Party Culture Shock!
A child in a stroller, one dragging on me and a second grader; this is how I rolled into the end of school festivities of a beautiful little Swiss village. I know I was wearing a cute dress, the kids looked darling but unfortunately, I was doing this on my own. My husband was, yet again, on a business trip.
I was in a new country, at a new school with new traditions; I had no idea what I was getting into that day. The moment I walked onto the sports field I was overwhelmed. The school had about 1500 students, and they were all there with teachers and parents. That is a lot of people! There were food stands, game stands, and performances. After about an hour of activities Moses was dragging on me, "I'm thirsty, I'm hungry, there are french fries over there." A huge line was curving around the food stand. As I stood in this line and Maya started to cry. It was an epic fit; she was fed up, hot, thirsty and I had not been smart enough to bring water bottles. The invitation said there would be food and drinks.
Finally, it was my turn, "Two sausages, three portions of fries and four bottles of water." The lady started getting the food, and I pulled out my wallet. When she saw my money, she frowned, "Mam, the token line is over there, without tokens you can't have this. Go stand in that line first! Don't you know anything?" By this time I had a full-blown concert of cries. I begged her to make an exception telling her I was new. I told her I would be right back with the tokens. "We follow the rules here mam! No exceptions."
After two more lines, the kids finally got their food and drink. I looked for a place to sit, and nothing was left. I went over to the sports field, dropped onto the bleachers and let the kids eat. As I looked over at the table, all the Swiss families were merrily eating, drinking wine and quite frankly many were drunk. I was in complete culture shock and broke down crying. Tears streamed my cheeks, and a woman noticed and walked over. She sent her kids to get desserts and stayed with me.
Many years later I was well integrated and this memory was buried. By this time, I was working at a school, and they had their summer festival....with tokens. I was in charge of a stand with some of my students. A Chinese woman had been standing in line with her son. It was her turn, and she had money. I heard a student start to turn her away and I interrupted, "You will walk this woman to the token line, go to the front of the line and say Mrs. Ochs said so! Get her tokens and bring her back here to the front of the line...now go!" The lady smiled but was bewildered. The student was even more bewildered.
About an hour later I saw her sitting alone looking lost and sad. I walked over to her, "I know how you are feeling, I was new once too. It gets better, I promise." She smiled, "Mam, you are the kindest person I've met in a long time."
Today I am sitting in Switzerland and can hear the music of this very festival. I'm guessing there is an expat up there right now going through this. It happens to all of us.
—Allison Ochs Social Worker M.S.W. , Coach, Expat, Mother of three, Wife