Do Unusual Foods Tie In To Diversity?

My sister is continuing her education.  Her classes have been online courses, so she hasn’t had to miss a single day of schoolwork while she’s here.  She’s taking two courses. One is in her chosen career of nursing. The second, and most interesting, is a diversity course.

In a prior life I took a class in leading diverse teams and found it quite interesting and educational. She shared some of her scenarios that they were required to discuss, and I found them to be quite thought provoking. Of course, there’s still the random person that reacts rashly, strictly going by gut instead of considering from all angles, but there were also a number of people who gave well thought out responses.  I thought it might be interesting to get a feel for everyone’s point of view here as there are many people from different cultures.

The thing about the first couple of questions were that it forced you to consider ethnocentrism versus racism as well as cultural diversity. Ethnocentrism is the belief that your your culture or social group is inherently superior to others. Racism is a hatred or intolerance of other races. On the surface they look to be very similar. What do you see as the differences?

As for the questions…I’ve created my own samples as hers came from a class. Here’s the first one:

A large department store company has invited a very successful Italian designer from Italy to come to New York City to meet with one of their executives and to work out a potential deal to carry the clothing line in his stores. He decides to take the designer to a fine American restaurant.

They were seated and placing their orders with the waiter. The Italian gentleman ordered “filetto di cavallo”, only to be told that it wasn’t on the menu. The designer expressed his disappointment with such “limited” options, and throughout the meal became more and more disinterested. At the end of dinner they shook hands and the Italian gentleman went back to his room.

The following morning, when the young exec called the hotel to make arrangements for the tour of the offices and some of their top stores he was informed that the gentleman had checked out and gone home.

When the owner called him for an update, he told him that the gentleman had gone back to Italy. The owner asked what happened, and all the exec could say was that he’d ordered something called “filetto di cavallo”, but it wasn’t on the menu.

The owner replied, agast, “He ordered horse?”

What do you think of the situation? Was there anything the young executive could have done differently that may have changed the outcome of this meeting? What do you think this has to do with diversity, tolerance and ethnocentrism? Is it wrong to eat something just because it’s not common in the US?

I found this thought provoking… What WOULD I have done differently? I figured out a couple of things I might have done differently. What about you? I’d be curious about the cross cultural implications…


45 thoughts on “Do Unusual Foods Tie In To Diversity?

  1. prewitt1970 says:

    In my experience in entertaining people not from the country I’m in a little personal research goes a long way. What he should have done is excused the fact that they didnt serve that dish and recommended something complimentary to what his Italian friend would also enjoy.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      I concur. Even in the US, there are plenty of different cultures you’d want to make sure to understand their eating habits. It probably would not be ideal to invite a Jewish friend over, then serve pork… Research goes a long way to protect against such faux pas.

  2. Marie says:

    Well, first off, I think leaving for a simple reason such as a restaurant not having a particular dish is incredibly childish. When you’re in an unfamiliar place, in a different country with different cultures you MUST expect things to be different, especially the cuisine. If you don’t, well I have to say you may be a little bit ignorant of your surroundings. Was he incapable of reading the menu? Was the menu not explained to him if that was the circumstance?

    Of course, a different meal could have been suggested or even highly recommended. The designer may have also been asked if he had a preference of what type of restaurant he’d want to dine at while visiting. That would probably have been the best way to go about it. Asking him whether he’d want to try the local cuisine or instead dine at a fine Italian restaurant to make him feel more at home.

    I think it all comes down to communication. People need to learn to communicate their needs without overreacting and storming out, and they need to communicate when they are not sure of what to do. Ask questions or offer help.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      Marie, I guess I should probably have put fine in ” “. Although it may seem childish, often in high business, especially if you are being “wined and dined”, there are often very high expectations. In many countries, France & Italy included, when one is taken out to a “fine” restaurant, it is expected that they will be treated to the exotic and rare… If you are the one doing the “wooing”, it’s incumbent on you to impress, not the other way around. Research on the culture of the person you are trying to impress is a good idea so you don’t hit pitfalls. For example, if you’re dealing with an Business person from India, it’s probably not a good idea to take them to a steakhouse. (Cows are sacred). In this case, he probably could have limited the expectation by taking the client to an ethnic restaurant…maybe Japanese Hibachi or Something like that… Does that make sense? It’s probably how I would’ve gone…or maybe Indian food…something like that. I might have also plied him with some wine…just saying. 😉

      • Marie says:

        Thanks Kitt! I have no idea about these kinds of things. Thanks for cluing me into these things. I guess if the expectation is to be wooed and dined…well, maybe a fine Italian restaurant may be standard. Looking into it would have been a better option.

