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The worst kind of immigrant [Apr. 15th, 2006|12:44 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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When it comes down to a choice between being a snob and making enough money to survive, you'd think most people would choose survival, right? Not the guy I buy lunch from.

It's this Pakistani guy who has a stall hawking subcontinental food at the local Food Court, and he labels all the items with their native names (dal makhani, palak paneer, chana masala... you get the idea). He doesn't put up English translations of any kind; this frustrates all the non-desi folk to who want to try his food. Most of the time they contemplate it for a while and then walk past, but sometimes they ask him what the stuff is. They are very interested, but since it looks like nothing they've seen before and has a name they've never heard before, they're desperately looking for some confirmation that it isn't some weird alien shit that will corrode their insides.

But our guy just says "it's palak paneer".

Yes, but what is it?

"Palak paneer".

And the potential customer walks away.

Sometimes a person who can't make up their mind will ask me for a translation. When I say "that's spinach and cheese, and that's fried lentils over there", they're like "oh, that sounds totally alright. I think I'm gonna try some."

The snob understands this. He sees clearly that he's losing customers. I've urged him a couple of times to add English names to the labels. He brazenly tells me that nothing he could possibly say in English could capture the subtlety of palak paneer or aloo mutter.


[User Picture]From: annamaryse
2006-04-15 04:03 pm (UTC)
People are like that in food service often, no matter what their ethnicity is. It's how they see it, not what the market will bear.

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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-04-15 04:23 pm (UTC)
I agree that people of all ethnicities can behave like that, but don't you think it is always because they feel their culture, whatever it is, is superior to others?

I must point out that it is overwhelmingly the case that people are more than happy to explain to an outsider what a dish is made of. I have tried a lot of different cuisines -- mexican, thai, french, mediterranean, italian, chinese, japanese in half a dozen different countries, and I can only recall one single time that anyone behaved to me the way this guy behaves to non-Indians. This was a Romanian woman 7 years ago. In general Europeans are a little more uptight than Americans.

So I would say that while snobbery definitely exists among chefs, it is not the norm, and the world would be a better place without it.
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[User Picture]From: paper_crystals
2006-04-15 08:31 pm (UTC)
I know The Indian Food Craze had reached most northern cities but I don't know about the southern ones. And up until recently you could only eat Indian in Boston if you had money. Well, money enough to spend on a nice meal. Cheap Indian food just came to Boston right when I left. Which was all kinds of sadness. There is no Indian food in upstate. Well, no Indian food anywhere where I can bike. Which sucks. Although that is quite snobbish possibly he assumed that Indian food has stopped being exotic in the US of A and has reached the level of suberban comfort food like chinese food has? (Notice how you never have people asking what is in Lo Mien.)
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-04-15 09:57 pm (UTC)
For purposes such as this, Austin is pretty much East coast :)

Yup, I've heard the same complaint from others in Boston (vinodv). While Indian food is relatively easily available in Austin, it is by no means the case that the majority of the population is familiar with it. While I appreciate your generosity in assigning noble intentions to the guy :), it doesn't explain why he will refuse to translate the name of an item into English even when repeatedly asked.
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[User Picture]From: paper_crystals
2006-04-16 08:45 am (UTC)
While I appreciate your generosity in assigning noble intentions to the guy :)

I have a soft spot for street vendors. Especially the ones that sell candied peanuts.

it doesn't explain why he will refuse to translate the name of an item into English even when repeatedly asked.

I suppose.
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From: vmuthu
2006-04-15 09:33 pm (UTC)


I saw him, when I was with you in Austin. I think "being a snob", or "making more money" are not the choices he is deciding from. He does not know that he can make more money or rather he does not understand why making a menu card will give him more money. He has already decided that this is the maximum he can earn and he is okay as long it remains the same.
This is the difference between the auto-rickshaw drivers in Madras and Bombay. The former demand more for being "mudhal savari" (the first client), "kadasi savari" (the last client) while the later work more and take what appears in the meter, returning the last paise.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-04-15 09:52 pm (UTC)

Re: hmmm

I think I already answered this in my post. I can't prove it to you over the Internet, but I'VE TALKED TO THE GUY ABOUT THIS more than once and he DOES understand that he's losing money.
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