Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Baby Shower Culture Shock

Last weekend, I attended the baby shower of another first-time mom, the wife of one of my husband’s best friends. They are one of my favorite couples, although we see less of them than others in our immediate circle. As members of Los Angeles’s predominately Persian Baha’i community, their evenings and weekends are often occupied with events, making it difficult to get on their calendar. I was always intrigued by these mysterious gatherings - compared to their packed social schedule, my husband and I look like downright pariahs. With the arrival of this baby shower, I finally had my moment - at last, the time had come for me to infiltrate! What could I learn from this brave new world? What marvels lay in wait?

Lesson 1: Timeliness is not next to godliness. Evidently, this new world runs on Persian Time, which is in a completely different time zone than us silly Caucasians. The elegantly letterpressed “It’s a Girl!!” invitation clearly stated that festivities began at 1pm, so I arrived, eager and excited, at about eight 'til. I sat in my car on the street for exactly eight minutes, when I noticed that I hadn’t actually seen anyone arrive and enter the house. Odd. I decided to call my husband to make sure I was in the right place.

“Yes, that’s the right house, but why are you there so early?”

“What do you mean? It starts at one – I’m here right on time.”

“No – I told you, A (father-to-be) told me to tell you to get there late. He said if you got there at 1, you’d be the only one there. N (mom-to-be) isn’t getting there 'til 2pm.”

Evidently, my sweet husband was under the assumption that he had relayed this message to me. Indeed he had not. There I sat, sweltering in my car, surrounded by stately homes on a pristine Brentwood avenue, “early” for a party that somehow all other guests knew would never start on time. My husband suggested that I go wander around the neighborhood and partake of my usual favorite activities: cupcake-eating, Whole Foods-wandering, skincare-sampling. I pondered the time-killing possibilities briefly before arriving at the inevitable truth: I’m a WASP. It is simply not in my DNA to purposefully arrive late to an event.

Thus, I waited patiently in my car until 1:15pm, when I saw one solitary woman enter. Hallelujah! I seized my opportunity, grabbing my massive, bow-bedecked, rainbow-colored Infantino monkey play gym and following. The front door, a massive, rather intimidating wrought-iron creation, was slightly ajar. I gingerly poked my head in with a friendly “Helloooo?” As my eyes adjusted to my new surroundings, I immediately wanted to retreat. There, in this opulent mansion, sat two women. That’s it. Beyond the massive buffet, amidst pink “It’s a Girl!!” flourishes dangling from every spare inch of space, I could see caterers scurrying about setting up tables in the backyard and a DJ lugging equipment into the house.

The two women had been deep in conversation, and looked up at me like I was totally insane. I babbled, “Oh, am I early??” After a moment or two of silence, they seemed to realize that I was a legitimate party guest rather than, say, a wayward, toy-toting Mormon come to preach the good word. They welcomed me in, introducing themselves as N’s mom and - the woman I had followed - N’s cousin, and politely sat me down across the room. At this point, they continued chatting in rapid-fire Farsi and proceeded to totally ignore me. I imagined that part of the conversation had to entail the crazy blonde chick who had foolishly arrived on time.

I affixed a pleasant “This isn’t awkward at all” smile on my face and looked around, desperately attempting to seem engaged while studying the various paintings, sculptures, and anything else bedecking the walls which could possibly enable me to look busy and occupied.

One small eternity later, N’s sister wandered out, saw what was going on, and thankfully came over to sit and small-talk with me. At one point, she commiserated “It’s so silly how these things start so late – I’m always on time.” I knew she was totally full of shit and just trying to make me feel like less of an ass, and I loved her for it. Another ten slow minutes rolled by, during which time I saw the guest of honor, lovely and round with mommyhood, wander in through the back of the house, past the sweaty catering staff, with her HAIR IN CURLERS, as if to reiterate “What kind of moron would get here on time?” ME! I am that moron! Her husband had accompanied her, and he came over to give me a hug and kiss, asking what everyone else was doubtlessly wondering - “Why are you here so early?” Argh!

After about a half-hour (1:45pm by this time), my friend Heather - another punctual little blonde - arrived. Hooray! Come chat with me, non-Farsi speaker! Slowly but surely, by 2pm, women began to trickle in, bedazzled in all their Baha’i glory.

Lesson 2: Natural be damned. These Persian women were some of the most beautiful creatures in the world, if I could find their faces underneath the 87 pounds of eyeliner and twelve coats of lipstick. Apparently, they celebrate a completely different aesthetic of beauty than the fresh-faced American females of my acquaintance. Gazing around the room, I realized that Persian culture may be single-handedly keeping the US cosmetics industry afloat during the recession.

Lesson 3: Spare no expense. By 2:45pm, another two friends had arrived, as had about 70 more Farsi-speaking women, attired in colorful, perfectly tailored dresses and sporting a drool-inducing, envy-inspiring, Carrie Bradshaw-worthy collection of designer shoes. The DJ was pumping, the dance floor was packed with revelers, and the snacking had begun. We decided to brave the crowd and moved in a cautious little herd toward the buffet – a vast array of fresh fruits, nuts, dried things, and strange little sweets, very similar to the spread at A and N’s 350-person, 4-billion-dollar wedding in ’07.

