Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

As Others See Us . . .

“Oh that the wee wee giftie gi’e us, to see ourselves as others see us,” goes an old Scottish proverb which has haunted me my many years of living overseas.

This recent visit by our Saudi friends was one of those times, and yesterday as I was doing laundry, I thought of all the particular ways we do things, and why, and thought about how very difficult it is to be a house guest in a strange culture because on top of the profound cultural differences, there are also family cultures.

I remember visiting my parents, as an adult, and my mother carefully explaining how they do things, and why, and we would try very carefully to do what they were doing, but I often felt I was failing in some unknown way, to meet the standards.

Like us, when we do laundry, I have three drying racks, and I use my dryer only a few minutes with some of AdventureMan’s shirts, tumble drying them to remove wrinkles, then we pull them out and let them finish drying on hangers. I also dry AdventureMan’s towels; he thinks that the ones that are dried on the racks are hard and stiff and he doesn’t like the feel of them on his skin. Just about everything else dries on the racks or on hangers. It’s a result of years of living in Germany, and other places where we had utility bills, and the dryer is a huge electricity hog.

When we lived in a small village in Germany, I remember my landlady bringing my utility bill; her face was white. She said (in essence) “how can this be? You are a wasteful American and I am a frugal German and your electricity bill is half of mine!” (no, she didn’t say wasteful, but that was sort of the gist) but she had a clothes dryer that was going all the time, and I did not. I also had a very small little refrigerator, and she had a larger one. Old habits die hard; I still hang most of my clothes to dry.

We are careful with water use, as water becomes more dear, we try to conserve, so we don’t let water run, we turn it off. We must look very peculiar and very particular to our house guests.

I really only told them the basics – here are these things, here are those, this is the way this operates – more than that would have been overwhelming. Probably they were overwhelmed with the little I did share! Being a houseguest is overwhelming, too!

And I think of my youngest sister, who took me in for weeks at a time through many of the years we spent overseas, clearing out a bedroom and bathroom for my exclusive use, letting me come and go as my schedule dictated, but still, an intruder and an interruption on her own family life, God bless her. I remember one time being in the kitchen with her son, asking him if he knew where his mother kept the emergency emery board, and he looked totally dumbstruck, and said he didn’t know.

“It’s probably here,” I said, opening a drawer and pulling out the emery board. Our mother always kept an emery board in that drawer; I keep a spare emery board in that drawer, and it just seemed likely my sister would, too. I still love the look on his face as I pulled it out. “How did you know??” he asked, and I just laughed.

I wonder what tales our house guests will tell of us, and our strange ways?

egg-in-a-nest

On their last day with us, I showed the 10 year old how to make Bird in a Basket, which he loved. It’s so simple, bread with a circle cut out, butter, an egg and a skillet – even a ten year old could do it. What was even better was that he loved it and was going to go home and show his Mama how to do it. One tiny piece of American culture may grow and thrive in Saudi Arabia.

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June 21, 2015 - Posted by | Communication, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Environment, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Germany, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Saudi Arabia

2 Comments »

  1. You are such a great writer! I have never made egg in the nest – but what fun for the young guest. The great shock probably will be that men do not cook in their country!!! Also — I am wondering just what great words I could have used in explaining “our” ways of living. Which really wouldn’t have changed much from what we did during your growing up years.

    Comment by Gormley | June 28, 2015 | Reply

    • Actually, his father cooked twice while with us; Saudi Kepsa, which is the large platter of rice with meat and vegetables and spices and yoghurt that you eat with your hands, and a Saudi version of Moussaka, which they called Mousaga, and was to die for 🙂

      Comment by intlxpatr | June 28, 2015 | Reply


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