Sunday, August 26, 2012

HobNobs and Broomsticks

While we waited for our Internet/television/phone service to be installed, I read. I clocked about 1000 pages, most of it on a Ken Follett book. I love to read, always have, and I was surprised to find that after many days of reading, walking, reading, unpacking, reading, wishing for hot water, reading,  I could no longer look at a book. I just wanted to watch something.

We are extremely fortunate that our furnished apartment has a DVD player. We were going to just use our computers for movie watching, but really...this has been quite lovely. Isla gets to watch Peppa Pig, which I've realized is her hot bath/glass of wine/whatever soothes you. And, when looking at my book made me want to physically harm Ken Follett, it meant that I could watch a movie instead of do more laundry.

European and American DVD players are different systems, if you didn't know that already. I only learned it on my last trip to Ireland, when I was thinking of buying my kids a movie that hadn't yet been released in the states. A salesman let me know that it would be no good, and he was right.

We brought our U.S. movies to watch on the computer, but to use the Euro player, we would need Euro movies. I know, the word 'need' is terribly misleading and makes me feel guilty and think of poor children in the rain forests. But as I have not yet taken a (purposeful) vow of poverty, I'll choose to not feel guilty. Mostly.

I found some lovely 5 Euro DVD options, and got a few for the kids. One of them was from 1994, practically the dawn of time, but Sabra liked The Little Rascals nonetheless. It's amazing what they'll be entertained with when most of their stuff isn't around.

Good heavens, I'm long winded. All I need to say is that I got to choose a movie for Austin and myself. The choices were...interesting. Rambo, porn, movies in other languages I don't speak or pretend to...and I walked away disgusted, thinking that I would have to whittle a flute for the evening's amusement. As I turned toward the registers, I saw a flash of yellow and a familiar face.

I'd wanted to see this movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but I never did, nor did I hear any reviews. It could have been a bust, but Judi Dench has never ever let me down. If this movie was stupid, I'd have to endure Austin's taunts and rants that I choose bad movies. I bought it, and didn't bother to look at the price. I knew it wasn't 5 Euro, but I really, really did NOT want to watch Rambo or whittle a flute. I willed it to be fabulous. 

This movie is about a group of older Brits, who for various reasons go to a long-term living accommodation in India. It is a fabulous movie, so go rent it. I won't give anything away. But just know that they, of course, encounter the differences in culture that such a trip would reveal. 

The only person who is unwilling to the hotel is the character Muriel, played by Maggie Smith (may she live forever). She needs a surgery and is outsourced by her English doctor to India. She is torn between the thought of waiting months for her surgery, and going to India. As she notes, it is "full of Indians."

We see Muriel go through airport security with packets of her favorite foods. She chooses pickled onions and other nasties, HobNobs, HP sauce, and good English tea. These are staples to her, and most of her culture even. They would be for an American something akin to Doritos, Betty Crocker, Oreos, etc. Perhaps you don't eat them everyday, but if you know you won't see them for awhile...suddenly they become like gold. *HobNobs are delicious, by the way. Go get some at the local Publix 'British food' section. Think of me. In fact, do it while watching the movie. 

She basically hoards them throughout her stay, even using them as currency among her fellow Brits. The other hotel guests are enjoying, but often distressed by, the spices of a foreign kitchen. HobNobs, one could say, are Muriel's comfort food. Why does this matter? At one point in the film, she is given an extremely generous gift by an 'untouchable' woman. She has no way to say thanks, they don't even speak the same language. So, she gives her a pack of her precious HobNobs, pulling from the limited supply of her slim link to home. 

This really stood out to me, even though I'm living mostly among familiarity. People look mostly like me, we dress mostly the same, we mostly speak the same isn't as much a stretch as, say, India. But there is far less culture sharing than I previously had assumed.

When you take into account the number of small references that pepper your own vocabulary --Where's the beef?--you realize that you miss huge chunks of other cultures. It isn't as if you don't know the language as much as you don't know that you don't know many, many things.

I had tea with a friend last week, and offered her some Cadbury Fingers. She took some and said, in a weird way, that 'one might lead to another.' I had no idea until I was putting the box away, hours after she left, that it was the slogan of the biscuits. She had given me a version of 'once you pop, you can't stop' and I had no clue.

I don't know the slogans, the mascots, the shows that all kids grow up watching. Despite the shrinking of the world by both press and global warming (ha! just needed to say it) the world is still not a large glob of 'same.' I don't eat curried goat. If it were served to me, I would. But I'm not going to cook it or probably desire it. In fact, I just looked up curried goat images and feel slightly nauseous.

These things add up tremendously, and catch you off guard. Social cues are often subtle, and the clues aren't always there. The clues are somewhat hidden in the collective library of millions of moments, built across a number of lifetimes, landing on the doorstep of today. I have to delve into the history, the fables, the songs, as well as the food, the television, and the sports to have a clue of what is going on. Someone who is new to my own country wouldn't necessarily understand a reference to Sesame Street or Play*Doh. It doesn't mean they don't speak my language. It means there is much, much more to communication. This keeps coming back to me, and I find it fascinating/irritating.

I came across some 'American' food in a specialty candy store a few days ago. Moira and I actually screamed when we saw Cinnamon Toast Crunch, sold for the equivalent of 12 dollars. There was all kinds of familiar things, with scarily high prices. We bought root beer for over 2 dollars a can, and an NINE DOLLAR box of macaroni and cheese. We won't be doing this much, obviously. But it was nice to see something familiar, even if it used powdered cheese.

When you feel lonely or isolated, you will cling to almost anything. It might be root beer, it might be HobNobs, and it might be your grandmother's tablecloth. It feels silly to be excited about American cereal. But the desire for home and connection is very strong. I was reminded of it when I visited West Virginia with my dad. People just want to feel that somewhere, somebody claims us. When life tosses you hither and yon, you keep pictures of your girlfriend in your breast pocket. When someone dies, you still celebrate their birthday. When you move and move and move again, and even when your house burns, you keep your grandmother's tablecloth and feel that it will be ok in the end because the connection still exists. We just want to be anchored to the people, places, and times that we love.

There's nothing wrong with sneaking some HobNobs, so long as it doesn't spoil your ability to sample the curried goat. So we'll try eating beans for breakfast. We'll switch the word 'popsicle' for 'ice lolly'. We will try to switch to Celsius temperatures and kilometers per hour. And, when we feel lonely or disconnected, we can go buy nine dollar macaroni.


Anonymous said...

I love this. I was fortunate to see BEMH twice in theaters--I practically know the whole script! I first became aware of it from watching BBC adverts during Downton Abbey's latest run. Unfortunately I had to wait for what seemed like forever for it to be released in the states since Britain had first dibs... Anyway, I also relate to and admire your courage plopping into an unfamiliar and even foreign place. Such adventures are in my near future and daily I get a pit in my stomach causing me to question the wisdom of my path. You are one of the most indefatigable people I know and I draw strength from your steps. Thanks!

Nanny Karri said...

Very good. So glad you have internet and are getting settled in. Loved the movie too, went with my mom. It was the first time we had been in a theater in a long time.

the beam team said...

So happy to read your wise and witty words again! I've missed them. :) Thinking of you guys all the time and missing the hugs of your sweet babies. Your parents are coming over for supper next week. :)