        • Kitt Crescendo says:

          LOL! If I were an American (which I am, LOL!) the last place I’d take an Italian from Italy is to one of our Italian restaurants. That kind of pressure might not be worth it…and it’s very unlikely that it would be good enough in their eyes. People can be very ethnocentric about their native food…especially in comparison to the replicas created in other countries. (And I stand by my comment about the wine…plying someone who’s used to wine with most meals isn’t a bad idea..and tends to put them in better moods, too…LOL!)

  3. Marie says:

    I hope I got the just of this story because I’m not too familiar with the protocol of meetings, execs, and dining situations such as the one you gave us 😛 Hopefully I made some sort of sense!

  4. Yaz says:

    I’d ask the Italian gentleman what kind of restaurant he’d like to visit, i.e. what he’d like to eat. Then look on the internet for a restaurant selling horse!!! But that’s only AFTER reading the story. In reality I’d have probably found myself in the same situation – him leaving.

  5. Emma says:

    Do a little bit of research before he arrives. Be prepared and be polite and perhaps recommend a few few different types of restaurants and allow the client to choose. That being said, I don’t think the young executive did anything particularly wrong.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      He didn’t do anything wrong. It was just a difference in understanding of what fine dining means from country to country. You’re right…if someone is hosting someone from another culture or country, it’s best to understand what differences may be there. And if I were to vacation in another country, the burden of research would be on me so that I don’t eat anything I can’t handle.

      My favorite meal of the day is breakfast, but I can tell you that I was raised in a religion that doesn’t eat pork, so most breakfast meats (unless they’re made of turkey, chicken or beef) are a no-go. I also know that if I were to ever go to the UK, I should stay away from black pudding as it’s something many Americans would be squeemish about…and it often has pork products and/or byproducts in it. 😉

        • Kitt Crescendo says:

          Yup! And yet many in the US, if they knew the ingredients would turn down their nose, LOL! Oddly enough there are areas that will put things like Spam or something called scrapple high on their yummy list. Different areas of countries & of the world have very different ideas of what is considered acceptable eating, what is good, and what is fine dining. 😉

  6. wordsurfer says:

    I find these themes deeply interesting as well, in fact, they formed part of what I studied. My first reaction to your scenario was to think: what a jerk! And then I read your comment about it being usual in business circles to be treated to the very best. Hm. I think what others have said before here, of being aware of cultural sensibilities is crucial, so you don’t offend anyone. Then, one step ‘below’ that is communication and choice. Yes, maybe the executive could have given the guest a choice. However, in your scenario you say he took him to a fine (probably expensive) restaurant, so that means he was trying his best. Also, I agree with you that taking an Italian to a US-Italian restaurant might not have been a smart move, also, I think it’s more of a “welcome to our country!”-gesture to take him to something that is different from what he’s used to at home, but that’s just my personal taste.
    However, having said all this, I think nothing, NOTHING excuses the Italian “gentle”man in your scenario for his total lack of courtesy and professionalism. Yes, culture is important, and yes, cultural sensibilities and perceptions have to be taken into account, but in the end, my view always comes back to the universal, rather than the particular, which means, in other words, that we’re all human beings, and for this world to work we owe each other courtesy and respect, no matter where we’re from or what cultural background we have. 🙂

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      You make some very valid points. I think, though, if the young exec had taken a moment to ask him what it was that he’d ordered…then proceeded to explain that such animals aren’t really served in the US as they’re considered pets, it may have also diffused the situation. He noticed the guy getting steadily more dissatisfied, realized the source, but never directly attacked the root cause. Who knows? It’s very possible if that had been explained, the guy would have felt differently. Set expectations can be adjusted if cause is explained. At least I like to think so.

      • wordsurfer says:

        True, I didn’t realize he didn’t know what it meant. That definitely falls in the category of communication. He also could have just asked if anything was wrong, if he realized his guest was put out by something.

        • Kitt Crescendo says:

          Although it didn’t specify, he noticed when the interchange went south. I don’t know about you, but even if I did know what it meant, I’d probably ask my client why he was upset and what I could’ve done to change things. I didn’t get the feeling that that happened. Of course all of this is conjecture…LOL!

      • wordsurfer says:

        I’ll have to look up this study we talked about … oh, years ago in university. I still remember it because I found it so fascinating and it totally validates your point, about adjustments being possible, if only we’re aware of the problem. I’ll do some research and see if I can find it again and forward it you. 🙂

        • Kitt Crescendo says:

          Thanks! I’d love that. These type of things fascinate me. Maybe it comes from growing up in so many areas and knowing that rarely do people see things quite as “eye to eye” as we assume… but I think that it allows us this incredible opportunity for growth as people and a culture when we learn tolerance and even enjoyment of cultural diversity.

