Last night I had dinner guests from Senegal, Benin, and Gabon. All three were in Los Angeles as part of a US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership program.
They are participating in this program to learn about the US approach to transparency and good governance, looking for ideas that might be useful for their countries.
When dinner was served there was a momentary pause, when no one lifted a fork to begin. Then the youngest member of the group (somewhere in his late twenties or early thirties) said to the oldest (maybe in his middle forties) – “Please, you must begin first.” For him it wasn’t the host or hostess who started the meal, rather the oldest man had that honor. Our “older” gentlemen graciously accepted this request and so our meal began.
As I reflected on the moment I thought: Oh this would not work in the US, not in LA. Where everyone is concerned about looking, feeling, being young. Where there is endless advice for people start new careers after they retire, where endless ads promote products to make one look, feel young and energetic. Suggest that someone begin dinner because they are oldest? Do that and risk being seen as unbelievably rude rather than thoughtful and respectful.
Who eats when? Worth checking before you travel to someplace new.