Category Archives: American Culture

Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2012

St. Patrick’s Day is nearly over. I didn’t do too much this year– I wore my requisite green shirt, and striped green socks, and even drank a holiday themed beer in the evening, however overall the day was relatively low key, as P and I were both busy working on projects, shackled to our respective computers.

Conversely, P’s younger brother U was in Dublin, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in style with our Irish friend RH and our former neighbor D (who several months ago resettled in the Emerald Isle). U was periodically uploading pictures of his St. Patrick’s Day activities on Facebook, giving us a glimpse of what the party was like in the Irish-American “motherland.”

U, RH and D in Dublin

I’ve mentioned before that my family considers itself “Irish-American.” On my mother’s side my grandfather immigrated from Western Ireland (I believe in the 40s), and my grandmother’s parents were also both from that region of the country. On my father’s side the connection stretches back farther, but the family still takes pride in it’s “Irish-American” roots. As an “Irish-American” St. Patrick’s Day has always been an acknowledged and celebrated part of the spring calendar.

Growing up my father was part of an Irish-American club in the town, and I remember many childhood St. Patrick’s Days spent at the club helping to serve corned beef and cabbage dinners to townspeople who came by the hundreds every March 17th. Many of them probably considered themselves “Irish-American” as well but I’m sure others just wanted to join in the fun and celebrate along with their friends and neighbors.

We would watch Irish step dancers perform and listen to recordings of Irish pub songs that relied heavily on accordions and fiddles. Everyone in the club was bathed in Kelly Green… shirts, pants, dresses, socks, scarves. Some wore plastic shamrock shaped shot glasses hanging from green Mardi Gras bead necklaces, others wore headbands with cheesy shamrock antenna, and little kids often sported sparkly green shamrock stickers on their cheeks. As far as I was concerned, as a kid, everyone in the world celebrated St. Patrick’s Day.

Then in sixth grade I signed up for a youth magazine that had a pen pal section in the back. For several years I often responded to pen pal requests, and I advertised for pen pals as well. I had quite a few, some in the US, but also several from abroad– including one kid I exchanged several letters with from Singapore. He had responded to my pen pal request printed in the magazine, explaining he was of Indian origin and his name was Manuj. In response to the letter he sent I told him a little about myself, and talked about my excitement for St. Patrick’s Day, which was coming a few days later. In the letter I asked him about how he celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, and what people do for the holiday in Singapore.

A few weeks passed and I received a letter back that contained shocking information for the sixth grade version of me… “We don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Singapore, as there are not a lot of Irish people here. Since my family is from India, we have never done anything for St. Patrick’s Day, but it was interesting to hear what your family does.” It was one of those “aha” moments for me that made me realize that other parts of world really are different.

After meeting our Irish friend, I’ve had several other “aha” moments about my understanding of “Irish-American” culture, and how it differs from “real Irish” culture– including my name. I think I mentioned this before, but I always thought my first name was a super-uber Irish name, but later realized (and this really shook up my world!) that my name is only popular in Irish-diaspora cultures like the US and Australia, and hardly anyone in Ireland proper has my name because it is a gaelic noun.

I think RH had similarly strange “aha” moments (I am assuming, he can correct me if I am wrong) after coming to the US for his graduate studies. Many Americans, particularly in New England which is a large “Irish-American” stronghold, had a lot of stereotypical views of what an “Irish” person was supposed to be like, and RH often didn’t adhere to their expectations.

So when U decided to travel to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day RH was a little worried that U would be disappointed. St. Patrick’s Day is often an excuse for people in the US to go a little crazy, drinking green beer and sharing their Irish pride all over the place… but these crazy celebrations are often in Irish-diaspora cities. Dublin has a parade and celebrations, but RH worried that U might expect the biggest St. Patrick’s Day party ever, the granddaddy of them all, so to speak.

It seems from the pictures that the festivities were fun, and U had the “authentic” Irish St. Patrick’s Day party he was hoping for.

