We remember while living in Germany, Hallowe’en was celebrated very differently; people would light candles and visit graves, and on All Saints Day, the following day, would take picnics up the the graves of their loved ones. Now, from store windows, it appears some of the American symbols have become accepted in Venice.
“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?
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.
We still get restless. AdventureMan still gets calls asking him to come check something out, even goes back to Doha now and then, and I visit family. But we get so restless. We need the stimulation and challenge of other ways of seeing things, other ways of thinking, new sights, new smells, new adventures. There are so many places I have never seen!
Some people are just wired that way. I can remember, even as a young girl, being at the Juneau Airport, smelling that aviation fuel smell, and wishing I were going somewhere. It’s just the way I’m wired. I still love the smell of aviation fuel.
I am so lucky to be married to a man who indulges me. AdventureMan isn’t wired precisely the same; he is better at growing roots than I am, but he still likes to shake things up a little when it’s all same same same, day after day.
We’ve both had to adjust. I grew up in a family where when we were going, say from Germany to Italy for a vacation, we got up early and went, as AdventureMan so colorfully puts it, “balls to the walls” driving 12, 13 hours until we dropped from exhaustion. We were just intent on getting there. AdventureMan’s family traveled in shorter segments. It’s taken us about 40 years to find a happy medium. He has adjusted to sharing the driving with me. I’m a good driver, and I love driving. He goes to sleep, and I can drive for hours, it’s sort of a zen thing.
So off we went. We put over 6,500 on my two year old car, more than doubling the total mileage. It was a wondrous and joyful journey, full of surprises, full of delights, and with a couple days of truly awful driving.
We packed too much. When you are going someplace every couple days, you really don’t need a lot of clothing. I worked out of a large duffel; I would put what I needed for the next day or couple of days in a smaller bag to carry into the hotels.
At our church, we collect toiletries for the homeless population in Pensacola and the recovery population. I came back with a lot of toiletries 🙂
Our first day was to Beaumont, TX. No particular reason to stop in Beaumont, it was just a good place to stop en route to where we were going, which was The National Butterfly Center and the National Birding Center, both of which happen to be in Mission, TX. Mission is right on the border, on the Rio Grande, and I have never seen the Rio Grande before and wanted to see it.
When lunchtime came, we were just passing Baton Rouge, where one of our very favorite restaurants, Al Basha, serves mouthwatering Arabic food. It’s just off I-10, we can see it from the road and what a great way to start our journey. But as we enter, every table is filled!
No worries, the waiter hurries over and leads us to a table way in the back, against the wall, which happens to be my favorite place. They have stuffed vegetables on the menu, which AdventureMan orders in a heartbeat, and of course, too much food comes.
We first became acquainted with stuffed vegetables long ago, living in Amman, Jordan, where it was a very common dish, served to family and to guests alike. Later, living in Kuwait, my friends knew how much AdventureMan loved stuffed vegetables and would make extra for him when they were preparing food for family or gatherings. What great memories this lunch brought back!
Louisiana is a quirky state, a state we like a lot. At a gas station near Lafayette, we saw three restaurants and an antique shop, including one with Lebanese food.
By the time we got to Beaumont, it was nearly dinner time. Beaumont is an oil refining town, and the hotel was full of men working in the refineries or about to be hired to work in the refineries. It was a very male populated environment. I went to the pool, but there was a large group of men sitting out on the patio by the pool, and I didn’t stay long, I wasn’t comfortable. It reminded me of the Middle East. I don’t like being oogled.
We were still so full from our Al Basha lunch that we found a local supermarket and got salads for dinner. It was a great first day on the road.
We lived so many years in Germany, and one of the phrases that would drive me crazy is people exclaiming about schnitzles that “were so BIG they were hanging off the plate!” (said with big googly eyes). Big and schnitzle do not necessarily go well together. Schnitzle can be tough, it can have too much fat, it can be gristly. Living there for so long, I’ve had some really bad schnitzles, big and small. During our later years in Germany, we avoided schnitzle altogether; there were so many other alternatives, more refined dishes – pumpkin raviolis, white asparagus soups, St. Martin’s goose, venison ragout, duck breasts . . . (drooling in a very un-refined way . . . )
But lately, I had tiny hankering for a plain old schnitzle, and here we were in Panama City Beach, where there is a HofBrau House.
When we lived in Heidelberg, there was a HofBrau House nearby. Growing up in Germany, it seemed to me HofBrau House was everywhere, sort of like a German version of McDonalds. Now, you don’t see them so often as you used to, except for the original one in Munich.
AdventureMan is a great sport; he likes schnitzle less than I do, but off we go to HofBrau House, and actually, we have a great time.
I order a pretzel, it is huge and it is very hot, and served with a mustard dipping sauce. (This is nothing like we ever had in Germany; pretzels were mostly street-food.) It was salty and the sauce was delicious. I loved it.
The pretzel went great with the beer – very good beer – and the accordion music. The atmosphere in the HofBrau house is festive. The beer is VERY good.
