We all sat down to eat, then Noah started explaining something.
We listened attentively, because we were all starving after a day of swimming, hiking and sandboarding, and because Noah was the expert local guide, tasked with leading us through our 5 day Fiji Experience tour.
We also listened because many of us had partaken in various culinary experiences throughout the world, during which specific behaviours must be observed.
Many of us had mastered, or failed to master, the use of exotic utensils; or we had learned to eat with no utensils at all, while trying to remember which hand to use or, more importantly, which hand not to use.
We’d discovered that etiquette can impact upon a meal even before a morsel is taken, as one’s position at the table can determine said person’s social status.
We’d been careful, in some contexts, to avoid showing the soles of our feet, or to avoid consuming anything in public during daylight hours at a particular time of the year.
In other parts of the world, we’d been encouraged to drink only and whenever the ‘boss’ took a drink, or to toss the contents of the first glass over the right shoulder before consuming anything.
With that in mind, we listened diligently to Noah’s explanation, lest we offend local sensibilities with a cultural faux pas.
“You can order food from the menu”, he began.
“You look at the menu, then you call the waitress. You can order pasta, salad, pizza, rice, hamburger, anything you want”, he continued, as we flicked through the standard western menu and nodded politely.
“Then you tell the waitress and she will bring you your food.”
That seems straightforward, we all thought, as we waited for the local variation on socially acceptable dining.
“You can order drinks too. The drinks are here at the back of the menu. They have soft drink, beer. Let’s all order beer guys, yeah, let’s make a party.”
Some of the group chuckled at this suggestion and seemed excited about the prospect of a cold beverage, while all of us waited for the remainder of the explanation. We waited for guidelines on local dining habits, waited to be told how to say ‘bon appetit’ in Fijian or to find out whether the oldest person in the group would be served first.
An awkward silence descended upon the table.
Confused, furtive glances were exchanged.
That was it. Nothing more; no insight into Fijian social mores.
Noah had literally taught a group of fully grown westerners how to order food from a standard western menu.
The next day he taught us how to tie our shoelaces.