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When belching is a gesture of appreciation

When belching is a gesture of appreciation

Photo for representational purpose only. - File photo

Sumit Paul

EVERY country has its set of cultural preferences and idiosyncrasies, which may be embarrassing or bizarre to people belonging to other cultures.

In China, you shouldn’t ask for a second helping of soup because it’s deemed to be against table manners. Soup is served as an appetiser almost everywhere. Asking for a second helping means that you are deliberately avoiding the main course. So, if you keep asking for soup in Southeast Asian countries, it will be seen as an insult to the main items on the table. Myanmar also follows this rule. But if you go to France and ask for second or third helpings of soup, the host will be very pleased.

In Burkina Faso, if the boy asks for his soup bowl to be filled again, it is a sign that he has liked the girl who prepared the soup! Soup is served after the main course in Zaire. The culinary belief is that the heavy food is washed down with the liquid soup (not with wine).

In Japan, eating is tantamount to meditation. It’s no less than a prayer and is considered to be equivalent to the Zen meditative process. So, the Japanese don’t talk while eating. Utmost silence is observed. This caused a tragedy in 1960 when India’s illustrious Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee choked on a piece of bone while having dinner in a Tokyo restaurant and rushed to the washroom to take it out; he died while attempting to do so. Moreover, he had bolted the washroom. He was aware of the fact that the Japanese didn’t talk during meals. They relented after this episode and now they talk, though very little, while eating. The practice is prevalent in India as well. Many residents of villages and towns don’t utter a word while eating.

Belching in public, like breaking wind, is universally looked down upon, barring in Arab countries. The Arabs believe that belching (and even ‘adding air’, an Arab euphemism for breaking wind) after eating is a sign of relishing the food. It’s a mark of appreciation for the food and the host. But it is regarded as a faux pas in many countries — a gaffe in cultured gatherings.

I once took an Arab friend, a research student, to a retired IAS officer’s place in Pune. The food, mainly non-vegetarian, was otherworldly. My friend ate merrily and then belched loudly. It was embarrassing for all because no one was aware that this was a gesture of appreciation and gratitude in the Arab culture. I knew that the Arab might belch, but had stopped short of warning him. I still remember the unease over the student’s innocuous but thunderous belching. Yet, I thank my lucky stars that he didn’t go on to show his gratitude and satisfaction in a more extravagant way.


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