Friday, October 21, 2011

Oops I Did It Again

You know, maybe I'm not cut out for life in the Foreign Service. Because here's the thing: if you're in the Foreign Service, you have to go to great lengths to meet new people. And I really, really hate meeting new people.

I'm okay if I have a goal in mind. Maybe I'm giving a presentation, or hosting a party, or asking an interviewee questions. But tell me to walk blind into a party, and I break out in hives.

Just last night, for example, I got to steak night (a semi-regular party at the Embassy) later than usual. There weren't any free tables, and I would've up and gone home except that I'd already ordered my food. So I just sort of stood there stupidly, waiting for an empty table to magically appear in front of me. And this is with people I sort of know! So imagine how terrible I am at walking into a party where I know no one.

And that's the set up for today.

Kyra got an invitation to a birthday party, and she was over the moon with excitement about it. I tried a million different ways to talk her out of going, because I was pretty sure I wouldn't know anyone there, but she was determined. So we went, she and I, though I'll admit we were fashionably late.

The party was at a new little play place in Abdoun. When we walked in, it was crazy. There were about 50 kids in attendance, no joke, plus various parents and nannies. You remember what happened last time I went to a Jordanian kid's birthday party? It wasn't pretty. This time, I was determined not to make an ass of myself, though I did plan to stick with my usual casual jeans/t-shirt/nice shoes combination, even though it would likely leave me underdressed.

So we found the place, and went on up, and they asked us to take our shoes off and store them in the cubbies by the door. We did that, and then Kyra took off into the play place, a vast area full of craft rooms, and water tables, and an entire pretend city. I took a deep breath and talked myself into walking into the mommy room.

I was somewhat taken aback by the sheer number of dressed-up Jordanians in the room - I counted about 30 women. And as I stood there in my newly stockinged feet, with my jeans rolled up so they wouldn't drag on the floor, I noticed: not one of those other moms had removed her own shoes. They were all in fancy stilettos and pumps - no need to roll their jeans up. The nannies were all barefoot, like me ( yes, lots of moms brought their nannies to the party, too).

At that point I knew was not going to have a successful party experience, so I slunk out of the mom room and went off to join the nannies and kids.

Things were going okay until one of the moms - whom I know from last year - approached to chit chat. Of course I couldn't hear her - it was too loud and I'm too deaf, so I just kind of did my usual smile-and-nod thing until I realized she was trying to set up a play date between Kyra and her daughter. I'm not quite sure what we agreed on, but it seems she and I agreed on a date of some sort. As we were doing this (?), one of Kyra's teachers wandered by and the mom engaged the teacher in a discussion. I was kind of trapped in between them, and I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I could tell they were speaking Arabic, and they seemed to be including me in the conversation. So I just batted my eyes and tried to look as if I was in complete agreement with whatever they were telling me.

I kept it up for a good 5 minutes before the mom asked me a question, in Arabic. I must've been doing a stellar job of looking as though I was following along, but my cover was blown at that point. Even the smile-and-nod didn't get me back in the conversation. Once again, I found myself slinking away down the hall, looking for a new place to hide.

Oh, but they found me. These moms were so nice, and they were determined to get me into that mom room. One of them beckoned me back in there -apparently they were serving dinner. So I got in line - the only American, barefoot in a sea of well-heeled Jordanians.

I was standing there, clutching my plate and trying to decide what to eat, when the woman in front of me turned to me and said something. But what? It sounded almost like.... French? She repeated herself and yes, I'd found the lone Frenchwoman in the group.

Once we determined that I don't speak French, she switched to English. "I though you were French," she explained, "because French women, we often have such long, thin faces."

Yes, perhaps - but I bet French women wear shoes at parties.

We tried to chat as we got our food, but when I turned to find a table, I discovered there weren't any more seats in the mommy room. I stood there with my plate of tabouleh and watched as my new French friend rejoined the women at her table. No seats there. Kyra's teachers were parked at another table.

There was only one seat left, and it had been recently abandoned by the father of the birthday boy. I wasn't sure if he planned to return to his seat, but I had to sit somewhere. So I walked up to the table and asked the four ladies sitting there if I could join them. They assured me that I could, then returned to their conversation, in Arabic, without introducing themselves.

