Is this house warm yet?

I’m not big on social interaction. Not in an agoraphobic, sociopathic kind of way. Just painful, awkward shyness that I got from a childhood of not really being allowed to go anywhere. Ever. The result is that I never know what’s appropriate in social situations, despite a lifetime of my Aunt’s helpful hints about manners and such. What little I do know, I’ve learnt from movies. And the Internet. And the Internet is probably not the best place to learn manners.

What this long-winded introduction is trying to do is set the background for the time I went to my neighbour’s house warming party. And nothing awful happened. Well, I got told I look like I should be related to two different people by the same woman in the space of one hour. And apparently I’m destined to be a paediatrician because their two year old son kept dumping all his toys on me. Newsflash: I’m not sure having a two year old feel sorry for me is a good enough qualification for any paediatrics department.

I was actually almost the first person there, which I’ve since learned is a social faux pas (see, I told you, I know nothing), but was saved from social ruin by the two ladies who showed up just as I was about to open the gate. I walk in, all awkward smiles and hesitation as my kind host tells me to come right in. One of the ladies who saved my social life takes her shoes off but the other one doesn’t. So now I’m in a panic. Do I take my shoes off? Do I not take them off? Why is this so hard? This is why I don’t leave my house. My hostess tells me it’s fine, to keep them on if I’m not used to tiled floors, but I take ’em off anyway. My feet can handle anything.

Except little boys in tricycles. Seriously, who ever decided it was okay for tykes to ride those things indoors, over unsuspecting toes? Not my unsuspecting toes, mind you, but I winced all three times he reversed over this one lady’s pedicure. I just kept lifting/shifting my feet as necessary.

And what they mistook as a natural inclination towards children was really me watching the boy like a hawk so I could escape any damage he planned to inflict. Sure those stuffed animals could have been intended as a peaceful gesture, but what he probably meant was “You’re my bitch now”. That would actually explain all the hitting that went on later. And his hands were heavy for such a tiny terror.

In a regular Jamaican crowd, my values and attitudes stick out like a sore thumb. But in a Christian Jamaican crowd? I am louder than an awkward silence. The little girl beside me tapped me on the elbow to tell me to close my eyes when they were praying. I haven’t closed my eyes for prayer in years. When almost everyone else was half-heartedly singing along to gospel songs, I was sitting stoically with my hands folded in my lap avoiding everyone’s eyes. Except the little boy’s, because you can’t show any weakness with two year olds. Still, I was waiting for someone to jump up yelling, “Imposter!” and pointing at me. (For some reason, this is a fear I can’t seem to shake).

Dinner was another challenge to my peculiarities. We were served standard Jamaican fare: five thousand parts carbohydrate to one part protein. My plate also included two uniquely Jamaican snacks: pudding and fritters. I eyed the duo warily, munching on my bread roll and picking my fried fish to pieces. That didn’t last very long, as much as I tried to drag it out.

I speared the fritter, hoping it was saltfish. To my chagrin, it was banana. I’d never had a banana fritter before. And I doubt I ever will again. The pudding? I hoped it was bread. Cornmeal. It tasted like congealed porridge, and without the pretty yellow colour to offset it. My face must have been hilarious to watch as I tried to control my expression after every bite. The lady beside me was too kind to mention it, and also she was probably repaying me for helping to finish her daughter’s bread ten minutes before. Very nieghbourly of her.

Despite the scary two year old and the fact that I didn’t know anyone, I’m counting this outing as a success. My neighbours now know what I look like in the daylight and I’ve fulfilled my community social obligations by welcoming them to the neighbourhood.

Plus I got a free dinner out of it, because Jamaican people will always feed you when you walk into their house/church.

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