In order to create a convincing world through words one of the things a writer must do is look at things. And not to tout my horn on this otherwise useless talent, but I do it very well. I sneak looks when people are being candid; I gawk when something strange is happening; I stare when beautiful or amazing moments grab my attention. I’ve been a great looker since I was a kid, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that people tend to be much happier when they’re eating food together.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Sunday dinners all suggested this to me. I can remember enjoying any holiday where my loosely knit extended family of second Uncles and grand cousins came to the dinner table. People that I only saw during funerals would show up and gossip cheerfully with my parents and other grownups between mouthfuls of hard to make food that I, even now, could never recreate without cutting a finger or burning some important part of my body. Growing up I thought these events were specific to my family, but soon I learned through experience that getting together to eat was something everyone in the country enjoyed.
That perspective of what the dinner table looked like expanded beyond national limits when I moved to South Korea in 2009. I had accepted a job offer to be an English teacher there, and though I had never lived outside of my native New York City, I planned to stay at least one year in a country I knew nothing about. One of the most important things I was exposed to was their food culture, which was very different, but very similar to our own.
During one of my first dinners there I was offered plate after plate of strange but delicious food while everyone around me smiled and told jokes about horrible things that happened to them. “And I’m just stranded there! No money and my cell phone’s not working cause its Russia! Ha Ha!” The story could just as easily have come from one of my uncles, if I replaced Russia with New Jersey and cell phone with nothing.
Sharing life stories while laughing and learning about the person next to you is universal. I knew it before I left the U.S., but to see it in person was something else. From my adolescent years of being good looking I knew that people were living their lives in varying degrees of alienation. What I saw on the other side of the world was that if we just slow down and sit with other human beings to do something as simple as feed ourselves those barriers fade slightly (The reasons behind it are a mystery to me, though I suspect everyone has a hidden fear of starving that’s temporary beaten back by the act of eating with see others who are eating.).
Noticing such general human trends such as the pleasure of a good meal with good company was one of the reasons I wrote my first book, Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely.”It’s a collection of true stories about my time in South Korea. If you didn’t know, Kimchi is fermented (read “rotten”) cabbage mixed with chili power and other spices. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever eaten, but while sitting with some wonderful people I ate bowls of it. I laughed and joked and looked around to see that everyone was smiling.
Alex Clermont is a creative writer born and raised in New York City. He has been a contributing writer to Beyond Race Magazine, covering and interviewing independent creative artists in New York. Alex has been featured in several publications such as, Out of Place – an anthology featuring authors from around the globe. He also regularly posts short fiction pieces on his website AlexClermontWrites.com
Alex’s first book, available now and titled “Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely,” is a collection of narratives about his time living in in South Korea.
He also smiles a whole lot. Say “Hi” if you get the chance.