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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dinner Party

A few weeks ago Brandon and I went over to dinner at the DCM's (deputy chief of mission) house.  This is a small, social post and so he and his wife invite people from the mission over to their house for dinner from time to time.  His wife commented that he always attempts to get people together who don't know each other, but usually it doesn't work - each guest knows at least a few other people and so instead of awkward getting-to-know-you talk everyone just has a nice time.

A few days after Brandon accepted the invitation, he brought home an envelope with our name on it.  Secretly hoping for a winning lottery ticket, I opened it and found an invitation,  "Mr. - and Mrs. - invited you over to dinner, etc etc etc," complete with the little eagle that seems very common in Brandon's line of work.  

"Wow!" I commented to Brandon after I had read all of the official, italicy, words, "I feel like a Real Adult.  Please don't tell anybody that I'm not or I won't be able to go."

The evening started off with drinks, hors d'oeuvres, a nice jazz selection, and pleasant chatting.  After everyone had arrived and been introduced, we were ushered to the dining room.  I looked around, scouting out a spot with two chairs free so I could sit next to Brandon, and then stopped when I noticed cards in front of each plate.  

I remember making place cards once as a child at Thanksgiving.  After someone misspelled a cousin's name, the whole idea was scrapped and everyone sat in the usual jumble that happened every Thanksgiving.  Since then my closest contact with place cards has been Jane Austen movies.  

As I circled around the table, looking for my name, I froze as I realized that my name was next to the DCM's and... not my husband.  As we all noticed that none of us were sitting next to our spouses, the DCM's wife cheerfully announced that she had been taught in protocol class that husbands and wives should never be seated next to each other.  "After all," she smiled, "we get to see plenty of each other all the time, right?"

I could see Brandon wince as he realized that we would be separated the whole dinner and I would be left all alone, with nobody to regulate me, free to talk about whatever I wanted without Brandon there to cut me off.  I gave him a smile to reassure him that I would be good.  Really.  I would even remember which fork to use first.

The dinner started with salad and a puff-pastry version of khachapuri, and we chatted about attending weddings and being newly married.  After the staff removed the salad plates and brought in the main dish of chicken with bulgur and eggplant puree, a friend commented on the family dynamics of large families vs. small families (there's just a lot more chaos in the large ones, he concluded).  We all marveled over the cookie baskets containing diced fruit topped with raisin-nut ice cream, and someone asked the DCM's wife how the baskets were made.  "I don't know," she confessed, "my cook always comes up the most amazing things."

Full from a delicious dinner, we all retired to the living room for tea, coffee, and chocolates.  I've never been an (herbal) tea drinker, but this life is starting to turn me into one.  Not that I'm going to buy a teapot and cups anytime soon, however.  As we listened to "Sweet Georgia Brown" everyone continued talking about moving and renovating houses and The Hague and schooling and babies.   

Finally around 10:30, Brandon and I left with the other couple needing to get home and relieve the babysitter.  It didn't look, however, like the party was going to break up anytime soon.

I've found that the FS life has introduced me to a lot of new experiences that I would never had had if I'd lived the rest of my life in the US.  I've learned how to schlepp kids and stuff halfway across the world.  I can drive (and park) in Baku while answering an endless flow of questions about horses and rainbows.  I've lived on three different continents.  I've (somewhat) been through a revolution.  

And now I've been to a Real Live dinner party - one complete with a cook and someone to serve the dinner - the kind that doesn't involve the host shouting conversation from the kitchen while trying to get everything done on time.  I commented to Brandon on our way home that one of my favorite things about this lifestyle is that you don't have to be cool or interesting or connected or rich or beautiful to get invited to fun things - you just have to be a warm body.

If Brandon and I had decided to live in the U.S. and not overseas, our life would have been different from what it is now.  We would be living the life I was raised with - middle class, suburban, Mormon.  Our socializing would be mostly with other families with children, having dinner in the backyard or pizza night together.  The children would run around the house, creating a cheerful ruckus while the adults chatted in between refereeing disputes.  Maybe sometimes we would have dinner with just adults, but I don't think there would be any after-dinner tea in the living room involved - it would probably be after-dinner dishes in the kitchen.

But here we are instead in Baku, enjoying the attentions of a professional chef and not having to feel a shred of guilt about not doing the dishes.  It's funny when life takes you out of your normal experiences and hands you new, strange ones.  But good.  And sometimes, if you're lucky, tasty.


PaulaJean said...

I read this while eating my granola with mango and granadilla and a glass of fresh orange juice. While there are downsides to living abroad (not understanding half of what anyone says) there are advantages. My middle-class life in Raleigh seems like a dream at times.

Latter-day Guy said...

On the subject of (herbal) teas, let me just recommend 'rooibos': it is delicious. (Sometimes they call it 'red tea'.) My favorite ward member *ever* in MA, would always have tea and chocolates as we played 'Phase Ten' after supper. BEST DINNER APPOINTMENTS EVER! (Of course, I say that never having been a parent, which doubtless changes things.) Anyhow, hope you guys are grand! XOXOXO ––Nicholas