Pizza in the park

Lolly and the girls were at the park, having a picnic. They were sitting in the grass on a blanket, eating pizza. Each of the girls had a piece of pizza on their plate and they were cheerfully eating. The park was crowded.

Suddenly, an older, thin gentleman came up to them. He was well dressed and appeared to be enjoying the sunny day.

Old man: Yes, can I have a piece of pizza?

Lolly: Uhhh, well… this is for my girls…

Old man: One piece. I’ll take one piece please.

*Lolly hands him a slice, confused*

The gentleman takes the slice of pizza, lifts it towards his mouth, but then stops. A realization hits him as he looks at the three baffled children staring at him while he eats their pizza.

Old man: Oh, wait… is this pizza for your girls?

Lolly: Um, well.. yes.

Old man: Oh, no no. You take it back.

*Old man tries to hand the pizza back to Lolly*

Lolly: That’s okay, sir. Just go ahead and eat it.

Old man: No, no, no. I insist. Take it. Give it to your girls.

Lolly: Well… honestly, sir, we’re not going to eat it now that you’ve touched it. So you might as well eat it. Seriously, please just take it.

*Old man sets the pizza down next to Lolly and walks away*

The girls were totally confused by this exchange. And so was Lolly. So was the lady sitting near them, nursing her baby, who uttered “that was so weird!”

The old man walked to another family sitting in the distance and asked the mom of that family for a piece of cantaloupe. Being eaten by her. From a Tupperware.

Honest question: does your reading of this story change at all when I mention that this man was Asian? Lolly and I are having a debate about this. One of us thinks it’s an irrelevant detail. The other thinks it’s a crucial detail.

What do you think?


  1. One word – dementia. I don't think the race matters. I have a friend whose father is currently missing (it's been a month) and he has dementia. He often wanders around in a confused state. Poor guy.

  2. First of all, that is really weird. Second, I would say that it doesn't change my perspective. I admit, I pictured a white man, but the fact that he was Asian doesn't change that it was weird.

  3. Irrelevant? Maybe just a really odd situation… is it totally wrong for anyone to ask him what he is doing, or up to?

  4. I agree with Susan, I thought he has dementia or alzheimer's or something. Finding out he was Asian didn't change anything for me. But I am not that familiar with Asian customs…

  5. The first thing that crosses my mind is that mental illness is not swayed by culture. The second is that sometimes, normal actions in one culture can look like mental illness to another. I think it's a great story! 🙂

  6. Obviously irrelevant. Unless one of you has knowledge of an accepted tradition in the specific Asian country than man comes from of providing strangers with picnic snacks while acting like an old man with dementia.

  7. I don't think it has anything to do with it,…but my daughter think it does, depending on where he's from. We both think he has something like dementia… 😉

  8. I don't think race has anything to do with it, but is it bad that I pictured the man as being white…and homeless? I thought that might have been the the reason he was asking for food but it makes more sense that he has dementia.

  9. I'm failing to see why it would make a difference.

    I initially thought he might be homeless. It wasn't until he tried giving it back that I considered dementia.

  10. My 12 year old makes me watch YouTube videos he finds insanely hilarious. They usually involve someone dressing like an old man and making crazy frozen donkey faces in the middle of asking a Lowe's employee for help. Or… farting at strangers.

    My guess is YouTube video filming for the 12 year old set.

    Or dementia.

  11. Wow, has anyone stopped to think maybe they were entertaining an angel? Being tested maybe? Would it matter if he were Polynesian, Mexican, African-American or Caucasian-American? Would one piece of pizza make a difference or a piece of cantaloupe? We are in the latter days…we know this can and does happen. How we respond to it means everything! It's food for thought! (Pun intended!)

  12. I never thought about what race he was. Instead I thought about a man who was hungry and lonely. Depending which park you were at did anyone consider that he may have been from an assisted living center in the area and this was his way of reaching out for help?

  13. I agree with the dementia thing. My mother is kind of in the same boat — they get older and there is no filter left and they just say and do whatever comes out. I don't think the race thing applies at all – -just age and the whole thing just made me sad.

  14. I'm going along with the dementia. Don't thing it has anything to do with being Asian. As Jan said, filters are gone. Plus, he could have just been lonely or hungry. I was going to say homeless, but then I reread where you said he was well-dressed. Does it matter, though? Our perception of things could be 100% off from reality.

