Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Cross Cultural Eating

“And we are going to roast chestnuts!” my good friend said, and inwardly I cringed.

I remember years ago, when a French friend told me her mother was bringing marron glace to Tunisia, she was so excited, she could talk of nothing else for days.

“And when she comes,” my friend said, “you must come over and we shall eat marron glace together!” Her mother came, I was invited, and eager. Then I took my first bite of marron glace, and almost gagged. It was the flavor. It was the texture. I didn’t like them at all! Fortunately, there were other small foods, and I could push the chestnut around and hide it on my plate, and politely demur that I didn’t want to eat all her special marrons and deprive her of the pleasure.

We love being with this couple, and I accepted the invitation. Little did I know, as I dreaded being polite about the roasted chestnuts, that a perfectly roasted chestnut is a different food altogether! We sat outside, on a mile winter’s night in Kuwait, around a eucalyptus fire, with that fabulous aromatic smoke drifting around us, eating toasted delicious chestnuts and enjoying every bite.

Some things you just grow up knowing are wrong wrong wrong. Another friend wrinkled her nose when I told her my favorite Christmas dish was cranberry gelatin salad. In her experience, jello salads were full of horrid things like miniature marshmallows, whipped cream, cottage cheese. For her, it was inelegant, just about the worst thing you could say about any food. (To her surprise, she ended up liking the gelatin salad.)

“Oh, Harissa!” my Qatteri friend nearly swooned in bliss, when I asked her about her favorite Ramadan treat. I could hardly wait to try it, and when I did – it was the texture that stopped me cold in my tracks. I can’t even tell you how it tasted; there was a viscosity in it that deterred me from trying another bite.

When we go out with my Chinese friend for dim-sum, there are dishes she won’t even let us try. We trust her; she really knows what will be over the line for us. Chicken’s feet, for one. They bring out so many dishes, there are plenty that we like, and we never go hungry.

For my husband, a Southerner, it isn’t Thanksgiving or Christmas without cornbread dressing. I have to keep him out of the South to keep him alive; when we live in the South, he can’t resist the deep fried seafood. For me, I have to stay away from France and Germany, I love the pate´, the terrines, the cassoulet; the fatty geese, the fatty duck, the fried the vegetables and salads laced with lardons.

When we eat at one of the Japanese restaurants here, I can’t help but wonder how really Japanese the food is – when I have eaten with Japanese friends, there are odd colored things made with fruit juice, delicate morsels of unidentified meat . . . I suspect there are things common on Japanese menus in Japan that they know we won’t eat, and they don’t even bother to put on the menus in the US, or in Kuwait. When I see the cooks, I don’t think most of them are Japanese, and I wonder if Japanese people here ever ask for a truly Japanese dish, only to learn that the cook doesn’t know what it is.

One of the best things about living in another country is that you learn that the things you take for granted, you can’t take for granted. I learned that you can’t trust that every person you meet was raised eating with a fork. I learned ways to eat with my hands and not be messy. I learned that in some countries, you NEVER touch food with your fingers, you always use a utensil. I learned that in some countries, it is considered “uncultured” to drink your coffee with cream or sugar or any additive. I learned in some countries, you never smile in the market until you have agreed on a price. I learned in some countries, you can have a cup of tea while shopping and it doesn’t obligate you to buy. I’ve learned things I don’t even know I’ve learned, conquered prejudices I didn’t even know I had. I’ve stepped on toes, thinking I was behaving politely. I’ve violated customs I didn’t know existed. Some of what I have learned has been painful . . . and worth the pain.

December 27, 2008 Posted by | Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Food, Friends & Friendship | 9 Comments

Vigilante Volunteers

“Helping out the Ministry of Interior”

From today’s Kuwait Times

Kuwaiti activist establishes voluntary religious police
Published Date: December 27, 2008

KUWAIT: Islamist activist Mubarak Al-Bathali announced that he has established a voluntary Kuwaiti Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, like the Saudi Mutaween or religious police.

Al-Bathali said the Kuwait committee would begin its religious tasks in the Sulaibikhat area before spreading to other areas of the country. He explained that he was inspired to adopt the idea after a number of devout young people complained to him about seeing inappropriate and immoral behavior in Kuwait’s streets.

He emphasized that the committee members would focus only on advising people to avoid irreligious and immoral behavior and would never implement harsh or violent treatment on anyone.

Among the types of treatment which Al-Bathali protested against was the alleged drinking of alcohol, banned in Kuwait, at Christmas parties in the country. He reiterated that those who wished to drink alcohol should go outside Kuwait to do so.

