Thursday, September 15, 2011

Germany 7: Leftovers

Here's a question: What do you do with your leftovers when you eat at a restaurant in a foreign country? When the exchange rate is $1.40/euro? And you know you will need to eat again the next day? And only one of you is on expense account?

Part of my meals problem was solved by the great buffet breakfast offered at our hotel(s).* The Germans, they like their breakfast and I'm right there with them. The buffet included scrambled eggs and three kinds of sausage, none of which appealed to me as the only sausage I like is my uncle's sausage and especially did not appeal to me after SH described it as "bouncy."

"Bouncy" is not a word I want used to describe my meat.

The buffet also had fruit, yogurt (full fat yogurt, I might add - which is very difficult to find in the US but tastes about a million times better than nonfat, which is why I just make my own yogurt), cold cuts, which looked nasty except for the serrano ham**, rolls, breads, pastries***, cereal, and cake.

They also had hard-boiled eggs. Which are about the world's most perfect travel food: compact, easy to eat, highly nutritious.

Every morning, I would eat my modest breakfast of yogurt, coffee, and serrano ham. I would look around to make sure nobody was watching me, then slip three hard-boiled eggs into my purse.

Yes, I know I am turning turning into that little old lady who goes to the early bird special and sweeps the sugar and ketchup packets into her purse, but part of the reason this trip was financially acceptable was that the only incremental expense would be my flight (paid for with FF miles) and my food.

The less I spent on food, the more I could spend on - on - well, nothing. Except coasters. Those hard boiled eggs paid for my coasters.

Back to the leftovers issue, though.

(And guess what? I have just redefined the hard boiled eggs as breakfast leftovers.)

SH and I have gotten into the habit of taking ziplock bags and tupperware with us when we travel. We almost always take restaurant leftovers home when we are in Milwaukee because restaurant portions are so large. We don't need to eat all that food all at once. And when we travel, we don't want to throw food away, either, especially if we have paid for it with a euro that costs $1.40.

In Paris, we were slipping our leftover quiche into a ziplock under the table. We could have asked the waiter for a box, but we did not know the customs in France and is there anything worse than being laughed at by a foreigner?

Sure there is, but SH cannot bear not to be completely correct at all times. He is very concerned about the opinions of strangers.

Me, I don't care. I don't go out of my way to offend someone from another culture, especially if I am in that person's country, and I try to respect the norms of that country, but only to a point. I won't wear a short skirt when we're in Morocco because it is not the culture and because it behooves me not to be gawked at.

Also, because my legs, they are not what they used to be. Shrug. It happens.

But letting good food go to waste because I am worried about offending a waiter I will never see again?

Don't care. Just don't care.

SH told me after the tap water debacle that asking for tap water in a German restaurant is considered gauche.

I don't care. I think paying for water when the tap water is potable is ridiculous, although I do applaud the bottled water marketing people for shaping public opinion in their favor.

Our first night in Germany, we ate out with SH's colleagues. SH ordered a carpaccio pizza with arugula, which sounds a bit precious but was absolutely delicious. He ate only half.

We both looked longingly at the remaining half. What a nice lunch that would make for me the next day. But we didn't know how restaurant leftovers are handled in Germany. Neither of us speak German. His coworkers sitting closest to us were from Algeria, Israel, and Denmark, so there was nobody to ask.

SH asked me for a ziplock. I pulled one out of my purse, then returned to listening to the guy who was telling me what was wrong with the US, even though I had not asked him.

A few minutes later, I felt something nudging my knee. A hand. I looked over at SH, hoping that the hand was attached to his arm because if it was one of his coworkers fondling my knee, that would be a real problem.

He smiled at me.

It was a love tap! A love tap that said, "I know you do not like this conversation. I know how miserable arguing with me about politics makes you and you can't even fight back with this guy. Although I tend to agree with my colleague, I feel your pain and I support you. Plus I am thinking of that mirrored bed. Even though our [wxyz] life is already smoking hot, maybe it would be fun to play around if you know what I mean."

I was comforted by his touch. My husband was thinking about me in the midst of a mildly stressful situation and he was thinking about me naked even though I had just finished a large meal and was jet lagged and puffy.

I felt a warm glow of love and desire for this wonderful man who was so sensitive to my feelings. How lucky was I to be married to him?

He nudged me again. And again. He jerked his head to the side, looked down and raised his eyebrows.

Oh! That's what he wanted! I put my hand under the table, reaching toward his so we could link fingers in love and solidarity.

I did not feel his hand. I felt a ziplock bag. A warm, mushy ziplock bag. A warm, mushy ziplock bag containing the remainder of the pizza.

Not a love nudge. Not a "Hang in there" nudge. But a, "Here's the pizza put it into your purse" nudge.

Not a romantic nudge at all.

I sighed and took the pizza. Put it into my purse. Resumed biting my cheek and smiling at SH's colleague.

The next night, at the place where I stole the beer coasters, we had a lot of leftovers. When you order German food, perhaps that's just the way it is.

A ziplock was not going to take care of roasted suckling pig and spaetzle with cheese.

"I'm going to ask the waiter for a box," I announced to SH, which caused him no end of anxiety. He hates it when I ask someone for information. Better to curse the darkness than to light a single candle is his motto.

But guess what? The waiter didn't even bat an eye. Even though he would not bring me tap water, he packaged our leftovers in a tidy aluminum box and put them in a plastic bag.

He got tipped. Despite the water thing. And because of the coaster guilt.

Later, I realized that of course in Germany they would give you your leftovers. These are my people, or at least part of my people and we are of the Tribe of We Who Do Not Waste. These are the people who made the beer that made Milwaukee great and by virtue of their German thrift, ensured that the city of Milwaukee actually ran a surplus during the Depression. These are people who would frown on food wasters and laugh at them. And that would be the worst thing.

* For financial and getting to the airport early in the morning reasons, we changed hotels twice.

** I will discuss the Great Serrano Ham Disaster of Ought Six in a future post when I tell you about the USDA in Atlanta.

*** We had already tried the pastries the day we arrived when SH was preparing for his meeting the next day and needed some coffee. I went on a hunting expedition in the hotel lobby. There was not any coffee immediately available that I could see, but then I noticed that there were conference rooms in the back. And that it was about 5:00. And the meetings were over. And what happens when a meeting is over? People leave but the catering stuff does not remove the coffee and pastries right away. Yes, I gleaned. (Thank you, Luke.) I found half a cup of coffee and a poppyseed pastry. Just enough to kick-start SH.


Rubi said...

I'm flying to Madrid in a little more than a week. I'll be there -- well, forever, I hope. I know where to get the ham in vacuum packs.

In short, I'm your (wo)man. (Cue Lou Reed.)

Class factotum said...

Rubi! You mean I have a connection now?

How I envy you, going to the land of churros y chocolate and of serrano ham. Que te vaya bien!

Rubi said...

Si, hija, si. I'm leaving a week from Monday and won't be back until December, tra-la.

Your recounting of the Great Serrano Ham Tragedy caused me to shed bitter tears.

It reminded me of my own Hot Sauce Debacle -- never mind that the hot sauce was bought in duty free in Cancun. Never mind that NO ONE told me I was going to have to take my carry on back through security in Charlotte or else I'd have put it in the checked back when I did the dumb-ass Homeland Security do-over after having been in a plane for three hours. (Really. What do they think security in Mexico is doing? Especially considering that the U.S. trains them and funds them.)

But I digress into rantiness. The short answer is yes, you have a connection. And not only do I know how to mail you ham, I can also send you a Brick of Fabada. You'll need it in the cold, frozen north this winter.