If you are interested in learning more about the creation of “Irish-American” cultural identity NPR had an interesting 45 minute radio program on Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” the other day called “How the Irish became American” arguing, in part, that “Irish-American” identity was one of the first hyphenated identities in the US. It’s definitely worth a listen.

Hope you all had a nice day… whether you celebrated St. Patrick’s Day or not :)

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Musing on Gas

My blogging ebbs and flows, depending on what is going on in life, how busy work tends to get, and if I need a distraction. Even if I’m not a super consistent writer (although I try), I’m usually lurking on other blogs, and when I get really hooked on one and all of a sudden there hasn’t been a post in a few weeks (or months) I find myself thinking, “Come on!” [in the voice of GOB] “Where did this blogger go… I miss them!

Alas, as of late, I’ve become one of those absentee bloggers. Je suis très désolée.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, I just sometimes lose the motivation to sit down and put it together in a post. I have a bad habit, during dark chilly New England months, of burying under blankets in the evening and reading good books. Perhaps I was a hibernating creature in another life.

So, to transition in to writing a little bit more, I decided to share an amusing story from the weekend.

January 15th is P’s western calendar birthday (his Nepali calendar birthday was near the beginning of January, and like every year he didn’t know it was happening until he got a call from his parents one night wishing him a happy birthday) and this year it was also the Nepali holiday of Maghe Sankranti. I’m not totally clear on the details of this specific holiday (although the ever handy Wikipedia gave me a better idea), other than it marks the start of the Nepali month of Magh and the passing of the unlucky month of Poush, and that on this holiday you eat boiled cassava and purple colored sweet potato that can only be found locally at the Vietnamese grocery store.

This year, as last year, S-di invited our local crew over to her place for the day. Between S-di, M-dai and his wife’s cooking there was much to be had—the required boiled cassava and sweet potato, sel roti, a giant bowl of homemade ghee, sesame sweets, rice, taarkari, chicken, etc.

And as usual, we went to her house thinking that we would only stay for a few hours… and we wound up being there for eight or nine. After our bellies were full, and M-dai, Bhauju (M-dai’s wife), S-di, P and I were settled on the couch under cozy blankets, we spent time chatting and M-dai told a funny story.

M-dai grew up in a village up in the hills of Okhaldhunga district. When he was a kid there was a Peace Corps volunteer who worked at his school. He even remembered the volunteer’s name… “Spike.”

Anyway, they used to find this foreign teacher really interesting. He was quite different from the rest of them in various ways, but he had this one habit that all of the students found really bizarre—he used to fart in public like it was no big deal.

Now one could speculate. Maybe this guy was a bit of a bum, and he would have farted in public anywhere, including in the US. Or maybe the combination of Nepali food, a different altitude, and intestinal bugs continually agitating his GI tract, left him with no choice but to let loose, or else be plague by terrible gas pains (hey, it could happen). Yet it’s also possible that maybe this guy simply thought passing gas wasn’t a big deal in Nepal—burping certainly isn’t, although apparently there is a different feeling about flatulence from the other end—and never thought much about doing it where ever he was, alone or with others.

Certainly Westerns fall into this mentality when it comes to clothing while traveling in the “developing world,” myself (formerly) included. Sometimes even the most “culturally interested” or “attuned” just fail to realize things. I used to think that when walking through dirty, dusty streets, or living in a village, it didn’t really matter what you looked like. I’m not really one to get really dressed up in general, but I wouldn’t bring my “nicer” clothes on my study trips to Kenya or India, in part, because I was worried about “ruining” them, but also I just figured there wasn’t really a need to bring them. Even before my time in Kenya was over, I was starting to catch on and dress a little more “East African chic,” but it wasn’t until my embarrassing first clothes buying experience with P’s family in KTM that I really realized that in the “developing world” (and, let’s face it, most of the rest of the world outside of America) clothing is more formalized than back home. When you go out, you dress up, period—whether it’s for school, going to a party, going to a friend’s place, going for dinner, going to the market. It’s simply not acceptable to show up in a shabby pair of shorts and a dusty t-shirt, even if you sit next to a goat on the minibus you take to your friend’s house!

