One of the things that happens when you’re an expat is that people very kindly set up events and excursions for you. The thinking is that since you don’t know the place or have any kind of social life, it’s a favor to arrange these outings. My personal Code of Expat Life includes saying yes to as many invitations as I can handle, because it is pretty much true that we don’t know the place or have a social life. The way to establish a life in a new country is to go out whenever and wherever asked.
But. You never really know what these excursions will involve: when it will end, how you’ll get home, what normal-for-them-completely-insane-for-you things will happen. For example, when we were very new to Malaysia, we accepted a lunch invitation with someone we’d met when we left an umbrella behind in a restaurant. That lunch turned into our being taken to his family home in the fire fighters’ quarters in a distant suburb, where we were shown the family albums, Bollywood movies on tv and expected to drink a lot of bad scotch throughout. When we finally managed to convince them we needed to leave, we had no idea how to get home. So that’s what I’m talking about.
That trip to the Genghis Khan statue was similar. Planned with the best of intentions by the husband’s (I have to come up with a new pseudonym for him now that we have an apartment. No one has High Standards all the time.) colleagues, we went off that morning with the boss and his driver, following a minivan with the rest of the group. We didn’t see them again until lunch at a resort hotel nearby. As we finished eating with the boss, we were told that the group was waiting for us for the “opening ceremony.” Huh? Ok….
Behind the main building was a ger (the Mongolian word for yurt) set up for events, and everyone was sitting at a large, u-shaped table laid with snacks and drinks. It turned out that the whole group was staying there overnight, so this was the beginning of a retreat. “Team building?” I asked; no, just for fun.
Then someone celebrating a birthday was presented with his gift — a smoked pig’s head. (If we hadn’t known before that we are no longer in a Muslim country, this was definitely the moment.)
Then came the games. Now, I don’t mind standing up to introduce myself and thank everyone for welcoming us so warmly, but mention games and I start panicking. There was no getting out of this, though, and now I’ll never forget the year Genghis Khan was born: 1162.
When the time came for a break, people dispersed, and we found ourselves invited to a hotel-room ger with the boss, where we…drank more vodka. (Wait — wasn’t this the break time??) We started making motions to leave, were urged to stay through dinner; “No, thank you, really, we have to pack for moving tomorrow.” Then agreed to stay for the next ceremony. Which was the part where people share a hot pot of lamb organs.
I was raised to be polite, I really was, but there was NO WAY. Among other reasons, I’d already eaten my body weight in Pringles, trying to stay sober through all the vodka shots. Fortunately, the husband covered for me — maybe his new pseudonym should be He Who Eats Lamb Liver For Me.
We eventually made it home, thanks to the boss’ car and driver.
Dinner was out of the question.