We’ve mentioned before that Mexican food is one of our favorites, so not long after we arrived here and had some Nigerians over for dinner for the first time and wondered what to make, Mexican food rose to the top. I knew how to cook it, I could find the ingredients here and really, what’s not to like? I decided to make fajitas because all the elements of this dish, albeit in a different form, were things that Nigerians tend to like and use in their own dishes (which I had yet to learn how to make – or at least make successfully): chicken, which was a treat even for us, peppers, onions and spice with some kick. Sure, the addition of a flat piece of bread to roll the ingredients up in might throw them off, but with a little demonstration, we figured we’d be good to go.
I excitedly prepared the food that day, and when we sat down to dinner with our friends, we explained to them how the tortillas worked. They asked us to serve ourselves first so they could see how to do it, and as we did, the husband, who is a pastor and had been to Israel, surveyed the food and declared, “We had food like this in Israel. We called it rabbit food.”
Strike one. Unless maybe he really likes rabbit food.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this blunt statement, but we continued the demonstration, and I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten the rice in the kitchen. I had made Spanish rice to go with the meal, miraculously transforming ordinary market white rice into a dish boasting onions, peppers, tomato sauce, tomatoes and spices, a dish that Don Pablo (or at least Taco Bell) would’ve been proud of.
I humbly carried the bowl of rice to the table and brought it to the husband, who took it and set it at his place.
And that’s when I realized in horror what was happening.
I had made what I thought was a large bowl of rice to serve at least six adults with leftovers – but it was actually about the equivalent of what an adult male would be served since most Nigerian meals tend to be quite starch heavy (No Atkin’s diet here!). The decorative serving bowl I was presenting to him appeared to be the single serving of rice I was offering to my guest.
The awkwardness only got worse as the meal – or the picking at the meal – continued. The poor wife shoveled the food around on her plate as she nobly tried to look as if she was enjoying this foreign meal until finally I said, “You don’t have to eat that.” She looked as relieved as a typical American child being told he didn’t have to finish his spinach and pushed the plate (a little too eagerly) to the center of the table. Chris and I stared sadly at the pile of chicken on her plate as we silently calculated the dollar amount of each uneaten bite and wondered if, since we had already clearly blown our first Nigerian dinner attempt, it would be entirely inappropriate to take her plate and eat the chicken ourselves.
Cross-cultural dinner FAIL.
Fortunately, our friends were quite gracious. They insisted they weren’t really all that hungry (or maybe they had just lost their appetite) as we left to go to an event that we were all attending (It became a joke between Chris and me about how quickly they probably stopped to get food on their way home.), and they’ve remained friends with us, even becoming sort of cultural informants for us. Since then, we’ve enjoyed several (non-Mexican) meals at their house and have invited them over again for meals as well.
Oddly enough, they’re always busy, though he has stopped by several times at clearly defined non-meal times when an offering of peanuts and a drink is considered quite culturally fitting.
Coincidence, I’m sure.
So what about you?? Ever have a cultural disaster of a meal? Or a dinner party flop? Tell us about it in the comments so we can laugh at your mistakes and feel better about ourselves sympathize with your