So maybe this guy thought the same way about farting—hey, it’s the “developing world,” people burp, I’m not in America where they have social etiquette rules about this, I feel gassy, and I’m going to let it go. According to M-dai this guy would fart all the time, including while he was standing in front of his class, and the students just couldn’t believe it.

“Sure people fart.” M-dai said, “But not in front of others, and certainly not in a formal situation like a class, or in front of elders!”

So from this early ambassador to American culture, the young M-dai thought that in America it was acceptable to fart at any time, that there were no social taboos in the US about doing so in public.

When he came for graduate school in Massachusetts five years ago he was shocked to discover this wasn’t the case! ;)

Name Changer

First of all I apologize for how this post probably rambles on. I’ve wanted to write about my name for a while, and I’m probably trying to cram in too many thoughts at once, please bear with me. Also I don’t mean to offend anyone, or pass judgments on anyone’s particular choices. Everything in here is my own opinion and highlights choices made specifically for me and my situation. My intention is not to preach to anyone, just explain the thinking behind how I got to where I am with my own name.

Also, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but just to clarify: Both my first and last names start with C. P is in the same boat, with a first and last name that start with the same letter. So I started out at “C C” and now I am “C C-P,” and P is “P P.”

I recently received our first Christmas card of the season and the envelope was addressed to “C and P” without any last name. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit. I’m sure we will get all sorts of name variations on our holiday mail this year, because when we got married I decided to hyphenate my last name. I believe I’m the first person in my family to have done this, so I can imagine that many will be confused at what the protocol is for addressing an envelope when the wife decides to buck the trend, even though I’ve been putting “C-P” as our return address for the past two years.

From a very young age I felt strongly about my last name. Perhaps it’s because my dad has three daughters and no sons who could traditionally “carry on the family name,” and I think he always imagined that his branch of the “C’s” would end with him. Or maybe I’ve always been stubborn with an acute sense of how I perceive my identity; but anyway, I never understood why a man intrinsically got to keep his name while a woman spent part of her life as one name and the rest as another. Something about it just irked me to the core.

However, ironically, I also admit that I was equally annoyed as a child when movie stars who I knew were married didn’t somehow share a semblance of a name to publicly show their familial tie. I always felt that without some sort of name connection the family lacked a sense of unity, or wasn’t as committed to each other.

I didn’t know how to rectify this in my mind. Growing up in a fairly conservative place, I didn’t really have classmates with different naming conventions. I didn’t know what options were available to me, or that options even existed! As I said before, my family always followed the pattern of a new wife taking her husband’s name upon marriage.

Then in high school my parents began their long messy divorce. I remember feeling strange for my mom… that she was now saddled with her married “C” last name which she elected to keep as a visible sign of her connection to her kids, even though she didn’t want to be connected to my dad anymore. I’m not sure if she ever thought about it, but I certainly did… that her last name could act as a constant reminder of the husband she no longer had. By no means am I saying that I’d want to keep my name in case I’m ever divorced (heaven forbid!) so that I can retain my maiden name without much difficulty, but it was something to think about when I was at a formative age.

It also struck me that I didn’t have the same relationship with my mother’s maiden name—“M”—that I had with my own last name. Of course I always thought of the M’s as my family too, but I was never an “M” in the same sense as I was a “C” (not meaning I was closer to one family or the other, it’s just I felt more like the name “C” represented me as an individual more than the name “M” did). It saddened me to think that if I had children and didn’t pass along my name in some form, then my potential future children might have that same noncommittal feeling about my name as I have about my mother’s.