We stuffed ourselves judiciously, and by the time the buffet-ing was done, several other friends had arrived – evidently, they have either operated in this group for long enough to know what to expect, or their husbands actually gave them the memo. Curses!

4pm: The shindig was now approximately 100 people thick, and it had become abundantly clear that this was no sit-around-and-watch-her-open-gifts kind of affair. The celebration showed no signs of slowing, and it was announced that lunch was served. ?!?! MORE food? How are these women not all morbidly obese? We dutifully lined up on the patio in the warm spring sunshine, filling our plates with salads, rice and various meaty Persian dishes. What I thought was a sautéed eggplant turned out to be stuffed with beef. Sneaky bastard.

Lesson 4: The big tease. At 5pm, my little circle had gossiped and small-talked ourselves out, and presumed that things were finally winding down. However, I had other plans. Sugar fiend that I am, I had spent most of the party eyeing the massive cake on the buffet table – baby pink, with girly little shoes, ribbons and bows carved out of enticingly thick fondant. I found myself desperately craving a big sugary slab, a reward for my timely arrival and hours of pleasant, dutiful socializing.

At their wedding, A and N had a glorious cake which I spent all evening salivating over in anticipation. However, by the time 2am rolled around (and I nearly nodded off at our table), it became apparent that their $2,000+ cake was just for show – after a ceremonial cutting and one bite each for bride and groom, the audience applauded joyfully and I watched in dismay as it was rolled back into the kitchen, never to be seen again. My husband saw the look on my face and decided that this was unacceptable – he had a cake-loving wife who needed a fix, by damn! He charged into the kitchen and demanded that the confused hotel staff cut a piece for me. My hero. To this day, I think I’m the only person who actually tasted that wedding cake.

I was determined not to repeat this torturous experience with the equally impressive baby shower cake. At that moment, a woman paraded into the main room and gleefully announced something in Farsi. I saw N sidle up behind her, whispering something about "English, too." The translation came: “And NOW we’re going to play some games!!” Games? Now? FOUR HOURS in? I couldn’t take it anymore. Almost all of my friends had left at this point (the lucky bastards managed to scurry out without having to bid farewell to N), leaving me and one other diligent, cake-loving gal sitting there expectantly. As the games were announced, I realized my mission was futile.

Lesson 5: Grab freely. At long last, we got up to leave. Turning to pick up my bag, I suddenly felt a hand paw my belly, now visibly bloated after the feasting (hey, with a baby in there, things fill up fast). I turned to face the culprit, a woman with whom I’d been idly chatting. Squeezing my rounded midsection, she gleefully inquired, “Are you PREGNANT??” I briefly considered responding “No, I’m just fat - but thanks so much!” Instead I nodded politely, then slipped quickly away amidst her congratulatory exclamations.

Lucky girl that I am, immediately N was there, her doe eyes sparkling as she inquired “Why are you leaving?” It took all my self-control and good breeding not to retort “Because I’ve been here for FOUR HOURS.” My friend and I nervously babbled something about having plans, and then we were free – blissfully liberated in the late afternoon West Side sun. But not quite: suddenly, A and his father pulled up in front of the house, decked to the nines and ready to join the party. He too demanded to know why we were leaving.

FOUR HOURS, people!!

I immediately drove to my friend Jen’s to share my tale of cakeless woe. Jen is married to a Persian man, so she felt my pain. She proceeded to tell me the story of her first Persian gathering, a wedding that started at 8pm – or so she thought. They arrived, diligently on time, only to find crickets chirping as the staff decorated the ballroom.

Lesson 6: Thou knowest no stamina like the Baha’i people. At last, it is clear to me why we rarely see A and N. After my day of revelry, their tight-knit community seems all the more magical. The simple truth is this: these people know how to party. With 12-hour events like these on their calendar, it hardly seems possible that they emerge to bathe and sleep, much less to socialize with outsiders. I am in awe at their endurance – I bow down to their fortitude. My own four-hour stint pales in comparison.

Before we all departed that day, I had promised my girlfriends that my own upcoming shower would be two hours – three, tops – and would start ON TIME.


Courtney said...

Lesson #1 reminds me of another shower that you & I went to, a little over a year ago. We were amongst the first people there for that one, as well. Evidently, it's not just the Persian culture! ;-)

Sara said...

Yes! I experienced something so very similar when I attended an Indian baby shower last year. It was so extravagant, so over the top, I thought I was at a wedding. There were elaborate choreographed dances, games that lasted an hour alone, and food to feed a small army. I think there were over 500 people invited and 550 showed up. Amazing.

And thanks for leaving a comment over on my site. So nice to meet you! Congrats on your pregnancy...looking forward to reading more.

Shannyn said...

I love that it was all about the cake! LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!! I can't wait for your shower!