A couple weeks ago, my organization went on a picnic to celebrate Constitution Day. It was a great day of relaxing, swimming, and delicious food. (Mark and I cooked with the help of a local guy Danyar. And although the stew I made wasn't supposed to be a stew, it was still pretty good.)
One thing that stands out is an exchange I had with a bus driver and consequently everyone at the picnic. We were all sitting down to eat a snack about 30 minutes after we first got there. The bus driver was napping in the bus, so one of my friends told me to invite him to eat with us.
I walked up to the bus and leaned inside. Then I said something to the equivalent of "Здрастуй! Мы перекусаем. Вы хотите кушать с нами?" Which translates, in my mind, to Hello! We are having a snack. Do you want to eat with us."
Immediately, I mean immediately everyone at the picnic made a groan of horror. Michael, how could you be so rude? How could you say such a thing? What, I asked. I just asked if he wanted to eat with us. Exactly, they said. You should never ask if someone wants to eat. They'll be shy and say no. Just invite him to eat with us.
So I tried again. "Мы приглашаем Вас кушать с нами." (We invite you to eat with us.) Again, the cries rang out. No, no, no. Confused and getting frustrated, I asked, then how am I supposed to tell him to eat with us. Just tell him, "Пойдем. кушайте! " (Let's go. Eat!)
Suddenly, two years in Kazakhstan made sense. Every gosti experience. Every host family experience. Every meal I've ever eaten with locals. By now, I've come to accept that being told to eat wasn't rude here. It's just what people do. Eat! Eat! We hear it from day one. But I never really that asking someone if they wanted to eat was rude. What in my mind equates to respecting someone's own desires and giving them the opportunity to choose and come eat was horribly offensive. I thought back on my two years and wondered how many times I may have offended someone by offering them that choice.