Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

From right to left, Morticia, Fester, Aristotl...

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Dear kabatch, schoolmates, officemates, kabayan and friends :

 We uncharacteristically had three events to attend over the weekend, but two of those three were with kabayan, relatives, work-related, or all of the above.
The last was a Kiwi invite to a family affair, which we were flattered to participate in as it implied that we were considered, um, family.
On the way to the venue, we realized that we were witnessing our first purely (besides ourself) Kiwi gathering, and so we gathered our tools of perception, extended our social-cultural feelers to better appreciate how the natives conducted their festivities, and thanked God that we remembered to brush teeth and apply deodorant. 🙂
[ We were guests in a few Auckland parties three years ago, but it was different then, the hosts were usually Kiwi-Pinoy blended families, or the host/s was considered part of the family by many Pinoys. So those don’t count right? ]
For preliminaries, care had been taken to preserve the surprise shindig for the celebrant, who (of course) didn’t know that one was shortly being held in her honor. Cars were parked on the far end of the block, provisions and party paraphernalia were quietly brought in, and we almost thought we would be asked to tiptoe into the party area. No effort was spared to avoid a spoiler.
Either we don’t have enough fun-filled memories back home, Pinoys aren’t as OC about surprise parties, or Kiwis just know how to have fun.
Here’s where the similarities start: 90% of the guests were family, and had known each other for years and years. We realized almost instantly that if they hadn’t had the party planned, they would’ve met anyway in some other fashion or reason, with the same people and probably the same food.
We’re not exaggerating : the very same people before us, almost to a man, could have exchanged places with the people in the gilt-edged picture frames lining the living room walls, fireplace ledge and other areas available for display. With the singular exception of a relative in Australia, everyone else was present, accounted for and ready to participate in the festivities.
For a fleeting nanosecond we recalled those funny Addams Family / Scooby Doo episodes where subjects in family pics looked exactly like their real-world counteparts, and slits were cut in the pictures where eyes were supposed to be, for spying, or the figures might even come to life and step out of the picture. And this was before we had a single sip of alcohol.
Being a non-relative, a non-Caucasian and a non-member of their circle of trust (think Ben Stiller vs Robert de Niro in Meet the Parents / Fockers), we stood out only a bit less prominently than a arthritic sore thumb complete with unmanicured nail.
[ Everyone else is white, everyone else shares a surname or middle name, everyone else knows each other from the 20th century. We were the only Asian, shorter by at least three inches than anyone else (including the women), and nobody, besides the celebrant and the host, knew us. Yup, we’re thinking the same thing : How’d we get into this? ]
But back to topic : You see the similarity with Asians / Pinoys, right? Family is first, second and last in all things celebratory, friends are good to have in happy times, but you don’t forget your rellys.
At least one mom brought her baby, who couldn’t have been more than six months old. While she was in full 70s garb (the party theme), she brought along a baby carriage, walker, and a mini-cot / carrier for her young. Don’t forget the baby seat back in the car.
Nobody batted an eyelash at this motorcade of baby transport. (Except maybe us.) Nothing gets in the way of a party, not even nursing your newborn or the hourly breastfeeding.
(We wonder if the mom’s milk made Baby tipsy or more googly-eyed, but never mind.)
And this is the overlap into the second comparison. Parties are lovely excuses for Kiwis to enjoy their drink, although socially, legally and politically, eyebrows are properly raised before everyone takes the obligatory swig at the mug, shot glass or emerald bottle. It’s no big secret that Kiwis are per capita among the most formidable drinkers in the world.
Please don’t misunderstand. None among our hosts and fellow guests drank too much, or behaved badly, whether you use the standard of NZ (not that high) or our own (even less). But there was quite a healthy streak of randy jokes, inside jokes (which of course we failed to get) and politically incorrect jokes, which as you know are standard agenda among family members.
We appreciated the famous way Kiwis talk self-deprecatingly, the way they make guests to their country feel at home, and sometimes wonder if they bend over backwards just to make certain races (like ours) feel welcome. Well, you take your breaks where you get them.
At this point, it wouldn’t be fair to make an objective comment on the gastronomic fare that had been readied for the guests : crisps (Kiwinese for chichirya) and dip, crackers and dip, and salted nuts and dip; safe to say that the finger foods were meant to be an afterthought to the libation and dancing. There were pies and savories (parang mini-pies) as well, nobody cared too much that the choices were limited, and this easy-to-please Pinoy wasn’t about to ask for kalderetang kambing, relyenong bangus or chicken pork adobo that were standard fare for handaan back home.
Within an hour from the time the celebrant was surprised and serenaded (she seemed actually shocked; we half-expected her to arrive in a duster and rollers); everyone had either a pleasant buzz or a silly smile on their faces.
Everyone, that is, except the designated drivers, who impressed us by not grabbing a gulp, stealing a swig or snatching a swallow of the bubbly when no one was watching. The current political climate condemning drink-driving (drunk-driving in the US), random police checks and the opprobrium directed at irresponsible motoring were enough deterrents for that.
In all, this account probably doesn’t do justice to the remarkable way with which our temporary hosts are known to celebrate; they certainly work hard and play hard. If there is any defining similarity that unites Pinoys and Kiwis, it is that when they are with family and friends, they love to take their wildest swing at Life, and very often Life accommodatingly swings right back at them.
Thanks for reading !

2 thoughts on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

  1. Pingback: Why Airports Are Not Your Happy Place If You’re Asian : TVOne’s Border Security « YLBnoel's Blog

  2. Pingback: Pinoy Man vs Wild (in workingclass Wellington) « YLBnoel's Blog

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