[Anger related issue filter] Do I need a tougher outer shell, or should I be bothered by this?
January 23, 2012 3:55 AM   Subscribe

Difficulty with communicating anger and/or frustration toward friends--need a few techniques to move forward.

I wanted to let some time pass with a bit of self reflection before I asked this, but since I'm still somewhat bothered by issues that seem insurmountable to me at the moment, here goes:

It was a holiday gathering with a few friends; it was my idea we would cook a traditional family dish to where I am from (I've been abroad in current foreign country for the past few years); and for the most part it went well despite some inebriation in the collective preparation (some joking around and (self)-deprecating humor about cooking techniques, etc.).

But something really bothered me toward the end when we were winding the evening down with dessert. It was something that the locals had never even seen or tasted, but aside from the expected initial curiosity, I was soon taken back by the kind of "ewww, what IS that?" kind of reception it got (fwiw, it was bought and not self-made). I took a deep breath while this transpired for the next five minutes, and tried explaining to them what it was we were eating, how it was considered a local delicacy and how I could imagine their reaction since nothing quite similar can be found here. One of them had brought chocolates and for them there was a collective sigh of relief: odd foreign dessert disaster averted. What a major buzz kill!

I felt as if I was punched in the stomach. I remember trying to carefully contain my anger and humiliation (In retrospect I know I was taking this much too personally), but my friends probably sensed a shift in the mood of the party. I waited a few minutes to pass, called it a night, then I gathered my things, and gave them each a hug and left, but I was still livid.

It's unhealthy for anger like this to be bottled up. But I couldn't bring myself to tell my friends what I was feeling at the moment. Or even now.

My questions are: 1) Having believed that these were good friends who I usually enjoy hanging out, do I tell them? 2) Are there ways in which to tactfully communicate anger/displeasure in social settings such as this? 3) (aside from therapy) How do I address the more underlying anger issues that may be related to social awkwardness on my part; my preference to laugh off or dismiss things that I find hurtful?
posted by wallawallasweet to Human Relations (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Actually, I think you did the right thing.

You could have said something out loud, but most likely your actions communicated your hurt feelings very eloquently and with great force.

There are words you could theoretically have used, but it's tricky. They really should have known better than to say "ewww" to any food their host presented them with, even if it were spider's eggs or something. The proper response to being presented with spider's eggs on toast is a frozen smile, followed by trying to mash it up with your fork and hide it behind a lettuce leaf, with protests of "so full from such a wonderful dinner, but mmmm this is delicious." The fact that you seem to have been more of an organizer than a host (others were cooking too) doesn't change this.

Really. Anybody over the age of five knows that saying "ewww" at something served to them by their host is rude. The fact that this is a delicacy representing your culture adds a thick layer of racism to the whole thing, as I do not have to tell you.

By not actually pointing this out in any direct way, you pay them the compliment of assuming they know better and have been clumsier than they intended to be. All tacitly, of course, so they don't quite have the comfort of knowing what you think about this, so the discomfort is passed on to them, deservedly so.

If you'd tried to say anything, you might have opened up the floor to a debate on racism, manners, and so on, which would have done nothing but make you madder. Hopefully, by the time you next see them, they'll have figured out the error of their ways on their own.

Congratulate yourself for your style and grace. Sometimes it's better to say nothing than to confront out loud, and I think this was one of those occasions.
posted by tel3path at 4:19 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

1. No.
2. "Come on, I worked hard on this and I made it for you. Just give it a chance."
3. Have another dinner soon!
posted by michaelh at 4:21 AM on January 23, 2012

I think it was wise to not say anything at the time, but this is clearly still bugging you; so maybe pick ONE of your friends, the most close-confidant one, and tell them privately that "listen, I was kinda hurt by the reaction when I served the [item] the other day. I can get that some people wouldn't like it, that's fair, but I really felt like all the 'ewwwwww, gross!' was really pretty rude, and it hurt me a lot, because it was a special dessert from my home country that was one of my favorites and I really wanted to share it with you guys. People could have been way more polite in refusing it, at LEAST."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:53 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I guess I'm not sure why you're angry. You prepared some foods from your home country while other people were also preparing things, and self-deprecating humor was part of the mood for the night. The dessert was foreign, store-bought, and "a local delicacy." People weren't saying "eww" to you or your cooking or your culture, they were continuing on the gently/humorously critical vibe set earlier when confronted by a (store-bought) "local delicacy."

