Posted by: Szilárd VAJDA Time: Thursday, November 12, 2015
Stealing from Shakespeare is not appropriate, but I can assure you it serves a good cause. Some might say drinking is good or at least accepted, while others completely reject the idea. We are humans and according to Nietzsche, humans have free will to decide, or at least the false hope to do so.
Recently, such a drinking question caused the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to pull out from a working dinner engagement with the french president Francois Hollande. Delicate matter. The story is simple. The Iranian delegation asked to be served halal food, which is necessary for a muslim considering his religious beliefs, and on top of that, there was a specific request not to serve any alcohol during the dinner. Fair point from the Iranian delegation, however, they did not realized that the dinner is happening at Elysee Palace in France. It is quite known that French people are really proud of their cuisine, cheese, wine and cars. Let's not talk about the cars [...] Spending years in this wonderful country I realized that such as Germans do with beer, French do with their wine. They drink it, and fully enjoy it. After each dinner if possible they drink a glass of wine and make some comments about the harmony between the cheese and wine. It is quite a moment, I can assure you! I've been there!
Being part of their culture, the wine I mean, the French Protocol Service of the Palace refused the request concerning the alcohol, and because of the glass of wine there will be no working dinner. Nobody in the western world would think such a minuscule detail can cancel an event, but apparently in Middle East, and definitely in Islamic countries such as Iran such things are out of question.
The Iranians are right, their culture, religion prohibits such "debauche", but the French are also right. Wine is a key element of their culture and they are really proud about that. They are both right, therefore is a deadlock in the loop somewhere. It would be possible to get rid of the wine from the menu, or accept to have wine on the table because nobody is forcing you to drink. However, in Western countries the custom is to accept your host's customs and play along. If I am visiting a Hindu temple in India I get rid of my sandals, same thing in a mosque in Istanbul. Once invited to somebody' place I am not ordering some other food than what is served! Once I am in synagogue in Budapest it is obvious I am going to wear a paper kippah to pay my respect to the hosts and their traditions. I also respect my muslim friends who observe Ramadan, and I encourage them in their endeavor. Some of these are not so important for me, I might have been raised in other culture, but I respect others and act accordingly.
If we respect each other we might have a chance to co-exist in this turmoil, otherwise we should not have dinner together.
P.S. I am certainly sure the French and Iranian diplomacy will sort this thing out and learn from former president Chirac's choice to invite his Iranian counterpart to a working breakfast where tea was served. [Nobody was harmed!]