  15. In this case, I think the race is irrelevant. I come from a very Asian-influenced society (in Hawaii) and am surrounded by different kinds of Asians every day (Japanese, Chinese, Mongolian, Korean, etc.) as well as part Chinese myself. This type of behavior is definitely not typical for an Asian. I'm in agreement with Susan and Leisha. You never know what people are going to do – and it's usually for kicks or due to a few screws loose. Definitely weird though, not gonna lie.

  16. I think its both.
    Dementia or something like that for sure, which makes race irrelevant
    But in China they eat off shared plates and I think putting the food back is more acceptable there than here. Along with a presumed lack of understanding about why you wouldn't then eat it

  17. Crucial. In 1975 (I was 3), our church sponsored a Vietnamese refugee family who moved in across the street from us. To them, it was perfectly normal to enter our house without knocking and take whatever they needed. We could be in our pajamas eating breakfast and they'd walk in, take something from the refrigerator, say hello, and then leave. It was probably 3 or 4 years before they stopped doing that (my parents learned to lock the door at night).

  18. The weirdness of the initial action sounds like dementia not culture. Once he had a moment of clarity and realized what a weird thing he was doing, the complete insistence on returning the pizza very much sounds like the culture I knew and loved while living in Taiwan. Finally, wandering off to eat someone else's cantaloupe sounds like the dementia came back.

  19. My first thought is that he thought it was a public picnic…
    but then you said he went to another lady and asked for her cantaloupe…
    So my vote is mental/psych stuff, I guess.
    I can't think of asian-ness having anything to do with it. Though, you'd have to find out what brand of Asian he was to be sure.

  20. I would like to know what your conversation was as a result of this meeting.
    The fact that it was an Asian man doesn't matter to me. I thought he possibly had dementia or he was a hobo like Nick Nolte.

  21. whether he's asian or any other ethnicity, all i can think is "dementia" and "his family is probably running around looking for where grandpa went to this time." so i guess, not crucial *shrugs*

  22. I feel sad that the response was that this is for thegirls and not of course please have some and tell me your story!

  23. I didn't consider his race to be a crucial detail.

    I find it crucial, however, that one of you (as well as the various people in this comment thread) considered his race a crucial detail.

    1. It's obviously something they disagree about, hence they way they posted it here. Personally it doesn't change the story by me, but I don't need to be offended by it. Get a grip.

  24. I think it's interesting that we are so pre-programmed to discount a discussion of behavior based on race that so many would vehemently insist that race(culture) has nothing to do with it. (even though none of the commenters I could see above were of Asian descent) We see from comments from people who have actually been immersed in an Asian culture that this awkward encounter could partially be because the man was Asian. Race/culture shapes our worldview and our behavior. You can't deny that and there's nothing politically incorrect about recognizing and embracing the differences.

    1. Race is distinct from culture. There are white immigrants and Asian native-born Americans.

      I'm not sure how you can tell the race of other commenters on a blog.

    2. I'm seconding Shayla's comments.

      And the other thing is, you can have people "immerse" themselves into their culture and still be blinded by their own racist notions and preconceptions.

  25. As for the folks who are suggesting that Lolly invite the man to join them…I have four young daughters and it's my responsibility to protect them at all costs. Strangers in the park are not my idea of ways to be Christlike. In this day and age, unfortunately, charity has to take a back seat to safety for my children. With as many unknown variables as there were in this incident, I would have done the exact same thing. Lolly – you're awesome.

    1. I'm with you Lolly. If the man had dementia (which sounds likely) I'm guessing Lolly picked up on some vibes that he wasn't simply asking for a handout but that he was genuinely confused about his surroundings. Lolly did the right thing.

  26. Jesi you're right on. Why discount a cultural (not necessarily racial) contribution to the behavior? Having been immersed in 2 different (and not identical by any means) Asian cultures it can give a clue but not a complete explanation for his behavior. As an American in the Phillippines, for example, I always felt a bit stingy about sharing food that I was actually eating with others. But they offered and shared with each other freely, though the complete stranger coming up and doing such might suggest mental instability or personal brazeness (or chemical influence). We are all products to some extent to the very specific cultures we've been raised in. The example above of the Vietnamese family having no boundaries upon their arrival to US suggests they came from a very open village life, and even if it was just THEIR village that operated this way, it COULD have been all they knew of the world. Each situation is different. Cultural background is simply extra information and doesn't have to mean one is being judgmental. Even with my experiences, I still would've been in shock like Lolly because it's so out of context in a crowded American mainland park full of picnicking families.
    Nice conversation starter Weed!