It sounds like you had a lot of yourself invested in this dinner and took criticism of a small aspect of your home culture personally. Are you feeling homesick? Disconnected in other ways? Do you feel rooted and at home with these friends? Do you otherwise feel respected and that people are interested in you? Because it sounds pretty inoffensive to me and I would have laughed off the criticism with "oh you people just have unsophisticated palates!" rather than earnestly trying to convince an inebriated crowd of the cultural importance of the dish. But I don't have any emotional investment in their approval. You do, and I would suggest looking there for the source of your anger.
posted by headnsouth at 4:55 AM on January 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

I wish I knew the answer. I'm from Australia, and while we have great food there are very few dishes that really are well known for being typically Australian, I have tried cooking them for family and friends but I swear I live in the most unadventurous part of the midwest. My FIL bitched because I made roast lamb and he hated roast lamb, turns out he'd never had roast lamb in his life and he refused to try it. Roast Lamb for heavens sake, it's not that freaky, but I still get what they think is friendly teased about it every single time we go out.

Hey wwax they have lamb you should eat that because OMG Lamb is so weird.

Last month I offered them chicken liver pate you'd have thought I was trying to kill them. I made it to my mums special recipe and it's a tradition in our family that she only makes it for Christmas, so finally getting the recipe right so it tasted the same was a big thing for me and I served it with great excitement happy to share something from my home (even if not traditionally Australian in anyway it meant a lot to me) their reaction "It tastes like ass." That is what they said, to my face and they think it's hilarious and bring it up every time they see me and it cuts every time.

I know this is because to me it's a teeny tiny part of first home that I have bought with me here to try and make things feel less strange, and the people teasing me are other than this very kind loving people that have welcomed me into their family, they just have real problems with anything that is different. I swallow it because it is family, and because I know they would actually be very sad if they knew they had hurt my feelings when they just think they are being funny and teasing me.

I wish I knew a way to make it easier. It helps me to remember how kind they have been to me, even though having a foreigner marry into their narrow world threw them for a loop, so if this is the only thing we have problems with I'll stick to serving them meatloaf and keep the yummy food for myself and my husband who loves roast lamb. I imagine your friends are the same, if they are normally kind, or would be upset if they knew they upset you, maybe try and give them the benefit of the doubt and try to let it go, I know it's not easy and I know why it hurts, I wish I could over better advice than that, but that's all I've managed to figure out for myself.
posted by wwax at 6:36 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't know. I've been in this exact scenario a few times and we all laughed about it. And I've really never thought twice about it since other to laugh about how many Spaniards don't like peanut butter related products or many Senegalese don't like spaghetti and tomato sauce (mine at least).

So I think you are being over-sensitive.

How to respond if you are angry, though, depends so much on your group dynamics. My husband's friends would certainly say "go fuck yourselves" with a grin - irritation would be duly noted but nobody would get worked up. My friends don't have that dynamic - we would probably plaintively say "it's really good - I swear." It would be a little awkward but we would move on.

I'd recommend just laughing it off though. One culture's delicacy is another culture's joke, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It sounds to me like they felt comfortable enough with you to be a little rude - that's not necessarily a bad thing among friends.
posted by semacd at 6:46 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the responses thus far. They are providing me much needed outside perspective! Please keep them coming. For the time being, let me address some of the responses:

headnsouth: you have a point, I took it personally because I came into the occasion with my mind saying: "wouldn't it be nice to share this time with friends and feel a bit less homesick over the holiday season?" and spent the better part of the day preparing for it. I conflated my expectations and somehow tied the reception of dessert to my person. And part of it sounds trivial when I write it out.

Not trying to beat a dead horse here, but could have I better perceived the vibe at that exact moment to be able to think aloud: "oh you people just have unsophisticated palates!" or something similar on the fly? Admittedly, my mind state had basically shut off a sense of humor at that point.

vwax: Thanks for your anecdote; the story made me cringe (I love roast lamb btw), but I admire your way of thinking. Similarly, my friends HAVE been great to me and thinking on that helps.

semacd: The rudeness/comfortability vector in friendship is something I've had difficulty with here. But I think it's a valid point for me to consider.
posted by wallawallasweet at 6:55 AM on January 23, 2012

In my current circle there's a lot of mutual cooking. One of the last traces of my Russian background is my love of Russian food, and I frequently make various beet or herring or beet-and-herring based dishes, and the reaction usually ranges from ambivalent consumption to "herring again? your people's food is gross!" My usual reaction is a middle finger, "you guys are all closed-minded western-centric turds, more for me!" and I think I may slowly instill a love of herring in the more open-palated of my friends.

