Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I REMEMBER...all Americans eat orange rinds.

I have had the great fortune to travel extensively.  It is great to learn about other cultures and dispel (or create) myths about Americans abroad.

It was about 1976 and I was in Ireland.  The Killarney hotel I was staying in had access to various day trips throughout the region for tourists to savor the "feel" of rural Ireland. I signed up and off we went for a full day of exploring the Irish hills and countryside.

There were about 30 tourists from all over the world on this particular adventure.  We had an early breakfast of kippers, potatoes, eggs, toast, tea and biscuits and were off a bit after sunrise.  We were all quite tired as there had been an IRA bomb scare in the middle of the night. We spent a few hours standing in our sleepwear in the parking lot, while the bomb dogs sniffed their way through our rooms.  Nevertheless, we were soon on our way (that strong Irish tea can kick some serious espresso butt) and we were definitively awake.  

This particular adventure was to be a three-part journey.  The first part was by Irish jaunting cart to the base of the foothills, a horse ride to the top of the hills, and then a boat ride back down the mountain through a series of canals and locks.  The jaunting carts were rickety and jostled us back and forth until we were quite queasy.  We were happy to get off the wooden plank seats and onto the horses, or should I say, "out of the frying pan and into the fire"?  Butt weary, we finally arrived at the top of our little mountain and took a break for lunch.

Slight digression:  Some twelve years before, I  was a junior in High School and on the Cordova High School wrestling team.  I loved the sport.  Truly an individual athlete's opportunity to shine.  Although you are on a team, you compete individually against a wrestler from another school.  The down side is that if you do poorly, you can't blame it on anyone for not blocking, passing, defending, etc.  Everyone just saw you out on the mat, by yourself, win or lose, it was all on you...which is also the upside.  When you win , it is all you.  After all- everyone just saw you out on the mat, by yourself, win or lose. 

Sooooo...I was competing at the 112 lb category, which was about 15 lbs below my normal weight.  The down side was that I was seriously thin and looked like a refugee from a concentration camp.  The upside is that I was HUGE for my category, my opponents were much smaller, and I won a lot.  Downside2 was that I constantly had to diet to maintain my weight category during the wrestling season.  My daily diet for lunch  (for two years) was a hard boiled egg, a cold minute-steak, an orange and water (1/2 liter bottles of water had not been invented it was a heavy stainless steel Thermos bottle of water.)  I was so starved at the end of lunch, I would stare hungrily at my trash...a paper bag, wax-paper wrappers (baggies not invented yet), egg shells, and orange peels.  Not enamored with the taste appeal of paper, wax or egg shells, I learned to eat (and enjoy!) orange peels and still maintain my diet. 

Back to the original story.  We are at the top of the mountain after a half-day of a kidney-jolting, open-air jaunting cart ride and a butt-blistering mountain pony ride to the top to connect with our afternoon downhill boat rides.  There was a series of canal locks back to the base of the mountain (and then more jaunting cart rides back to the hotel).  Here we are sitting on the precipice, lovely shades of green throughout the mountain and valley below, enjoying the hotel box lunch.  A Guinness, fish and chips (Irish chips are potato fries; American "chips" are called crisps) and of course, an orange.  So, there I was, in the company of thirty or so people from all over the world; I was the only American in our group.  Gazing out over the countryside, enjoying my lunch, I finished the fish and chips, drank the Guinness and proceeded to eat the orange in its entirety, just like an apple.  I had acquired a taste for orange peels from my high school athletic-diet days, and since I was gong to consume the orange peels anyway, I had learned to skip the peeling-the-skin-off part and just eat the whole thing.

It was quiet and peaceful...but I soon noticed, a bit too quiet.  All conversation around me had ceased.  I looked up and noticed that everyone was staring at me. I had no idea why.  I asked what was wrong and someone ventured - "You are eating the whole orange, peel and all!"  The only thing I could respond with was, "All Americans eat oranges this way, don't you?"

The pleasant boat ride through a series of locks winding back down the mountainside was comfortable, uneventful and extremely quiet, as everyone sat far away from me, taking furtive glances at me from time to time.  I am sure my international traveling companions included me in many  "American culture" post-vacation stories back home.

"Remember what Bilbo used to say: It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  Lord of the Rings, J.R. Tolkien