Then one of my mother’s younger sisters got married when I was a freshman in high school. She was a corporate lawyer, a high powered go-getter, someone with a strong personality who married in her thirties so she had a long life as a “M” before marriage. I was totally shocked when she took her husband’s name without batting an eye. Of anyone in my family I thought for sure she would be different, times had changed. I was almost offended, why was this strong woman deciding to change how she is identified to the world simply because she married a man?

A few years later, I was sitting next to my aunt’s daughter, a blunt eight year old, who asked me what P’s last name was. “So you will be Mrs. P after you get married?” she asked me. “No.” I told her. I could see by the expression on her face that my answer completely caught her off guard. “Why not? What else could your name be?” she asked. “Ms. C-P” I explained. It seemed to be a completely new concept for her.

A Colombian student of mine put it nicely one day… most people from Spanish speaking cultures have two last names because one is from the mother and one from the father: so for example a person named Carlos Sanchez Rodriguez had a father whose last name was “Sanchez ______” and mother whose last name was “Rodriguez ______”.

Anyway, this student of mine didn’t really understand what “maiden name” meant on immigration forms so he would put “Rodriquez” as his maiden name and “Sanchez” as his last. I told him that people in the US would interpret this to mean that he was a) a woman and b) married if he filled out forms in that way. This launched us into a long discussion of last names in the US. Even though he had been living here for several years he hadn’t realized that most Americans only have one last name, from their father’s side, he just assumed they went by one of their two names for simplicity in a class room situation. At one point he declared “But, with only one name that’s like they are an orphan on their mother’s side!” I kind of liked that line of thinking.

As a college student I decided that if I were to marry someday I would want to hyphenate because it seemed to be the best of both worlds—my name and my husband’s name—my identity, and his, with family continuity on both sides. I remember having quite a few heated debates with people about my plan. People told me that hyphenated names were “pretentious,” or too long, or confusing. That a kid would never be able to spell such a name in kindergarten. I think it was the hyphen in particular that annoyed people, but I thought that without the hyphen it would be all too easy to drop the “C” or for people to assume that “C” was a middle name and not a last name, that it would be easier to mess things  up. I thought for alphabetizing purposes a hyphen made it easier because the names were connected, so something would have to be filed under the first “C.” It made more sense to me.

“But what about your kids?” someone asked once, “If you give them the same double/hyphen name as yours, what happens if your kid’s future spouse also wants to hyphenate? Will you have grandkids with four last names? How ridiculous is that? Where does the madness end?” To that I can only answer that I made the decision for myself, and any potential future kids can ultimately make their own decisions about their own naming conventions.

As it became more apparent that my marriage partner would eventually be P, I was adamant about my choice, and the fact that any potential kids will also have the C-P last name (or P-C, at one point I said if he decided to take my name he could decide on the order). P was always fine with me keeping my C, that was never an issue. However I pressed for P to take on the C-P last name as well so that the entire family would share the same name, a stronger, more visible identifier of a family unit. At first he seemed cool with the idea, but after starting his phd program and having some publications under “P P,” and as our actual marriage got closer, he wanted to stick with just “P” for his last name.

He worried that if he changed his name people back in Nepal might find it “weird,” or that it might mess up his immigration documents, or his Nepali citizenship papers. He didn’t know the legal hoops he would have to jump through. I still encouraged the name change, but eventually figured he wasn’t going to budge. I had to be fair, I wouldn’t have been happy if he had continually pressed me to drop my C (which he never did), so I couldn’t keep pressing him to do something he didn’t want to do. When we applied for our marriage license he lingered for a few moments over the “name after marriage” question and I held my breath to see if he would change his mind, but eventually he filled it in “P” and looked up at me apologetically. Ah well.

