Saturday, May 16, 2009

Refugee Ettiquette: Refugees in the kitchen.

Just a few brief notes. People often wonder what refugees are like.

They are, basically, people just like everyone else, only with a background completely different from most other Americans. Because of this background, they often act differently than those of us who are not refugees.

A few traits that you might see if you should happen to invite refugees in your house and let them in your kitchen.

Some refugees might peek in your refrigerator. There is generally nothing malicious or sneaky about this. Looking in your refrigerator serves a few purposes.

First, they often work from habit of checking to see if their host has any food before asking for food. To ask for food from someone who has none is quite rude, embarrassing and unpleasant for all concerned.

Besides they are often very curious about what you and Americans in general eat and sometimes just plain like to look at a well stocked refrigerator.

Many refugees are not used to refrigerators as refugee camps usually do not have electricity, much less personal refrigerators. Teaching them how to use a refrigerator properly can actually be a challenge. They tend to do things like put catsup and other sauces and sometimes vegetables and fruits that should be refrigerated on the kitchen shelf instead of inside the kitchen refrigerator. I've heard stories about refugees who do not really understand how to process meat that has been frozen solid in the freezer.

This may in part explain the curiousity that some refugees have about peeking inside the refrigerator. (And before someone asks how do I know that a refugee peaked inside my refrigerator? He told me afterwards, not out of guilt or to apologize, just to discuss the contents that he had seen. There was no effort to hid the fact.)

Second, should you serve them they might jump in and try to wash your dishes afterwards as a sign of gratitude. This can be awkward if they are standing next to a dishwasher as they do it. Many recently arrived refugees cannot recognize a dishwasher when they see it and often do not really think about what it's for anyway.

Thirdly, refugees often eat surprisingly little and do so contentedly. Also some have special diets for religious reasons. (Muslims don't eat pork and Hindus, including most Nepali-Burmese, do not eat beef, for instance.)

I once invited one over and served him two hot dogs, some beans and some salad (traditional cuisine in my personal culture) and he described it as a "very big lunch."

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