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Do I have to eat it all?

Recently my family and I were invited by a colleague to join his family for an evening meal, which we accepted most eagerly, knowing the high esteem in which the cooking abilities of his wife were held by those in the know. And so it was we found ourselves sitting down to dine, before us a table laden with all manner of delicacies from the land of the Pharaohs. As the host came to the table to serve he piled our plates with an amount of food that was extraordinary.

All the guests at the table were stunned at the amount of food placed on our plates and were somewhat concerned at their ability to eat what was served, not wanting to offend the host by leaving a significant portion of the serving uneaten. I could hear my mother's stern voice, "you may not leave the table until you have finished what you have been served!" Her voice in the back of my head and the mountain of food on my plate combined to cause me to shudder. this was going to be tough! While the tastes and aromas of the enormous plate were encouraging me to eat and eat and eat, the size of my stomach was not as enthusiastic and threw in the towel with about half a chicken, a side of duck, three stuffed ocra and half a plate of rice to go. Luckily the desert stomach was waiting in reserve for the plates of pastries and small delicacies that arrived after the table was cleared of the main feast.

My wife and I left hoping we had not offended the hosts, hoping that the short walk home would be possible with our enormous bellies causing significant balance issues and knowing that we could never produce such a feast to repay the honor of being guests in their house. Fast forward three weeks.

My wife, keenly interested in culture shock, transition issues and that sort of thing was reading through a new book that had arrived in the post that afternoon, "Culture Shock in the United Arab Emirates" and suddenly sat up and called out, "listen to this!" She went on to read how the book explained it was customary in the UAE, and the middle east by extension, when entertaining guests in your house to serve their plates high with as much food as the plate can hold, as a representation of the esteem in which the guest is held. Suddenly things made sense and our wondering if we had offended the hosts slipped away.

Now as I sit in my office above a school full of elementary teachers meeting with parents for their parent-teacher conferences I wonder how much of this is going on right now in the classrooms below me. How many parents are listening to comments from teachers knowing that in reality they really cannot fit it all in? How many teachers are listening to parents talk about their children thinking to themselves that the parents really don't get it?

Maybe the first conversation should be about whether or not we are expected to eat everything that is on the plate.


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