Right before we got married I had briefly struggled with the idea of just keeping “C” instead of adding “P.” Many of the female international people I knew had kept their maiden names after marriage. This was due, at least in part, to having married in the US and not wanting to deal with changing over all their immigration documents to a new name. Many of my international students at work had kept their maiden names for the same reason—and all the Chinese students kept their names, since it was not a Chinese custom for a married woman to change her name after marriage. I had an American friend in my book club who had kept her name, and when she had a baby the baby’s last name was a hyphenated version of her’s and her husband’s name. I almost felt that by hyphenating I didn’t feel “progressive enough,” but then I would think back to the Hollywood actors that annoyed me as a kid, and realized that it was important to me to have both the names.

In particular I thought it was important to have P’s name as well as mine to denote the influence of South Asian culture in my life. Not everyone will recognize P’s name as South Asian, but those who do have a little bit more knowledge about me when I introduce myself. It kind of “breaks the ice” so to speak or gives me some South Asian street cred.

For example, a professor came to my office recently. I had sold something over the university email listserv and he was coming to collect the item. He noticed during our back and forth emails that part of my last name is “P” and he recognized it as different than the Irish sounding parts of the rest of my name. He was curious because even though he is just as “white bread” as I am, his wife is Filipino and he had known some Filipinos who had similar last names. He wanted to see if I also had a Filipino connection, and started by asking, “I don’t mean to pry, but I was interested in your name, what is its background?” It started a pretty interesting conversation.

Anyway, I digress.

I think the post-wedding transition has felt smoother for me since the “C” is still in my name. On occasion I forget to add the “P” when introducing myself (I’m getting better at it), but it’s easier to say, “I’m C C…… -P” instead of the more awkward sounding, “I’m C C—er—nope, I mean C P.” Sometimes I hear myself saying, “I’m C C-P” and I think, “maybe it does sound long and pretentious?” but ultimately I think I would have deeply mourned the complete loss of the “C” had I decided to change my name. I’m really happy with my decision. Now I just need to gently coax people to use my name correctly.

For my birthday this past August my mother sent me a card that was addressed to “Mrs. P P.” I decided to nip that trend in the bud from the get go. Perhaps it makes me sound like a psychotic control freak, but I called her up and said, “Hey mom, thanks for the card, I just wanted to ask you to please send me mail under the name ‘C C-P.’ I’m not ‘Mrs.P,’ and certainly not ‘Mrs. P P,’ I have my own name.” She brushed it off by saying, “Well, I was in a rush and it was faster to write that.” But I pointed out that in eight years of dating P and many years of living together it was never faster to write his name on my card before. She probably doesn’t really see what the big deal is, but I’m hoping the next time she sends something she will hopefully remember our conversation.

An article in the Huffington Post summed up my feelings about it (although the married couple in the example decided to change their name to a new name combining the two original last names, her sentiment on receiving the card is what I thought echoed my own):

Emily Zeugner, 32, who works in media in New York, and her husband, Amos Kenigsberg, made a similar decision — they changed their last name to Zeeberg.

Ms. Zeeberg explained that changing her name would have sent a message she wasn’t comfortable with, one that that effectively said, “I’m shedding my identity, I’m joining your family.”

“As a feminist, it really bugged me,” she said. “I’m glad that we created our new identity.”

After the two married, they received a wedding invitation addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Amos Kenigsberg.

“I just saw the envelope, and I felt such annoyance, and on a small scale, kind of outraged,” she said. “He gets full billing and his full name, and the only thing I get is Mrs. It just really pissed me off.”

Similarly, friends of ours (the Bulgarian-American couple who got married a few weeks after us) in their newlywed excitement like to call up and say to me, “hey Mrs. P!” and I usually gently correct them, “it’s Ms C-P, how are you?”

Last night we received another Christmas card in the mail from an aunt in Pennsylvania. She made out the card to “C C-P and P P,” and I appreciated her efforts in keeping us all included. I guess the best short hand would be “C-P Family/Household” I guess we will see what people ultimately do. As long as I’m not the dreaded “Mrs P P” on an envelope I’ll probably be happy.

