I’ve just sat down after 4 hours of stress and tension, but with a feeling of deep satisfaction. No, it wasn’t a deadline completed at the last minute or annihilating my partner in an argument or anything like that. It was, believe it or not… guests. Guests? What could possibly be wrong with having friends or family over for some tea and biscuits and a nice chit-chat, you may wonder? Well, when I got married a few months ago I had no idea that, as a newly wed couple, our life would consequently be taken over by people who want to come over to congratulate us.
Now the stressing was not related to the fun bits, where your friends come over, you hang out together and watch movies, I’m talking about real guests. You know, the distant relatives, the ones you don’t know all that well… the ones you have to impress for your parents’ or your spouse’s sake.
Week one of marriage: The friends
Finally my beloved and I have that long awaited space that we are sharing. We were so excited about having our “party zone”, the place where friends could hang out when we didn’t feel like hitting the nightlife scene. The scenario we pictured was this: friends would come over with consumable goodies and we in turn, would entertain them with honeymoon stories, show off our cooking skills or simply grace them with our picture perfect company. That’s the way it happened, all parties were satisfied.
Week two: The parents
During the first week, the parents don’t expect to come over too often. After all, we’re still newly weds so we shouldn’t be expected to do anything too stressful. They invite us over, they’re the ones who cook and they even send food to the house. I presume they think newly weds have better things to do in the first week of marriage than entertain others (little do they know of our all night Netflix fests with the friends!).
By week two the parents think it’s ok to start coming for coffee and perhaps a light lunch or dinner. So far a pretty relaxed occasion where the only problem might be to hide the cigarettes and all signs of “marital activities” in the bedroom…
Month two: The cousins and not so close friends
Now things start getting a little more complicated. You no longer have the excuse of not entertaining people since you presumably had all the time you needed to play house. You should now be able to receive guests. And receive them well for that matter. And by receive, I mean the whole works, the “salison”, the petit four, a soufflé or two and the odd warak 3enab.
So the first test is crucial, this is where people start to judge whether you’re a good cook, a good hostess …etc.
When I had a dinner for all 14 of my cousins one day, I insisted that I do all the cooking, even if it meant slaving around the kitchen for a week beforehand, just to prove that I was all the things they thought I might not be!
Perhaps you might find me a little childish but I was adamant in proving that I was Wonder Woman… and I did. I spent 3 days cooking, literally. The first day consisted of peeling and chopping. The second day was dedicated to sauce preparation and the final day was for heating and serving. I passed the test but needed a good hour of meditation afterwards to unwind and relax. After all, they were only my cousins, so if things had not gone too well on the oven front, it would not have been too disastrous and they’d still love me.
Month three: The distant relatives and the acquaintances
This is the really tricky part. At least with the cousins, you know their characters well and know how to behave, what the taboos are and what the entertainment could be. When my husband told me that a couple of his older relatives were coming to visit us to say mabrouk, my hair turned grey with fear. I didn’t know how I would handle things. They just said “we’ll be there at 8 or 8.30”. Oh my God, did this mean they expected dinner? I had no clue. And if I were to make dinner, then what would I cook and how would I cook it? First thing I did is call my mother who was abroad at the time (which didn’t make things easier) and begged for help and instructions. Mum told me to relax. Dinner was not expected, I had to serve tea. Tea? At 8pm? That was the weirdest thing I’d heard of… but, a newly-wed has to do what a newly-wed has to do.
Now all I knew about my partner’s relatives was that they were of the more traditional type. That meant smoking was definitely out and silver tea sets were in. I had a lot of work to do the day they were coming and wished I had more time to prepare. I usually finish work at 7pm and they were coming at 8pm. And to top it all up, for some idiotic reason, I washed my hair that morning forgetting that anyone was coming, so that also meant I had to fit in an emergency blow drying session if I didn’t’ want to greet them looking like something out of Star Trek.
Anyway, I had to take time off work to get something to serve from a nearby pastry shop (I’d made a quiche the day before but mum said that wasn’t enough). Now all I had to do was sort out the hair issue and make some time for an inevitable wardrobe crisis. I got home, did my hair in 10 minutes or so and had enough time now for my final cigarettes of the evening and my wardrobe crisis. I started to try on everything possible in my wardrobe. I needed to look conservative yet smart, elegant yet young. Black is no color for a young person, so that was half my wardrobe out. No tight trousers, no short tops, and nothing that made me look too trendy. Of course all this was in an effort not to embarrass my partner in front of his family. (Of course, I later found out that my partner couldn’t have cared less about what I wore as long as I didn’t come out in a bikini!).
Make up: I needed to put some makeup on so that I still showed that “bridal” glow but not too much make up so that it wouldn’t look like a sluttish glow! Do I put on my jeweler to show my partner’s generosity to them, or would that just make me look pretentious? Question after question clouded my head and it was 10 to 8 and I wasn’t’ ready yet!
When they finally arrived all was ready and looking good. My mother would have been proud. All I had to do now was prepare myself for the attack of questions regarding my non-existent Louis XV and XVI chairs ( I hate classic French style, besides if you ask me, if a chair has the same name as a French historical figure, there has to be something wrong). We sat, I served the tea without too much trembling and carefully placed the same amount of pastries on every plate before I handed them out. All was going smoothly. I was relieved. My worries about being Wonder Woman seemed to have answered themselves for them. Am I a good wife? I was proud to think that it certainly looked like it; my house was tidy and pretty… Am I a good cook? I think my quiche spoke for itself… Am I a good hostess? Certainly felt like it, charm was oozing out of me that night…
YES! I was indeed Wonder Woman in their eyes. It looked like I’d fulfilled all the criteria that the older members of the family would generally expect…until they started to have their political discussions. Now I’m usually very eloquent when it comes to political discussions, but I’m ashamed to say not when they are taking place in Arabic. So I ended up just sitting there, looking like a total bimbo, quiet as brick. I had an outer body experience and felt really annoyed when I saw myself as the pretty perfect housewife…. with no brain!
The evening ended with the guests shaking my husband’s hand with a “we’re so proud of you” look and hugging me with a “well done dear” look. I seemed to have satisfied their expectations, even if my own intellectual pride was sulking. But I decided that day that it was impossible to fulfil all the criteria… You just have to try your best. And if my intellect’s ego was a little wounded, in this case at least, it was a small price to pay for coming out as Wonder Woman!