Monday, July 09, 2007

Sharing, American Style

In general, I consider myself a person of generous spirit. I’ll help you move, help you paint your kitchen, let you borrow stuff and all that. General generosity. Except when it comes to food.

Not all food. I love to cook for friends. Host a party, that sort of thing. But my friends know better than to ask for a bite of my dessert because, as I have explained, you never know when a world shortage of cheesecake will hit.

An Israeli woman I sometimes work with recently invited herself to rummage through my purse and pull out the bag of almonds I carry in case of blood sugar crashes. She stood there, popping them in her mouth and asking me if they were smoked or dry roasted as I stared at her in disbelief.

“You didn’t even ask me if you could have some,” was the most civil response I could manage.

She made a big deal about handing me the bag back and then lectured me about how much she shares her food and that my selfishness was such an American thing. I snatched the almonds back and hid my purse. Then I pondered her point.

When I’ve been abroad, I’ve been shared with by people from many countries on an almost universally consistent basis. I’ve had passing conversations with people on trains who, upon discovering I had no hotel booked, insisted I stay with them. And there was never a concern this would be an awkward or unsafe choice. It’s just the way it’s done. Some of my best travel experiences have included meeting these locals’ families and sharing basic humanity with them over homemade gnocchi.

Sadly, that sort of hospitality is something I’ve never experienced on these shores. Nor would it ever occur to me to invite a fellow plane or bus traveler in for the night. We just don’t do that here. Maybe she had a point. Americans aren’t so into sharing. Or maybe it’s just me.

I flashed on a memory from second grade. I, in my Girl Scout preparedness, had brought a tasty cookie to class only to be faced by that age-old refrain: did you bring enough for the whole class? I had glared at the teacher in my seven-year-old indignation and responded with what I felt was great logic: “If they wanted cookies they should have thought of that at home and brought their own.” I could not grasp why what I saw as everyone else’s stupidity should result in any loss of cookie for me.

Needless to say, that did not go over well and I spent the afternoon, as I often did, in my itchy wool uniform in the Principal’s office.

So while I like to lament that America just isn’t as generous as some other countries, perhaps, as they say, regime change starts at home. I am blessed with plenty of generosity from many different sources so it’s not like my imagined cheesecake shortage is a viable scenario. You do always seem to get what you need in the end.

So next time I see my Israeli friend I won’t worry so much about running out of almonds and offer her some if I’ve got them. I won’t, however, be thrilled though if she rummages through my purse again. That’s just un-American.

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