I feel like I’ve become an expert in the art of faux pas while living in Germany. Once I stopped grinning and waving at strangers in my austere German neighborhood, and being thought the village idiot (I was only being friendly!), I moved on to linguistic lunacy and, apparently, asked for foreplay (“Vorspiele”) instead of appetizers (“Vorspeise”) in local restaurants. Who knew?
There is a certain amount of idiocy that you can’t avoid when you live in a foreign country–whether because you don’t speak the language well or because you don’t understand the customs. I can live with that. I forgive myself these missteps, and the locals are usually forgiving of them too.
But sometimes you just do something stupid. We all do it. (Some of us more than others.) It’s especially awkward when you do something stupid and you are a foreigner. You see the eyes roll, you can almost hear the thoughts filling the heads around you, “Oh, those Americans!”
We’re heading back to Yorkshire for a visit in the days ahead, and we are considering a stop by Hemswell Antique Center, in Hemswell Cliff. We’ve picked up some interesting things there in the past and thought we’d take a look again, if we have time. If they’ll let us through the door. My last visit there, I was the person who sent eyes rolling, or at least squinting and watching me like a hawk.
But it wasn’t really my fault.
My husband and I had a big day planned. My mother- and father-in-law were in town and had offered to watch our children for the day while James and I drove a few hours away to the Newark Antiques Fair–it bills itself as the biggest in Europe, and it is a whopper! But we wanted to get there early and we had a stiff drive ahead of us, so we had to leave before dawn.
Our house in Ripon wasn’t a big affair, so we had to tiptoe around not to wake anyone. That day, we decided we wouldn’t make coffee or eat breakfast, we just planned to dress and get out the door quickly and quietly. But for some reason–I’m guessing a child that sneaked into our bed during the night–we even had to dress in the dark and tiptoe around our own bedroom. Which we did, and out we went.
Off to Newark and treasure hunting! We had a great day–it started off grey and maybe a little drizzly, but we wrapped up and it didn’t bother us much. Many vendors were in tents and we made out well– enough small treasures to feel satisfied, not so many as to break the bank. I will say my husband bought some questionable art, but he always buys some questionable art. At this point in our marriage, it would worry me more if he suddenly stopped that habit.
The day grew warmer and sunnier; our coats came off; our arms filled with loot; and we finally felt ready to return home from our adventure.
But, if we made good time on the road, we could just eek out a visit to Hemswell on the way home. Off we went!
The Hemswell Antique Center covers a lot of ground–many buildings and antiques of all kinds. It also houses a cute, but simple, cafe with a Royal Air Force World War II theme. (I think Hemswell may actually be an old, decommissioned RAF base, but don’t hold me to that.)
We knew we could only make a quick run through, so we took off at double speed. We zipped through this building, we zipped through that building. Then, in the final building, tired out from the day, I found myself slowed to a stop in front of a case of vintage jewelry. A few cases, in fact. As I stared sleepily into one of the cases, a fly caught my eye. He was stuck inside the case and trying to fly out of the glass. Repeatedly, he flew at the glass, only to strike it hard, and tumble back to the shelf under the hot lights. I am no friend of flies, but this little guy was struggling and I felt bad for him.
I turned around to see a salesperson close by. (In hindsight, I think he may have been hovering around me–a very suspicious woman.) I called out to him and explained the plight of this poor fly stuck in the glass case. I wondered if there might be any way he could free the poor animal, who was getting fairly panicky behind the glass.
The salesperson gave me a very perplexed, but gentle, look and said that, yes, he’d make his way over presently and attend to the situation. I slowly moved around the room and browsed some more. Two or three minutes later, I heard a voice call out from across the room: “You’ll be happy to know that the fly has made his bid for freedom!” I looked up, and the salesman shot me an amused look. I smiled and said, “Thank you so much.” He nodded and added, “That should send some good karma your way.”
It was a humorous exchange. As I left the building, the salesman and his colleague gave me a cheerful, if oddly watchful, send off. Clearly, as far as they were concerned, I was an awkward American, or maybe the nutty Zen lady. So be it–I can live with that.
I walked out into the bright sun of a crisp autumn afternoon, pleased with our day of high brow foraging. I dropped my tired body into the front seat of the car and began fastening the seat belt around me …. only to be stopped cold by what I saw. What I couldn’t have seen as I dressed myself in the dark that morning; what I never saw, as I apparently looked in no mirrors as the day progressed; and what my husband, in his own wide-eyed but sleep deprived frenzy of antiquing, had apparently never noticed. I was wearing my shirt inside-out.
I wasn’t the nutty Zen lady after all.
Oh no, it was much worse.
I was the utterly lunatic bag lady who befriended flies. Oh, those Americans!