Cleanliness is next to godliness

This was one of the credos of my birth family. Reflecting this imperative, we left all outdoor footwear at the door; we could not enter our home after a haircut without having a bath first, and changing our clothes; no dogs or cats (or other animal life) were allowed into our homes. We would also change our clothes at the end of the day, prior to prayers (and then to dinner).

From my observation, this credo was also upheld by all the people with whom we had substantial contact – Malays, Chinese, Indian Muslims, Sikhs, Arabs, and other Hindus. Moving around barefoot is, of course, not a problem in the tropics. For colder climates, there were indoor slippers. However, when living in Australia, what were our visitors to do? They could keep their socks on. Our European friends had no problem with our stance; but not most of the Anglo-Aussies. They made it clear that immigrants had to live by Australian cultural practices.

In time, Asian values did give way to Australian cultural practices, especially since we entertained regularly. In any event, few Australians then opened their doors to visitors; their homes were seemingly sacred places. Some of our dinner guests (even workmates or neighbours) did not reciprocate. Some of them even asked when I would invite them again. Why accept an invitation to dinner if you did not intend to reciprocate? Many European immigrants too complained to me about one-way hospitality.

Asians are known for their hospitality; but socialisation in modern Australia seems to be restricted to ‘pay-your-own-way’ gatherings in clubs. I solved the problem of non-reciprocity by holding barbecue parties for up to 30 people at a time, with invitees bringing their own food and drinks. There was no need to make intelligent dinner conversation – as at a table for 6.

When in Rome, should one look for an Indian take-away?

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