's the law here just like in San Francisco."

"They don't charge you for bags in Chinatown," the man countered.

"Well, they're supposed to," said the girl.

You see this same attitude with whisky quite often – a certain stubbornness when someone tries to get another person out of their comfort zone. It might be a cultural defensiveness (like the above example) where one person's pride in their own heritage clouds their ability to appreciate another. I've met Kentuckians who won't touch a drop of Scotch whisky, and Highlanders who rather die than have a dram of over-wooded Bourbon. It might also be a reversal of roles where one person is angry that they're the person being introduced rather than doing the introduction. I got the feeling the father was also defensive because he wanted to be the one introducing the girlfriend to more Chinese delicacies, rather than the other way around.

I sometimes think that our egos are preventing us from really enjoying ourselves and the company of others. Very few people are willing to actually listen to you anymore. They're often too caught up in what they're going to say to you instead, or thinking about a similar experience that one-ups your own. The wine and spirits industry is rife with this kind of behavior, but maybe it's just a commonality among humans. And especially in-laws.

-David Driscoll