Thursday, 27 September 2012

Barbecued Cheese

Sigred & Fred had dropped themselves into another culture. Over the course of 2 or 4 years they had managed to offend several people (quite surprisingly) and ended up defending themselves from several others (again with astonishment). The funny thing was, the people they offended weren't from the new culture they'd dropped themselves into (with one exception: see below). The people they'd offended were ex-pats, like Sigred & Fred, all trying to make or find a place for themselves in this new land.

Maybe it started with Barbecued Cheese? No, no that's not true. Sigred had noticed the phenomenon long before she had the wherewithal to write about it... The being made aware that her existence was an offense to someone else's grasp on reality. It took her a long time to be sure it wasn't something she should feel sorrow or shame for, as least not directed inwards in any case. And... it had been years since the phenomenon had been thrust on her, so it took her a while to respond and deal with it.

In any case, this story will start with Barbecued Cheese.

After living on the boat for 13 years and with retirement looming, Sigred & Fred discussed options. Their original thought had been to travel the B.C. coastline in retirement, stopping off at small fishing villages & the occasional hot spring, but mainly wandering until the wandering got too hard. The problem was, if anything major went wrong with the boat, it'd be ten thousand or twenty thousand or maybe even thirty thousand dollars to fix it. That knowledge made them somewhat fearful in that at retirement they'd be living on a "fixed" income.

Down the dock from where they moored was a crazy Englishman. He'd been a freedom fighter when Venezuela had needed fighters and went back regularly to catch a bit of warmth and see old friends. His stories were outrageous and his manner was charming, so Sigred & Fred listened. He'd at one time been a harbour pilot for a major city, until they caught him piloting an ocean cargo ship whilst very very high on cocaine. Not knowing how long he'd been indulging, the major city gave him a disability pension rather than proclaim to the public that a miscreant had been bringing all the major ships into that city's port. They also gave him a nice severance package which provided him with just enough money to build the boat he was living on and spend the winters in Venezuela. He spoke Spanish fluently.

Fred started thinking about South America, and since they didn't (at that time) have television or internet on the boat, he did some research at work which filtered down to them coming to Ecuador. Fred was all for selling everything and moving down immediately. Sigred, having sold or gotten rid of everything several times during her life (no she's not a Saint) wanted instead to go down for an exploratory visit first before going through that exercise once again.

Initially there was a requirement to save "X" amount of dollars. Sigred got in gear and that requirement was fairly quickly accomplished. Then Fred retired (finally) at the age of 67 (don't feel sorry for Fred... he'd had a fair deal of fun). In that end, Fred & Sigred, the day after Fred retired, headed off to South America.

The trip was exhausting, exhilarating, scary & intensely enjoyable (but that's another story).

Fred's friend, Hendritch, had invited himself along for 3 weeks of their 2 month trip. Sigred didn't think much about it and accepted his uninvited intrusion without comment to either Hendritch or Fred. After a week or so of travelling with Hendritch, they all ended up in a Hostel deep in the Andes Mountains.

Sitting around a blazing fire, high in the Andes, exhilarated by their travels & tired by all the newness, Fred, Sigred & Heindritch talked the talk of travelers. At one point Heindritch was explaining that in his home European country they'd only just introduced bar-b-ques. Fred was curious and asked: "Oh, what do you bar-b-que" and Sigred piped up (going for the line) "cheese".

The image of a nation new to bar-b-queing proudly putting cheese on their grills and having it messily melt all over the place, was (to Sigred) of such monumental silliness, that it deserved a hearty bellow of laughter and would in no way be taken seriously.

Heindritch did not see it that way. He berated Sigred and told her he found it hurtful and could never understand why other people put down the culture & habits of those from another nation.

Sigred was sincerely, awfully & truly sorry. She'd not meant to hurt. She'd thought her comment so outrageous that it would be understood as a harmless joke but, as has just been displayed dear reader, it was not.

She apologized, hung her head and suspected (rightly) the apology was not then or would ever be truly accepted.

