Today’s writing prompt is Graceful.
If there’s ever a word that describes what I am not most completely, it’s graceful. I’m the epitome of the proverbial bull in a china shop. More like a stumbling drunk bull in the British Museum’s Asia section. Watch out folks, here she comes. Hide your valuables!
I’ve always been a bull in a china shop, but it was living here, or rather in the Rio Grande Valley, that made me fully realize it. We Dutch are known for our bluntness, for saying what we think, when we think it. No reading between the lines required. It’s all out there. And I’m a prime specimen, because, looking back, I always tended to barge right in, even to Dutch standards.
Then I emigrated to Texas. Oh boy! If ever there’s a culture where most information is conveyed between the lines, it’s here. When we were out for lunch at a country club buffet with friends of T not long after I arrived, I headed straight for the main course. T’s friend asked if I wanted some salad first. I said no thanks, but later I realized he was saying that I was supposed to have salad first. When someone asks me, “Would you like some more of that guacamole?” they might actually be offering me more guacamole, but chances are, it’s a comment on how much guacamole I’m heaping on my plate. Graceful ways to point out what I’m doing wrong. And me ungracefully not getting the hint immediately. Although I have to say: there was more than enough guacamole for everyone, and it’s not like you can keep the leftovers.
I’m also not a graceful dresser. If I wear high heels, I stumble like–well, like a drunken bull. I’m most comfortable in a Walmart T-shirt and my pink-and-purple crocs. When a relative of T’s gave me some tiny brushes for my first Texas Christmas, I thanked her–sincerely, because miniature versions of anything are always cute–and then I asked what they were for. Because I had no clue. They were eyebrow brushes. Oh. Okay. Apparently I was supposed to brush my eyebrows. And here I’d been, going through life with ungroomed brows! After twenty-three years, I’m still under-dressed at every occasion, even when I do my best. And my eyebrows are still a tangled mess.
One thing that is definitely worse here in America is the way things just come out sounding wrong. I know that’s a language thing, and I shouldn’t beat myself up about it, but I do. One of the earliest examples that comes to mind actually happened in England. I was sitting in front of my tent at a camp site, when two American college kids started to set up their tent nearby. It was clearly the first time they’d ever tried setting up any tent, and they didn’t get very far. When they looked in my direction, I offered to help. They gratefully accepted, so I showed them to first do this, then you do that, and then this thingy goes here and the rest you can probably figure out for yourself. One of them responded with Oh-kaaay… The reason I ended with that they could probably figure out the rest was that it was so self-evident that showing them how to do that as well would have seemed like I thought they were stupid, bu that’s what they ended up thinking anyway, because it didn’t come out right. This kind of thing still happens a lot.
And then there’s dealing with compliments. When someone compliments me on an accomplishment, I am usually able to respond somewhat gracefully with Well, thank you! But if someone compliments me on how I look, I usually pull a face, like Yeah, right! A friend once pointed out that when I respond that way, I’m actually insulting the person who gave the compliment, as if he/she has terrible taste. So I try to remember that, but if I do, it’s usually the day after, at the earliest.
I have gotten better over the years, and I’ve definitely improved more than I would have if I’d stayed in the Netherlands, simply because the opposites are more extreme here. Meaning me being the opposite of graceful Texans, as opposed to me being the opposite of only slightly less barge-like Dutch people.
Nowadays I occasionally come home from parties or other gatherings where I managed all evening not to have something come out wrong, even when I’ve had a beer or two, and when I realize it, I give myself a mental pat on the back. Such are my little immigrant accomplishments. I’ve also learned to not always say what I think, and that sharing my thoughts the moment they occur to me isn’t always useful or effective. It certainly helps with parenting–being even a smidgen wiser than a teenager can give you a big leg up!
I may still not comb my eyebrows, but I do wear lipstick when I have time and I remember, which is at least a few times a month. At fifty-five my face is sagging, and at first glance it’s not altogether clear where my mouth ends and the lines extending from the corners of my mouth down to beyond my chin begin, which gives me a look that could easily be misinterpreted as a permanently disapproving scowl. Lipstick helps to define where my mouth ends, so I look friendlier. At least, that’s my theory.
Well, even this post isn’t graceful. I’m trying to think of things that I do gracefully, but I seriously can’t think of a single thing. Maybe my next post will be about things Americans are not very graceful about, so I can feel better about myself, he-he.
What are you graceful about? Or not? When do/did you ever feel like a bull in a china shop? How come? Let me know in a comment.