Where are you in the Food Chain?

I can’t seem to sleep without reading a few pages of something. This week I have been reading Deborah Tannen’s Talking from 9 to 5 Women and Men in the Workplace: Language, Sex and Power, published in 1994. She talks about the use of first names in the workplace to suggest power:

A kind of connection is established by symmetry: two nurses call each other by first names; a doctor telephones another doctor he doesn’t know well and they address one another as “Doctor.” Regardless of formality, the mutuality of addressing each other in the same way implies shared experience or equal status.

Nowhere is the double meaning of status and connection clearer than in the use of first names. I recall a colleague reporting at a faculty meeting his committee’s shortlist of four candidates for a faculty position: Turner, Smith, Jones, and Annie. He referred to the three men by their last names, the one woman by not only her first name but a diminutive, even though she was older and more experienced than the other three candidates…

Soon after president Clinton took office…some senators were delighted that they got to address the first lady that way: “You can’t imagine how great it is to talk with her, to call her ‘Hillary,'” one senator was quoted as saying. On the other hand, another article reported some senators’ resentment that the first lady was addressing them the same way: “Did you hear, they muttered among themselves,” an article in the same newspaper reported the day before, “that she had actually been calling some senators by their first names?

This morning at a faculty meeting we were provided with an incredible array of fruit, donuts, bagels on trays and several coolers of juice. There was a huge amount of food left over. Where would it go? I had a few errands to take care of in the building. Later, on my way out the door, I saw students registering for class helping themselves to a similar tray of food. Was it the same tray? I thought back to my days as an undergraduate when the food from various meetings of the Important People had been left for anyone else who was around. This time I had been in the first group to eat from the tray, not the second. Does that mean I have Arrived? Is this another indicator of status?

I also remember a meal I was invited to in Jordan–mansaf, the national dish. It’s lamb over a bed of rice and pine nuts and is eaten with a yellow goat cheese sauce poured over it in stages. In this case there were three men at the table along with myself. Three of us ate with our hands. The fourth, who was from the Bene Hassan tribe, ate with a large soup spoon. He was teased gently for this, as well as his tribal status. Then the tray was whisked away to the kitchen.

As a foreign woman I had access to both the front and the back of the house, and I followed. As soon as the the tray arrived in the kitchen the man’s wife and children started hungrily picking at the remains of the tray. They had not eaten yet and were relegated to the leftovers. I have since read accounts of similar occurrences in Saudi Arabia, and have concluded this is a typical Arab custom, at least among some groups.

If you are hungry and powerless, you may not have any control over whose leftovers you eat. But what if you are higher in the food chain and have more control over who eats with you? Who has to eat your leftovers?

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5 Responses to “Where are you in the Food Chain?”

  1. lochiying Says:

    wow, that’s horrible, I’m not married, but if I had to always eat my dinner as my husband’s leftovers, I’ve be so unhappy

  2. Nijma Says:

    That only happened because there were male visitors. A lot of Arab men don’t like other men to see their wives.

    In every other family I visited, the whole family, husbands, wives, and children always ate together family style from the same tray. In one family the kids were too sloppy to eat from the common dish, so they put a smaller dish on the side for the kids.

  3. hamaz Says:

    this all of what is written there is completely far away from true ,i wonder why you people can not be honest can not say just lies ,even if some of what you are saying is true maybe that was when the women in europe was treated like a body for pleasure and entertainment to men.
    now madam all of us men and women are may be more civilized than you and our religion taught us how to be fair with ourselves first then with our wives as husbands and with our children,and with our husbands as wives we know the duties towards each individual and also we know the rights so this an advice lokk at you first before critisizing others

  4. haz haz (luvin jw) Says:

    i think its totally true. iv used it 4 my skool project. THX!!

  5. Nijma Says:

    haz haz,

    That’s not how Jordanians eat in families. In the city, they will all eat around a big coffee table. In the country, they will eat on the floor. Father, mother, sisters, brothers, and their wives and children all eat together.

    Guests are very special in the Arab culture, but male guests do not usually mingle with the women of the family. I was invited to eat and sleep with families many times, and it is very safe to accept these invitations, but a man who is visiting will probably not get to be part of the family life, because the women do not like to talk to men who are not in their family.


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