When in “Rome”…

A large amount of my trips as a corporate flight attendant are international..
And I don’t mean just to Paris or Italy, many are to places like: The middle east, China, Japan, Vietnam , Israel, Budapest, etc. Places where the culture is significantly different than my own. Prior to these trips it is important for me to do some research into the culture’s mannerisms, food preferences, religious practices, and what they will expect from me, Meaning: my service technique, catering, personal dress, and my interaction with them.
Since religious food practices vary widely within the culture, I need to be prepared for changes and restrictions that may effect my plan of service. I have also learned that depending on an individual’s adherence to a religious diet, this is often based on personal degree of orthodoxy.
I want to share some of my experiences on this subject and hopefully help others to learn from my mistakes!

Judaism
About 5 years ago, I was asked, very spur of the moment, to work a trip from LA to NYC. It was an evening flight with 10 Jewish pax (passengers) I was told. When I inquired about their meal service request, I was told that sandwiches had been ordered for them from a “Kosher “deli and would arrive at the jet prior to departure.
I thought to myself- “OK, easy enough, I just need to stock the plane with the usual staple items and that’s it!”..
Well, long story short, I did not do my homework. After we were in the air for a bit, the lead passenger informed me that they were ready to eat.. I began carefully unwrapping the delivered sandwiches and placing them on plates. Of course I even garnished the plates to make them look pretty and added a side of salad.
I brought out the plates on my fancy silver platter and placed them on the passenger’s tables. The lead pax looked up at me with this puzzled look on his face and said: “ WHAT is THIS?” I am sure I had a confused look on my face when I calmly responded: “ it is the catering you ordered and had delivered by——- Deli”.
The guy was angry I could tell and this was confirmed by him yelling and saying: “ why are the sandwiches unwrapped? and we do not eat on your plates! I need to see the SEAL! What is this salad doing here?” Of course I had no idea what he was talking about.. And it was my own fault, not his I quickly realized. As I mentioned, I had not done my homework… apparently, for one, kosher food is wrapped and has a seal on it indicating it is kosher. Two, I was not suppose to touch his food at all. I should have left it wrapped and placed in on a plate ( paper plate).
He asked me to bring him the original wrapping, and when I did, he was even more angry because there was no seal at all.. Strongly indicating the food was not kosher.
Although I was not the one who placed the order, I should have looked at the catering when it arrived to the plane, and I should have known about the SEAL situation. We were now 40,000 feet above the ground and there was nothing else to feed them. I did my best to rummage through the plane looking for food that was ok for them to eat, mostly snacky things, but as I mentioned above, some individuals are stricter than others and heavily restrict there own eating in compliance to the religious beliefs.
Moral to this story ; Always do your homework.
Tips for serving this culture:
1. aircraft ovens, microwaves, flatware, etc are NOT kosher
2. use plastic paper items for service
3. do NOT remove seals
4. food items that need to be heated should be wrapped a few times in foil to prevent contamination from non kosher ovens..

Buddhism

Again, in my early days of flying, I did not always read up on the cultures I would be flying and when I did, I forgot certain things because at that time, I did not keep cheat sheet cards ( which I do now).
I was assigned to a trip to Paris one day with a couple of days notice. I was well prepared for the trip. I even did some French decorations for my flight and had a French and American menu prepared.
The trip to Paris went well. Everyone was happy. WE landed in Paris and was enroute to our hotel when we received a call that our trip had been changed. We were going to get some crew rest and then bring the plane empty over to China to pick up some passengers and bring them to Paris. ( where we would then rest for a few days before bringing the Americans home). Since I already had prepped the plane for the original trip, it was full of American/ French snacks, alcohol, etc. I didn’t really think much of this at the time.
I received a catering order and followed through with ordering the items listed. I need to mention, details of the food items were not given to me.. things like, no onions or garlic or alcohol.
When my Buddhist passengers arrived, they all greeted me graciously and indicated they were hungry. Once in flight, I began heating up the meals and preparing drinks. I offered a welcome glass of champagne, which everyone declined was strange expressions. I walked back to my galley thinking: “ OMG, that’s right, I forgot, they don’t drink alcohol”!! I felt bad and was determined to make sure there meals were prefect. And they looked like they were!
A few minutes after serving, I was asked if there were any other entree options like beef… well, I did not order it because it was on the list and also because I didn’t even think Buddhists ate beef! I kindly replied ,” no, we only have the requested items for hot meals, but, I could make you a sandwich? ( I always keep crew food on-board).
What did I learn from this experience? Always be prepared with many different scenarios and keep in mind the individual differences within the same culture. Also, keep cheat sheets with me that contain info for different cultures so when things change, as they always do in aviation, I will be prepared!!
Tips for serving this culture include:
1 no alcohol
2. Always have a Variety but always include vegetarian
3. Make sure there are no garlic or onions

One of the things I love so much about this career is the chance to discover different cultures and experience what this big world of ours is all about! As a flight attendant, it is also may responsibility to do my homework and be prepared on the right ways to serve and interact with all of my diverse passengers!

With Love,
Cobblestones and Heels

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About cobblestonesandheels1

Corporate flight attendant / travel coordinator Southern, CA. Originally from NY. but since home is where the heart is, mine is truly in the whole world. My favorite song and one i would dedicate to all my readers is: "My Wish" by Rascal Flatts"

Posted on October 11, 2012, in Corporate flight attendant. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. You are so right about how different all cultures are. I have a great book I highly recommend, that I go to before most international trips: Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands. It covers so many etiquette and food scenarios that might come up!

    • I have the book!! i read it a few years ago and completely forgot to reference it for this blog! So thank you for mentioning it!!
      Since those mistakes in the very beginning of my career, I have made sure to be prepared!!

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