It’s standard practice worldwide that children of school going age are invited to every single birthday party in the class on the least suitable day imaginable.
Friday and Saturday are the weekend days in the Middle East with Sunday to Thursday being the normal working / school week. So when your self-absorbed tweenie arrives home waving a party invitation for Thursday Evening, Friday or Saturday, it can be devastating, not only is your weekend disrupted for “Phoebe’s” birthday party but you also have to arrange a present, card and try as best as possible to figure out the direction to her house from her hand-drawn map on the glittered invitation. Apart from the fact that the first you heard of Phoebe was ten minutes prior, you resent the time and effort being spent on these birthday parties, to the point that at the start of the school year you consider confiscating the class register and steering your child towards the classmates with summer birthdays. However, school policy and general privacy legislations prevents same so one must suck up the mid-year birthdays and stock up on cheap birthday cards and three for two bubble bath sets.
However old habits die hard and my penchant for being shoddily organized with regard to the children’s birthday presents eventually shone through and when the last of the special offer bubble bath sets was wrapped and gifted to Shania or Anushi, it was again back to the old style present, my personal favourite, money in a card. Nothing like the smell of a twenty euro note to charm a child’s soul and make their birthday that little bit special. When the scent of the strawberry shower gel was long gone down the drain the sweet smell of the twenty would always be there. Much to my children’s abhorrence I doled out the twenties thoughtlessly and religiously, lecturing them on a value of money and the benefits of receiving cash present as opposed to a handmade picture frame which may fade over time.
So with the birthday presents wrapped so to speak, I was ill-prepared for the curve-ball invitation which hurled towards me on Thursday last, “A Going Away Party”, and little did I know it would be the first of five invitations to going away parties for the upcoming weeks. As the school year ends, it denotes a natural punctuation in the lives of expats, as many find themselves, relocating or returning home. The only thing that is certain in expat life is change. People leave and new people arrive all the time and while the landscape remains beige and dusty the dynamic shifts a little all the time.
So now, faced with the task of sourcing five different, thoughtful going away presents for children within a week, and not having enough seashells, putty or flowerpots for the only handicraft I’m successful at, I decided to mark their Bon Voyage with the old reliable, a card and twenty euro, or the Middle East equivalent, One Hundred Dirham.
A practical gift, admittedly devoid of any sentiment, but what it lacked in compassion it more than made up for in diversity. The gifts were gifted and the response and gratitude was that associated with young teenagers, none.
The next day when one little girl, of Malaysian nationality, thanked me profusely but handed back the card, saying that it was not part of their culture to accept money as a gift I was taken aback. This had never happened in Ireland! She continued to say how her parents were angry she had even taken the “gift” home and while both she and her parents greatly appreciated the gesture, they did feel that money was without thought and not to be accepted in lieu of a carefully chosen / handmade gift, a surreal scene, particularly against the backdrop of the western gals who shoved the money into the pockets of their skinny jeans faster than the speed of light.
So this gift horse, retreated to her stable and sat with her daughter to do something we had never done before, to create a gift using, time, effort and thought. 20 sticky fingers and 3 paper cuts later, we agreed on a bubble bath set.