On the joy of meeting in person the people you have been working with for five years

And the challenges of cross-cultural communications, or, as my classmate Simone Redrupp, who was FABULOUS, explained in her great presentation, what’s high context and what’s low context and what does that imply for shoes and football?

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(Seriously – if you need to hire someone to do cross-cultural training, hire Simone. She works with Erin Meyer on The Culture Map, which is fascinating reading.)

Item the first: For a month preceding the conference, we got emails about the agenda and the dress code. On one night, we would be going to the Cowboys’ stadium. Dress code was, “Sport coat.”

Which – which one of my 20 sport coats do I wear?

Item the second: At 5:38 p.m., on the day we were going to the stadium, for which the bus was leaving at 6:15 p.m., a VP announced, “Women, please don’t wear high heels. You won’t be able to go onto the field.”

My Spanish, English, and Italian women co-workers gasped. “But – that’s all we brought!” they said.

If only there were a way we could have had that information before we came all the way to Dallas. If. Only.

Item the third: The morning after the event, my lovely wonderful German co-worker, whom I finally got to meet in person after working together via skype and email for a year, said, “I do not understand why they told us not to wear high heeled shoes. It was safe to play soccer on the field once we took them off! We are not stupid! We do not need to be told not to play soccer in high heels!”

“What?” I asked. “I left before the tour.”

(Thank goodness there was an early bus and my boss had said it was OK to take it.)

(And no, she is not stupid and none of the other women are, either. I work in a company of very smart people. I am always the stupidest person in the room. It makes work so nice!)

“You know!” she said. “When they told us no high heeled shoes on the field, I was insulted. People were kicking a soccer ball around (1). I could have worn my nice shoes and just taken them off to play!”

“Oh Elise!” I said. “Bless your heart! Do you mind if I tell Theo and Ben what you said?”

“No,” she answered.

I turned to the two American men standing next to us.

“Elise thinks that the VP was concerned for her safety and the safety of the other women. She thinks that’s why he said no high heels last night.”

Both men laughed.

Elise furrowed her brow. “What?” she asked.

“It was not about your safety,” the Americans said. “This was about the grass!”

“They care more about grass than people?” she asked.

Well yeah. Pretty much.

 

(1) Yes, this was happening on the Cowboys’ field. There was also a football. But we were more than half non-Americans. Soccer rules.

 

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The futility of trying to dance with engineers

When there are 300 people at your company’s meeting and 99% of them are men and you go to Gilley’s AND YOU CANNOT FIND ONE SINGLE MAN WHO WILL DANCE INCLUDING THE ONE WHO WORKS IN THE DALLAS OFFICE AND IS WEARING COWBOY BOOTS

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No faces. I am not stupid.

But those are the feet of the few people who danced at the company event at Gilley’s last week.

The cowboy boots? Those are on a woman who works at Gilley’s and who was teaching people to line dance, which I supposed some might call dancing but I do not.

OK – it’s dancing. But I do not like.

I spent weeks anticipating dancing. Dancing for the first time in, I realize, decades, except for the once a year when Marido will polka with me at Polish Fest.

I wanted to two step and polka (as in Orange Blossom Special polka) and waltz.

I did not want to line dance.

I had lined up my dance partner – a guy at work who ballroom dances with his wife.

I took my red cowboy boots with me, which, if you have ever packed a suitcase, know is not something that travels easily. As in, that’s what I wore on the plane. In my suitcase, I packed high heels and plain black flat shoes and my work clothes and layers because even in the south, You Never Know What The Air Conditioning Situation Will Be.

 

Durango Womens Scarlet Rose Full-Grain Leather Western Boots - Square Toe, Light Red, hi-res

 

And then, Ballroom Dancing Man hurt his back.

Is OK, I thought. I work for a company of almost all men! Surely there will be a few men at the event who can dance!

I started by asking the men I already knew.

Nonononononono they said. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Then I approached men I did not know but who looked athletic and fit.

Also NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I finally said to one VP who had told me nope, he did not know how to dance, “But you guys are engineers! You’re smart! You can figure it out!”