Al-Bathali emphasized that the committee’s work would not conflict with the Ministry of Interior’s, saying that on the contrary it would help the MoI to uphold public morality and values.

From today’s Arab Times:

WE DON’T WANT YOUR HELP GUARDING PUBLIC MORALITY! responds MOI

Interior Ministry hits out at new ‘guardians of freedom’
KUWAIT, Dec 26, (KUNA): “Kuwait is an institutional state governed by law”, a statement by the Ministry of Interior said on Friday. The statement came in response to a press statement published on the front page of a local daily earlier today. The press statement talked about a group that allocated itself as “guardian” of people’s personal freedoms guaranteed by law, the ministry statement noted. The statement stressed that the ministry was the only directorate tasked with implementing and preserving the law in the country through imposing security and order, as well as safeguarding public morals. “The Kuwaiti society is a conservative, Arab and Muslim one that maintains refined morals and abides by its customs and traditions,” it pointed out.

“The ministry will counter such ‘radical’ calls with firmness,” the statement said, adding that the ministry would not allow anyone, whether individuals or groups, to interfere in the public’s personal freedoms, describing the calls as a “loud” infringement of the law as it also defied the state’s constitutional institutions. The statement concluded by saying that the ministry would take needed legal and security procedures to counter these calls and maintain the nation’s safety under the leadership of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

Meanwhile, the Citizenship and Passport Affairs Department at the Ministry of Interior has announced that citizenship will not be granted to Kuwaiti children born abroad, if they hold any other nationality, reports Al-Rai daily. The department said since Kuwait doesn’t accept dual citizenship, children born abroad, especially in western countries where citizenship is given on birth, will not be granted Kuwaiti citizenship if they accept another country’s citizenship. It applies even on children of diplomats and “the department will not grant citizenship to such children unless they give up their previous citizenship.”

It is easy to discover nationality from birth certificates, say sources. In another development, Iraqi authorities have extended invitation to Kuwait officials to visit Baghdad to locate the whereabouts of their compatriots captured during the August 1990 Iraqi invasion, reports Arrouaih daily quoting reliable Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry sources as saying. Sources added the step demonstrates the serious determination of Iraqis to see to an amicable resolution of the issues and to put to end the lingering suffering of many families who lost their loved ones during the war.

PS. I don’t want your help, either, morality volunteers, guarding my morality. My morality is between me and God. I obey the laws of the country I live in – the laws of the country, not your idea of what the laws should be. “Volunteers” guarding morality are vigilantes, pure and simple.

December 27, 2008 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Privacy, Social Issues, Women's Issues | 5 Comments

The Most Memorable Present of 2008

00candle

You look, and all you see is a candle.

It came with a tag that said “You can burn this candle any time you want.” We laughed until we cried.

When our son was seven, his class took a field trip to a Christmas Market in the German town where we lived. He had saved his money, and bought us Christmas presents there. One present he bought was wonderful – little beeswax candles.

beeswax_candlessumm

We were delighted. They were beautiful, and they smelled so good! To honor him, we lit one right away.

Big mistake. When he walked into the room, his smiling face turned to utter horror!

“What are you doing??” he cried!

“We are burning your Christmas candle!” we said, proudly.

“No! No! You are not supposed to burn it!” he said, his eyes big and sorrowful! (Bad Mommy! Bad Daddy!)

We quickly snuffed the candle, and saved it, using it only for decoration for many years. I probably still have it, with our Christmas boxes, in storage.

We told this story when we were all together for Thanksgiving, and we all had a good laugh. The laugh was even better when we got this candle, with its note, telling us we could burn it any time we wanted. 🙂

December 27, 2008 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Christmas, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Germany, Humor, Joke, Relationships | 6 Comments

Sunrise 27 December 2008

00sunrisedec282008

It’s another beautiful winter’s day in Kuwait. The bone-chilling cold has gone – for the moment, anyway – and the days are balmy high sixty’s (Fahrenheit) – low seventies. At night, you get to wear a light sweater. It is heaven.

The market is still full of Kuwaiti shrimp, which disappear around the 15th of January, when the season finishes. Meanwhile – a feast!
00kuwaitshrimp

AdventureMan and I are dining on leftovers these days, sounds bad, but Christmas leftovers are the best. Flavors have time to mellow and marry, and we’d rather eat these leftovers than go out to eat!

Smoked Salmon Spread:
00smokedsalmonspread

Rouladen:
00rouladen

Cranberry Salad:
00christmasjellosalad

The faucet in my kitchen is fixed, thanks be to God!

Have a great day, Kuwait.

December 27, 2008 Posted by | Christmas, Cooking, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Food, Living Conditions, sunrise series | 5 Comments