  27. I too pictured an old white man but knowing he was asian didn't change how weird it was, the only thing it did was make me picture an asian man.

  28. I still think that Mormons should avoid any dicussion of race until at least 100 years after 1978. And then only with deep respect and understanding of other cultures.

    1. But the reality is that race exists. By simply acknowledging the reality of race, I've had people take offense at what I said. Race is appearance, not value… but not everyone gets that.

      In this scenario, the fact that the man appeared Asian only brings into the equation a consideration for culture- a person's social context. Maybe he is from a culture that allows for this kind of behavior.

      In the meantime, I would have probably responded as Lolly did, bewildered (because his behavior doesn't even vaguely fit my own culture), but courteous and cautious.

    2. @ 9:22 AM: You're white, yes? If so, I'm afraid it shows. (And are non-Mormons exempt from showing respect and understanding until 2078?)

      @ 12:39 PM: He could be, or not be, from another culture regardless of what race he is. The assumption that someone who isn't white is likely to be a recent immigrant is quite problematic.

    3. I'm 9:22 am. I'm not Caucasian actually, which should be irrelevant. Anyway, for a religion that is so recently steeped in racism (I realize that the Mormon prophets have erased things before 1978 but in the minds of at least some non-Mormons, history can't and shouldn't be erased) I think it prudent to simply lay low on the subject of race to, at the very least, avoid being misunderstood. I realize that it wasn't Asians that Mormons discriminated against but again, perhaps prudent to lay low?

    4. @ 9:22 am: I'm sorry for my mistaken assumption.

      Unfortunately, racism is systemic, and singling out examples of egregious racist expression tends to implicitly exonerate the structural issues and/or everyday prejudices. It's one of the reasons why I dislike non-Mormons singling out the Mormon church for criticism on racism, even though (or maybe because) I'm not even Christian, because chances are that their own churches also have long histories of racism. And if not, then their (my) culture does.

      Silence on race only reinforces pervasive racism, in my experience. It's a tack often advocated by people who fear being labeled as racist, but far less often by the people most affected by racism. I apologize for mislabeling you, and I hope that clarifies my meaning.

    5. Thank you. I don't think that singling out egregious racist expression exonerates the structural issues at all. I'm not clear on how it would do that? My concern is with the recent racism of the Mormon Church and the lack of ownership of it – imagine if you will if the U.S. said that past injustices to African Americans didn't matter and that we should just forget about it, that it is irrelevant. And indeed, Christian churches are soaked in past racism – but usually there is an attempt at reconciliation or apology. Look at the Truth and Reconciliation that is going on in South Africa – imagine if South Africa just said that that past racism didn't matter it is in the past. Or the attempts at reparations for the horrors done to native Americans – again, just saying that it doesn't matter anymore would be egregious. My concern is not that the Mormon Church was racist, my concern is that there only seems to be defensiveness around it or saying that it doesn't matter anymore. So, yeah, I am admittedly weary of Mormons making any comment on race because of the past lack of ownership of some pretty horrific racism. Denial or minimizing of racism, past or present, I don't know how that can lead to understanding or respect of other minority cultures if that makes sense.

    6. Hi, if you're someone from 2078 or beyond reading this (and I'm sure Josh's website will be archived for all eternity *somewhere* on the internet), does this conversation sound ridiculous to you?

    7. @9:56 PM: Sorry, I missed your reply.

      When I spoke of singling out the Mormon church, I was referring mainly to the white Protestants who condemn the Mormon church for its racism but ignore their own churches' racial history, which implicitly exonerates them. I realize that not every church was equally racist, and that some churches have made more effort at reconciliation, but "other churches were worse" is not an excuse.

      Denying and minimizing racism is a terrible approach, but so is silence, which is merely denial and minimization in another form. I'd rather see racism being openly acknowledged and apologized for.

  29. One time i was in France with my grandmother eating in a little cafeteria. It was a bit crowded and we sat at a four person table because it was the smallest available. An asian man came up to us and asked if the seat was taken, we said no, he sat down, and then proceeded to tear his napkin into fourths and offer us each a piece. He finished his meal and left us sitting there confused. It seems as though the asian culture is more about sharing than our American culture is.

  30. Definitely a necessary detail. Yes, could be dementia or culture or both. I understand other posters' idea that we're really talking about culture, not race, and that you can't determine culture just by looks.