So that’s the story of how I became C C-P. What about other married (or soon-to-be married) couples? Did you change your name or keep it, or part of it? Did you follow a tradition, or make up your own? Is there a story as to why you decided to do what you did?

A Night of Classic Americana at the Drive-In

Bill Bryson wrote a book of funny essays on returning to the US with his family after having lived abroad in England for twenty years called “I’m a Stranger Here Myself.” It has about 70 mini-essays that cover different bits of Americana such as road trips and staying in motels to junk food and drive-in movies. I read the book about ten years ago, but I still remember laughing out loud at some of his reflections on things.

Often his British wife and UK-raised kids don’t “get” why Bryson loves some of this stuff. Including the drive-in movies. He explained to his family how the idea was invented by a man in New Jersey in the 1930s, but that the concept really took off in the motor culture of the 1950s, and by the end of that decade there were thousands across the country. He explained the concept to his son, “It’s simple… you drive into a field with a big screen, park besides a metal post with a speaker on it on a length of wire, and hang the speaker on the inside of your car door for the sound.”

However later, as the family arrived at the drive-in he laments, “Almost at once I began to remember why drive-ins went into such a precipitate decline [there are very few left in the US today]. To begin with, it is not remotely comfortable to sit in a car to watch a movie. If you are in the driver’s seat, you have a steering wheel in your lap the whole time. If you are in the back, you can’t really see at all. Unless you had the foresight to clean the windshield before you set off, you will be watching the picture through a smear of squashed bugs and road dirt. The sound quality from the little speakers is always appalling…[and] in a place like New England, the evenings invariably turn cool, so you shut the car windows to keep warm and then spend the rest of the evening wiping condensations from the inside of the windshield with the back of your arm.” Invariably his little outing was a disaster and the family drove home vowing to never go to the drive-in again.

But I have a soft spot for drive-in movie theaters and when I drive by old abandoned ones it always makes me sad. We had a great drive-in near the town where I grew up. I vaguely remember going with my parents a few times as a kid, but it wasn’t until high school that I realized just how fun they could be.

Once you turn 16, and get your driver’s licence it is like a whole new world opens up for you. I remember a few times a summer I would borrow my family’s minivan, load it up with a bunch of my friends, stock up on snacks and drinks and go to the drive-in. Since the movies didn’t start until it grew dark enough to see the screen (around 9 or 9:30) and that particular movie theater used to do a triple feature, it promised a late evening. They also used to raffle off free pizzas in between the movie showings. It was awesome.

So when we moved to our new place in New England, and discovered a drive-in movie theater about fifteen minutes away, I was keen on introducing P to this bit of American culture. We have now lived here for four years, and each summer we go a handful of times, usually bringing new people along to experience the drive-in.

The theater near us seems to be thriving. It has three screens and shows six movies a night (two on each screen). It charges $20 a carload of people, and you can watch any two movies (switching screens after the first showing if you want). Although the speaker poles are still in the field, now all the sound is broadcast through local radio frequencies. We pack the car with blankets and a picnic basket full of snacks (last night we had pizza, beer, and spicy chips from the Indian grocery store). You roll down the windows of the car and turn up the radio, and sit back to watch.

Last night we went with S-di and M-dai, who had never been before. Since (as Bryson pointed out) its tough to see from the back of the car, we usually spread out blankets next to the car so that everyone can see. It was pretty chilly, but we wrapped up in sweatshirts and blankets and washed down the pizza with beers while watching a silly movie. We were going to stay for the second showing but we were a bit tired and cold, and since we only paid $20 for the car you don’t feel bad if you don’t stay for the whole double feature (its also a great place to see movies that you know probably won’t be good, but you still want to see anyway, like what we saw last night).

