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Catering To A Multicultural Gathering

By Gen Wright

Planning traditional events is, actually, relatively easier than planning multicultural gatherings that lack a traditional precedent. How, for instance, do you prepare a menu for a conference where attendees include vegans as well as halal eaters? What’s more, how do you settle upon a code of dress and conduct for social occasions so that no one within bounds of reason is offended?

There are several little touches that can really help multicultural gatherings function, and keep inter-cultural tensions at bay. However, putting too much emphasis on inter-cultural harmony does nothing more than draw attention to the potential tension going on; avoid this at all costs.

Here, however, are some dos and donts for anyone arranging a multicultural event.

1. Do not give any overt signals of a dominant cultural code. For instance, it helps not to wear crosses around your neck if you expect a number of Hindu guests, and to avoid Christmas trees etc.

2. Do go by the dominant dress codes of the particular region – something that blends into the general scheme of things

3. Do have a variety of food items on hand, to cater to a variety of preferences. Buffets are preferable, as they allow people to mix and match in addition to picking and choosing.

4. Do declare the ingredients present in every food item. The last thing you want is a food allergy, or a self-righteous vegan who has been tricked into eating icecream with real honey. Seriously though, an ingredients list is useful for people with food allergies, weight problems, religious restrictions, cultural taboos, or simply specific dietary preferences. It will save your caterer a lot of unnecessary questions.

5. Try to emphasize the occasion which brings the gathering together, or to create a unifying theme. While academic meets and conferences always leave their attendees with something to discuss, the same is not true for mixed-culture family gatherings. For such occasions, take into account the possibility of groups splitting up. Have several games and distractions on hand, so that people have ways to engage themselves if things begin to get awkward.

6. Make sure that there are people at the ready to attend to the guests’ needs, and that they are equipped to handle culture-specific queries – in multiple languages if necessary

Today, it is quite rare to be part of a large gathering and not see some cultural diversity. Even among people of the same religion and upbringing, there are differing choices. This bodes well for globalization and global integration, but not so well for occasions that have been traditional and uniform since time immemorial. From weddings to bar mitzvahs, it is quite difficult to stick to tradition while catering to diverse preferences.

With the tips offered above, however, it is possible to have a highly multicultural – even multilingual – gathering where everyone present can have fun. They may not all rub shoulders and become bosom friends overnight, but as long as they are smiling at the end of your event, you have done just fine.

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