Friday, July 3, 2009

Hands Or Fingers?

This post by Mr Sachintha, formerly of Sri Lanka but now of Japan, got me thinking.

I'm sure many will agree with me, I'm sure many won't. I'm also sure I'll receive some anonymous "RD you're such a tosser and you're really pathetic because you can't write properly" type comments when I tell you that I believe rice and curry tastes better and as it should taste when eaten without the use of cutlery.

It's subjective though and I find the arguments about what is best just laughable, like you and I having a fight over which is the best colour, blue or red. There is no definitive answer. Except red obviously.

I was brought up in London, but eating rice and c with fingers was an everyday occurrence. From a "normal" young age myself and my brothers could be seen regularly steaming into a plate of R+C (I think it's safe to use the acronym now) with no sign of knives, forks or spoons in the vicinity. It wasn't because we were poor either.

I suppose things were different for us, brought up as Lankans in London, compared to how it would have been if we were in Lanka. I recall being taught by my Mum how to eat with my fingers, it was quite a conscious thing at first. Even these days she takes great pride in teaching Grandchildren or passing through members of my family exactly how it must be done. And I use the word "must" very deliberately.

The fact is, if you're learning to eat with your fingers and my Mum is the teacher, one small mistake can easily get all your fingers broken.

For years we ate all R+C with our fingers and it was only so much later, probably in my twenties, that I discovered that it's just not Colombo 7 to do it. There's a stigma attached to it that is interesting.

The diasporic relationship with behaviours like this is intriguing. I'm certain that relatively well to do Lankans living out of Serendip eat with their fingers far more than if they were actually there. For them (us) it helps to create and reinforce the bonds and links, to feel more attachment, attachment that is far less needed if you wake up in the motherland each morning. Academic bro taught me most of this, I can't make any claims about figuring it all out myself.

The actual point of this post is about definitions. You see I was brought up with the knowledge that it was always called "eating with your fingers". Clearly the phrase isn't wrong and if I were to say it to any Sri Lankan they'd know exactly what I meant. But hands never came into the matter.

In her eating like a Lankan classes my Mum always demonstrates things by placing her thumb on the inside of the knuckle closest to the hand and telling the hapless victim willing pupil that the food should never go past that point. It has been alleged, though never proved, that white vans have turned up and taken away at least four people from her house for breaking this rule.

It was only relatively recently, when I met C actually, that I became aware of the other term, the "eating with your hands" one. I know that it refers to the same thing but really had never been aware of it for all those years. C has had the honour and privilege of being corrected by my Mum many times for saying the "wrong" phrase.

Research has shown me that it's common and entirely correct, that many people talk about eating with their hands and many call it eating with their fingers. It matters not as it's the same thing.

I can't help feeling a little uncomfortable when I hear it, it's rather like when I learned the correct way to say spaghetti or advertisement after so many years of saying them the other way, so used to the old way that the new correct one sounds wrong.

On my journey of discovery I ask you, the reader, what do you call it?

Is it hands, fingers, both or neither?


David Blacker said...

I think it's more about translation. Sinhalese say "athin kanawa" (eating with the hand), so I guess it's directly translated that way.

Funnily, my maternal grandmother (Tamil), when feeding us as little kids, would lump the rice into balls (no, that's not how lamprais is made) in the palm of her hand, so it really was eating with the hand. I've also seen this technique used in many Indian restaurants.

On my paternal side (Burgher), us grandkids were never allowed to eat with our fingers/hands when we there. It had to be with cutlery. It was fucking hilarious to watch my great uncle eat hoppers and seeni sambol with a fork.

Sachintha said...

"This post by Mr Sachintha, formerly of Sri Lanka but now of Japan, got me thinking."

How comes?
You're trying to get to me for calling Britney lame, aren't you?

Well, about the topic, I think technically it should be fingers, but as you said whatever the term they mean the same.

By the way, RD, I suggest R&C instead of R+C.
Sounds cooler, isn't it, like R&B?

Arkitekton said...

I thought of adding my two cents, since Ive been scrutinized many a times on the lines of this topic. To be quite honest for some time my parents didn't even want to take me for weddings (not that I am complaining since, public gatherings were never my thing)because of my habit of eating with my fingers. Sri Lankan food (probably South east Asian food )taste waaaaaaay better eaten by fingers/hands. (The Irony is that, when we were in UK my parents actually encouraged me to abide the cultural norms of Sri Lanka)
Both terms seem to be correct I suppose with regard to the cultural contexts that it is discussed.
If you take South Indians they probably eat with their hands. Sinhalese eat with their fingers. or at least that's what is perceived as good manners in eating.
and also I may be wrong. :)

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

DB - Thanks for that info. For all the obvious reasons I never knew about the direct translation from the Sinhala and that probably does explain it. Out of interest why were you not allowed to eat with your fingers?

Sach - Yes, I won't forgive you easily for the outrageous opinion. The problem with R&C is that it always takes me ages to find the & on my keyboard.

Arkitekton - Yes, you and DB are right about the way many Indian really do eat with their hands for sure. It's quite interesting how the diaspora does these things to keep hold of their identity in a way.

David Blacker said...

My great uncle (who was sort of a grandfather to me) saw eating with the fingers, wearing sarongs, etc to be uncivilized I guess. Though he was OK with farting loudly in public. On the other hand (pardon the pun) my father eats with his fingers all the time and wears sarongs at home. He draws the line on farting though, luckily.

ViceUnVersa said...

In company usually you try to be polite and say;
'I am going to use my hand if that's ok with everybody'. Using both hands somehow conjures up disturbing images.
Athin is singular.
One must however ensure that it is not the hand that masturbates or washes the nether regions of the body. Applying equally to both the male and female.


x :) x

Java Jones said...

Hey David - eating hoppers with knife and fork is an art-form man. I learned it from my mum (Burgher) and I must say it does stand me in good stead sometimes! And it ain't so difficult if you do it right...

Makuluwo said...

I dunno what you call it, and who cares what it's called anyway..
But it's the most Sri Lankan thing there is, and I hate it that so often today you're looked down upon right here in SL for using your fingers, in some posh restaurant or hotel! Silliest thing I tell you.

Sam said...

Eating Sri Lankan food with cutlery is like having intercourse with Salma Hayek with a dildo. It may not entirely un-pleasurable, and matter of fact it still may jolly good, but definitely not the best way to be done.