    • wordsurfer says:

      Also, ethnocentrism and racism are very different things, although the outcomes might in some cases be similar. Missionaries or colonialists in the 19th century didn’t hate the people whose culture they destroyed, they genuinely believed they were doing the right thing by “educating” them. Of course that’s not excuse. On the contrary, it’s rather more dangerous and difficult to fight because people aren’t aware of it. If you hate someone, you know it. If you were raised in the belief that you are better than someone else, it takes a very strong-minded, self-aware person to question that belief in the first place. Or a radical event that forces them to see things from a different perspective.

      • Kitt Crescendo says:

        You’re absolutely right. They are very different, though often I’ve found people don’t get the destinctions. My sister and I were discussing just that thing based on the comments that were going back and forth in her discussion.

  7. vimal says:

    Situation = people!
    Differently = Asked the designer what it meant. Offered to take him somewhere he could eat it :-/
    Impact = Business is not a place for ethics… he, he
    Morality = Context is everything.

    Um, I would have asked the designer what he wanted to eat.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      LMAO! I do so enjoy when you decide to add your $.02 ( as we Americans put it). I probably would have stuck to a place where his expectations might have been a bit more confined…aka limited. Doubt he would have been ordering a horse steak if we’d gone Japanese or Indian…or Mediterranean. Kebabs of chicken and beef would have been another yummy option. 😉

  8. Jane Sadek says:

    I’ve done a lot of cross cultural entertaining for a variety of reasons, both business and pleasure. In fact, I married into a culture very different from my own, even though we share the same skin color and both claim to be from Christian traditions.

    Over eighteen years I’ve spent a fortune trying to impress my sister-in-law. I finally gave up. Since I quit trying, I started having some success in finding what she liked. She’s perfectly happy with Oscar Mayer sandwich meat on plain white bread. She adores Stouffer’s lasagna. I’ve taken her to a variety of fine restaurants with multi-star and multi-dollar sign ratings, but one time in a pinch, we ate at Golden Corral. She loved it. She didn’t mean to be so difficult, she just had a limited palate and assumed it was a discerning one.

    I think, as a whole, Americans are more open-minded and ready to be experimental than other cultures, primarily because we are made up of so many cultures. Wherever I go, I want to eat where the locals eat and try their favorite stuff, but that’s me.

    There are exceptions. Running into an American couple in Paris in December at the Eiffel Tower, we thought there was enough commonality to go to dinner together. When they embarrassed into the floor complaining about the absence of California wines on the restaurant’s wine list, I understood the term, “Ugly American.”

    We were once entertaining a couple of gentlemen from an Asian culture for business. We would have taken them anywhere and fed them anything they wanted, but when we asked, all they wanted Chinese food and over the course of a week, all they ordered was Kung Pao Chicken.

    What I’ve learned is to ask. Don’t assume the Italian designer wants to go to a fine American restaurant – ask him what he wants. Ethnocentric concerns aside, people are people. Some will want sushi and others will want hot dogs, and for most of them, where they are from is only one of the factors that effect that preference.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      Well said. And for the most part, I agree with you. I’m grateful every day that I was raised in a multiracial household and had the opportunity to live in other countries and experience other cultures. I think it’s helped me understand the importance of tolerance and that just because people do things differently doesn’t make one way right and the other wrong. It’s just different.

      As for the US being the most open minded regarding foods, I think it depends on here in the US you’re from. Overall, most Urban US cities are food meccas…like Chicago, New York, San Francisco… However, there are many other areas where they’re still primarily meat and potatoes. Where the extent of trying ethnic foods includes visits to Olive Garden or Taco Bell, maybe a Chinese buffet. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s simply all they’re really exposed to.

      My cousins from a certain part of Michigan are prime examples. It wasn’t until they visited us in Chicago that they opened their palates and their minds to new tastes, though it was done with a bit of nerves and trepidation. They were very pleasantly surprised to find that they enjoyed Tapas and Indian food. They also loved experiencing a Latin fusion place they got to try. They aren’t bad people, but their exposure to different foods is very limited in their community…

      As for the whole American tourist/traveller thing…yeah…there’s so much I could say about that, LOL!

  9. Katie says:

    I think they probably should have taken him to an Italian restaurant out of respect for his heritage. I see the intention that would be behind offering him American cuisine, but in order to close a deal, I would think it would be more important to make him feel comfortable and have something that reminded him of home.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      Ooh, I don’t know. Italians are pretty passionate about their food…and feel that no one can do Italian quite as good as the home country. I think you are one the right track with ethnic food, though. It would limit his expectations. 🙂

  10. radaronelson says:

    I think there should have been a menu set up with something that is a rare delicacy for them to try along with some normal items in case they don’t like it. If he ordered something not on the menu you politely tell him that it is something not allowed to be served there and make a recommendations for him. Me personally when I am in a different country I always try their local stuff. While in Thailand while plastered off my ass a bunch of us had a “fear factor” night and hit a road side stand and had BBQ rat on a stick which tasted awesome, Scorpion, chocolate covered ants, chocolate covered locusts, and grubs.

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