Bento teasing?

sad_onigiri.pngYou’ve assembled a colorful, nutritious and cute bento box. You can’t wait for lunch time. You open it up and… you attract a crowd of classmates or coworkers, curious about your lunch.

Has this happened to you? It certainly has to me. At first it did bother me, especially if I packed a bentos or an onigiri picnic basket for a train trip. It’s amazing how strong soy sauce and nori seem to smell in an enclosed train compartment! Swiss people are generally polite and reserved, so rarely do they out and out stare - though on a couple of occasions I’ve had an old lady enthusiastically point at my bento, asking this or that. But, these days I don’t mind it at all. Well maybe a little bit, but not much. And people who know me, or The Guy when he takes bentos on the road, are used to our unique lunch boxes, and perhaps even a bit envious! (The sandwiches sold in the train are expensive and pretty sad…)

But what if it’s your kid’s bento lunch getting all that attention? I don’t have kids of my own, and my niece and nephew live in Japan where their bentos attract no undue attention of course. But I’ve been reading on some blogs by some Japanese moms living in other countries, about their kids’s cute, carefully assembled bentos attracting too much, sometimes unwelcome, attention. Some kids even ask their moms to stop making Japanese style lunches, and stick to plain, non-attention grabbing sandwiches and such. One little boy was teased by a schoolmate who said his onigiri looked like poo (because it was covered with nori, presumably). Another little girl was bullied by older kids. Kids can be cruel, for sure.

I also remember reading some time ago on a blog (I wish I’d kept the link, but I can’t find it anymore) about a girl in her late teens, who had a Japanese mother who would make her beautiful bento lunches every day when she was in elementary school somewhere in the U.S. In her case it wasn’t her classmates who made her feel conspicuous, but her teacher. Every day, the teacher would insist on drawing attention to her bento, pointing out how beautiful it was, how exotic, and so on. The girl in question remembers hating that unwanted attention. I was a rather shy kid growing up myself, and I know that I drew attention anyway (I was the only Asian at the school I attended for several years in England for instance) so the last thing I would have wanted was that kind of attention placed on me. I remember one time when we had a school picnic. My mother made me some onigiri with tarako, my favorite filling then, and some chicken karaage. But when it was lunchtime, I was so shy about eating my onigiri in front of the other kids that I pretended that I’d forgotten part of my lunch, and just ate the karaage. (Fried chicken after all is fried chicken.) By the time I got home, the poor onigiri were smooshed flat. I threw them away quietly, burying them at the bottom of the kitchen garbage can. (If my mom is reading this, now she knows…)

I hope that kids these days have been exposed a lot more to ‘exotic’ food and are more accepting, though the stories from those Japanese mothers say otherwise. Or are their stories the exceptions?

How do you feel about this, especially if you have kids? Do your kids like bring exotic (as in, not the plain sandwich-and-bag-of-chips/crisps lunch) lunches? Have they been teased - and if so, how did you, and your kids, deal with it? It doesn’t have to be just Japanese-style bentos either - what if you pack a Mr. Bento full of fragrant curry or soup, and so on?

(See also: Embarassed by bento lunches? discussion on the flickr bento boxes group.)

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Re: Bento teasing?

Maybe you can ask your co-worker exactly what's wrong with 'turning Japanese' :P

Re: Bento teasing?

My memory isn't about what I was eating for lunch, but how I ate. My family is Thai and I grew up using a fork and spoon to eat. We hold the spoon in the right hand and the fork in the left, then use the fork to maneuver food onto the spoon. I remember eating in the cafeteria in high school and a girl looked down the table at me. She was sitting about five people away and she said, in a loud voice, "That's so primitive!"

Re: Bento teasing?

When I was in my home country, I have never experienced bento teasing at my school age... the only problem was that sometimes naughty classmates stole some pieces from my bento! :( Now I am in Australia and I prepare bento for my hubby and myself. People never tease; by contrast, they admire & even envy! :D

To diverse to tell what's weird anymore

First off, I'm Malaysian-born Chinese, my husband is Jewish of Ukrainian descent but lived in Israel, we now live in Melbourne, Australia. Since we grew up in various parts of the world, our bento experiences are quite different.

