Thursday, April 22, 2010

Missing My Invisible Stuff

Not only do we Americans have a lot of stuff, we have a lot of stuff around our stuff. Invisible stuff that other people can’t understand, and that I miss.

For example, those ladies shirts that criss-cross on top over the chest, and then have a horizontal seam underneath. This whole criss-cross top area is like a boob nest. That horizontal seam, that’s the bottom of the boob nest. Here, they have no respect for it. None. It goes straight across the boobs. It looks like the boobs are falling out of the boob nest.

And don’t even get me started on bra straps. I want to buy a mega phone so I can yell: "That's a strapless dress honey! You need to find its friend, Mr. Strapless Bra."

No respect.

I say no respect, but respect for what, our made up rules? It's just that those rules are so ingrained in us, evolutionarily stuck in our brains as fact, that you just can't help but be appalled when people do not have respect for the things you were taught to have respect for.

For instance. Dinner Time. It's dinner time. Set the table, forks on the left, knife (facing in) on the right. Turn off the tv. Turn off your cell phone. Wash your hands. Sit down. Wait for everyone before you start eating. Ask to be excused from the table. Don't tell the person who cooked how not delicious the food is. (This last rule was never taught, nearly implied.)

In Paraguay, it's the opposite. Every one of those things.

Movie time. Turn off the lights, Get your snacks ready. Don't answer your cell phone. Don't be in the other room and yell, "Just start it without me." It's movie time.

No movie time in Paraguay.

Same thing with class time. Can’t you see we’re having class?

There's also unspoken invisible image that we value in America. I see this especially with clothes. An old lady wearing a Quiksilver shirt. No, you don't understand. That is not only to clothe you, it's to tell the world you are young and a surfer/skater type and are cool. You cannot wear that shirt, silly old lady.

And there’s this other, somehow from nowhere, fad where people are wearing those GAP t-shirts that were popular 10 years ago in the United States. They’re trying to be American with shirts that say GAP Authentic, but anyone authentically American is just kind of left confused by the sight.

Lastly, I miss my invisible stuff of tradition, wrapped around our food, for example. When my Paraguayan boyfriend puts ketchup on the indian food I just made. Part of the anger that rises in me is a Joy-Luck-Club-mother-esque indignation that anyone would alter the food I just slaved over. But the other side is an outrage on the part of culinary tradition. Chefs everywhere who join me in a common cry: You don't put ketchup on indian food. And the’re with me on the fried rice too. You don't put ketchup on fried rice!

Today I made tuna casserole. It's expensive. A can of mushroom soup from the American aisle in the special Asuncion grocery store. Two cans of tuna, also pricey here. The time, the effort, and I go next door, and they're cooking cuts of beef, even though I said I would cook. They're cooking it, as usual, in an oily bath of oregano and cumin and salt salt salt. Just in case, they say.

Then at the table, they scoop out the the tuna casserole, which came out really well. And then, they scoop out the oily bathwater of the beef, and pour it all over. And they place a big chunk of meat, right on there. And I say no, no thank you. To their surprise, I'll eat it like this.

Some of my invisible things I’ve been able to let go. I’ll let some bra straps hang out. I’ll put my elbows on the table. But I will not put beef on tuna casserole. That, my countrymen, I promise you.


hisc1ay said...

I can only raise my hand in testimonial affirmation. I had a 17 year old kid living with me, and whenever I would make something different - "real" spaghetti, fried rice, even indian food - ketchup was the first thing he'd add. I'd be like "BUT YOU HAVEN'T EVEN TRIED IT YET!!!" It was depressing. But I find myself in this moment missing him terribly.

There was an older gentleman in my church, easily in his 60s, who would wear jeans and Adidas shell-toes. Awesome.


Nancy said...

Beef on tuna casserole? YUCK!

Ken, Christie, Camille, Caroline said...

I am just rolling out of my chair reading this. I could have almost written it myself. I've decided that I'll never be able to buy a bra or a shirt here, and that the bra strap must be viewed as an extension as the dress, I guess, for sanity's sake. And I feel my heart skip every time our Paraguayan housemate puts mayonnaise or ketchup on top of something I slaved over. {{SIGH}} Would have liked to try the tuna casserole without the greasy beef stuff on top. I relate.

Nat said...

Re: The GAP t-shirt phenomenon
Have you seen the Morotí ads on TV (they might only be on Youtube at this point). In order to signify how chuchi they maid´s family is the head of the house hold is wearing a GAP shirt. It is hilarious.