My experience of Vietnamese people, both in Australia and in Vietnam, is that they are extraordinarily hospitable. As it is across Asia, it's all about the food. There's always a fine selection of food when you sit to eat at someone's home. Pho (beef noodle soup) may be a quintessential Vietnamese food, but we only had it outside of the home, in any number of ubiquitous little restaurants. Home meals, family meals, comprise a table full of plates and bowls filled with salads, meats, sauces and noodles.
It's wonderful to look at, and participate in, such a amazing spread, even if many of the food items are unidentifiable, and some even unpleasant looking. Exotic? Nailed it.
One night, at the home of my father-in-law, I had another one of these great meals, and finished it well satisfied. I was relaxing with a cigarette after dinner when I was summoned next door to my new uncle's home...for dinner. I groaned a little inwardly.
I joined my father and law and uncle, and a hard rock loving friend of my uncle's whom I had met earlier that day. I joined them on the floor where another no less impressive array of food lay awaiting our enjoyment. Also, on this "table" was a large bottle of home made whiskey which was mounted on a little stand so as to make pouring easy.
And so began more culinary exploration, interspersed with drinking whiskey from small glasses ( a little larger than a shot glass). Before we drank we toasted, each time. Evidently if you take a sip, you must invite everyone else to drink with you. When we had finished eating, and of course I only picked at the food because I was not hungry at all, I stood to go outside for a smoke. My father in law insisted I stay, and so we smoked together on the floor of my uncle's living room, then stubbed out our butts in the food scraps.
Following the meal, we began to watch music videos and the aformentioned hard rock loving friend of my uncle and I worked our way through a fine collection of hair metal bands, mostly Bon Jovi. There was, quite naturally, singing and air guitars. Communication was very limited due to the language barrier, but we connected.
I don't drink whiskey. I never smoke inside. I prefer to sit at a table to eat, and I only ever have dinner once a night. Nevertheless, I had a really great time. When in Rome...right?
What is the appeal of this kind of activity? I think it's about building relationships. My wife was somewhat disproving of my involvement, but that was mainly due to the cigarettes. I was with her father and some other men in a family home. It was safe place, and I guess we were bonding. I wondered about the things we do to fit in, to gain acceptance, to not cause offence to others, to simply satisfy curiousity.
I've had some unsafe experiences in my life when my motives for involvement were far less pure than on this occasion, where my desire was simply to bond with the man whose daughter is now my wife. I've rarely encountered a better example of the intrinsic connection between food and relationships.
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