Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chocolate Monster

So it's Saturday here in Sweden and that means it's National Eat Candy Day. Seriously folks, Saturdays are all about candy in this country. So I give in, as I always do, and treat the little guy to a bag of "goodis". What a mistake. The child reacts to chocolate with an insane amount of hyperactivity. I thought it was a myth. I'm here to tell you it ain't.

He LURVES chocolate. And I LOVES giving it to him. But not today. Not tonight and until next Saturday, never again.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Modern Day Manners

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use. ~Emily Post

We are soon headed back home to Canada to sleep on my sister-in-law's couch and join a household comprising two dogs, a teen, parents, a grandma and now, an aunt. It's crazy but we're really looking forward to it!

Even when staying with family, we never take for granted that we are in fact interrupting their lives and their home with our jolly presence. We always:
1. Bring gifts
2. Pay for groceries and booze
3. Keep the den we take over for 3 weeks as clean and tidy as possible.
4. Help with the housework
5. Fill up the car we borrow with gas
6. Treat them to a meal "out"
7. Leave money for long-distance phone calls or other expenses incurred during our stay.

Does this cost us money? Of course it does but imagine the costs if we were to stay at a hotel for that long a period of time. And even though we try to pitch in more than our share, it costs them as well. It costs them in water, electricity, gas, car wear and tear, inconvenience, time, toilet paper, and the list goes on...

Maybe you say, "Family is family. You shouldn't keep a running tab." But it's not about who pays for what at the end of the day. It's about respect. Respect for each of them and self-respect. When you notice your guests are not reciprocating, it makes everyone feel bad. And we're all supposed to be having a good time together as a family.

In my humble and well-mannered opinion and based on some recent research into the subject, I have come to the conclusion that these are the minimum obligations of a guest:
1. ALWAYS bring a host/hostess gift. Bottle of wine, flowers, chocolate, etc. Does it have to be expensive? Absolutely NOT. It's the thought that counts.
2. ALWAYS offer to help around the house, with dinner, etc.
3. ALWAYS offer to pay for gas if your host/hostess is shuttling you around.
4. Depending on your length of stay, ALWAYS offer to take your host/hostess out to a meal/for coffee to show your appreciation. If you can't afford it, you shouldn't be staying to begin with.
5. ALWAYS send a thank-you. It could very well be a thank-you email. But a personal note that expresses your appreciation is what's needed, no matter the form.
6. ALWAYS keep your living quarters tidy and clean.
7. Depending on your length of stay, ALWAYS offer to pay for groceries or just go out and buy some if you see your hosts are running low.

And before you ask, "No, the pleasure of your company is NOT gift enough."

This is a very sensitive and sore subject for me because hubby and I are usually on the receiving end of company. As many times as I can recall feeling awful due to ill-mannered guests, I choose right now to focus on the positive and name some guests who truly left an impression on me:
1. A friend would stop by on warm summer days to sit by our pool, a box of freshly-baked canollis in hand.
2. A different friend would stop under the same circumstances and bring booze and sushi for everyone.
3. My dear 21-year old cousin, a student on a tight budget backpacking through Europe, showed up with chocolates for us and a bottle of wine as a gift for my birthday. I almost cried.
4. My maid-of-honour who never forgets a hostess gift or misses a chance to help out.
5. A friend who brings beautiful flowers everytime she comes for dinner.
6. A mother-in-law on a fixed income who pitches in generously and spoils our children incesssantly.
7. So many friends and acquaintances back home in Montenegro who would turn down an invitation if they could not afford to buy a host/ess gift. These are people who have so little money compared to us "rich" North Americans.

To be frank, it took me a few years to understand etiquette and its impact. I was not raised in a barn but I started living the life of a "Woman" at a young age. I was entertaining and being entertained by "important" people at the age of 20. I was naive and ignorant in those times (not that it's all bad mind you as you're sorta suppose to be naive and ignorant at 20..ha!) But I did learn quickly after some major stumbles.

I'd like to point out that I realize etiquette rules can vary from culture to culture. Apparently farting after a meal in Asia is considered a compliment to the host...bahahahahaha. I think the universal truth is this: Be thoughtful and be respectful and if you are entering a culture different from your own, do yourself and your hosts a favour and please take a few moments to read up on local etiquette.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Right Now

Right now, I would trade...
1. Our day at the Dinosaur exhibit, to watch my toddler frolick on the beach a mere 10-minute stroll from our home
2. Real bacon for a plate of cevap (Yugoslav sausage...yum).
3. Frequent car trips through big box store parks for a stroll around a charming, war-stained old town
4. This damp, rainy, persistently gray city for the rainy season and torrential downpours in a small seaside town
5. My brewed 100% Columbian for a cup of cooked Serbian sludge at friend Connie's
6. An overpriced cocktail for a shot of homemade rekija
7. A perfectly ripened cucumber for a tomato that tastes like...a tomato
8. My 2-story house for my old mould-infested apartment
9. My son's Montessori school for an afternoon with his Nanny.
10. The reserved faces of blonde stone that surround me for the tall dark-haired beauty at the local grocer who greets my family by name.
11. Online banking for paper bills and almost no bills at all!
12. Movie theaters with popcorn for badly-copied DVDs for 2 euro and all the time in the world to watch them
13. "Normal pizza" for soggy-crusted wanna-be pizza smothered in ketchup
14. McDonalds, Thai, sushi and the choice of every ethnic or not-so-ethnic cuisine under the sun for a multi-course, homemade, slaved-over-for-days feast prepared lovingly by dear friends in a small cozy apartment.
Right now, I would trade Sweden for Montenegro in a heart beat....Though tomorrow, I could very well change my mind.