Only a Small Sampling of Things people have written to Sigred in an attempt at communication, that worked only too well (their intention and meaning was made quite clear):

  • It has been very hard for me to put this behind me.... But I HAVE put this irritation to bed and only just mentioned it again...
  • Please understand in advance that I expect you to take this personally.
  • Relationships with friends should be easy, not difficult,...
  • We would much prefer to maintain some kind of cordiality with you, because we think you are both very nice, intelligent, and interesting people, but perhaps a little complicated?
  • The subject to me is now closed for good, I have nothing more to say on these matters.

    "She called me arrogant & immature!" Sigred exclaimed to Fred. She huffed a bit and then continued. "While being called arrogant is perhaps a better class of insult than I usually get, I haven't been called immature since Fiona shouted it at me when she was 13".

    Fred laughed.

    It'd been another hard day. Misunderstandings and disappointments seemed to be the course of the day. Excuses were made that, given any thought, proved to be untrue. Words were spoken that hurt more because the teller expected we'd believe the lie. Sigred & Princess decided to go for a brisk walk and shake it off. They patted Fred on the back, tucked him into bed for his afternoon nap, and set off down the street, up a hill or two, and across numerous busy intersections where the pedestrians know the right-of-way truly belongs to the large metal machines, not themselves. Nevertheless, the walk did Sigred good. She had nodded and said "Hola" to any number of people who had nodded and smiled back and had then duly admired Princess. She had burned off excess feelings that had no business drifting around in her mind and was on her way home, carrying much less weight than when she started.

    Down the street was a very neat small Land Rover or old Jeep or something of that sort (Sigred didn't know -- she's a girl), well kept and newly painted. It was sounding it's horn over and over again. A joyful sound with 6 tones at least to each burst. It made Sigred smile. She was right there with the driver of the vehicle, enjoying the burst of noise and happy rhythm of it. As the vehicle passed Sigred & Princess, she continued to smile and the fellow sitting in the passenger seat, turned to face her and keeping his face impassive, gave her the finger.

    "In 1965 in small town North America, had very many people eaten dim sum?" Sigred asked Fred. Fred thought for awhile and shook his head "No", knowing mostly he must agree or be prepared for an attack.

    "Yeah!" Sigred blurted back to him as soon as he'd nodded his head. "So why did he make me feel like I was some sort of cretin when I told him that story?! He was all smug and self-righteous and told me he loved (!) dim sum. I like dim sum now too! The story was about when I was a child! I was in Big City China town, coming from a tiny mining town, sitting at a table with the gabble of Chinese all around me, eating chicken feet! I felt out of place and weird and then I went home and threw-up. He either wasn't listening, didn't care or was being superior! I only told him the story because he was trepidatious about eating Sushi. I was trying to be nice!"

    She paused only to grab a bit of breath. "Then he got all competitive with you and down-right snotty when he advised the table he didn't personally know John Wayne."

    Sigred would have stamped her pretty little foot if she hadn't learned years ago the ineffectiveness of that defiant gesture.

    "Like we thought he actually personally knew John Wayne!" she huffed.

    Only a Small Sampling of Things people have spoken to Sigred for reasons that she can fathom and therefore could find insulting*:
    • We're both introverts but at least I can pass.
    • You wouldn't like cruises. You have to dress up.
    • I couldn't live on a boat! It'd be like living in a prison.
    • She told me she could see why people didn't like you.
    • If you're trying to lose weight you should know alcohol has lots of calories.
    * You see the operative word here is "could".
    Sigred was taught as a child that people are frail and that
    one should let most idle comments float away...

    That only works to a certain point, however.

    Now... Sigred had been advised previously that the people of Ecuador are well aware of what the finger means. Otherwise, she probably would have assumed that they didn't understand how the gesture might cause the hurt & disgust & anger she felt. The vehicle pulled in and parked only a few steps away from where Sigred had been standing. She immediately strode over to the vehicle, her middle finger held high & unmistakable and shouted at the asshole in the passenger seat "Fuck you too Buddy!" And then turned and walked away from his astonished countenance confident that he had understood exactly what she had said even through any possible language/mind set barrier.

    The Eyes Have It