Food as symbol of belongingness

A couple of months ago I spent a couple of weeks in London on-site with a client, meeting with different players and learning about how they did things, and how they were using the products they were developing.

This company is in the finance industry which has a pretty specific culture: high energy, male dominated, very social, very competitive. I was there as an outsider and I was obviously an outsider…strangely dressed, from “Silicon Valley” (one person I met with revealed that they had been anticipating my arrival by referring to me as Silicone Man, because, in part, they didn’t know my name), and of course asking a lot of ridiculous questions.

The trading floor (essentially rooms with rows of desks that have 3-6 monitors each) has a very hierarchical culture. For example, the young guys run out every day and bring back food for the other guys. One day I was working on the floor during lunch; the team I was with asked me if I wanted lunch, so I placed an order with two young traders from France, as they went out to Wagamama (or as they called it, Wags).

When the food arrived, one of the brokers noticed me with my bucket of noodles and announced to everyone “Hey, Steve is having lunch on the desk! Now he’s really and truly one of us!”

Being overtly included is always touching; I was struck by the power of the shared dining ritual (which in this case was simply the ordering, then we all sat at our desks with our computers and ate and worked) to delineate that inclusion.

I responded by announcing that one of the tools I use in my work is participant observation. “Oh…” he said, “We learn something new every day!”


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