Cultural Relativism        

       “Have you met our new neighbors?” Bob asked his wife,
peering out their kitchen window, sipping his cold beer.

“Not yet. They just moved in a few days ago.” Pork chops were
sizzling in the pan. “After they settle in, we should go and meet
them.” She responded.

“They look funny, where are they from?” He was ready to sink
his teeth into a juicy piece of meat, the highlight of his
upcoming weekend.

“They look Middle Eastern to me, but their two girls were
probably born here. They speak perfect English. I heard them
talking to April the other day. They seemed to be getting along
well. They played for two full hours without yelling and
screaming.”  

      “That’s a good sign. She can use some neighbor friends.”

“Yah, spending time with her friends always beats watching
television.” she nodded.

Right before they started with dinner, they heard a knock on
the door. Bob opened. An old man in a perfectly ironed three-
piece suit was standing in the frame. “Hello. My son and his
family live next door to you. I’m terribly sorry to bother you but
may I borrow a pot from you just for tonight?”

“A pot?” Bob was surprised.

“Yes a cooking pot,” the man explained.

“Well… I guess so. Kate, honey would you come here for a
second.” Bob called his wife.
She walked to the door, “Hello. You must be our new neighbor.
My name is Kate and this is my husband Bob. The little girl who
was playing with your kids yesterday is our daughter April. We
were planning to come and welcome you to the neighborhood.”

“Oh, they are my grandchildren, God bless them they are so
sweet. My name is Mr. Amin.”
Bob looked over his shoulder and whispered to his wife, “He’s
here to borrow a pot from us.” and chuckled.

Mr. Amin continued, “All our kitchen utensils are still packed in
boxes in the garage. My son and his wife both work and they
haven’t had a chance to unpack yet. If you let me borrow your
pot, I’ll be grateful to you, I’m going to cook for them tonight.
Oh, only if my son finds out I’m going to their new neighbor
borrowing a cooking pot! he never approves anything I do. He
and his wife always say I don’t understand American culture.”

Kate and Bob exchanged a puzzled look. Bob could hardly
hide his sneer, “Can you believe this guy? We don’t even know
him and he’s asking for a favor!” he muttered.
“Don’t make a big deal out of it. That’s fine. He can use one of
our pots,” Kate whispered back.  She went to the kitchen and
came back with one and gave it to Mr. Amin.

Their elderly neighbor profusely thanked them and promised
to bring it back the next day.  After he left, Bob shrieked, “What
is he going borrow next? We need to draw the line now, Kate!
He really needs a crash course on American Culture 101.”

The next day in mid afternoon, Mr. Amin came back dressed
as sharply as yesterday with a pot in his hands. He thanked
Bob and Kate for their generosity and returned what he’d
borrowed. Before he walked away though, Bob lifted the lid
and noticed a little object inside their pot and took it out. It was
a hand crafted miniature pot.

“What is this? You borrowed one pot from us, how come you’re
returning two?” Bob asked.  
Mr. Amin explained, “The truth is that last night your pot got
pregnant in our house and promptly gave birth to this cute
baby pot. We don’t know how it happened or who the father is.
Nowadays pot pregnancy is a big issue, but what’s done is
done. In all fairness, since this pot belonged to you, so should
the baby. Congratulations!”

Bob and Kate were stunned. “Do you like the baby pot, Mr.
Bob?” Bob was overwhelmed by hearing such wonderful news
from their neighbor, “Oh, thank you Mr. Amin. This baby pot is
beautiful. Don’t worry my friend. It’s our baby, we’ll burp it.” He
tried hard to hide his excitement.

When Mr. Amin departed, Bob was practically dancing. He
paraded his beautiful miniature pot, snapping his fingers in
jubilation and said, “Did you hear this? Our cooking pot gave
birth to a beautiful baby. Is this the same pot we bought from
Wal-Mart for $10.99? Oh, these naughty pots. We learned
something new today from our dear neighbors.”

      “But he’s an old man. He doesn’t even live here, he’s just
a guest. This is a handcrafted ornamental piece, we cannot
accept it. Most likely it’s not even his own. You shouldn’t have
accepted it.” Kate complained.

      “No my dear, according to my friend Mr. Amin, our pot had
a baby in their house and you know how pro-life I am. We’re
going to keep the baby. That is only right thing to do.”  This
unexpected pregnancy and arrival of the little baby pot had
exhilarated Bob. “What a cute accent he has. Where is Persia
anyway?  I’m beginning to like this little guy.” He made many
comments of this sort that night.

      For the next few days, Bob told all his friends and
coworkers the sweet story of how they were blessed with a new
baby pot. The miniature polished brass pot was shining on
their shelf. Bob was so proud of his little baby. He dusted the
pot every morning before he went to work with a smile on his
face remembering their simple foreign neighbor.

