14 Apr

there are two things that have set this week in gurgaon (delhi) apart: watching life go by at break-neck speeds in the taxi to the office each morning, and, less exoticly, lunch.

lord knows i love to eat,  yet oddly enough the anticipation with which i have been expecting lunchtime has little to do with the food.  (actually it has nothing to do with the food, if you read yesterday’s post.) it’s the conversation, that’s got me going.

so the office is a typical firm: a tight-knit boys club, with seven or eight staff members who are hard-nosed, smart as hell and true businessmen. moreover, many are well-travelled indians, and  have spent several years living in the west . to put it bluntly, these guys are intimidating.

but lunch seems to be when they let loose a little.

each day at 1 pm, the staff gather together in the boardroom and sit down to a rather formal lunch.  we’re talking actual plates, cutlery and napkins here people – real high-class stuff.

today’s conversation started when one of the guys turned to me, as i picked away at my rice, and said “allison, tell me about canada’s cuisine. what is a distinct canadian dish?”

i paused for a moment, went to speak, paused some more, and then eloquently said: “poutine?”

is this all we got canada? fries and gravy?

so after a lengthy attempted explanation on my part of what a cheese curd is (and frankly, now i’m not sure i actually know), a fellow staffer, seemingly unimpressed with my answer, said:

“you know, what blew me away when i moved to new york – other than the  bland food and size of the people – were the beggars.”

the reaction at the table from those who had never been to north america was interesting – they were suprised to hear we had issues in this area at all. (as i still sit on the board of one of toronto’s struggling ‘soup kitchens’, at this point i began to think the convo was taking an awkward turn.)

he continued, “i’m obviously used to beggars in principle, but the  guys who were sitting outside mcdonald’s day after day on lexington with signs that said ‘broke, want money for burger’ were truly shocking. i distinctly remember thinking: “isn’t that a little lazy and…mission-based?”

no joke, i almost spit out my rice.

continuing, as i pulled myself together, he said: “so i gave the guy some money the first time, but then the second time i saw him i thought – i don’t believe you.”

he has a point.

begging is mission-based, which if you think about it, is so ridiculous. alright, so the guy outside mcdonald’s is surely poor and likely feeling pretty low –  but does he really want money for that burger? probably not – he just wants your money, full stop.

the staffers great anecdote got me thinking that the north american begging scene is a song and dance – a show –  put on in whatever way possible to induce pity so you’ll spare some change.

and we’ve demanded it: we (you, me and…dupree.) want to be convinced that you truly need our money, so the beggars slap on a little shimmer, light the lights, and put on a show for us so we’ll pay attention.

to me, it seemed that my indian colleague was shocked upon his arrival in new york, because he never expected to face such indignity in north america.

i expected this week to see india a little more clearly, instead i was looking back at home with a new perspective. so i guess i have lunch to thank for that.

poutine, anyone?


9 Responses to “lunch.”

  1. ica April 14, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    Well written! A very eye opening post big lang!

    Mmmmm.. Poutine ! ;)


    • Allison April 14, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

      please dont call me ‘big lang’ ever again. that is all.

  2. Hannah April 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    First Poutine. Disgusting. The worst thing you could ever do to a perfect little curd of cheese. Sad.

    Second. Never, ever, ever give to a Panhandler in North America. On average they make more money a year than you and I combined. They also make up a very small population of the homeless and are more likely to spend their money on unhealthy food (if we’re lucky) booze and drugs. There are a lot of very good articles and statistics on this that I can round up for you if you’d like. Gainesville has a terrible “bum” problem that stems from the fact that we’re a liberal town in a warm place. In reality, we have a much worse homeless issue and the growing population of homeless are women and children. And yet the face of American homelessness is that bum begging for a cig. Disgusting.

  3. A.A.B. (auntie angie baby) April 14, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    As for the food question, here would be my polite answer…”Of course Canada is not only very multicultural it is pretty much 3 times the physical size of India so to have one food define us is impossible. Depending on where you live, you can eat Canadian food.” Here’s my not-so-polite answer…”Whatever we can hunt/catch/fish/spear is what we eat.”

    As for pan handlers and the question of stooping to dontate money, my approach has always been to buy someone a sandwich when they ask for money for food because they are hungry. That way I won’t see them at the LCBO. When I feel less generous I tell them the local variety store is hiring.

    Sounds like you are feeling better. That’s the good news! And just a hint (other native peep’s may find your blog so you may want to think about documenting anything that may come back to bite you…

    • Allison April 14, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

      lol i am not feeling better at all actually – just hiding it slightly better than yesterday.

      lovely auntie, i am hiding my blog as best as possible within the interwebs. i dont think anyone can find it, and even if they did, im being sneaky.


  4. ica April 14, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

    The minute I wrote “big lang” haha I was thinking I would get a post back. I’m looking for a name recently. I have been trying out a few. Clearly “big lang ” should not be on the top of the list. ;)

  5. Jessica Hynes April 14, 2011 at 11:05 pm #

    This is interesting – i would suggest that in India begging is a way of life, a business you learn from an early age and may have no inclination or compunction to leave, in northern america it is begging, something you do when you are down on your luck/can’t afford health insurance or get off the crack, hence the inventive ‘mission based’ signage. Also the jump from nothing to something is much greater is north america than it is in india. In india all you need is a copper pot, some peanuts and sugar and you have a fast food stall, in northern america you’d need a licence, a loan and a suit before they literally LET you sell peanuts.

  6. Barnet April 15, 2011 at 12:42 am #

    This is the way we do lunch up at the lake.


  1. i have gas. « hey it's me, al. - April 28, 2011

    […] yes, i realize that fajitas are mexican. and actually, turkey dinner is oddly hard to describe in an appetizing way. (“so first you stuff a bird’s ass, and then you remove said ass-stuffing and eat it whilst proudly displaying the bird in the middle of table…” etc.) so overall not a great job  – but at least it’s better then saying ”poutine“. […]

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