I hope drive-ins survive until I have kids. I’d love to take them. Bring them in their pajamas and let them stretch out and watch movies until they fall asleep, bellies full of pizza, and pack them into the car for the ride home.

at the drive-in

Grilled Cheese

P came back from Nepal on Saturday (hurray!), and brought lots of wedding related goodies, which I’ll blog about at another time. However instead I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about grilled cheese sandwiches.

An American friend of ours is having a dinner gathering tonight, and on the menu is grilled cheese. P said, “Do people really eat grilled cheese… for dinner?”

Cheese is not very high on the Asian list of tasty foods (South or East, unless you count all the milk-cheese related products consumed in Mongolia, but those cheeses are decidedly a whole different category). Although I think P has grown an appreciation for (Western style) cheese over time having been exposed to lots of varities of cheese through me and my family (hard cheese, soft cheese, moldy cheese, smelly cheese– give me a cheese platter as an hors d’oeuvre any day!), he is still not big into cheese sauces, mac and cheese, or cheese as a main course. Hence grilled cheese sandwiches (to him) just sound a bit unfilling and perhaps unappetizing.

I haven’t had a grilled cheese in ages, so I’m pretty excited. I guess that is one of the perks of living with someone from a different culture– since you eat a lot of different kinds of foods something a local would consider relatively mundane and boring all of a sudden becomes exciting and different.

It reminds me of the semester I spent in India. I was living with a group of American students, but since we stayed in homestay families, guest houses (when traveling), and ashrams (on one particularly colorful field trip), we generally ate a lot of Indian food. But after weeks of daal, curry, roti, and rice, many of our American palates began craving American foods. One food that really helped with nostalgia was what our Indian cooks were calling “cheese toast.”

It started while we were taking Hindi language classes in Mussorie, Uttaranchal. We would spend the morning walking up the steep (crazy steep!) hill station roads to our language class, spend the entire morning working on language acquisition  skills, and then head back down the hill to the guest house for lunch. It was the end of the rainy season, and it was often pouring and damp, and heavy rain frequently knocked out the electricity. “Cheese toast” (and  soup) day was enough of a pick-me-up to send us careening down the slippery hill after class fighting to be the first person in line for the grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches.

After a while we found that “cheese toast” was often found on various menus as we traveled across India, particularly in touristy cafes (not that we ate in those cafes all the time– but every now and then). Other Westernized dishes didn’t come out tasting as good– pasta in red sauce, mac and cheese, pizza, but “cheese toast” really hit the spot when the stomach needed a small reminder of home.

I can’t remember the last time I had a grilled cheese sandwich. I hardly ever ate them in the US before I went to India and used it as my “I need a taste from home” meal. But I’m pretty excited to have one tonight.

MMMM… my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Pretty Woman, Revisited

Since I have “liked” NPR’s fanpage on facebook I usually get updates on my wall of interesting stories they are highlighting for the day. Today one of them caught my eye—and I bet I’m one of the only twenty-somethings out there who would repost a link to a story about Roy Orbison.

I’ve told this story before, but it always gives me a good chuckle. It’s the event that made me start having romantic feelings for P. It’s kind of funny to think that the love of my life may have been spurred on by an unattractive white man with bouffanted hair and dark sunglass, and perhaps a mix up between him and Buddy Holly.

That moment wasn’t my first encounter with Mr. Orbison. When my sister and I were in elementary school my aunt had an audio tape she played in the car that had “Pretty Woman” on it (probably the soundtrack from the movie, it came out around then). For about a year or two, whenever we got in the car with my aunt she would turn the tape on and blast the song as we all jiggyed along. It was probably one of the first few non-Beach Boys songs I knew all the words to and could belt out at the top of my lungs without worry of missing a beat.

