We had never used silverware in our lives.: Becoming Minnesotan

Nayana Ramakrishnan, July 24, 2008.
  • Name - Nayana Ramakrishnan
  • Age at interview - 47
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 04.03.2001
  • Pallavi Kannan, IAM Oral History Project 3 Celebration, Minnesota History Center


    Essential Question

    Becoming Americans: What does it mean to be an American?

    Assimilation: Does a person have to give up part of his/her culture to become more American?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    Indian food is very different from American food.  Most meals consist of a sauce made with vegetables, cheese, chickpeas or lentils, and sometimes including meat flavored with spices.  This sauce is eaten with a kind of bread: roti (flatbread) or naan bread in northern and western India or dosa in southern India.  These immigrants had to adapt not only to the different foods in the U.S., but also the manner in which they are eaten.  

    To learn more about Asian Indian history and culture, visit our Asian Indian Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Nayana Ramakrishnan 8
    2:22 Minutes | 2.28Mb


    Narrator: Nayana Ramakrishnan (NR)

    Interviewer: Polly Sonifer (PS)

    NR:  This was the first time we had been to any American family’s.

    Manners in India and Western manners are different. In India, you don’t necessarily say “Enchanté” or “Good evening” or put your hand out. Especially children are not taught those manners.

    And there’s no such thing as table manners because in India when we were growing up, we sat on the floor. There was a wooden platform, there was a plate. Kids were always asked to eat first. They had special treatment. The parents or whoever the ladies of the house were, they would just put food on the table and you would eat with your hands. The biggest part of the manners in India is you only get your fingers dirty, you don’t get the palm dirty, and you always reach for something with your left hand and not your right.

    But we had never used silverware in our lives. I think the only time we knew about any kind of silverware was we knew a spoon, for ice cream or something. But everything else was eaten with the hands. It was funny, when we first sat down at the table. It was a beautifully laid out, elegant table, with a chandelier and centerpiece, and in some ways I think we were all intimidated.

    But they were not all judgmental about our manners or anything else. We watched what other people were doing, especially my mother. But she was watching all the time to see which knife you use or when you use the knife, when you use the fork and spoon, etc. It was fun. She made it fun. She had some ice cream that was shaped like a Santa or some object, which was really nice. We enjoyed that. It was sure a nice evening.

    PS:  So you actually used the silverware that night?

    NR:  Yes, we did. After coming to this country, we had forks and spoons and everything. Just with Indian food it was always the hands, but little by little we did get accustomed to it. I don’t know when the transition happened.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Adjective:  Become used to; adjusted to.


    Adjective:  Made timid or fearful.


    Adjective:  Critical; tending to pass judgment.


    Noun:  A process of change from one form to another.


    Adjective:  Of, relating to, or characteristic of the West, that is, the noncommunist countries of Europe, the Americas and Australia.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
    nid: 608