"She: Fun fact: In Jamaica, they don’t eat with utensils.
Me: I'm sorry?
She: They don't use utensils to eat in Jamaica"
Some years ago I sat in a restaurant that takes pride in calling itself a “Caribbean” restaurant. This restaurant I sat in, in order to have a meal, was of course not located on an island in the Caribbean but on a section of an island belonging to Europe, England. Of course, with restaurants such as these, the tendency towards authentic cuisine is often lacking. This is something you’d really only know if you are from the country or region it purports to represent. Nevertheless, if you put “what should be” aside, often times the food is tasty and those unfamiliar with the cuisine being represented would not know the difference. There is, though, one thing I cannot swallow with the same ease and enjoyment as the food that sits on my plate… misrepresentation.
While sitting in this restaurant, I noticed our table had no cutlery. I beckoned to the waitress and asked her for knives and forks. She apologised for the error and went to get the items I requested. When she came back, and maybe in an attempt to cover the mistake that was made, the following conversation took place:
She: Fun fact: In Jamaica, they don’t eat with utensils.
Me: I’m sorry?
She: They don’t use utensils to eat in Jamaica.
Me: That’s not true.
She: No, it is true. They put the food in the centre and then everyone grabs what they want to eat with their hands.
Me: That’s not true.
She: I’m telling you, it is.
Me: Okay, well, I’m Jamaican. I was born and raised there and I’m telling you that it is not true!
She (nervously): Oh, no no that’s what I was told.
Me: Who told you that?
She: Our chef. He’s Jamaican.
Now, there is no way for me to know whether or not she was actually told this or if there was a Jamaican chef (who apparently doesn’t know the key spices or ingredients that go into cooking Jamaican cuisine) who bestowed this important “factual” information upon her. Regardless, the confidence and assertion with which she relayed this little nugget to me as a factual occurrence, was what concerned me. There are cultures that use their hands to eat and it is a part of their cultural expression to do so. This practice is great and is a part of their norms. However, Jamaica isn’t one of those countries. Of course there are foods we can and do eat with our hands (burgers, pizza, fries, potato chips etc.) but to state, as fact, that our culture’s habit is to eat sans cutlery is a misrepresentation I was not prepared to excuse, especially since Google has allowed everyone to claim it as their friend.
To me, culture becomes very important when it tries to exist outside of the culture's home. If you have not grown up in a culture, though difficult, it’s important to be accurate about representing it properly and with grace. The culture of a people is tantamount to their identity. To rob a culture of the things that define it is almost the same as robbing a people of an identity they nurtured and grew over 100’s of years. The differences in our cultures across the globe are important and keep our experiences interacting with each other interesting and engaging.
In this series, "𝕿𝖍𝖊 𝕮𝖔𝖓𝖉𝖎𝖙𝖎𝖔𝖓 𝖔𝖋 𝕮𝖚𝖑𝖙𝖚𝖗𝖊", I will touch on Jamaican culture as it relates to misinformation, misrepresentation, missteps and more. We learn and we grow together.