Upon telling people that I was moving to Dhaka, many replied that I couldn’t have chosen a place less like home. In some ways, they were right; saying that it’s been a cultural adjustment would be putting it lightly. Yet at the same time, this city has revealed itself to share many characteristics with something that I found quite familiar.
Namely, Jewish grandmothers.
While imaging a hoard of windbreaker-clad eighty-somethings hurtling their way down a Dhakan alley leads more to images of dissonance than of harmony, over the course of my ten months here I’ve found many areas of overlap. So here are the top ten – in some sort of order – ways in which Bangladesh is like a Jewish Grandmother.
Top 10 Ways in Which Bangladesh is Like a Jewish Grandmother
10. She never drives within the lanes. While one might be doing it because of reduced eyesight and/or depth perception and the other because traffic laws hold no sway, both lead to the same white knuckles on dashboards. Basically, Dhakan traffic is like that of West Palm Beach if it had a population of 17 million and a much less well manicured road network. Oy is right.
9. She’ll talk about what’s for dinner while you’re eating lunch. More for the love of food than for the necessity of planning what’s next, meals are a hallowed time not to be taken lightly. And that’s meant in an emotional and nutritional sense. Luckily, the brick-like feeling in your stomach after the meal is generally justified by the deliciousness of what just caused it.
8. You’re wearing that!? Anything too low, or too short, or too tight will likely draw a few choice words or looks designed to dissuade you from walking out the door in your ensemble of choice. Looking for something more fitting? Try something a little less so.
7. She will talk you off your rocker. Here it’s called adda, there it’s called playing mahjongg at the club with the girls. Both roughly translate to an hours-long chat about anything and everything. Cha (tea) and shinghara accompany the former while coffee and rugulah might go along with the latter, but – as is generally the case – food plays a starring role in each.
6. She has an opinion on everything. And will not hesitate to make it known, often more loudly and more frequently than you’d prefer. From commenting on how you’re still not married yet to letting you know just how under-rested you look, she’ll be sure to fill you in on what’s filling her thoughts. Smiles and nods, kids.
5. She likes her clothes shiny and bright. From magenta tops with sequined necklines to shoes that glint in the sun with silver and gold accents, she’s bound to have something shiny and blingy somewhere in her outfit. Well, probably in many places.
4. She constantly warns you about potential impending sicknesses. While antibacterial handwash hasn’t made it big in D-town yet, worries about maladies certainly have. Changing seasons loom large on both collective minds, and warnings about taking a jacket along to protect you against the vicious changing seasons translates well between Bangla and Bubby. And if you do happen to catch the sniffles? For whatever’s ailing you she’ll always have a fix, whether it be chicken noodle soup or frying garlic in sesame oil and then rubbing it all over your chest (bonus points if you can match those remedies to their respective owners).
3. She has a penchant for tacky decoration. I’m just going to say: there are entire markets dedicated to fake flowers here. Imagine the look on the Hadassah gals’ faces.
2. She won’t stop feeding you. If you sit down at her table, don’t even bother declining the plate of afternoon sweets she offers; it’ll be in front of you in 30 seconds no matter what you say. You’re completely stuffed from the meal you just finished 30 minutes ago? Well surely you have some room for this large bowl of fruit and some of that brisket in the fridge. The words not and hungry are simply not available in the same option together. Kapiche?
And the number one reason?
1. She loves her family. If you couldn’t figure as much from the plethora of photos of relatives adorning her home, then it will be immediately evident as soon as she starts chatting you up. The conversation, no matter where it starts, will most likely turn to her kin – often even beating out foodspeak – and she’ll beam with pride as she tells you where her grandkid goes to school or shows you a picture of her doctor son. And most importantly, she’ll treat you like family, too, whether you share her DNA or not. The bear hugs and hospitality extend well beyond blood relations, and she’ll be more than happy to welcome you into her larger clan. As long as you eat this plate of sweets first.
So the next time G-Ma calls and tells you about her plans with the gals for the weekend, be sure to let her know she has roughly 160 million potential friends in what she might consider to be the least likely of places. Miss you, Grandma!