When a dear Greek friend once asked if I liked her main course - a regional specialty - I politely praised it, although I’d had difficulty downing it. After that, she thoughtfully prepared the dish especially for me at every family celebration. Is honesty better? How can we deal with the local favourites we dislike, without insulting the host - or the nation? Be truthful, advises Briton Paul Shaw, who moved to Greece in 1991 after residing in Russia and France.
The truth shall set you free
“When you are in your country of origin, you try something and if you don’t like it, you simply say so,” Shaw says. “I’ve always been open to new culinary delights - lamb’s eyes, for example - but once I’ve tried something and disliked it, I’ve had no problem using simple plain honesty, which hasn’t offended anyone.”
He suggests that if you’ve at least tried the food you can then in all honesty say that you’ve tried it and don’t like it.
Shaw also feels that deceptively playing with it on your plate may prompt hosts to think they haven’t prepared the food well.
New Zealander Maria Verivaki, a heritage repatriate who moved to Crete in 1991, has a food blog called Organically Cooked. Like Shaw, she recommends being honest after open-mindedly sampling the food - but doesn’t discount tactfully pecking at a plateful.
Alternatively, “if it bothers you to make people feel uncomfortable when you turn down their offerings,” Verivaki suggests, “you could make up a health story.” High cholesterol problems, she proposes, work well for lamb on the spit.
Fasolada (bean soup), she says, can be avoided with the excuse of excess gas problems. Gum disease works for spoon sweets (but, note that comfort-zone gains could result in romantic collateral damage).
Elke Veenendaal was born in Germany to Dutch parents and was raised in the United States. She came to Greece in 2003, after having lived in France and Mexico.
She, too, votes for honesty, noting that many Greeks, especially the younger generation, are more commonly shunning traditional fare like lamb and goat dishes, organ meat specialities and syrupy sweets.
Redemption comes when friends see that you do like and prepare other local favourites, she says.
“But when I can see that there would be hard feelings about my refusal of a food,” Veenendaal adds, “I just blame my tastes on my foreignness. This does sometimes come off as kind of an apology, and while I don’t necessarily like this, I must admit that I’ve gotten rather used to apologising for being foreign or different, in the various cultures where I’ve lived.”
Kathryn Lukey-Coutsocostas is an Athens-based, Canadian Greek (by marriage) writer and a transnational of some 30-odd years. She blogs at kathrynlukeycoutsocostas.wordpress.com