I wasn't a minority in school during the 80's and many kids brought some sort of "bento" everyday. Although Malaysia was already fairly multicultural, the most Western lunch box foods in those days were limited to ham and processed cheese sandwich or frankfurters as imported Western grocery were rare and expensive thus considered to be novelty. My mom used to work at a British importing company and we had access to cheap Western/ international groceries so my lunches were weird because I had egg mayo sandwich, strawberry milk, cereals, pita bread, homemade burger, Laughing Cow cheese spread and grainy brown breads instead of the fluffy white. I didn't get teased but I was indirectly "threatened" to finish my food quickly because a couple of big boys in my class were always drooling over my food and trying to pinch them LOL My mom ended up packing extra so I could share. I bring lunch to work now and no one really cares except the occasional compliments as the aroma fills the room when I microwave it. I work with a small group of 2 Jewish, 1 Indian, 1 Malaysian (me), 1 Taiwanese and 1 Anglo-Saxon guy who calls himself an "egg" (white on the outside, yellow on the inside) because he's so Asianised LOL! Sometimes we joke that the only minority in the office is the "egg" because everyone else is considered "ethnic" by Australian standards. We eat so different things there's no such thing as weird food anymore.

My husband on the other hand, grew up in a very former Soviet culture and until today, his mom's cooking is still very repetitive with only the same 10 Eastern European dishes in rotation 365 days a year. 90% of what me & hubby love to eat is too scary for them to try (not even smell, touch or look sometimes). I do wonder if one can get malnutrition eating the same things you can count with your fingers all your life. Luckily he came to Australia at 22 with an open mind and embraces the cultural diversity of this country and eats quite a wide variety of foods for someone of his upbringing. He loves his bentos and most of his colleagues compliment on them (and what a good wife I am!). He did get teased once by a white Australian guy who also has an Asian wife, something like "Oh, you're too good for normal food aren't you?" but I think he's just kidding with a bit of jealousy because they tease everyone who don't go out for greasy chicken parma and chips with them. I do mostly pack Asian food (not always Japanese) but I also do European and Middle Eastern. His current lunch mate is actually a Japanese guy with a white wife who also makes bento. Don't you just love Melbourne? :D

Re: Bento teasing?

Just learning about bento, but I often send vegetarian sushi rolls or onigiri rolls to school (or other events) with my 10 yr old daughter (have been for years). She's had absolutely no problem with any kind of unwanted attention. In 2nd grade she had to do a "How To" presentation in school, and decided to teach all the kids to roll a sushi roll (with veggie fillings). They LOVED doing it, made a huge mess with the rice, and ate everything. Very funny. But I don't think her school has a really "standard" lunch, like the ol' white-bread sandwiches used to be. We're caucasian & she goes to a largely minority school.

Ignorance

I'm an almost 18 year old English art student. I'm just getting into Bento making.
I'm coming towards the end of my year on my course and I have learn some seriously shocking things about the people who live in the area where I study. I come from a very secluded coutryside village but I'm glad that our tiny primary school taught us about these fascinating Eastern cultures.

But while on this course I have had some seriously awkward conversations with my class mates. Being art, most of them were only there because it seemed like an "easy subject" and then moan that they fail from doing no work. Pretty much NO ONE had ever heard of Lasagne before, and as I was explaining to them how you make one and what kind of stuff is in it, you could see their face cringe up. Their typical diet is microwaved mac and cheese or chinese takeaways, which in England is very popular but isn't even properlly prepared chinese food. Their lifestyles involve wild parties every night and coming in with hangovers.

I just feel that their parents and schools didn't do a very good job with teaching them about other cultures and correct food choices. I....failed to get into University this year but I may start taking Japanese seriously and do a Japanese course at this same college for a year, maybe then I will feel brave enough to take my Bentos :3

Re: Bento teasing?

As a child in elementary school, my bento lunches were the only thing I don't remember being teased about - of course, this was in Hawaii.

As a teenager on the mainland, I got a lot of curiosity re: the Japanese food I brought to lunch, and had to explain fairly often that rice with nori is not equal to sushi. By that time I was used to being the weird nerdy girl, and too pride in eating foods my peers thought unusual.

Where I work today there are people from many ethnic backgrounds and countries, but everyone is busy. Here people are just impressed that you are bringing homemade lunches.

Re: Bento teasing?

Not so much teasing, but when I started to get into the Japanese culture "phase" as my parents put it at that time, I would draw attention to my lunches at school. My school was small and already I was teased for other things, along with the fact that anything besides "American" was "uncool", just made me that much more different. Here I am, a typical "White American" interested in a different culture in a school where we had may be two or three people of African or Native American decent that act like everyone else, daring to bring a lunch that wasn't cold pizza or a sandwich. Nowadays the attention doesn't bother me, it's funny when I'm at my job and I make people guess what is my lunch and get them to try different things like anko flavored with matcha, or even burgers made from tofu....They also wonder how I still lose weight when I am not always able to workout...my response is usually portion control (which is why I love bentos), nursing school and research, and doing more than sitting on my dopa at home and work.

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