A Cultural Experience | Our Third Night of Marriage | Part III
Read Part I and Part II and then this part will make more sense. This is the final installment and a little long, but if you’re still following the story at this point I think you’ll find it worthwhile to read ’til the end.
The other guy
All was quiet for awhile, maybe even a couple of us dozed off. However the ticket man soon came, forcing us all awake. After he left, the other man with the missing teeth asked us if we would like something to eat. I lied and said I wasn’t hungry. He asked again more insistent this time.
Just as a side note, the fact that he kept offering it to us after we declined is a very Hungarian trait in my experience. They generally expect you to refuse the first time because in their culture it’s more polite. I have always struggled with this as an American because under more normal circumstances if someone offers me food and I am hungry, well, of course I don’t hesitate! Not to mention the fact that I often forget to keep offering and insisting on people eating, so Hungarians tend to go hungry at my place…
As he offered food yet again, mentioning that he had some homemade Hungarian paprika sausage “kolbász”, Ber was still politely refusing but starting to show interest. I felt hesitant while hearing my mother’s voice in my ears “Never take food from strangers”. Eventually we agreed to try some. He had told us that it was his family who had made it and I figured at that point if God let me die from eating a stranger’s sausage just so the stranger wouldn’t feel bad, then God would be very unjust, very unjust indeed. The man pulled out an ominous plastic bag with what looked like some fried chicken in the mix. He then pulled out an entire piece of kolbász from the bag and handed it to us.
Words utterly fail me to describe what happened in my mouth after that first bite. The most incredible flavor filled my mouth. I’m a huge fan of Hungarian kolbász anyway. Have always loved it since the very first time I tasted it. But this, this was what kolbász will most assuredly taste like on the other side of this life. A strong smoky flavor with just enough of a kick of spicy paprika to make your tastebuds dance but not too much so as to scald them. I couldn’t keep the happiness inside of me. One moment I was moaning and uttering the words “beeeest kolbász eveeeeer” and the next moment exclaiming in different languages so as to be sure to be understood by everyone in the cabin, “Nagyon finom!” “SO delicious!” I didn’t really hold back, and I was merely lucky that in his culture this kind of enthusiasm means one is sincerely grateful for a gift. Boy, was I.
A cultural experience FAIL
The little Jewish man with the glasses, who we had learned earlier was not only Jewish by heritage but also a practicing Jew, offered us some of his kosher crackers to eat with our sausage. He then made a remark I’ll never forget about how his father was no longer kosher after leaving Auschwitz. He had believed it only right to be grateful for every crumb or bit of food placed in front of him.
I can be rather dense sometimes, so the irony of the situation didn’t occur to me until after my exclaiming over the sausage had lasted longer than it should have. Finally the little man with the glasses groaned from his corner, “oooh… I wish I wasn’t kosher…” As soon as Ber translated the words back to me I felt HORRIBLE and was sure the whole evening was out to show me just how selfish I really am. I wondered if it was too late to downplay how good the sausage was or if he would believe me if I said it really wasn’t that great. The other gentleman quickly offered him some, again, but he again, refused. The man offering it asked him why he couldn’t try it just this once. The little man’s answer was, “If I eat it this once, the question is why wouldn’t I eat it always?” I successfully held in the words, “Because this is the best dang Kolbász in the world and you will never be tempted by another.” Not saying that was pretty much my greatest and possibly only accomplishment of the night.
The gift of humility
Something I will never forget nor do I want to, was the man’s reaction after we agreed to accept his offer of sharing in his sausage. His reaction was so humble and so grateful. He said that it was his greatest honor that the newlywed-ed pair, “the beautiful bride and the handsome groom would accept his humble gift as a token of his well wishes and blessings on their marriage”.
Honestly? I could have cried right then and there. I wanted to tell both of them what splendid souls they are. I wanted to tell them what an ugly bride I actually was and how I had judged the Hungarian Roma upon sight and smell, afraid he would steal our things. I didn’t want to tell them that part actually. I was ashamed! I had judged the little old man with the glasses for talking too much. No matter how else I could paint it — I was tired, the cabin stunk, the guys looked questionable, whatever– I had come in there feeling that I was better than them. I am so thankful I was given the opportunity (trapped into it, in fact) for hearing at least some of their stories. How touched I still am to have experienced their generosity. And of course, I’m glad to have tasted the most amazing homemade Hungarian kolbász.
The first shall be last
Shortly after this we all drifted off to sleep again, waking one by one only as the train made more frequent stops as it neared Zurich. As we said our goodbyes and stepped off that train on the morning of our fourth day of marriage, I remember praying that I’d not quickly forget the few-toothed Roma and the cabbage carrying Jew.
They were my glimpse of “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” A bride with expectations and assumptions waltzing in like a princess to the quarters of two generous, kind hearted people… After reading this you don’t even have to wonder who was the truer royalty in the situation.
As tired as we were and as unusual as the events of the night had been, it all just seemed like a dream. A situation surely orchestrated to show us lesson number one for living a a life together surrounded by many different kinds of people.
Curiosity should be the bare minimum
What was lesson number one exactly? Approach people with openhearted curiosity. Give people a chance for more than a first impression. Because your assumptions, if incorrect, will reflect only you and what is in your heart when you look at people.
And, thickheaded people such as myself should thank God for those moments when He uses people’s stories and object lessons like homemade sausage to make the larger lesson memorable to all our senses.