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Religious Etiquette


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It's 4 PM on a Saturday, and we're walking out of a theater with our heads full of sex, fascism, and schoolgirls. V. says the secondary lead is a Judas. R. says she's a heroine. I don't know what I think, except that we need to talk. R. hasn't eaten since breakfast; she says she's starving. V. is as well, I think, but he told me yesterday that he's fasting: No food until sundown.

I'm the host for the day, but I'm also big on will-power and fasting these days. We're a week and a half into Lent, and I'm doing just fine on fasting from meat, thank you very much. (Well, I'm doing just fine now that my Unitarian minister friend has signed off on my once-a-week fast from fasting from meat.)

V., I asked quietly as we walked down the street, just out of earshot from the rest of the group, how would you feel about sipping tea while we talk at a cafe so R. can eat?

A cafe's fine, he said, but I can't drink.

I stopped cold. The group caught up with us. 'You what?'

'I can't have water until sunset.'

'You threw away a thousand Islamic rules and you chose to keep the one defining a fast as fasting even from water?' I asked, voice rising, discretion abandoned for disbelief. V. was raised Baha'i, a religion that began in Iran a century and a half ago. I've had a soft spot for the Baha'i ever since V. told me that the gatekeeper who paved the way for their prophet, a man roughly analogous to John the Baptist in the Christian faith, is called "The Bob."

V. shrugged. 'I didn't have much to do with the rules,' he said. 'Let's go to the cafe.'

The group stopped outside of Saint-Ex, drawn by its beautiful, sunlit tables. I went in to find the hostess. We're welcome to sit outside, she said, as long as we're ordering dinner. I sighed. 'One of our group can't eat,' I said. She raised an eyebrow. 'Religious reasons,' I added. Eyebrow down. I love Generation Y.

So we sat in the sunshine and we drank water and wine and we ate good food, except for V., who twice asked the waiter not to fill his waterglass. We hashed out the play and religion and politics and all in all, we had a lovely time, though I felt guilty as hell. I bit down a ridiculous impulse to ask the waiter if the kitchen had any mint or lavender that V. could sniff while we ate.

I thought I had this religious thing down. Try to start events after sunset during Ramadan. Quietly ask Catholics about Lent diets well before the menu is set. When Muslims are coming to dinner, serve no pork and offer seltzer and two kinds of juice. Jews who keep Kosher fully understand why dinner is at their house, not mine.

But Saturday flummoxed me. The group wanted to talk together; the group was hungry; and one of the group couldn't eat or drink. I could have asked R. if she could wait to eat until after we'd all taken a long walk to hash out the play, but it's so much easier to talk over food. So instead, I chatted quietly with V. while everybody else perused the cafe menu and placed their orders, slipping mine in at the end.

V. was cool with the entire thing, but I'm curious: What would you have done?

How do you handle religion and food, particularly when it's your food and not your religion?

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I would have gone to Kinkead's so I could have consulted with The Bob.

That's because you're dedicated to total slack, Don.

We have struggled with similar issues, babka. Life's a lot easier when everyone else is just like you <_< (please note the winky thing, I am NOT serious) Fortunately we don't live in a world like that and have to find creative ways to make allowances for differences.

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