Just How Big Is Your Family Picnic Basket?

Helgi Eyford, For Neighbours

The Calgary Herald (Alberta)
Final Edition
June 14, 2007 Thursday

So you want to have a picnic. Who would you invite and how much food
would you bring? The answer is probably influenced by your culture.

If your name is Garabed Tahmazian, an Armenian petroleum geologist
based in Calgary, you would invite your wife, your four children and
their spouses, your grandchildren, your cousins and their families,
your nieces and nephews, some friends from the Armenian community and
some non-Armenian friends. The limit is set by the size of the park.

You would have a delicious five-course meal with shish kebabs, rice,
stuffed vegetables, salads, coffee, tea, sweets. And then you would
have music, dancing and sheesha.

If your name is Helgi, an Icelandic guy raised in Alberta, you
would invite your girlfriend and your five kids. But since your kids
are probably working or travelling, there might be four of you all
together — and maybe the dog if he is not too busy. If you are really
organized, you might bring a cooler with some hot dogs, granola bars
and some drinks. After the "meal" you go for a walk or play catch.

As a professional observer of cultural differences, I’ve noticed
Calgarians from the Middle East and Africa tend to have way bigger
picnics with way better food than Calgarians from Northern Europe. I
always wondered why.

Research suggests that some cultures are more relationship-oriented
(collectivist) and some are more task oriented (individualist).

Garabed explained it to me this way, "All my children were born and
raised in North America, but we are hard wired for large groups and
food is the catalyst."

This reminds me of a family discussion (OK, it was an argument)
I had a few years ago about what to do one Sunday afternoon in Toronto.

I suggested to my Iranian sister-in-law that we go to a park with the
kids. She thought it was a great idea. "Let’s go to Edwards Gardens!"

"Oh n*****ooo," I said, "There are way too many people there. Let’s
go to the Nature conservatory just down the street. It’s gorgeous
and nobody will be there."

She looked perplexed, "Why would you go to a park where there are no
people?" It was an honest question. I responded with a disingenuous
question, "Why would you go to a park WITH people?"

Garabed can say from experience that Westerners enjoy the Armenian
style picnic. "It’s funny how the games that others play get closer
and closer to our picnic site. Pretty soon, they come over and ask
what we are cooking. It’s no surprise really, when you compare the
smell of a hot dog to shish kebab." And curious passersby almost
always get invited to eat. "It is a privilege to share in the Middle
East. We are honoured that people show interest in our food and we
are duty-bound to share with them."

But it is not just the food that attracts interest. After supper
one evening, my Armenian friend Anoush was sitting with her extended
family (all 30 of them) around the campfire smoking sheesha (water
pipes). A young couple wandered over and said with mock concern,
"Is that legal over here? Aren’t you worried?" They were disappointed
to hear that it was just flavoured tobacco.

It seems we are all hardwired for good food, laughs, music and campfire
rituals. So if your picnic basket is not very big, at least bring a
Frisbee or ball that can be "accidentally" thrown into a group with
really big picnic baskets.

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Did You Know?

– There are 10 picnic parks in Calgary;

– There are 3,211 picnic tables and 416 BBQs in the parks;

– Edworthy and Bowness are the most popular parks;

– You can book a site at 268-3800; and

– 60 million people visit Calgary parks each year.

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