Monday, November 26, 2007

Crossing cultures on the dinner table

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, an event that's viewed as an exercise in cultural tolerance at our place.

That's because my two elder siblings, like myself, are involved in cross-cultural, interracial relationships.

My wife is of Irish/German descent, while my sister's boyfriend can trace his roots to Lawrenceville and then back to Poland. My brother, on the other hand, has arrived at dinner escorting a wider ethnic palette than the menu at the U.N. cafeteria, dating women from as far afield as Puerto Rico and Italy. One year, he brought along the only Icelandic woman within 700 miles of our hometown of Wilkinsburg.

This year's dinner was no different. My side of the family, being black and hailing originally from the Deepest South, likes everything fried, greasy and fattening. My wife's side is into healthy eating so much that they're convinced watercress is a spice. As a result, our dinner choices are as divided as the Gaza Strip.

Consider before-dinner beverages. My wife's clan brought a couple of bottles of white wine, one of which was to accompany the meal. My family started off downing 80-proof bourbon shots, followed by high-octane beer during dinner. The evening closed with tea or coffee, ours spiked with whiskey.

Both sides agreed on turkey for a main course, thank goodness, but a closer inspection revealed a drastic separation when it came to Thanksgiving side dishes.

The African-American contingent had prepared collard greens, corn bread, stuffing made with sausage and bacon bits, and a pot of slow-cooked pinto beans thicker than the wintertime waters of the Monongahela. For my wife and my sister's boyfriend, there was vegetable salad in mayonnaise and fresh white-bread (no pun intended).

Every year, after each dish has been loaded onto the table, we take a cursory look around and have a good laugh at the differences in tastes. But after several years, it's cool to watch as each side of the table, so to speak, remembers how much they enjoy the tastes and traditions of others. My wife, despite never seeing a collard green until we married, can prepare them as well as any black woman. In time, I, too, have learned new things, having come to appreciate the finer points of watercress and mayonnaise.

Of course, the moment dinner ended, we were faced with another chore: agreeing on a TV program. "You Don't Stop: A History of Rap Music" or Bing Crosby in "White Christmas"?

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