The heavenly smell of spices reminded me of home.
The rice and shining red curry invited me in for a feast.
My stomach purred like a cat in anticipation.
I was 18 years old at the college canteen in the north of India.
We were given cold stainless steel spoons and forks to eat with.
I was hungry, but angry at the same time as I did not know how to use spoons and forks.
Satisfying my hunger was so near yet so far.
Contest Chair, Guests, Toastmasters and those who love eating with your hands
It was my first day at college and it was dinner time.
Rice and curry was on the menu.
My face lit up like a 5 year old welcoming a Happy Meal at McDonalds.
Everyone around me was eating the rice and curry with a spoon and fork.
Coming from the South of India, we eat with our hands.
I did not know how to hold the cutlery.
I felt ashamed.
Have you ever felt ashamed when people around do something differently or better than you?
Have you ever felt that you had to hide your true self?
I wanted to be true to myself.
But, what will they think of me?
Will they think that I am not sophisticated?
I was afraid of the fork hurting my mouth.
I am Indian but had NOT done the sword swallowing training yet.
I stuck to the spoon alone and finished my dinner quickly, in only 2 hours.
One of the boys sitting in front of me asked
„Don‘t you have spoons where you come from?“
Another boy chimed in
„Look at your head move while eating!
That is quite a sight!!“
I felt my face go red not because of the spicy curry.
I felt ashamed.
Many years later, I attended a cultural awareness session in Germany.
In Germany, (nod head up and down) means YES
In India, (move head up and down and sideways) also means YES.
With Indians working in Germany you had to do cultural awareness sessions.
Our trainer Klaus told us something that has stayed with me ever since.
Eating is universal but cutlery is cultural.
Only if Klaus had told us when we were in college that eating with hands was cultural, I would have felt sophisticated.
He made me understand that we had no reason to be ashamed of what the people around us can do differently or better.
We don’t have to hide.
We can be true to ourselves.
A few years later, I was promoted and invited to a fancy dinner in a fine restaurant.
The place had wooden panels all around.
There were different wines arranged in fancy racks.
We were seated around a vast mahogany table with mahogany chairs.
This was an opportunity to impress the Senior management.
You would think I had learnt my lesson about being true to myself. Looking at the dining table –
There were TWO forks and TWO knives. And TWO spoons.
I broke into a cold sweat.
Will my college nightmare repeat itself?
Nobody was interested in my eating skills.
They were interested in the teamwork and the synergy we had by being different but better together.
I realised that the by being true to myself, I had been true to my colleagues, my company, and my clients.
Maybe this realization can help you too.
By being true to yourself you are being true to the people around you.
I live in Munich in Germany now.
At the beer garden, I put aside my spoon and fork and use my bare hands to dig in and eat.
How many of you have eaten with your hands?
Why don’t you give it a try today!
Donald Winnicott – the psychoanalyst says that
„It is a joy to be hidden, and disaster not to be found.”
Come out of your hiding place and
Be true to your self.