We’re republishing one of our most popular Culture Bumps this week. Enjoy!
As I just completed reading two books this past weekend, Kitchen Table Wisdom and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it should not come as a surprise that I found myself thinking and now writing about two things, our own kitchen table, specifically the number of memories and moments this table has been a part of since it became ours in 2003, and food. There is nothing really special about the table itself. It has four legs, four chairs and a bench. But yet there is something so special about it, all at the same time.
This is very much the table where it all began. This is the table where I began to get to know a certain German expatriate who had recently moved to the United States. We had our unofficial first date dinner at this table set in his scarcely decorated new apartment. We sat at the table and he asked what I would like for dinner, as he handed me two take out menus, Chinese or pizza? We set the table and enjoyed our first meal together at this table.
This is the table where I slowly started to transition out of my job in Minneapolis during the spring of 2006. Where I started working from home, at this kitchen table with my laptop, and where I crafted my bright idea (or so I thought at the time) to continue in the same job, despite moving to Germany. This is the table where I received and responded to their unacceptance of said bright idea and where I found myself sitting at the table, soon to be unemployed, about to get married, and moving to Germany.
This is the table where my future mother-in-law offered me her first name and the ‘Du’ informal way of addressing her in German during a dinner shortly before we got married. I was not expecting this and missed the offering until it was repeated.
This is the table we used to celebrate our marriage ceremony with traditional black forest cake and coffee on a very hot July summer day.
This is the table we have sat at and celebrated the beginning of the New Year with my parents, trying fondue for the first time. This is the table where we’ve had long chats, happy and sad, with our parents, siblings, godparents, nieces and nephews.
This is the table where we had to convince my nephew to try the fancy macaroni and cheese Onkel Roland made or for those of you who know this area of Germany, Käsespätzle. As long as there was the chance to put ketchup on it, everything was ok!
I’ve used this table as a make-shift meeting table and held coaching sessions, English lessons and a handful of business meetings with coffee and cake.
Every September and April, we have come to celebrate, often times just the two of us, our birthdays. Simple breakfasts with waffles, strawberries and fresh whipped cream. Though the location of the table has changed over the years, the celebration stays the same.
To be clear, I actually inherited this kitchen table. Roland purchased it when he first moved to the US. I didn’t have a kitchen table at that point in my life. I was living in a studio and I was happy to just have room for a bed. Like so many things in our life, we’ve shared and blended our material possessions as well as our languages, values and cultural traditions.
This is the table where we ate fresh Maine lobster. Roland was having it for the first time and I was able to share the part of my life and family connected to Maine with him.
This is the table where we’ve celebrated Christmas with our now mixed traditional meal of pigs in a blanket, rabbit, red cabbage, and twice baked potatoes.
We’ve celebrated a handful of Thanksgivings at this table, presenting the prized turkey and sharing this important holiday for me with friends and neighbors but not my extended family. It’s the table where I realized I needed to tell our German guests that the formed jello – marshmallow – cream – fruit – salad was part of the main meal and not the dessert.
This is the table where we celebrated the Superbowl in 2005 as well as the World Cup in 2010 with friends who live near and far.
This is the table that was all of a sudden gone and packed away in a container on its way to Germany. I remember standing in our empty dining room remembering where the table once was, just a few hours prior.
I sometimes find myself complaining that the table is too small or the wood is too dark. Sometimes I wish for a bigger table so that we could fit more people at one table instead of putting three different tables together. But when I really think about it, I think this table is big enough. It is big enough to hold all of the memories so far and all of those which will come.
What memories that kitchen table will hold in the future, I do not know. Perhaps a high chair or two, or a booster seat. Perhaps as we get older, the chairs will need to have a softer cushion so we can sit on them.
This table sees the changes of seasons every year. From fall to winter and spring to summer. I change the table cloth, decorations, napkins and placemats. It is as if, even though the seasons come and go and the decorations change, the table stays the same.
It’s a metaphor for me, I suppose. Time keeps moving, life keeps changing, yet some things always stay the same. In a world which is changing at a pace I can sometimes barely keep up with, this is a comforting thought for me.
Even if it is ‘just’ a table.
But perhaps it is so much more. Through the changes and moves, a new beginning, tearful conversations and moments of celebration, it has been a place for me to come to, to sit at and to connect with others. I wonder what could happen if we all spent a bit more time at our own kitchen tables.
Some expatriates decide to leave their material possessions behind in their home country for a variety of reasons. Be it financial, the length of time in the host country, or a fear of damaging special pieces. I understand this.´However, upon arriving in a strange new place, where you are trying to create a new home in a new house, having a kitchen table can give you comfort. Something familiar in an unfamiliar place. This is why I think you must take the kitchen table with you.
The next time we move, when and where I do not know, I am unsure if we will be able to take all of our material possessions with us. If we will have the financial ability to pay for a large container. But I do know that our kitchen table with be with us. I don’t know where that will be, where our kitchen table will end up next, what country, what house, or apartment.
I do know, though, that the memories will remain, regardless of where we end up next.