One of the many fine things about living in Ann Arbor is getting to meet students from all over the world. It’s especially fun to invite them over for holiday dinners, and experience our typical events through a new filter. Most recently, we had guests from China.
One, a young woman, took out her phone as we came to the table, which at first I thought rude, but it turned out she wanted photos for her family back home. She documented the place settings, the turkey, and the centerpiece, causing me to take a second look at them. Yes, a 22-pound turkey’s pretty large; there were a darn lot of pieces of silverware at each plate; and those were certainly a mix of dead, dried hydrangeas and fresh chrysanthemums in the vase.
The reigning Greatest Holiday Dinner Hit for our guests over several events is cranberry relish, the kind with oranges and sugar, but not too sweet. I love the look on the face of a guest trying it for the first time: surprise, and then delight. Very like the first time I tasted a soup dumpling.
When the meal’s over we like to say, ok now, what part seemed the strangest to you? Pumpkin pie? Bread stuffing? In the case of our guests from China it was unanimous: the strangest thing was to serve a hot dessert with cold ice cream on top. So maybe we should say “American as pie a la mode.”
I’m pleased and grateful for these insights into things I take for granted. It’s only a very small step toward sympathy for other people’s points of view, but sympathy is in dire short supply these days. We need all of it that we can get.