    At the same time, every detail is a clue, and race is often visually obvious and the first thing we notice. I think it's silly to pretend we don't notice race, in the name of tolerance. Yes, every human is valuable no matter what their race/orientation/whatever else; but we each have our own story and details that enrich the picture.

    I thought Josh did a great job of presenting the story on its own, then mentioning race as an aside. I didn't think he was saying "Asians are weird."

  31. Definitely a necessary detail. Yes, could be dementia or culture or both. I understand other posters' idea that we're really talking about culture, not race, and that you can't determine culture just by looks.

    At the same time, every detail is a clue, and race is often visually obvious and the first thing we notice. I think it's silly to pretend we don't notice race, in the name of tolerance. Yes, every human is valuable no matter what their race/orientation/whatever else; but we each have our own story and details that enrich the picture.

    I thought Josh did a great job of presenting the story on its own, then mentioning race as an aside. I didn't think he was saying "Asians are weird."

  32. 1. I find it surprising that Lolly didn't say, "absolutely" and quickly hand him a piece. (if someone asks me for food, I'm quick to give it)
    2. I don't think it matters about his heritage, but if it did, Asia is a rather large place. You'd have to be more specific.

    1. Again, Karen, if you would like to go to the park and hand out food to strangers, fine. A young mother who is alone with three young girls, or any woman for that matter, should follow her instincts. One of the reasons that women are so often victims of violent crime is because they don't follow their instincts because they don't want to be RUDE. That is something that is hammered into many of us as young girls. Be sweet. Be giving. Be nonjudgmental. Be polite. Don't turn people away.
      Actually, there are very few reasons that a man should approach a single woman who is a stranger for a favor. That is the world we live in. I'm sorry it's that way, but it is. And what if she had given him the pizza and he had sat down with her and the girls to join them for lunch? And then what if when they had gotten up to leave he had followed?
      I'm surprised by the judgment Lolly is receiving. It's daunting to be approached by somebody who is breaking social norms. This is especially so for a woman who is being approached by a man she does not know. It seems obvious after hearing more of the story that he had dementia. But she couldn't have known that initially.

  33. In my last home, I was neighbors with a nice Chinese family. They mostly kept to themselves, probably because of the language barrier. The grandmother seemed to have some issues with dementia and difficulty assimilating, and spoke no English at all. She was definitely quirky. But she tried.
    I had heard stories, told by one neighbor who spent the majority of her day sitting on the front porch and smoking, of how this woman would wander around the various homes and yards of people in the culdesac, stealing lawn ornaments, packages, etc. Many of the neighbors, including me initially, were too ready to believe that this was a "cultural" problem. Sadly, I even called the police after being told me two stories, two days in a row, of her stealing items from my garage/yard. Thankfully, I asked the police not to accuse her, but just to put something on record in case there turned out to be more thefts. Come to find out, several months later, that the neighbor was just a big piece of lying crap who made the whole thing up. Some things were stolen, but by her! Her hobby was telling stories about an innocent woman. I would like to say that racism is a cultural symptom of being ignorant southern wellfare collecting white trash, but that too seems wrong. But again, sadly, it was too easy for many of us to believe that this behavior (that didn't happen at all) was a product of another culture.
    I have a friend whose Asian husband had personality traits I found to be particularly unsufferable (and I was not the only one who felt this way) and I at times tried to tell myself that his arrogance and snobbery might be "cultural", but then I decided against it, thinking that I wouldn't want to insult an entire culture.
    These things can be complicated. I don't believe, as "anonymous" suggests, that we should simply cease to discuss matters of race or culture or that practicing Mormons should be banned from the conversation. Lawsy, I have my issues with being born into a church a year when black LDS men still couldn't hold the priesthood. That's partly why I'm no longer a member. But that doesn't seem to be relevant to this conversation. Place blame for that one where it lies. But it's certainly not with the Weed family.
    It's good to learn about other cultures but we should probably be hesitant to assume that all behaviors are cultural. Some certainly are though.

  34. Crucial detail; if you know why, you know why. If you don't, you don't, and it's not racism; lighten up, people. Weird/funny story. I do feel bad for the dude, though, because unless Lolly was getting punked, he's losing his marbles. I think that she reacted very nicely; she's got a good heart (but we already knew that, didn't we?).

    1. Hate to tell you this, but intention isn't a magical spell that makes racism disappear just because you know or don't know.

