A Fly On Our Wall

If you were a fly on our wall, this is what you would have heard this week….

(Listening to Christmas music, the song mentioned mistletoe)
Varun: What about toes?
Amelia: Mistletoe. Do you know what that is?
Varun: Toes? No. What?
Amelia: Um, it’s like this plant you hang up at parties at Christmastime and if you stand under it you have to kiss.
Varun: (Confused silence as he contemplates the idea of kissing strangers at a party): So, what does a plant on the ceiling have to do with kissing?
Amelia: Umm…

(After returning from the store to “just grab a turkey”, I came home laden with cranberries, a baster, a roasting pan, meat thermometer….)
Varun: This pan is huge. Is it just for the turkey?
Amelia: Well…yeah.
Varun: So you bought a new pan for one meal?
Amelia: Ehhh…Essentially. I could also make meat and potatoes in it. And we’ll have turkey EVERY year!
Varun: Americans think of everything. A new pan for one meal, haha.
(I didn’t even bother to explain the baster….)

Amelia: And Jo is bringing her friend Vinny, and your sister and my brothers will be there….My parents are going to have a full house for thanksgiving!
Varun: (singing (not the theme song)): Winnie the pooh. Winnie the pooh.
Amelia: Winnie the Pooh? Where did that come from?!
Varun: Winnie. Winny. It’s the same name.
Amelia: HAHA. I mean, oh. Well, actually it’s “VVVVaaaah” Vinny.
Varun: Yeah, WWWWwinny.
(If you read this one with an Indian accent, it makes more sense ;-) )

Passports, please.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Varun and I don’t have a common citizenship and our status in Canada is somewhat tenuous. As such, every time we cross the border (by air or car) we are careful: we bring passports, permits, proof of residency, our marriage certificate and no fruits or veggies. Varun, of course, always gets picked for the “random searches”. Over the year we’ve had some interesting encounters; below are a few of the highlights.

Varun was learning to drive and we decided he’d drive through the border. He was nervous about answering the questions and tried to memorize where we were headed. The town of Friday Harbor, in the San Juan Islands. The ferry terminal in Anacortes. Where do we live? Vancouver. How do we know each other? We both are married. I pointed out that it’d be better to say “we are married”. But after an hour of standing on line, Varun had forgotten.

Border Guard: How do you know each other?
Varun: We both are married.
Border Guard: (Eyebrows raised, looks from Varun to me)
Me: To each other. We’re married to each other.
Border Guard: (Nods, befuddled.)

Last Christmas we were planning on driving to Seattle to fly home, but a surprise snow-storm made us take the last bus out of Vancouver before we got stranded. With only about an hour to pack, I filled my purse with snacks for the journey. As we approached the border, the bus driver told us we couldn’t have any fruits or vegetables and if we had them, we couldn’t leave them on the bus (I can’t imagine what we should have done with them if we had them). Anyway, I had already filled out my landing card and had checked “no fruits or vegetables”. But, as I stood in line I found a rebel clementine in my purse. Drat.

Border Guard: Do you have anything to declare?
Me: Um yes, I found a clementine in my bag.
BG: WHAT!? Did you fill out this card saying you had nothing?
Me: Yes, but then I found this.
(Fellow passengers are now staring)
BG: This is a federal offense! I don’t have to let you in to the USA. I can fine you $250. Would you like that?
Me: No sir. I’m sorry I–
BG: You wrote false information on a federal document!

Somehow, I got away with no fine and my American citizenship still in tact. Stress.

Yesterday, while shopping at the outlets in Niagara, USA, I had the following exchange.

Clerk: I don’t need to ask for your zipcode because I know you’re not from the USA.
Me: Oh, really? (Haha) How do you know that?
Clerk: I can tell you’re Canadian by your accent.

Apparently I know longer sound American (I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing).

Last summer we were headed to the USA to spend a month with my family and get married. We got stopped at the US border and had to go in for Varun to do some paperwork.

Border guard: Why are you going to the US?
Varun: To visit.
BG: Who?
Varun: My fiance’s family.
BG: Your fiance? Who is she? When are you getting married?
(I walk over and slide my american passport onto the counter)
Varun: This month. In Pennsylvania.
BG: You know that doesn’t change your status in America, right? This means nothing. Just because you’re getting married doesn’t mean you can stay. You need to leave the USA by July 30 or never come back.

Welcome to the land of the free.

Suffice to say, every border crossing is an adventure–and we can’t wait until we have a common citizenship! (Stand by for stories about my experiences in India!)

Ask Before You Eat

I pressed my lips together in a vain effort to keep the gooey liquid from running down my chin. Cheeks bursting, I attempted to chew. I shifted my gaze, avoiding the eyes of my Mother-in-law-to-be and the Paanwala who were both looking at me inquisitively wondering, Well, does she like it?

Gulp. I swallowed a bit of the bitter, gooey stuff and managed a half smile.

I admit, I hadn’t known what I was getting myself into. Varun’s Mom and I had taken a walk in the “cool” of the evening to visit shops near their neighborhood in Delhi. I was enjoying the smells of dusk: roti cooking, dust settling and heat soaking into the scorched earth. When we stopped at a vendor, I stood idly by watching children and dogs head for home in the twilight. Varun’s mom placed something in my hand and I nonchalantly ate it.

A word to the wise: when traveling, inquire before consuming. Not doing so can land you in some sticky situations. This is how I found myself struggling to chew and swallow, smiling and unsure.

This, I learned later, was paan. Paan is used as a breath freshener as well as a source of enjoyment and relaxation. It contains acrea nut wrapped in betel leaf along with many other things added in. It was originally consumed among royalty but now is popular not only in South Asia but also in Malaysia, Indonesia and many other countries. While it often contains tobacco, there are myriad recipes and combinations. To me, it looks like candy.

Taken by friends while visiting India

How did I like it? To be honest, it was bitter, syrupy and rather cumbersome to chew. I was unaware that I was to spit the red juice out onto the sidewalk. As we continued our walk through the winding streets and into the twilight, I considered my options. Spit the whole thing out? Gulp it down? What about the sticky mess dripping down my face?

Looking back, I’m sure I would have discreetly spit the entire thing out. However at the time, I was intent on impressing my Mother-in-law-to-be and was paranoid of committing cultural faux-pas. So, with tears in my eyes, I swallowed the mixture of…actually, I don’t know what.

I swore paan off for life. Everytime we went to the Punjabi market in Vancouver, Varun would look longingly at Paan shops. I felt nauseated and suggested we buy samosas instead. (He agreed, of course. Who can resist samosas?!)

But now I’m having second thoughts. Last week, at the India Bazaar in Toronto, I saw the ingredients for paan laid out in a Paandaani. They looked so colorful, innocent and delectable. I think, perhaps, it’s time to try paan again. This time, I’ll be sure get clear instructions from Varun and bring a stash of napkins to deal with the stickiness.

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