Tuesday, 17 June 2008

the cultural differences party

Someone had the inspired idea of having a party of sorts at the manor. Actually I'm surprised that more parties don't go on. The food is enough to drive anyone to drink. I think the idea was greeted with enthusiasm but am not sure as we came late to the run up to the party. We're kind of out of the loop here. Being at the Manor is sort of what I imagine boarding school to be like. Lumpy custard, shared bathrooms and social cliques. When we arrived in our jet lagged state some people were friendly but not all. In time this has changed and I think part of any circumspect behaviour was due to some guests only staying a couple of days. Once people see you day after day over a plate of potatoes and realise that you are here for the long haul (though for us not nearly as long as some) then they are more forthcoming. By this stage, after a month of saying hello in the hallways, it is kind of embarrassing to ask people's names and so there are some lovely people here that I have no idea what their names are. Some people were friendly from the get go: Amber, Rebeca and Arek are some that spring to mind. Others have warmed up slowly. Some, who I had thought serious or unfriendly have turned out to be funny. Some I may never work out. So again with the school analogy it's like being the new student arriving halfway through the school year except nobody's head is getting flushed in the toilet (I don't think).

Anyway one of the reasons that we are out of the loop is Jack's routine (not due to any social retardation on our part). It's funny because he acts as such a magnet, at mealtimes there are always people asking how he is or talking to us, but then it gets late and we have to take Jack to bed and S reads and I blog and our socialising is done for the day. As we are tucked up in bed at a reasonable hour we have little idea of what's going on in the rest of the manor. Unless someone happens to be using the kitchen or the bathroom which are very close to our room. (Who cooks sausages at midnight? Someone obviously.)So to remedy our lack of socialising I decided to go to the party which Arek had dubbed the Cultural Differences party (sounds like a political group running for the Australian Senate). S offered to look after Jack and make sure he didn't roll off the bed (yes, we have no cot). Arek told us that Imma, who is from Italy, would be cooking pasta, the Spanish boys would be making sangria, Nicholas would bring foie gras and he would be concocting polish shots that involved vodka, cassis and Tabasco. Hmmmm.

As an Australian what could I take? This question weighed on my mind as we travelled into London. If I could find Tim Tams then in the interest of cultural exchange the 'Tim Tam suck' could be demonstrated but that's more S' thing. And where do you find Tim (or even Dick) Tams in London? Vegemite...maybe. Fosters? Maybe not. Then we experienced the trevor trove that is borough markets and I trotted back to the manor with the perfect combo. Not yabbies or witchetty grubs. Not king island cheese or Pumpkin scones from kingaroy. Or a meat pie. I had lamingtons and VB. Ahhhh. Imma started cooking at 5pm in the residents kitchen. Normally reheating a meal in this kitchen is tricky. It is very small and under equipped. I think maybe they want to discourage the use of the kitchen and so it has been made as uninviting as possible (the best way to discourage use of the kitchen would be to serve proper food but anyway...). there are no knives, no chopping boards. The only fridges are tiny and the stove is also a miniature and only one element works. Imma faced immense challenges cooking pasta for the multitudes. People were sent on begging missions to acquire saucepans big enough for the sauce and a pot to cook pasta in but they had little or no luck. Imma and another Italian girl, Valentina, cooked the sauce (I think they cut the onions etc with a penknife) but were stymied when it came to cooking the pasta. They ended up using a metal bowl that took forever to boil. A suggestion was made by Ambrose from Cameroon, to place a spoon in the water to help speed up the boiling. This was duly done but as the pasta had already been added to the water it had little effect.We stood in the corridor drinking and chatting and for awhile Jack ran up and down in his sleeping bag (no mean feat) and entertained the masses with his balloons. I spoke to people that in my whole time here I have never spoken to. There are some frenchies that are particularly tight knit. For awhile I suspected some sort of Gallic love triangle but am no longer sure. I spoke to one of the guys and he was nice and friendly. I still don't know his name.
So the pasta was finito and Sangria was created and we all sat down for a lovely meal. And I had a laugh and stayed up way past my bedtime talking to adults and no longer felt quite so out of the loop. Thankfully there were no vodka shots (the vodka got consumed the night before when S and I were tucked up in bed listening to funny drunk conversations in the hallway) but Arek did bring some Zubrowka which is Polish vodka with a blade of bison grass in the bottle (really) and we drank it with juice and it was very nice.When I told people I had Australian beer for them to try they would say,"Fosters?" and I would shake my head, a look of horror on my face, tell them no self respecting Australian drinks Fosters and offer them a good old VB. The verdict on the VB was positive but then it's not the best beer in the world so maybe people were being polite. The lamingtons caused a bit of a stir and even though they were not really good specimens (they had a layer of caramel in the middle and the chocolate wasn't right) people exclaimed and said nice things. Again maybe they were being polite. I think the coconut was the clincher. Someone (maybe Enrique from Brazil) asked what was on the inside, was it bread? I felt like the mum in 'the castle' saying 'it's sponge cake darl'.Nicholas, from Orleans in France is going to become a father in September and my Mum had very kindly at my request sent over a copy of Possum Magic by Mem Fox. I presented him with this as we drank our VB and later after sampling a lamington he was able to say he had tasted one of the things that helped Hush become visible. He really got the book and spent ages poring over the illustrations and reading the story. Nice. I like to think of a little, I mean petite, french baby learning about echidnas and lamingtons and koalas and pavlovas. That's what cultural exchange is all about.

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