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?”
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.