Quick Culture Among the Couches

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If you can’t bring the mountain to Mohammed, bring Mohammed to the mountain. Or, in my case, bring him to IKEA.

When my husband and I decided to have kids 10 years ago, we SWORE we would leave the country once a year in an effort to round out some semblance of global education for our kids besides the Orange County Swap Meet.

Our last trip was to Peru, where we stayed on a farm with chickens in our rooms, and visited pyramids where people used to worship the sun and the moon by chopping each other’s heads off. Not exactly Paris, but our kids learned a little about chickens’ sleep habits (oxymoron No. 1) and living by your beliefs (oxymoron No. 2), which was fine by us.

This year – and I SWORE I wasn’t going to use the words “recession,” “terrible economy,” or “#@!% Ponzi scheme” – let’s just say we had a change in plans.

We are going nowhere.

And the Swap Meet’s still a maybe.

Disappointed at the prospect of yet another parenting shortcoming of ours (if you count as shortcomings the pop tarts for dinner and the checks from the “tooth fairy” with our names crossed out) we’ve been scratching our heads regarding how to incorporate some worldly experience into our kids’ lives this year.

Until my husband reminded me about International Night.

International Night was an old, pre-kid tradition devised by my friends to test out our new boyfriends in an intimate, semi-cultural way. For example, I brought my boyfriend Sven – a runner from Germany – to “Greek Night,” where everyone came dressed in Greek attire and armed with an indigenous dish and a cheek full of ouzo.

Sven, by contrast, brought a hamburger for himself and a six-pack of Miller Genuine Draft.

Poor Sven. So Greek, to end in a tragedy like that.

Our next country was Switzerland, with a delicious meal of cheese fondue planned, accessorized with warm hats and knee socks. When my new boyfriend, Joe, broke into a yodeled version of “Edelweiss,” we all knew he was a keeper. I married him the following year, despite the fact the song is Austrian.


“Pick a country, boys,” Joe told our kids the other morning. “And we’ll bring it to you.”

“Denmark!” they said.

“Pretty sure that’s just salmon and a week of whitening our teeth,” I told them. “But you want Denmark, you got it.”

As the date approached, we invited other families to participate and made a group event out of it, just like old times. There was even a buzz about the neighborhood, with kids chattering about pickled herring and Danish butter cookies.

The morning of the big feast, I woke up giddy and turned to Joe.

“Tell me what to do first!”

“I don’t know, you tell me,” he said.

To make a long story medium, neither of us had done anything, thinking the other had done everything – save for me googling how to make a homemade paper bonnet and inviting everyone I knew.

Panicked, we researched Danish restaurants in Orange County.

There aren’t any.

“What about getting IKEA’s meatballs and gravy to go?” I asked.

“Swedish.” Joe said.

“Tomato, tomahto,” I said, and off to Costa Mesa I sped.

Once there, I quickly grabbed a bag of meatballs, some packets of gravy mix, a jar of herring spread, and a new lamp for the living room.

By the time the guests arrived, all incriminating labels had been destroyed, the house smelled of holly, and I, in my bonnet, had very white teeth.

As I was milling about, handing out my meatballs, I overheard one of my kids telling a neighbor, “Denmark’s awesome.”

To which the neighbor responded with a hearty nod and added, “Want to do India next?”

So, yes, we duped the gang with the wrong country. And, no, it wasn’t even remotely “just like being there.” Regardless, the evening was a smashing, semi-cultural success.

When it comes to recession parenting, I’ve learned, you utilize the resources you do have to create the life you think you don’t. Or as Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, would say, sometimes you need to assemble it yourself.



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