The second or maybe third time I had gone to visit my in-laws in Morocco, I definitely felt like I had it down. I had learned many of the cultural rules like to be careful that I don’t thoughtlessly put my hand on my husband’s leg or my arm around him in casual conversation. I also knew enough to run the cold water when you dump boiling water down the drain because of the superstition that the devil or spirits can live in the drain. And I certainly was culturally sensitive enough to know about eating only with my right hand (the left is for wiping, the right for eating). Basically by that trip, I felt I could do no wrong culturally.
About 12 members of the family were over, mostly elder. Meals are always communal in Morocco–all on one plate. I was sitting across from one of the great uncles eating yet another of my mother-in-law’s fantastic lunches of baked, spiced fish and vegetables. There was only one problem, the head of the fish was pointing towards me and I am squeamish about all types of heads. So I circumvented the head and ate from the body throughout the meal.
After lunch, hands washed and sipping on mint tea on the couch, my husband casually mentions, “By the way, you have to eat from the place on the plate in front of you. You were eating my Great Uncle’s food the whole meal today.” Obviously, I still had a lot to learn.