“We’re NERDS!” he answered.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. I am not shy, but I am an introvert and the only reason I had come to this event instead of returning to my room and my book for a few hours of peace and quiet and solitude was because I had hoped to dance.

Not to talk, but to dance.

I also had attended the event because my boss had ordered us to attend every event, so, you know.

I had not prepared myself for what I would do if I had to talk to people.

I am not shy, but I was exhausted.

Let me re-state that: I am not shy when it comes to approaching co-workers I have never met when it is a work situation. I made sure I sat by someone I did not know for every meal and at every break.

But at a somewhat social event? Where nobody wants to talk about work because they, too, are wiped out from having started at 6:45 a.m. and gone to 5:30? What do you say to someone you don’t know and when you can’t talk about work when work is what you have in common?

I lurked around the edges. I tried hiding in the bathroom. I ate food that wasn’t very good, although the Frito pie was not bad at all. But when I looked at the cobbler, the waitress saw my face and knew what I was thinking.

“Take from the edge,” she advised. “There’s some crust there.”

She knew how cobbler should be made.

I looked for the few people I did know but I couldn’t find them. Maybe they were riding the bull. Or watching the armadillo races.

(Honestly, I did feel a little bit like I was in Disneyland Texas.)

And then the abomination of line dancing started.

Ooops! Did I say that out loud?

I hate line dancing.

But – because it was two beautiful women coaxing people out to dance, a few of the men danced. No American men – only the Chinese and the Italians were brave enough.

Wait. One American. One. I watched him and he had some ability. The Chinese and the Italians were willing, but they didn’t quite have the moves.

But the American was doing the two step. He could dance. More importantly, he would dance.

I grabbed him. “Please dance with me,” I asked.

Maybe he was drunk? Because he agreed. And he was fabulous!

And then an Englishman started dancing. He was swing dancing and man, did he know what he was doing. I politely waited until he and his partner finished and she left.

(I don’t know why she left – why would any woman leave a man who knows how to dance?) As soon as it was clear she was done, I introduced myself and asked if he would dance and we did and he was fabulous and it was so. much. fun.

And then Ballroom Dancer decided his back was OK enough to dance and I danced with him and he was great and I realized that I had been dancing with the three men out of almost 300 men who had figured out that the smart nerd WHO CAN DANCE can get the girl.

My feet hurt and I was exhausted the next day but I did not care.

 

I am going to look for the Old Men because they Know What They Are Doing

You don’t have to think when you two-step with Grandad

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Source: Hollywood Reporter

If you are a Person of A Certain Age, then you know what you are seeing in this photo.

My co-worker, who is Not Yet of A Certain Age, did not know anything about this.

Me: I just saw the agenda for the sales meeting! They’re taking us to Gilley’s! I didn’t even know there was a Gilley’s in Dallas. I thought it was just Houston.

Co-worker: What’s “Gilley’s?”

Me: Ummmm. What were you doing in 1980?

Co-worker: Being born?

Me: Oh. So. OK. Well.

She did not share my joy.

Initially, my joy was snobbery. The snobbery of Well I Went To This Place In The Beginning When There Was Only One. The snobbery of I Knew It When It Hadn’t Been Corrupted By Expansion.

That’s how I feel about Chili’s, which used to be nothing more than a cheap hamburger place for college students in Houston to eat. That’s how I feel about Whole Foods, which just used to be the local organic and bulk food grocery store in Austin. It wasn’t cheap like Chili’s,  but it was not crazy expensive like it is now. It used to be the hippie store. Hippie stores are not expensive.

(Whole Foods was an account of ours when I worked in Austin. When my friend and co-worker Terri would call on them, front line workers would yell, “SUITS!!!!!” to the office people in the back.)

(It was not a compliment.)

(Yes, that was back when people wore suits to work.)

(I don’t miss that part of those days.)

And yes, I went to the original Gilley’s, too. I went there on a date with a guy I had met only once – it was raining and we were walking after class and I offered to share my umbrella BECAUSE OF COURSE I HAD AN UMBRELLA AS A 17 YEAR OLD COLLEGE STUDENT.

He asked if I wanted to go to Gilley’s which OF COURSE I DID I HAD SEEN THE MOVIE.

And I love to two step and polka.

We went.

He didn’t know how to dance.

I didn’t know how to dance well enough to teach a non-dancer how to dance.

We left – and his car died in the middle of nowhere – somewhere in the dark between Pasadena and Houston and we couldn’t find a pay phone and when we finally did and found the number for a taxi, we couldn’t tell the taxi where we were because it was in the middle of the dark nowhere. His roommate finally retrieved us.

He called me several times after that but I wouldn’t call back.

I felt awful about how I treated him for decades. I finally wrote him a letter about 15 years after the event, but I don’t know if he ever got it.

Then, at a reunion a few years ago, I saw him. He came up to me! I blurted out, “I was so unkind to you! I am sorry!”

And – he let me apologize. And we chatted. And it was lovely!

I became a much better dancer later. It was one of the main things my friends and I did for fun in college – we went country western dancing. I had a fake ID not to drink but to get into the Winchester Club in Houston. In San Antonio, it was the Bluebonnet Palace. In Austin, it was the SPJST Hall and the Broken Spoke.

In New Braunfels, it was Wurstfest, where they had this dance where every 45 seconds or so, they would blow a whistle and you had to switch partners with whoever was next to you.

I saw all these Old Men dancing and I thought Oh no I don’t want to dance with an old man!

And then – well, reader.

And then I danced with an old man.

And another.

And that’s when I discovered that old men who have been dancing since they were kids know what they are doing.

I didn’t have to think. I didn’t have to plan. I didn’t have to make any dance decisions.

They just guided me to where I needed to be and it was fabulous.

Where was I?

Oh. So I have been to Gilley’s and I am a snob, but now I am a snob who never gets to go dancing because

  1. I would rather sleep than do just about anything else.
  2. My husband cannot dance.
  3. I have tried to teach him to dance but he wants a process chart and a diagram showing exactly where he is supposed to put his feet EVERY SINGLE SECOND and that’s – not how dancing works.
  4. My husband cannot dance.
  5. (But he can sing)

But now, I can be a snob who has a chance to dance.

I will even dance with co-workers. I have already identified a co-worker who told me last year that he and his wife had taken ballroom dance lessons. If he can ballroom dance, he can sure two step and polka.

And if I can’t find a co-worker who can dance, I will roam around and look for the old men.

(If you don’t believe me, watch this video about the dance halls in Texas.)

 

The universality of bacon grease

Or, How Southern and Wisconsin cookbooks get straight to the point and other cookbooks miss it

One of the best hostess gifts anyone has ever given me was two jars of bacon grease from The Good Bacon. Our friends Bonnie and Gary were going out of town and already had bacon grease saved up, so gave us two jars of bacon drippings they couldn’t use. Bacon drippings from the butcher in the small town where they live. Good Bacon.

And one of the best cookbooks I have gotten is this one – The Southern Sympathy Cookbook – from my friends Kim and Luke. It’s one of the best because what’s not to love about a cookbook that unabashedly uses lots of butter? And of course just all the down-home recipes of the kind of things your grandma made or would have made if she had been from Mississippi instead of northern Wisconsin. My grandma J would have totally rocked cornbread and black-eyed peas and biscuits.

My grandma S was not so much of a cook, but we had fun reading the National Enquirer together.

Anyhow. I love the cookbook. The recipes are great and it’s fun to read and it reminds me of Memphis and all the southern things that I had to learn, like what time you show up for a party as opposed to what time you show up for a bridal shower and what you wear (that part not so much because I really don’t like dressing up, partly because I don’t know how but mostly because I am so, so lazy and also a little bit because I never feel like I look good, especially compared to southern women who have it in their DNA, unlike, based on my own experience and my observations, northern women who do not).

But the thing I like the most about this cookbook is that it acknowledges what should be a truth universally acknowledged, which is that EVERYONE SHOULD ALREADY HAVE BACON GREASE.

Seriously.

What is it with these fancy cookbooks – and I read cookbooks the way a 15 year old boy reads Playboy or the way 15 year old boys used to read Playboy – and the bizarre ingredient list that includes “Two slices of bacon” and then has the instructions to fry the two slices of bacon, set aside the bacon for another use, and then save a tablespoon of the bacon grease?

Who are these people?

This is a cultural value that unites North and South and, I need to add, black and white.

I saw Michael Twitty speak here a few weeks ago. He talks about food and African culture and African American culture and racism and food and justice and he is compelling and he is right.

He asked the audience what foods they think of when they think of their grandmothers.

My first thought was, “Bacon grease!” but I was not going to say anything out loud because – well, because I felt as a white person attending a lecture about African Americans and slavery and the legacy of slavery that I needed to listen and not talk.

But – I thought, “Bacon grease!”

Audience members began to shout: “Collards!” “Cornbread!” “Okra!”

And then someone said what I was thinking: “Bacon grease!”

My people and his people: We have something in common.

Our grandmothers kept a coffee can of bacon grease on the stove.

Our grandmothers did not waste food. They did not throw fat away. Why throw away something and then turn around and buy it? That’s wasteful.

Bacon drippings are perfectly good for frying other foods. I would say bacon grease is even better than any oil you could buy – at least bacon grease has flavor.

When I met Marido, he was flabbergasted at the idea that I kept bacon grease. As my mother did before me and as her mother did before her, as my father did and as his mother did before him, I save bacon grease.

His mom grew up poor up north. Her parents grew up poor down south. I know there was bacon grease saved in that family. Marido thinks maybe his mom abandoned the practice because it didn’t seem fancy enough. (Marido’s father was a big ole snob, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he insisted.

I grew up thinking everyone saved bacon grease because why wouldn’t you?

And then I met Marido and I met other people and I started reading cookbooks for fun and discovered those odd instructions to fry a few slices of bacon just so you have the grease.

All this emphasis on nose to tail cooking (hint: it’s what my grandparents did because We Do Not Waste) and people who think they’re so hip because they are eating pigs’ knuckles or whatever but – they have to be told how to create bacon grease?

If you don’t have bacon grease in your fridge, then – well, I don’t think you really care about food.

There are no atheists on Bolivian highways

There are no atheists on Spanish highways, either

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After I finished my two years in Chile as a Peace Corps volunteer, I returned to the US over land. I took trains, buses, and ferries to get home.

I took the bus in Bolivia.

Do not do this unless you like adrenaline.

I don’t have photos because back then, it cost money to take photos and taking a photo with film out of a moving bus was a stupid idea.

But I made the mistake of looking out the window at one point. Gravel road, narrow lane, no shoulder, mountainside.

I thought I was done with all that,  but then Marido and I decided to rent a car in Sevilla so we could tour the Pueblos Blancos.

We – we do not have Spanish DNA.

The roads are good and well built – no potholes! – but we do not know the rules.

And there is only so wide you can make a road when you have to blow up the side of a mountain to build it.

See the road in the photo above? That was between Ronda and Arcos de la Frontera. We didn’t think when we were selecting our route that going through mountains might be – you know – mountainous.

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This photo is not part of the road I am talking about, but that vertical plunge? The same.

I mean, we did, but it did not occur to us that a mountain could present driving challenges.

We just thought, “That looks like the pretty route!”

Which it was.

But notice that there are no shoulders on the road. (In fairness, there is no room for a shoulder.)

Notice there are no lane lines. Not sure about that one.

And notice the fence and the rail on the left. They are there to perhaps slow your car before it plunges hundreds of feet down.

This kind of road works just fine as a one-way road.

This road is not one way.

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As soon as we got to Grazalema, I hied us to the tourist office.

“We need the route that is more wide and less mountain!” I said.

The woman at the tourist office nodded sagely.

“Más ancho y menos montaña,” she repeated as she showed us the route we had thought we would not take because it was the long way around.

But that is the route we took.

That’s the road below. That is the Wide Road.

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And this is Less Mountain.

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But I still want to Burn It Down and Move To Spain.

 

Just how fancy do you need to be for politicians?

Miami is throwing shade on Milwaukee (at Milwaukee? What’s the right way to say this? I know just enough to be dangerous)

fancy
We are fancy enough and we are comfortable. And we can rock leopard print as well as anyone else.

 

Miami is trash-talking Milwaukee, saying Milwaukee is not fancy enough to host the Democratic convention.

I totally give the “not fancy” part to Miami. I lived in Miami for two years and never once did I see a Cuban or Haitian woman out without lipstick. Miami people dress up. They look smart. I almost never saw gray hair or frump.

(Except for me. I brought the frump because I have never been able to do lipstick and honestly? I AM LAZY.)

Miami is glossy. People there look really good.

You know why?

It’s easy to look good when you don’t have to worry about

  1. Being cold
  2. Slipping on the ice
  3. Sinking into the snow
  4. Ruining your shoes in the salty slush

Miami totally wins on fancy.

But – what I want to know is why fancy does matter for a political convention?

Has anyone ever thought that politicians are fancy?  That politicians need fancy?

I do not hold a high opinion of elected officials in general. Although I have met some wonderful politicians who are sincere and ethical and competent, I have also met several who are complete idiots who, if they were not elected officials, would be lucky to have a job asking if you want fries with that.

That is, politics seems to attract two types: sincere and capable public servants – not enough of those – and people who are kind of losers and manage by some miracle to get elected.

But politics doesn’t really seem to attract glossy, high-fashion, fancy types.

Am I missing something? Do we need the same thing for politics that we do for Hollywood?

(Not that I am an expert on Hollywood, but Hollywood seems way fancier than politics.)

Do we have to be fancy for a political event?

I think we could host a political event just fine. I even think we have some fancy things, like our art museum, that might impress people.

But you know what?

I hope Miami gets it. (Lord have mercy, nobody, not even politicians, deserves Houston in July.)

I don’t want it here. We have about ten days of the year when the weather is perfect and we can go to the Summerfest grounds for one of Milwaukee’s gajillion summer festivals or to walk along the lakefront or to eat at one our many amazingly delicious restaurants (we are not chubby because the food is bad).

We do not need politicians here, taking the parking spaces, crowding the sidewalks, making it hard to get into a restaurant.

You guys stay far, far away. We will be not-fancy fine without you.

 

When you’re in deep snow and existential despair

And then you put the dishwash thing in the disposal. While it is running.

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So you guys. Marido and I went on vacation. Which was a mistake. Because Spain was beautiful and we went outside without our coats and we realized there are people who live without winter and how can we become those people? But we can’t because The Man Is Keeping Us Down and because you don’t burn it all down and move to Spain in your mid-50s —

wait.

Do you?

No. You can’t. Not when you have two cats whom you are not willing to abandon. Not when your mom thank God is healthy now but those times are coming.

You can’t.

Can you?

Maybe. Man, I want to.

But when you are distracted and thinking about Burning It Down and Moving To Spain, you casually push the orange peels into the disposal with the dishwash thingy and – oops! The head of the thingy comes off IN THE DISPOSAL and in the few seconds it takes you to react, the disposal very efficiently grinds the plastic of the dishwash thingy into tiny little bits.

Which is a metaphor for Life Right Now – Tiny Little Bits of White Nothingness That Are Causing Despair Because The Damn Snow Won’t Stop.

And then you have to get those tiny white bits out of the disposal because – and I am guessing on this, but I suspect I am correct – grinding them into even smaller pieces so they will wash down the drain is probably not a good idea and definitely not good for the fish.

So even though I know better and I know what LOTO is and I have attended safety classes, I stick my hand into the disposal

Don’t worry! Nothing bad happens!

But I kept thinking, “What if something happened and the disposal turned on? My fingers would be shredded! Then how would I use the remote? Or my phone?”

I already have a top-less little finger from the Mandoline Incident of ’13.

Advice: If you fly to Dubai and back in the same week, give yourself a few days after you return before you use sharp objects. It really does take some time to recover from that jet lag.

But I had to stick my hand down the disposal and retrieve all the little plastic bits and it forced me to concentrate and contemplate Winter and Discontent and Despair and The Point of Life and I am ready to leave again.

But I bought new pillows instead.

I will let you know if that solves the problem.