      Racism is systematic. Sounds like Lolly and Josh and any other person here who felt the need to share their expertise on Asian culture should examine their own privilege.

    2. I agree with this. I'm hoping that Josh clears up why it was necessary to mention the man's race. Even putting this out there starts a whole lot of, 'well, the Asian culture does this and that.'' First, Asia doesn't have just one culture. Second, the man could have dementia, he could be a drug addict or he could be of perfectly sound mind. It is an odd thing to do tis true but can it be assumed that he has dementia?

    3. You can acknowledge/notice someone's race without being racist. We all have biases that we have formed over the years, the key is to acknowledge them, and work through them, so that we aren't blinded by them.

  35. Neither irrelevant or crucial. It may give some context (though what that context might be, I don't know), but nothing more. It was still a boundary that was crossed and might be symptomatic of dementia (as others mentioned) or cultural misunderstanding (as yet others guessed) or A WHOLE HOST OF OTHER THINGS. Since we can't know, his race becomes just another fact in the tale that may or may not be worth mentioning.

    1. If Josh gets to ask questions about whether or not being Asian matters to the context of the story, I get to ask whether or not him being white means that he is revealing his problematic ideas about race.

  36. I also would have been shocked if someone was so bold to ask for my food and I were with me (yet to be) children.
    By the way, I saw "I'm Married to a…" You two seem fun. Sorry people can be mean. And I think outing yourself a year ago added an interesting take to a conversation that is needed for many people. And it has never seemed like you are telling people "this is the right way" and "this is the wrong way." By the way, Lolly is a babe and seems so put together. Her strength and intelligence really comes through.

  37. I don't have a strong opinion on whether or not the race should have been included in the story. I feel that describing someone's race is not racist or insensitive; it's observant. Our race is part of our physical identity. If someone described me as a white girl, I wouldn't be upset because…I'm white! If they said, "Well, OBVIOUSLY she is a crazy drama queen snob because she is white," then I would be bothered. Hope that makes sense.

    As for the story, changing my mental picture of an old white man to an old Asian man doesn't change my reaction to its weirdness.

  38. I think knowing the race helps, so that you are getting all the information of the story. I'm willing to bet that every one of us automatically pictured a race when the story was told, so now instead of our brains filling in the details automatically we have the correct information. Why does that matter? Well there are different norms wiith different races and cultures. This occurance was strange and confusing due to her culture, where somewhere/to someone else it would be perfectly normal. I truly believe that the more details/information you know about a person the better chance you have of truly understanding them. Although we have to carefully think things through and search for understanding so we make accurate judgments and really understand.

  39. Re: a few of the above comments: The question isn't whether to notice race – that's inevitable – but whether it's a "crucial detail," as Josh asked. Whenever you tell a story, you make decisions about what to mention and what to emphasize, and those choices have implications.

    For instance, if a crime story provide a detailed physical description of a bank robbery suspect, most would agree it's appropriate to include his race. But if the story only gives his race and no other details about him, that will strike many as racist – especially if he's black, because of the stereotype – because it emphasizes his race, even if the reporter didn't intend to do so.

  40. What I wanna know is what was on the pizza. Was it "Hawaiian" or "Italian" style? Actually, one of my favorites is White pizza (from SLC's "The Bayou"). Alfredo instead of marinara. I don't want people to think negatively of me, but a White Supreme pizza sounds really good right now.

    1. If you come visit me next time you're in SLC I will buy you a white pizza at the Bayou. You don't even need a membership anymore. That is how much our lovely deseret is growing up.

  41. I dont think its relevant at all. I didnt picture him as Asian in my head, but it doesnt change my perspective of the story knowing that he is. I actually think he probably has dementia. Poor guy 🙁

  42. I thought it was interesting (after the fact) because it gave me a chance to challenge some of my own thoughts and prejudices.

    I originally pictured a white guy.

    Is this because I automatically picture white people in any story, unless told otherwise? Because "white" is my "normal" and any exception would have to be noted and pointed out?

    Is this because I think white people are more likely to be demented and alone in a park? Is this a cultural bias or a racial bias on my part?

    Is this because am in an area that is so predominately white that I was picturing my own park and own potential circumstances?

    I don't think that the race of this man was relevant to the story in any way at all. But, I liked an opportunity to consider my own bias for a moment and question myself based on my original picture. The story didn't change, for me, at all when my picture of the man was replaced. But… it was interesting, to me, to note that I hadn't been one that saw a "colorless individual" during my first reading.

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