When J. Miguel and I first started dating nearly three years ago, one of the earliest rituals we formed was weekly dinner at my place. I’d cook a homemade meal, he’d bring a bottle of red wine, and we’d spend hours eating, drinking and talking. In fact, we often remained at the dinner table long after the last crumb of food had been consumed, just telling stories, debating and finishing what was left of the wine.
Being the typical American woman that I am, there was one thing missing from these dinners that J. Miguel eventually asked me about: the absence of bread. At the time, I was (and still am) on a low-carb diet, avoiding things I tend to over-indulge in like rice, bread and pasta. This isn’t unusual for many Americans of my demographic circle, but coming from South America, this was a surprise for J. Miguel.
Upon my explanation as to why bread was not part of my weekly homemade dinners, he exclaimed with concern, “But baby, a house is not a home without bread on the table!” Immediately, childhood memories of Midwestern family dinners that included warm baskets of bread filled my mind, and I knew, sadly, that he was kind of right.
What is it about American culture that has caused us to shun bread but not soda, for example? Just the other day, J. Miguel and I were talking about the old days back with Coca-Cola was served in a single serving glass with a straw. People would consume soda on special occasions, always sitting down at a table, and not like today, served in gallon-sized plastic cups that we drink on the go. Just this evening, we were watching on TV news from Argentina, and J. Miguel pointed out how the people being interviewed were sitting at an outdoor table covered with a white tablecloth, sipping soda from a wine glass which they poured from a small bottle of Coke. His message: South Americans bring a sense of sophistication to things Americans treat as casual routines.
I remember hearing the same thing back when I lived in South Korea nearly 15 years ago. I don’t know how it is now in Korea, but back then, most of the Starbucks in the country were two- and three-story buildings with decor that was luxurious, well cared for, clean, well-lit and comfortable. Coffee and food were served on ceramic cups and plates and real silverware was used. Basically, having coffee in Korea was treated as an experience. One didn’t order a cup to go, but rather ordered a cup with the purpose of staying for a while and socializing with friends. Koreans who traveled to the United States were always surprised at how Americans would drink their Starbucks on the go — it was a culture so different from how they experienced coffee, at least it was when I was living there several years ago.
This has a lot to do with J. Miguel’s observations about bread and soda and how they are consumed (or not consumed) in South America vs. the United States. What has come of our way of life here in America? Things have always been going at a fast pace for as long as I can remember, but how is it that other countries have managed to keep things classy while we have lost our pride? Who has time to sit and drink their coffee with few other distractions? Who still enjoys bread at every meal? How many people can sit for hours at the dinner table talking over the final glasses of a bottle of Malbec? Does the dolche vita even exist for the typical American anymore?
Fast forward to present day, years after my first months dating J. Miguel. He has since moved in with me, and while I am much busier with my career now than I was when we first met, I do try to make at least one meal a week when we can slow down and enjoy dinner Old Family Style. We’ll take our time eating. We’ll take our time drinking and talking. There will be wine. There will be glasses, ceramic plates and nice silverware. But, however, to J. Miguel’s dismay, I still don’t serve bread.