As much as they both enjoyed having their new decor, Kate
didn’t feel right keeping the little pot as a payback for their
favor and her husband adamantly disagreed. “I could not insult
Mr. Amin by rejecting the baby pot. He acted based on his
cultural beliefs and we must respect that. We should really
learn from other cultures, my love.” Kate had never seen her
husband this way before.

      A few days later, they received another visit from their new
neighbor. When Bob opened the door, he was pleasantly
surprised to see Mr. Amin again, “Hello my friend, come on in.

Come in.” He practically dragged him inside and offered him a
cold beer.’’

“Oh, no alcohol for me, Mr. Bob. I’m a devoted Muslim.  I don’t
want to burn in hell.” Mr. Amin sat down and continued, “I’m
terribly sorry to bother you again, but I’m in a dire need of a
big cooking pot. We have invited our family and friends to see
our new home and need to cook for a large crowd.”

      Bob didn’t even let Mr. Amin finish his sentence, “No
problem my friend. We have a brand new ten quart pot that
has never been used before. You came to the right place. Don’
t even think of buying such an expensive pot only to use once
for a special occasion like this.”

And without consulting with his wife, he darted out of the room
and returned with a brand new pot still in its original packaging
and handed it to Mr. Amin. “Who knows, maybe this chubby girl
gets knocked up in your house too.” He winked slyly. “By the
way, what does Amin mean in your language?” Bob was eager
to know.

“In Farsi Amin means trustworthy.” Mr. Amin responded.

“How interesting, I’ve heard your foods are delicious. I’d love to
try Persian foods. Are there any Iranian restaurants in town?”
Bob enthusiastically asked.

“Oh no Mr. Bob. Don’t try Persian food in restaurants. In our
country, eating in restaurants is only for travelers and foreign
tourists. It’s not socially acceptable either. Besides, restaurant
chefs can never duplicate the authentic taste of home-cooked
meals. One day, I’ll cook Fesenjoon with duck, so you can truly
get a taste of heaven right here on earth.”

“I’m looking forward to that.” Bob said. Mr. Amin thanked them
abundantly and left their house with a big pot in his arms.  

Days passed and they heard nothing from their new neighbor.
Bob impatiently waited another week and still was no sign of
Mr. Amin or their pot. Finally one evening, Bob and Kate
walked to their neighbor’s house to see what happened. Mr.
Amin himself opened the door. “Long time no see my friend. Is
everything all right?” Bob asked.

Mr. Amin did not seem to be in a good mood tonight. “What
happened to our pot?” Bob inquired.

“The truth is that this pot of yours also became pregnant the
first night we had it.” He continued with a gloomy face,” Mr.
Amin said.

“That’s not a bad news. We understand pot pregnancies, it’s
not your fault my friend. Just give us our pot and its baby and
we’ll take care of it. Is the baby chunky?” Bob’s face was
glowing.  

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news but unfortunately your pot
died during labor, there must have been some complications,”
Mr. Amin sadly informed his friends.

Bob was shocked. “Come on Mr. Amin, pots don’t die!” he
pleaded.

“Sure they do Mr. Bob. Your first pot had an easy pregnancy
and delivered a cute baby for you and this one…Oh, what can
I say my friend. I think the baby came sideways. I’m so sorry,
Mr. Bob.”

Kate burst into laughter but the sudden death of a $130 heavy-
duty Teflon cooking pot at childbirth was so painful for poor
Bob.

“What about the baby, Mr. Amin?” he desperately pleaded.

“Unfortunately, the baby didn’t survive either. The umbilical
cord was wrapped around its neck.  Please accept my
condolences for your grave losses.”

Bob was paralyzed by the news.

“Would you like to come in for a cup of freshly brewed Persian
tea? Our tea is the best.” Mr. Amin kindly offered but grief-
stricken Bob couldn’t even hear him anymore.

The entire night, Bob was perplexed by the chain of events
that led to the tragic loss of an expensive cooking pot to a
simple foreigner, and Kate laughed her heart out for the same
reason.  

      Soon after these enigmatic cultural interactions, Mr. Amin
and Bob forged a unique friendship and each received a
beautiful pot to symbolize this amity, a friendship that
transcended cultural, lingual and generational differences. To
Kate’s complete surprise, Mr. Amin was repeatedly invited to
Bob’s parties and was gradually introduced to all his friends
during his stay in America.

      During their last meeting Mr. Amin caught up in the
moment and drank a bottle of cold beer with Bob. After
committing this unforgivable sin, he burped twice, quickly
washed his mouth with soap and water, and humbly asked God
to forgive him for his sin. Then he told Bob of his plan to return
to Iran in a few days and pulled them aside to ask him a favor.

“I would like to share a secret with you. We still have your dead
cooking pot in our home. As much as I like to take it back with
me as a souvenir, I really can’t. It’s too big to fit in my suitcase.
Do you think you can give it a proper burial for me?”

      A few days later, Mr. Amin returned to his homeland and
Bob never forgot the Persian cooking pot experience or his
friendship with Mr. Amin.


* Based on an Old Persian anecdote