Alaskans are very friendly. When someone is new in the area, everybody invites them to make them feel welcome in the community. Thus, when we moved to Alaska in 2001 we were invited a lot – neighbors, colleagues, friends of new friends. It’s quite different from what you experience when you move to another town in Germany. After a move within Germany, the first months are pretty non-social until you have built up a new circle of friends.
In Alaska, any invitation no matter whether it is a party, dinner, wedding reception, baby shower, bridal party, you name it, has a given start and end time. For the usual mid European adding an end time to an invitation seems quite weird, odd, and may be even unwelcome. To be honest, I even overlooked it in the first invitation (emails) I got in Alaska when RSVPing.
Big mistake! It is the custom to remember the time and to just stand up even in the middle of a nice conversation, swallow down the rest of the drink and thank for the invitation, tell the hostess how delicious the meal was, the host how great the party and wine were, say good bye and leave.
The first time, I saw a guest leaving what in my opinion was “in the middle of a conversation” was at a dinner party with just two couples invited, a colleague and his wife and my husband and I. I thought that the host must have insulted my colleague somehow, but that I had missed what the insult was. May be he or his wife had just to be up early the next day and they had lost track of the time. Since it was in the middle of a great conversation we said good bye to them and sat down again. The host and hostess brought them to the door and came back to the table afterwards.
At that time, I did not know that typically dinner parties end at 10, may be 10:30 pm. I wanted to pick up the conversation where we had stopped. However, before I was able to open my mouth our host asked whether we are on the city waste-water line or have a septic system. “The house has a septic system” my husband replied. The host continued asking questions about the septic system in the house we had rented. Then he continued on talking about their septic system and the experiences they had made with it.
Not having had to deal with a septic system ever before, not to mention with a septic system in the sub-arctic, we were listening like little kids to a grandfather’s story telling. Time flew by with a lot of laughter and with a sudden I realized that it was already 1:30 am! We thanked the hosts and left. Do I have to say that we were never invited by them again?
After we had been the last guests for the third time with the same conversation after all other guests had left, we realized that Alaskans start talking about their septic systems when they want their guests to leave! Thus, after getting it I never stayed so long that the hosts had to take this secret weapon.
In the aftermath, I felt quite dumb. I even apologized to the hosts and they were astonished about my doing so. Today I laugh about it 🙂 and put it into the “drawer” of funny events due to cultural differences. Immigrating to a different country was quite a learning curve even though both cultures are western cultures.
Have you ever had a situation where you absolutely did not get what your host was telling you? How did you feel about it later?
If you have friends who plan to visit Alaska warn them that Alaskans start to talk about their septic systems when it is time for their guests to go.
Photos: G. Kramm (2016)
Copyright 2013-2016 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved