Today was one of those hectic days, where I was uncertain if I would have time for lunch. At least if I would be able to have lunch, from my agenda, it would have been only for 15 minutes between 12.45 and 13.00. For those who have worked with me, they know well that lunch is sacred for me. Without it, I can easily become the bitch from hell (excuse my language, but it pretty accurately describes my state).
My colleague, Madeline, as thoughtful as always, offered for me to try a food from her native Iran, called dolmeh. She asked if I had tried it, and I said no, only dolmades from Greece, which often have a heavy lemon sauce over them. They were amazing, and I ate them all up. They were so tasty, such an intriguing combination of textures and tastes, and I thought "How lucky am I to be able to experience so many wonderful tastes and experiences!"
Then I felt immediately guilty, and wished that I had saved one to take home to my daughter. I remembered my own childhood when one of my favorite treats was Vietnamese egg rolls, a very special treat from a colleague of my father's.
I recalled my first introductions to the world outside the United States.
First, recalling a favorite family story of my first visit to Rodity's in Chicago, where faced with a Greek (obviously something foreign and NOT GOOD to my five year old brain) dinner, I subversively chose a hot dog. And as the food arrived, the hot dog lay forgotten and wilting as I helped myself to everyone else's plates, which obviously were much better than a hot dog (unless the hot dog comes from a German festival, but that is another story).
Second, dinners and egg rolls shared with the aforementioned colleague. Hearing their stories of struggle, determination, and success in their journey out of Vietnam at the end of the war. Being a guest in their home, and sharing our love of language and words, as he shared his challenges with learning English. At the time, I thought, English is easy, I speak it!, not recognizing the struggle, particularly as an adult to learn another language, and even more, sound halfway native. I still have the thesaurus that he gave me as a gift, but more importantly, the warm glow that came from one of my first experiences with the world and the people in it.
Then in fourth grade, my dad pulled me out of school for the day to go to Indianapolis to see the US citizenship ceremony of another of his colleague's, this time from Taiwan. I watched people from a myriad of nations receive their citizenship, and also was able to see and experience many countries' food and cultural items in the International Festival that was held together with the ceremony.
In fifth grade, I had my first passport and trip abroad! We spent Spring Break in England, where they supposedly spoke "our" language, but had quite silly expressions. They had a tendency to queue, where we would stand in line. They would "mind the gap" instead of "beware of falling in that horrible space between the train and the platform". I fell in love with the experience of experiencing a world that was somehow very much the same (people get up, go to work, have families, enjoy friends and some kinds of hobby), but also amazingly different (they ate Wimpy's hamburgers instead of McDonald's, at least in the early 80's) and minded their gap.
Over the years, I have had the chance to visit 31 countries, most of them through work, but also some personally. And having lived in some of the best places for foreign food (San Francisco Bay Area for Asian food, Germany for almost any country), I have tried many dishes from countries I have never visited. My friends and colleagues have shared with me their favorites, as Madeline did today, and then I enjoy taking my daughter to show her the wonderful world we live in. I have even been able to move from student to teacher with my father, having introduced him to Brazilian churrascaria, Mexican lengua, Thai and Indian curries, Persian kebabs and rice, and Portuguese bacalhau.
As much as I love these new experiences, and managed to summon the courage to try Singaporean jellyfish (pictured above), Japanese sea cucumber, and several unnamed mollusks from China, I have been in Sweden for most of the last 16 years and still have not tried surströmming (fermented herring, buried in the ground).