It is even worse at the family dinners. I ultimately eat twice as much as everyone at the table because there are three people trying to put more food on my plate, yet none of them offer the food in the same way to each other. It is so ingrained in me to avoid over-eating that this has been quite a challenge. For the first meal, it was a like a special occasion welcoming me to Zagreb, so I obliged every offer. But eating like that almost every day? I can't. We also eat so early! We are technically eating lunch when we sit down to these big meals because that is traditionally the big meal of the day. So with modern work schedules, these lunches are pushed back as far as possible so that a whole work day can be had, but it means that we are eating at 4:00. I am then useless the rest of the night.
I came up with a metaphor for my experiences at these meals. For some reason wildlife photographers came up in conversation today and I asked my friend if she had seen the photos/heard the story about the leopard seal that kept trying to feed the photographer penguins. It's really an amazing encounter. I hate to anthropomorphize the seal, but she genuinely seemed interested in getting the photographer to eat a penguin. When one method would not work, she would try another. When live penguins kept swimming away, she kept trying other methods, ultimately shoving a dead penguin into the photographer's face. So at dinner, it would never matter how many times I refused food, efforts would continue, just like those of the leopard seal.
I learned that mackerel must be eaten smothered with olive oil. It is a traditional Dalmation saying that the fish swim three times: once in the water, once in the olive oil, and once in the wine in your stomach. I was absolutely OK with this.
We started to think about these traditions more.. why would it be custom to go out of your way to make sure your guests are well-fed? We realized that it likely has a deep history in relationship building with neighbors, representing the anthropological concept of reciprocity. Although no one here ever wants to ask for something, if these customs are in place and their networks are strong, they should never want for anything.