My not-entirely-ironic cursing of my friends is accepted by them as deserved and makes me feel better too, and then all is forgotten. People can be really picky and childish about their eating habits, and I say that thats perfectly allowed (they're just missing out, is all). Food is also inanimate and will not mind being belittled - as its inanimate and all, I don't see why you should take it personally.
posted by tempythethird at 7:30 AM on January 23, 2012

It's hard when you're trying to share something of yourself and others don't realize that's what you're doing and reject it so harshly. I'm sure your friends didn't see their rejection of the food as any kind of rejection of you or disrespect for your culture. (Are you Indian, by any chance? Because I've had this happen to me with American friends and Indian desserts. The dairy-based desserts especially are just so foreign and gross to them.)

If you're still feeling angry and want to talk to a friend about it, I would tell them why you felt angry (not because they didn't like the food, but because you saw this as a way to share and stop feeling homesick) and then let it go. It may be better all around to joke about it, but sometimes that's just not the reaction you have in the moment.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:39 AM on January 23, 2012

Rude things are considered rude because, among other issues, they have the potential to hurt someone's feelings. Which is what happened here, even if it doesn't happen in 100% of cases.

I think it's good to realize that it probably wasn't done with malice aforethought, but OP, you don't need to go to therapy to figure out why this bothered you, and you made your point and made it well. Unless your friends are incredibly rude to you on subsequent occasions, what you have here is a solved problem.
posted by tel3path at 8:17 AM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

d for the most part it went well despite some inebriation in the collective preparation (some joking around and (self)-deprecating humor about cooking techniques, etc.).

Odd. I would hav phrased that as "it went well, including the joking around and etc, not 'despite' it. It sounds like your friends are comfortable and familiar with you, we're in part taking their cue from the earlier self-deprecation, and had no idea (nor reason to suspect) you had so much emotionally invested in this dish; if you push the point it may come across as you being over-sensitive and make them less comfortable with you in the future.

I'd write this off as a reasonable and entirely malice-free misunderstanding between friends: nobody intended any harm; try to respond to their intent rather than to their actions.
posted by ook at 8:29 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry they offended you and if everyone's had a few drinks and is feeling comfortable with each other, I can imagine comments like that among good friends. I'm sure they'd feel terrible that their teasing hurt your feelings. My family is a bit like that-- they'd be the same way IF they felt comfortable with you. If they didn't, they would have smiled and politely taken a few bites.

It reminds me of a dinner party with friends where we had brought them some seasonal microbrew beer we wanted to try. We all agreed it tasted awful and moved on. The next time we invited them over for dinner, they brought--as a hosting gift-- the rest of our horrible beer back to us (which was hilarious.) I think you were probably just trying to hold it in too much and be polite. I'd either laugh it off with your friends or give it back to them! Call them rude bastards and bag up your dessert to eat for breakfast!
posted by biscuits at 9:00 AM on January 23, 2012

Thanks for the feedback guys; I have a clearer head now that I feel this is behind me
posted by wallawallasweet at 11:08 AM on January 23, 2012

This might be a cultural thing. I have lived in the US on and off for 15 years and I still find Americans breathtakingly rude about once every 3 months. Not because they're big jerks but because norms ate different here and what I consider basic good manners aren't commonly uses. I could totally see some of my US friends saying something like that and not thinking anything of it. And yes it would make me angry, because to me that is inexcusably rude.

Otoh I think its perfectly acceptable to discuss both politics and religion at the dinner table which they regard as on par with spitting in the food. It's just different expectations.
posted by fshgrl at 11:14 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Indeed, figuring out the culturally specific norms has taken some time, but it's been worthwhile in retrospect. Fwiw, I also lived over 15 years in the States and the place I'm at now is Germany. The dessert was a type of mochi.
posted by wallawallasweet at 11:26 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oooh, they refused mochi?? Fools. Delicious. I hope you happily ate all of it yourself afterwards. Mmmm mochiiiii.....
posted by JuliaIglesias at 3:04 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

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