If it’s before 11:00am, probably not. I don’t like to eat breakfast. I never have. The only times that I have regularly eaten breakfast was when I was a victim of mountain hunger, and therefore hangry (hungry-angry) all the time. I simply like to start my day with two of my favorite vices: a cup of coffee and a cigarette. That being said, I will never turn down biscuits and gravy, and I love finding occasions to go out for brunch. “I’ll take another Bloody Mary, please.” After breakfast, I’m good until lunch. After brunch, my day is over. Do I ever love lunch, though! I am a big fan of big hearty lunches between 12pm and 2pm. Very rarely, I’ll snack between lunch and dinner. Very rarely. I’ll do dinner around 8pm or 9pm, maybe have a snack later on, and then I head to bed feeling satisfied, but not over stuffed. I am as regular of an eater as one could ask for, but that doesn’t stop the same people from asking me the same question day after day.
Never in my life have I been asked such a mundane question so frequently. Whenever I go into work, I am asked by at least ten people if I’ve eaten and if the answer is no, I am urged by those same ten people to eat. Unlike in the US, this question is never followed by an offering of food or invitation to lunch. I simply just answer yes or not yet and they walk away. This, among other things, has been a major point of culture shock for me.
This may seem like a really small Indonesian cultural thing to get bent out of shape over, but oh trust me, it’s making me mad.
I am a human. I need food to survive and when I am hungry, I am completely capable of obtaining food.
Ask anyone who I’ve been on a road trip, or any trip for that matter, what it’s like to be around me when I’m hungry. I turn into the most unbearable hangry shogre (she-ogre). It’s bad. My dad and younger brother, Mike, love recounting stories of our trip to the Dominican Republic in 2009. I had lived there for 5 months by the time they came to visit, and on top of not following my advice on how we should navigate the country, they didn’t seem to make eating a priority. It took a few days before Dad learned to throw food at me, and I will calm down. Annoying things might still be happening, but I’m much less likely to go off on someone when I have a full stomach. Nobody likes being hungry. NOBODY. Throughout time and space, people have tried to find a way to feed the world, because being hungry is absolutely miserable.
My close friends, Caitlin and Jill, marching to dinner at an archaeological work site. Can you feel their hanger?
Not everyone gets hangry through. Most of my friends do, and I love them for that quirk. We all understand each other, and we’re all well fed. Mike, however, doesn’t get the slightest bit hangry. A while back we were talking about this phenomenon and I gave my “being hungry is the worst feeling in the world and cause for anger” argument. Mike responded with, “Sure, no one likes being hungry, but hunger isn’t an excuse to be mean to the people you love, Mary!” Bingo. I don’t want to mean to the people I care about. Trust me, Indonesia, I’ll keep my belly full, because I really hate being a shogre.
If I’m not hungry, few things irk me more than being pressured to eat.
Have you ever had the most exquisite meal in front of you that you just couldn’t get enough of us? I’ll bet you could’ve gotten just enough of it, and if you were me, you would have stopped eating at the precise moment that you knew. I don’t eat the ends of my sandwiches. EVER. Because I know when to leave it alone and not let too much of a good thing become a bad thing. And because sandwich ends are just gross.
Near the end of a perfect meal, you must recognize when you are only one bite away from a belly ache. And that’s when you should stop eating. That bite might as well be being handed to you by a serpent. I know the times that I’ve taken the forbidden bite, I’ve been punished with a belly ache and expanded waist line so severe that it clouds all memories of how happy I was for most of the meal. I know better now. I always shoo that serpent away and not a single bite early.
This was a perfect meal to practice self control on.
At altitude, it is especially dangerous to over indulge because one digests food at a much slower rate. That’s one of the reasons why people drink coca tea and chew coca leaves in the Andean highlands: it helps in the digestion process. Coastal Peruvians will drill into your head before you go into the highlands you should “caminar despacito, comer poquito, y dormir solito!” “walk slowly, eat only a little, and sleep alone!” Unfortunately, as Peruvian food is to die for. My dad came to visit me when I spent a semester in Lima, Peru in 2010, and a trip to Peru isn’t complete without going to Cusco. He had been adhering really well to our friendly coastal advice and he loved the bit of folklore that our tour guide gave us about how everyone has a guinea pig inside them and if you overfeed it, it will get angry. All that being understood, Dad lost all control at a lunch buffet featuring many different ways to enjoy alpaca meat, and did he ever overfeed his guinea pig. I have never seen my father more uncomfortable than he was later that night on our ten hour bus trip to Arequipa, and I hope I never see him that uncomfortable again. Use this as a cautionary tale the next time you think about giving in to gluttony.
Pressuring me to eat when I’m not hungry is offering me a belly ache and the opportunity to hate food. Peer pressure is dangerous in any arena and friends don’t let friends hate food. Please, Indonesia, when I say I’m not hungry, I mean it…. unless you’re offering me pempek or gourami crackers. I really just don’t like those.
Why should anyone care whether or not I’ve eaten?
Have you eaten is a boring question with a boring answer. I used to think of it as a demonstration of concern to make sure that I wasn’t hungry and was feeling OK, but now it feels nosey and like people are digging for reasons to talk. At work. Where I don’t really want to talk, I just want to get my work done. Other weird mundane questions that I’m burdened with are
“Why did you paint your nails that color?” Because it looked good with the clothes I want to wear this week.
“Did you drive your motorbike to work today?” Yes. That’s why I’m carrying my helmet.
“Why didn’t Amy come to work the same time as you?” Because Amy starts later than me.
“Do you have a today class?” Of course. Would I be here if I didn’t?
“Did your cat eat today?” Yes.
*Just a side note. Monty my look sweet and quiet, but he meows like a dying dragon when he’s hungry. It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep his food bowl full.
“Did you shower today or is your hair wet because you went swimming?” I showered.
Boring questions with boring answers that I’m not convinced anyone really cares to know. I can’t speak for all of western culture, but I really miss the way people in the United States frankly don’t give a sh*t about one’s day to day doings and reserve questions and conversations, especially at work, for interesting events.
My conversations with my co-workers feel like George Costanza’s pitch of “a show about nothing” to NBC
George: What did you do this morning?
NBC: I woke up, had a cup of coffee, read the paper, and came to work.
George: There! That would be a show!
NBC: Why would anyone watch that?
George: Because it’s on TV!
NBC: Not yet it isn’t….
Immediately after drafting this post, I went to my Bahasa Indonesia class and asked my teacher, Irul, if he could offer any explanation of this behavior. As it turns out, in Indonesia, it’s rude not talk, but on most days nothing noteworthy is happening, so they fill silence with really boring conversations. Also, Indonesians know this is boring stuff and they don’t really care about the answer, or elaborating on the conversation, but it’s friendly just to ask and equivalent to saying “hello”. Confirmation that people who ask these questions really don’t care what my answer is makes being interrupted to answer a pointless question even more annoying, because it turns out that, as suspected, they really don’t give a sh*t. There is even a word for these types of questions. Basa basi: meaningless conversations only to be polite.
Irul told me that in the past, a teacher from the States went off on somebody because he asked “why is your motorbike dirty?” This absolutely cracked me up and made me feel a bit validated that I’m not the only one who gets irritated by basa basi. My dictionary translates basa basi as “courtesy questions”, but as far as I am concerned, it’s only a courtesy to ask someone if they’ve eaten if it’s followed by an invitation to dine together, and pointing out that someone’s motorbike is dirty is only courteous if the person who asks is offering to wash it as a favor.