Picture of Dr. Linda Algazi, Ph.D

A Chinese lady… a lovely, slender woman gave me a gift. It came wrapped in a Saks Fifth Avenue box with a grosgrain ribbon. “I hope you will enjoy these,” she said.

May I open it? I asked.

“Of course.”

Inside were 12 or so thin cookies wrapped in what looked like waxed paper with Chinese characters.

“They are very good and will not make you fat,” she said, apparently sensitive to my own continuous pursuit of physical perfection of whatever that means in this woman-of-a-certain-age body.

I believe her. She says she eats these things. The cookies, she tells me, come from Hong Kong, where she was born and raised. Now that she lives in the United States, she says she tries to hold on to little cultural symbols and tastes which help define her essence.

How wonderful, I think. I also notice her fashionable purse with a picture of the Hong Kong Harbor on the front.

I’m happy to be the recipient of her cookies but I don’t think I’d carry that purse, not because it isn’t beautiful, but because it belongs on her, and not me. Surely, you understand.

I couldn’t wait to taste the cookies. They looked like oblong flat, thin slices of date-nut bread.

After the lady left, I offered one to my next client, who I’ll call Mr. Z. and joined him with a cup of tea. He accepted and tore through the wax paper covering, without even paying attention to the decorative and artistic wrapping. He didn’t even seem to notice how smooth and sensuous the wax paper felt.

I forgave him because what we were doing together wasn’t exactly a tea party. While professionally successful, Mr. Z’s personal life was in shambles.

Perhaps you think it’s a stretch, but his cookie-behavior made me wonder about the more intimate parts of his life. Psychologists are funny about things like this. We’re not only trained to think about clues which are talked about.

Not only did Mr. Z. rip the wax paper off without paying attention, but he seemed fixated on the “cellophane”, inside of the wax paper, which encased the cookie. Little by little, he peeled it away, with the pieces dropping on the floor. I watched and said nothing.

I knew I would need to vacuum the carpet.

But I hadn’t been able to peel the cookie either. I just ate it WITH the “cellophane” and it had tasted better than okay.

When I reported this incident back to the Chinese lady, she laughed.

“That wasn’t ‘cellophane’”. She explained that the cookies were covered with rice paper to protect fingers from becoming sticky. “You were supposed to eat it,” she said.

I’ve been aware for a long time now, how everyone meets and greets the world through different senses. And, cultural differences sometimes can reveal themselves in delicious ways.

I feel so honored to do the work I do.

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