Last night my Nigerian coworker Thomas brought in Christmas cookies...sort of.
Thomas is a funny guy. He's a handsome middle-aged man with a thick accent and impeccable manners. He's my go-to guy, not only for teching problems, but for etiquette issues. He's also a major clothes horse. He's got more shoes than Imelda Marcos, and I don't think I've ever seen him in the same shirt twice in the two years we've worked together. Chemene tells me that the only time she ever bumps into Thomas outside of the lab, he's at Macy's or Dillard's buying more clothes.
So...Thomas' cookies. They came in a big red tin. After the day shift had all left yesterday, Thomas called me over and said, "I brought cookies!" He was incredibly pleased with himself, and he led me to break room with a big grin on his face. Thomas pulled a chair over to the area where we hang up our coats and reached up high onto the shelf, behind the place where old unclaimed Tupperware goes to die, and pulled out a Dillard's bag. Inside the Dillard's bag was a bright red tin with writing in, I think, Chinese, Arabic, something that looked like maybe Russian, and English. The tin said Biscuits on it and Thomas set it on the table and said, "I hid them so day shift would not eat them. Have as much as you want, just leave me the tin."
So I unwrapped the plastic around it and lifted the lid. The inside of the can had the most peculiar smell. Not bad, just completely unfamiliar. The first cookie I pulled out turned out to be a sandwich cookie of two Ritz crackers with lemon cream between them. Odd, but tasty. The rest, however, were an assortment of sweetened vegetable pastes baked into various permutations with unsweetened wafery things. Even I, a dedicated cookie hound, couldn't eat them.
After my supper break Thomas asked me if I ate some of his cookies, and I said I had. He told me they were his favorites and he was lucky to have found them in Southern Illinois, and asked me if I like them. "Uhhhh...", I said. "Some of them. Some were too exotic for me."
I felt sort of guilty about that. You never know how deeply entrenched your cultural norms are until someone varied them a little. Everyone knows that Christmas cookies should be cinnamon and chocolate and powdered sugar, right?
Maybe they should be cardamom and vegetable paste and unsweetened wafers. Maybe Thomas goes home to his Nigerian wife at night and says, "I had the oddest biscuit at work today..."
Every night Thomas eats from the salad bar. I suspect deep-fried okra, deep-fried mushrooms, deep-fried country fried steak with milk gravy and the infamous three-pork Cuban Sandwich, with it's horrid hot pickles...are not his cup of tea. Well, okay...they're not my cup of tea either, but at least they're familiar. It's the hearty Midwestern food that's been feeding farmers for generations, and is now used primarily to accelerate our deaths, thus opening up the job market for the next generation. It's a much more socially palatable eugenics program than lining us up against the wall and shooting us in the head, but not much less effective.
It just occurred to me that every night Thomas eats his salad and longs for...something. Something Nigerian. Something that isn't breaded and deep-fried and served with either ketchup or gravy, or maybe both.
So...once again, my life has been turned upside-down. I was forced to confront my cookie xenophobia head on. Now for the rest of the Christmas season, every time I eat a sugar cookie shaped like a tree or a chocolate-covered pretzel, I'll have to wonder about all the Africans and Chinese and Arabs choking down peanut butter cookies with Hershey Kisses smooshed down into the middle, wishing for a vegetable-paste wafer, and I'll feel some "We Are The World" guilt for our crap-ass desserts.
Does anyone appreciate how exhausting it is to be a liberal?