Fusion confusion

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Sir David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

Lima is becoming a gastronomic destination because of the extraordinary merger of agro-biodiversity and ancient culture. Yet, we have incredible food but no good restaurants. Waiters address customers by the too friendly “tu” in Spanish as opposed to the “usted” (of course you don’t have this problem with the egalitarian English language). What to do when one is approached as such?

Using a flowery phrase such as “the extraordinary merger of agro-biodiversity and ancient culture”, you write like one of those pretentious music critics for programme notes. So I am not sure quite what you mean. All I can tell you from my limited experience of Peruvian food is that the general presentation is not one of its strongest points. I remember being told by a native, with pride, that the country’s cuisine has come to be greatly influenced by the diversity of its European, African and Asian immigrants. But that is no excuse for many of the dishes to look alarming. I was once served a dish called cau cau, which is tripe stew with rice. Not only did it look disgusting, it was disgusting. Which is why I am rather suspicious about your claim that Lima is a gastronomic destination. It seems to me that its food is far from refined but a real mixed bag of confused fusion. No wonder this South American country managed to elect a Japanese president called Fujimori. Fujimori was apparently rather proud of his Japanese roots and their influence on Peruvian food – and loved the fusion cooking. Alas, he seems to have been more of a master crook than a master cook, as he is still simmering in prison for human rights violations.

I do, however, agree with you that waiters at restaurants should never be overfamiliar. I am certainly not used to their unctuousness in offering to shake your hand as you arrive. When I know this is likely to happen, I always go prepared so that when they stretch their hand out, I hand them my hat. If I were you, I would ignore anything that is overfamiliar. When waiters ask how you are by using the “tu” word, you might answer by using the third person singular for yourself by saying: “He is very well indeed. But he would feel even better if he were to be served some San Pellegrino straightaway.”

In this age of financial upheaval and cash shortages, when even the major lending institutions need bailouts, I’m considering downsizing some of our art collection at Beverly Hills Pawn, the premiere Beverly Hills pawnbroker. Have you ever had dealings with a pawnbroker, and is it something to be openly discussed at our next cocktail party?

I am afraid the only Hollywood pawnbroker I know is the film The Pawnbroker (1964), which turned Rod Steiger into a star. As he was rather an agonised character, I have always had an unfavourable image of the pawnbroker, not having been to one myself. If you wish to downsize, sell your collection through a reputable auction house and be done with. You should only use a pawnbroker if you need cash flow but are wishing for the option of redemption in the future. Otherwise, I would avoid pawnbrokers, especially in Beverly Hills, where all your neighbours and friends are bound to gossip if they see you going into a pawnbroker.

But I am amused by the idea of using a pawnbroker as a subject of conversation at cocktail parties. Next time when somebody asks me the boringly pedestrian question of “How long are you in London for?”, I might try answering, “For as long as I need to complete my business with a pawnbroker.” I would be most interested to see their reactions.

Have the configuration and interior designs of trains improved over the years?

Definitely not. I long for the old designs in which trains had compartments, and in particular the Pullman, which served a wonderful high tea – with white tablecloths, finger sandwiches, toasted tea cakes, scones with double cream and a nice pot of tea in silver. It was all done efficiently and beautifully within an hour between Oxford and Paddington. Nowadays, you sit in a ghastly utilitarian mock-leather seat with a table in formica and a collapsed trolley being wheeled round to offer stale sandwiches and lukewarm soft drinks. How utterly stupid of owners of trains not to realise there is a huge market for travelling in comfort and luxury in trains.

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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