(If I may take a 30 second tangent, I was a huge Beach Boys fan as a kid. They were the first band I fell in love with, and I knew ALL their songs. They came to the New York State Fair on my birthday when I was in kindergarten, and my parents brought me to their concert. It was the best thing ever; I was standing on the bleacher dancing and singing all night! I distinctly remember this moment from the concert when the band members yelled out, “How many people out there are in their 30s?” and I jumped up and down cheering with the crowd, “How many are in their 40s?” I kept cheering, “How many in their 50s?” still cheering. I thought I was a party animal. The people sitting next to us asked my parents if they played Beach Boys music in my cradle. I know, I’m a nerd, but I never pretended not to be ;) )

Anyway, before P left for Nepal I made an appointment to meet with the officiant who will marry us at the American wedding. After sorting out some of the details of the ceremony, she wanted to get to know us a bit better, and asked us how we met and then asked each of us when we realized we loved the other. I’m used to sharing stories, but P isn’t really the lovey-dovey sharing type. So I gladly jumped in with the movie/pretty woman story, finishing up with the fact that I am still wearing the same tortoiseshell style glasses (my newer ones broke, and these and my backup pair—I’m been too lazy to fix my old ones, so I’m still wearing the “Pretty Woman” glasses).

She got a huge kick out of it, and asked if it was going to be our “first dance”  song at our wedding. I said no, probably something else. Part of me thinks it would be funny and meaningful to dance to Pretty Woman, but many of the people attending don’t know the story, the significance will probably be lost on them, and they might think its narcissistic or corny or something. But I’ll definitely put it early in the lineup when everyone else is out on the dance floor with us!

So cheers today to Roy Orbison, “Pretty Woman,” and love. Mr. Orbison would have been seventy-five on April 23rd.

(It’s not the best version of the song, but the only one I could find that was decent on youtube: )

“The Invitations”– Yes, a Seinfeld Reference

I was part of the generation that grew up watching Seinfeld and Seinfeld re-runs. I even had a psychology teacher my senior year of high school who showed us Seinfeld clips to highlight various neuroses. To this day I can’t say “vegetable lasagna” without thinking about Elaine arguing with Puddy on an airplane while a poor passenger bystander is caught in between them. Once his meal arrives—a “vegetable lasagna”—Elaine mocks the passenger and calls him “vegetable lasagna” the rest of the flight. There are lots of stupid random things from life that can trigger a Seinfeld memory.

Case in point:

Making use of my time while P is out of town, I spent one weekend putting together and addressing our wedding invitations. We are keeping with the “red wedding/white wedding” theme, and as such we have two invitation cards—a red one with the Nepali details and a white with the American details. My sister designed them.

Anyway, I spent the weekend putting the two invitation cards along with the response card, information card, and red addressed and stamped response envelope into a black invitation folder, tying it with a red ribbon, putting the whole bundle into a larger red envelope, addressing, stamping, and finally licking the envelope closed.

Of course, after a while I started to think about the Seinfeld character George Constanza and how he was engaged for a period of time to Susan, whom  he didn’t really want to be married to. His character in particular was super cheap and ornery, so he insisted they buy the cheapest wedding invitations at the store—for those of you who also watched Seinfeld you know the rest from the episode “The Invitations”—Susan spent an evening making out invitations, licking the back of the envelopes, and was eventually poisoned by the toxic glue and died.

The show’s main characters were known for being self-absorbed and unaffected, and thus dealt with Susan’s death by shrugging their shoulders and saying, “ehh.” Whenever I lick a bunch of envelopes—particularly when sending holiday cards in December, I can’t help but think about that episode and giggle a little.

So I successfully licked all my invitations without incident. I guess I’m one step closer.

On a separate note, I had an Indian undergraduate in my office not long after completing this task. He had to fill out some paperwork and mail it in somewhere. I gave him a blank envelope from my desk, but he said he hated licking envelopes, so he stuffed it and I sealed it for him. I said I had licked a bunch of envelopes recently, so what was one more? And I couldn’t help myself—I asked, “Do you know the show Seinfeld?” He looked at me blankly, so I decided to fill him in on a little slice of Americana… and explained the episode to him. Perhaps now he just thinks his international student advisor is weird?

;)