My name is Alex Shen, and I am conducting this study on my best friend Kevin’s kitchen table. Kevin and I have been close friends for more than 6 years, and I have paid countless visits to his house, but never had the chance to have a dinner at his place. It should be really interesting to observe someone else’s kitchen table other than the one in your own family, because I think it can reveal a lot about a family: family culture, eating culture, relationships among family members and one household’s economic status. So after asking Kevin for permission to conduct this study, I went to his place this weekend, spent an afternoon there and joined his family for a dinner. I hope through this study, I get to know more about Kevin’s family and hopefully make us closer.
I have always noticed before when I visited his house, that the kitchen table is bigger than normal size, and almost twice as big as mine. What’s more, his table has a lazy Susan in the center which is commonly used in Chinese restaurants but rarely seen in private houses. I imagined that his family uses a big kitchen table because his four grandparents live with them in the same house, but I am still curious about what it’s like to have a party of 7 people having family dinner at the same table every day. It must be so different from my family’s dinner atmosphere because it’s usually just me and my mother, and we just eat for fifteen to twenty minutes and then have a talk after that. I imagine the whole dinner process should be completely different at Kevin’s house.
While conducting this study, I employed several anthropological methods. First is fieldwork. I didn’t just call him or text him to interview him about his kitchen table, but actually went there to experience it myself, and I think it is only possible because I am really close to him, which is unique about my study. I choose to actually be there because I want to get a sense of the function and importance of a big table to a big family by feeling it for myself, not hearing it from Kevin, which would no doubt contain his own point of view. Also, I really wanted to see the transitions of the tables being used before, during and after dinner. Also, I interviewed Kevin before dinner to get a thorougher grasp of the background I need to know, for example, is there a dinner ritual that your family has. What’s more, I used comparison, in which I compared his kitchen with mine. I think through comparison between Kevin’s kitchen table and mine, I will be able to better generalize the function of his kitchen table, and understand the role that table plays in his family.
I arrived at about 4 pm, and his grandparents were already preparing dinner(dinner began at 7:30 that day). While dinner was being prepared, I sat at the kitchen table and had a talk with Kevin. I asked what type and style of food his family usually eat and is there anything forbidden at the table, and he said that both his parents and both his grandparents are from Shandong province, so they really like to eat green Chinese onion and garlic raw, and that I should never stick my chopsticks upright into the rice bowl, which is not auspicious. When I was talking to Kevin, his father’s mother was at the other side of the table stitching a sweater(but it’s still summer), while talking to Kevin’s mother about household stuff. When approaching dinner time, everyone in the family went to help bring out the dishes. First it’s some wine and glasses, then they brought bowls for rice, all the dishes, and finally the soup. And when we were eating, the lazy Susan served with great importance because there were eight of us having dinner, it would have been possible for everyone to taste all the dishes without the lazy Susan. After dinner, Kevin, his dad, and his grandpa stayed to have some more wine, and Kevin’s mother and grandmother went to wash the dishes. And after all was done, the whole family sat down to talk about each one’s day, work, and me(because I am a guest). And even later than that, the table still served some purposes. Because Kevin’s father’s parents live on the first floor(so “dose” the kitchen table), they spent time reading books by the table before going to bed.
After the day spent at Kevin’s place, I had a better understanding of their kitchen table. The table serves not only as a place for meals, but also where they have family meetings. The table is usually clean and tidy at non-meal time, and it is not only for food, but also for family gathering. I enjoyed the most when the whole family was talking after they finished dinner. It is a unique family culture of Kevin’s, when they can not only share and reflect on their own about the day, but also enhance the relationship among family members. This is unique to Kevin’s family, because there are 7 people living in that house. At my home, I usually just eat with my mother and have a talk with her elsewhere(her bedroom or the living room), and for most of the time, I will be in my study doing work. So the atmosphere is quite different between our families, which is expressed through the kitchen table. The table is somewhat like a carrier of the love inside the family, and if the family is big, it is more obvious.