Culture shock: Why don't Americans eat rice with spoons?
    Illustration by Steph Shapiro / North By Northwestern

    To most freshmen, Wildcat Welcome is a hazy, distant memory of a time with more partying and far fewer midterms. But what I remember is a particularly bewildering moment in the dining hall. I saw a guy eating rice with a fork.

    I know what you’re thinking: I’m Asian. I must eat rice all the time. But no, I wasn't surprised that Americans eat rice. I was confused about something else. 

    Why don’t people here eat rice with a spoon? 

    I’m ethnically Chinese. I’m from Singapore, an island in Southeast Asia. In other words, coming here was a big deal for me. And just like the majority of freshmen, college came with its fair share of surprises. I didn’t fully grasp that the heady adventure of studying in a foreign country would come with its own unsavoury moments of culture shock – such as witnessing people eat rice with a fork.

    I quizzed my PA about this, and she explained in a polite yet slightly confused way that forks were for solid foods, and spoons were for liquids or semi-liquids. Everyone else I asked agreed, causing me to launch into enraged rants about why eating rice with a fork totally made no sense.

    “Half the rice you scoop up is going to fall off your fork, and you’re going to have to spend more scoops to eat the same amount of rice as you would a spoon,” I argued. “Based on the cutlery from Willard, the fork is approximately an inch wide and the diameter of a soup spoon is 1.77 inches wide. Even the dessert spoon has a 1.37 inch diameter and don’t forget, the spoon is curved, so it’s practically like a tiny and adorable bowl of rice you can nom in one bite.”

    I even contemplated writing out a geometric progression for the number of shovels one would need to eat a bowl of rice, assuming that each fork-full was losing 30 percent of its load, but then I got hungry and started eating. So while everyone was lining up for the nuCuisine’s culinary masterpieces - oh, who am I kidding? I was sitting in a corner tinkering away at my cutlery.

    Looking back, my behavior was so strange because my fundamental understanding behind rice-eating was crashing before my eyes. 

    Growing up, my parents taught me that that people ate rice with chopsticks or with a spoon. For the latter, I either scooped rice with my spoon against the sides of the rice bowl or pushed rice into my spoon with a fork to form a neat little pile of rice. So precise was the art of eating rice with a spoon that I remember my brother castigating me because I used the convex side of the fork to push my rice into the spoon, rather than the concave part.

    I always thought that someone far into the depths of history devised the use of the spoon to eat rice because a spoon was easier to manoeuvre for Westerners, while chopsticks were “the Chinese way." Thus I imagined that here in the United States we would all be clinking rice-filled spoons to toast the great man who figured out another method to eat rice other than with two sticks. So imagine my horror when I realized that I’d have to eat my rice with a dessert spoon.

    I am not alone. A popular Singapore blogger visited the States recently, and posted a Facebook status: “To this day, I still don't get the eat-rice-with-fork thing in America.” Several weeks into my college career, I still refuse to submit to what I nicknamed "The Tyranny of the Fork," even if it means that I get looks of confusion from my friends. If they ask, I point out that in some cultures people simply use their hands to eat rice by forming rice balls with their fingers and pushing them into their mouth with a grace I will never be able to mimic.

    Some questions remain in my mind, screaming for answers: Where did this spoon thing come from?  Who is this great man from the depths of history who invented this spoon and rice thing and is now trolling me from beyond the grave?  

    I could go on, but I need to go grab some lunch. If you see me one day in Willard eating my tofu teriyaki rice with a soup spoon, please don’t look at me oddly - put down that fork, pick up a spoon and join me!


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