When my schnitzel came, it covered the plate. I was aghast, but . . . it was crisply fried, not any fat, not any gristle and lots and lots of lemon wedges to squeeze onto it. We cut it in half and took half home for a late Thanksgiving snack the next night. We cut the remainder in half and enjoyed every bite. It will be a long long time before I feel a need for a schnitzel again, but this one did the HofBrau Haus proud.
Service was the best. All the wait staff looked really happy to be there, even those who had to wear the serving wench costumes. It is located in Pier Park, a great place to go walking after a schnitzel dinner, great shopping and a kid’s park with rides and a huge slide.
It sounded like so much fun when I was 15 and living in Germany, going to a beer fest, drinking beer, sitting in the big fest tents and laughing and drinking and eating wursts and listening to the ooompah band. By the time I was 18 and graduating, I’d been to a fest or two, and was pretty much over it. I’d probably seen a fest or two and a beer or two too many. AdventureMan and I were trying to remember the last beer fest we had been do and we think it was the year we were married (LOL, a LONG time ago) with his military unit.
But . . . it must the the changing light. When I saw Wursts in the commissary, I bought a pack (we NEVER eat wursts, but . . . it’s October. Could not resist . . . )
I mixed up a very strong curry sauce, using the last of some Kashmiri curry I had brought back with me from Kuwait on my last trip, and we each savored our lone curry wursts with a brotchen. Our own little OctoberFest 😉
A very average day, nothing spectacular posted. All of a sudden, a spike in stats so obvious . . . but my WordPress doesn’t say where it is coming from, Stat Counter doesn’t say where it is coming from or what it is about. I am stumped!
Update: They are all coming from Germany. Spammers? Hackers? Did I write something about Germany? (That’s just me puzzling out loud . . )
My high school stomping grounds; this video makes my heart flutter seeing all those wonderful sights with wonderful memories:
“I was scratching their heads and ears and noticed that they were nice and warm! I wondered how they were managing to keep so warm in the awful cold, but I was glad they found a nice warm place,” my friend said, when I asked her how her outdoor cats had fared in the bone-chilling cold we experienced in Pensacola last week.
“Then I got my Gulf Power bill, and Intlxpatr, it was over a thousand dollars!” she exclaimed, her eyes huge.
Her normal bill is probably around what I pay. Not nearly a thousand dollars, not even on the hottest month of summer when I have to keep the air on full blast 24/7 on just to survive.
“So I called the heating people,’ she continued, and they had to crawl under the house, imagine, in this weather. . . ”
“. . . And they discovered the cats had clawed a hole in one of my air ducts and had luxuriated, down there under the house, while my heater tried to heat up half of Pensacola!”
We laughed, but a thousand dollars . . . that knocks a hole in anyone’s budget. It was one of those laughing-because-if-you-don’t-laugh-you-will-cry kinds of laughs.
I am an energy nerd. It comes from growing up in Alaska, I am convinced, where I had neighbors who fished in the summers and had to get by all year on that income, plus what they might come by with odd jobs the rest of the year. My friends had a huge garden in their back yard, and a root cellar where things were stored. In the root cellar, they had a chalkboard, where every potato, every carrot, everything they had stored was listed, and numbers subtracted as they were used. They had to keep track, to be sure they would make it through the winter.
In Pensacola, Gulf Power has a really cool feature on their website. You set up an online account, and you can check on your daily energy usage. LOL, this is mine for January. It has huge ups and downs – mostly we don’t need to have the heat on, but when the temperatures go down and stay down – it shows. There are also a couple days when we used our oven, and that shows up, too, but not badly.
I remember living in Germany, where I didn’t have a dryer (or any space for one) and my landlady brought me my energy bill. We lived in a very small farming village, where they were also all very frugal, but she couldn’t believe my bill was so small. I just smiled; I could hear her dryer going every day, and dryers are also a huge source of energy usage. Anything that heats up – or cools down – is an energy eater.
On the website, you can also compare this year against previous years – and my bill this year is nearly a third higher than last year, but last year we did not have a three-day arctic freeze!
This morning, as I was praying for Panama – there is always a diocese listed in the daily lectionary to be prayed for somewhere in the world – I was thinking how I know where Panama is. When we are praying for Nigeria, there are names I haven’t heard of. I now Lagos, and Port Harcourt, but where is Abuja? Owerri? I go to GoogleEarth and look them up.
I struggle with how little the average American knows about geographical location. It’s just embarrassing. Through all the years I lived abroad, most of the time, unless it was Germany, people couldn’t quite place where I was living. Many had heard of Tunisia; we had troops there in World War II, and Saudi Arabia, because they had seen it often enough on the news, but the rest of the Arab Gulf, Jordan, Syria, North Africa – beyond them.
Then, on the first night of one of my grad classes, the professor handed us this map and gave us ten minutes to put in the appropriate country names. He did not, thanks be to God, ask us to put in capitals. Not a single one of us got them all, and this was a class full of nation-oriented people.
It was also on the final exam, three months later, and most of us got them all right – thanks to some fervent cramming and study groups.
Here are a couple more maps, in case you are feeling cocky. See if you can accurately fill in the name of each country: