Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Entertaining Expatria

You'd be amazed at some of the little pitfalls and subtle differences involved in entertaining abroad.  Big differences abound, learning new celebrations or celebrating Thanksgiving overseas.  You expect those.  It is the little differences, however, that trip you up.  Lily and I keep toying with writing a book on entertaining expatria.     There are mine fields of tiny differences in wedding and baby showers, multi-family dinners, invitation etiquette, especially in a place like London where you not only encounter American to British differences, but also American to Danish or Italian or Spanish.  If you want to have real fun, try things like throwing a baby shower when the co-hostesses are American and British and the mother to be is Danish.  The differences aren't drama inspiring--no one gets upset--but they are confusing.

You register for baby showers?  You don't?  Don't you have the shower at one of the host's houses?  No, you have them at a tea room.  You don't you have them at the mom to be's house?  The mom to be provides the food?  Don't you need to leave the presents somewhere else because it is bad luck to open them before the baby comes?

Then there are family dinners.  They aren't really done by the British.  One might have children over for "tea", children's dinner, or one might have the adults over for dinner after the children are in bed.  I must say, that is a very civilized option.  If Americans are hosting, the dinner is likely at home.  If Brits do the inviting the dinner is likely out.  Regardless, adult time after the children are in bed is a delight.  That said, sometimes you want to have the whole family for a big family dinner.  If you are an American household with Italian nannies, you might not know you need to be explicit about "family" or you will find you have a load of leftover food, because the adults will not eat.

I have been there.  A few years ago, I invited Virginia, Lily, M&M, and Foxy over for family dinner.  They came with children.  We fed children. I planned on feeding the adults after the children had full bellies and could go into the other room with Vilvy.  When the kids finished, Virginia had to get back to a newborn who needed a feed so took a load of fajitas home for herself and husband.  M&M and Foxy, however, took their children home.  Lily turned to me and whispered, "You and I are going to eat, right?"

I thought I had learned to be explicit when making dinner plans.  Nope, apparently not.

When planning last week's Serial Expats Supper Club (We cheated and went out to dinner.  That April break was long and none of us had sufficiently recovered for a big cook.) I texted her to say "we needed to get our boys together again."  I was thinking about the boys and TexMex night, when they ate and played while we prepped.  She was thinking about the afternoon after tennis when our husbands were having a good chat that was too often interrupted by their blackberries.  To make a long story short, I showed up with Christopher Robin, not Yasha, at her place Saturday night.  We did not uncross our wires until she came into the kitchen and asked, "Where's Yasha?"  I said he was at home with the girls, obviously.  Her look of shock started my wave of mortification.  I had thought it a little odd that she had suggested 7:30 for kids dinner, and wondered why she had asked me about scallops, but we both have night owls who are great eaters.  None of my wonders were strong enough to cause me to question her plan.  For about a week, we planned a dinner with two different sets of people in mind.

This is what happens when you live overseas for a long time.  You lose your internal social compass.  Today, to compliment my lingering mortification, I have an upset tummy.  I was not about to add insult to injury and not eat heartily last night, which was easy since Suzanne is a fabulous cook.  It worked out in the end, though I've got to make it up to Suzanne for cooking a fab dinner for 4, only to have 3 show and make a dinner on the fly for two boys.  She took the whole thing in stride.  Thank goodness she is American and I don't have to wonder about hidden insults in my mistake.  I can accurately judge my idiocy.

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