Since we’ve been in Kenya, many cultural differences have become familiar to us. But there are moments when little differences in perspective catch me by surprise. The other day I was greeting a patient as I walked back into clinic after lunch, and he asked me where I was coming from.
“I’m back from my lunch break” I said.
“Already?” he asked. (Many Kenyans I’ve met eat later lunches and dinners than we typically did in the States. This works well in a clinic where the Americans can go get lunch earlier and the Kenyans later so that the clinic has staff throughout the day.)
“Yes, I usually take a lunch break a little early,” I explained. He looked confused.
“You take a lunch break the same time every day?” I nodded.
“But how do you know that you will be hungry?” I looked a little confused now, too.
“Well. . . but that’s just the time I usually go for lunch.”
“Why do you go for lunch if you aren’t hungry?”
“Because that’s lunch time?” He looked at me as if I were making no sense.
“Kenyans, we say that lunch time is when your stomach tells you it is time to eat. Eating before your stomach is hungry can make you sick.” He explained patiently, his face making it clear he thought it was ridiculous to eat lunch if you didn’t feel like eating yet.
“That. . . does make sense. . . ” I contemplated trying to explain the idea of having a set lunch hour in an office work setting to coordinate work flow with your coworkers, but decided to just let him think I was a schedule-obsessed American. Because – maybe I am? He shook his head at me as I went back to work, and I had to chuckle at the little things that seem so obvious and normal, in completely different ways to both of us. Here’s to culture, and letting your stomach set your lunch time.