I know, I know. I should've introduced myself to them first. But by that point I was so desperately miserable that I just sat there and choked down my food. I was vaguely aware that the dad returned to the table, saw me in his seat, and left again. It was all I could do at that point not to burst into tears and run from the building. I nibbled on my food for a few more minutes, then excused myself and left the table. The four women didn't acknowledge my goodbye, engrossed as they were in their conversation. They weren't mean; they weren't rude. They just clearly did not care one bit that I was at their table. And really, why should they? They were all friends; I was the awkward new girl.

Sigh. I really wish I were better at this party thing. You'd think, after all these years in the FS, I'd have it figured out, but I don't. I'm forever wearing the wrong clothes, or taking off my shoes when everyone else leaves theirs on, or sitting in the wrong chair. That's one reason I like blogging. Because even as I tearfully locked myself in the bathroom and texted a friend about my lack of footwear, I thought to myself "yes, but now I have something to blog about!"

I was homesick tonight for America, where, generally speaking, I know the rules and can make it through a kid party with my ego intact. Kyra, however, had an absolute blast. So viewed in that light, the party was a huge success.

Still and all, I have to stand tall and shout it to the rooftops:

God Bless America, home of the brave and land of the drop-off party.


Becca said... [Reply]

oh god, that sounds like my Nightmare!!! I would suck at that too. Except add in my body feeling awkward and not knowing what to do with my hands or whether my face is betraying how I feel inside.

Kelly said... [Reply]

Oh, my. I have so been there! Never in Arabic, though. I guess that adds a whole new hurdle!

victoria said... [Reply]

Oh, I have so been there. Similar type of party, but in India. I hope you can find your people in this place, because it can be so lonely otherwise. The only other locals birthday party we got invited to in India was one for an Indian/expat boy of two, whose mother knew that two-year onlys need only a couple of kids at their party.

Ingrid said... [Reply]

Donna, we've lost touch a bit but I think of you often and love reading your blog. Mine has become less and less creative... Just the photos, please! Not too many pesky details! Send my greetings to Bart. Hopefully we'll see you in Tunis, if you're not too sick of ruins by then. It's not Petra, at least. Look me up on the GAL if you get a chance... Or are back here for your orals!

Daniela Swider said... [Reply]

I too know the feeling. And dread pretending I am enjoying myself when in fact I just want to run for the door asap. Maybe you can bring a friend next time...

Nomads By Nature said... [Reply]

Been there and feel for you. I think this is a much more common for foreign service spouses with kids experience than we let on. I agree with Daniela, bring a friend next time!

Danielle said... [Reply]

oh you have described my worst nightmare but it honestly sounds like you handled it with far more grace and poise than I would have been able to manage! And in Arabic too! You need to give yourself more credit! Everyone there probably did.

Brooke said... [Reply]

Brava for braving the unknown! Heaven knows there are bucket loads of it in the Foreign Service :)

pillarofpeace said... [Reply]

OM Goodness - I totally could've written this post myself. I am in the SAME position - except I do speak Spanish here in the DR but I never have on stilettos or makeup:). Wow - this is my first post and I was hoping it'd get better. It's bidding season now for me and one of the contacts at a mission high on my list told me that I'd love it b/c there is ALWAYS a bbq or some gathering going on. I thought, "that is NOT a selling point and I better start practicing socializing among strangers." Thanks for the post.

Connie said... [Reply]

Sorry you had the awful awkward experience :p I find I often do not fit in either... I give up on dressing the part. I can't fathom why women dress like that for a kids' party! I guarantee I'd have been in jeans and barefoot too. ... which is a heck of a lot more comfortable than heels any day! I know what you mean though. Kyra had fun and that is what makes it all worth it!

Dorothy Handelman said... [Reply]

Hi Donna,
I really like the true grit you display as you find yourself a stranger in a strange land. Kudos to you for remembering that your daughter's experience trumps all else when it's her activity that is the agenda for the outing. I appreciate your sense of shyness- but you seem so likable I always imagine you with a smile, a nod and a willingness to go with the flow. Would love to invite you to a party and introduce you to all the swell folks I know- I am sure they would all love you!!!!

Jenn D said... [Reply]

You should have just pulled out that famous party trick of yours when you jump out in front of the crowd and twist your feet into that really awkward looking position. That would have definitely ensured that you are never invited to one of these dreadful things again.

Just know that I would have given my right arm to be sitting next to you (not speaking French, Arabic or Chinese!) at that silly party. I would have even pulled out my IPhone for fun.

Please. Write your own stuff.