The year leading up to our big move to Austria, my husband and I trained under seasoned missionaries, teachers, and culture experts once a week in order to move to and find our place in Vienna as smoothly as possible. Given that we had both lived abroad before, we assumed to know the majority of the things we would learn in our weekly training course: Culture Shock, Going Native, The Adjustment Period, RAFT, and the list goes on to a year’s worth of expat-must-knows. Culture Shock is an interesting topic as it’s different for everyone. One never really knows when, where, or how Culture Shock will hit, but it assuredly will. We knew Culture Shock commonly springs itself upon expats within the 4 to 6 month period after the move, so when month 4 arrived, we braced ourselves. It’s kind of like being at the top of that horrifying Superman ride at Six Flags – Will the guy at the controls count all the way to 10 and let me dangle here picturing my most certain death? Or will he pretend to count to 10 but only actually count 4 and let me drop when I’m not ready? Will Culture Shock hit me without warning while I’m in the grocery store? Or will it steadily make me feel lonely and depressed? Luckily my first bout with Culture Shock was not in public nor did I become depressed. For me, Culture Shock found me in my own home, in my own kitchen.
Fall is my favorite cooking season because fall-cooking means chili, potato soup, pumpkin soup, pumpkin cheesecake, warm sugar cookies, and peanut butter fudge. I love it all, and have cooked every one of these in the past without a problem. Last fall I decided to make all of the desserts in a single day so as to have desserts ready to go for some events that I knew were coming up. I pulled up all three recipes to see what I needed to get to make these tasty treats. The search hadn’t gone very far before I found myself hunched over my laptop, my face nearly against the screen, both hands shoved into my hair as my fingers tightly wrapped themselves around my short layers with frustration. I was missing several key ingredients in each of the three recipes and started to search for 1) their existence in Vienna, and 2) substitutions. I called a good friend of mine who has lived in Vienna for 6 years to see what she knew about the missing ingredients. Of the ones I listed, not one of them could be found in Vienna (at the time), so option 1 was out. My search continued, and the next thing I knew I was looking up ingredients for ingredients for ingredients for ingredients. I dragged my husband to the grocery store and stood anxiety-riddled in the spices aisle Google-translating things like nutmeg and cloves. I found about half of what I needed as the other half of what I needed was either sold out or needed to be ground down with a mortar and pestle.
A couple hours later and armed with my apron, pots, and pestle, I set about intense work in my kitchen. I had homemade corn syrup going in a pot for homemade marshmallow puff, a pumpkin baking in the oven for homemade pumpkin puree, a glass bowl with ready-to-sift flour and baking soda for homemade self-rising flour, and a mortar filled with ground up cloves for homemade pumpkin spice. Was I Wonder Woman or was I Wonder Woman? My momentum was high and my confidence equally so. The world was right and everything was beautiful… until I checked the corn syrup. Since it was my first go at making homemade corn syrup, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was supposed to look like at the finish, but I somehow knew it didn’t look right. I removed the pot from the heat and attempted to stir the syrup, and then the first worst thing happened: The syrup ate my spoon. Turned out that removing the pot from the heat was a bad idea as the syrup instantly became a medium-circled, dark brown Jolly Rancher. I tried to get the spoon out of the pot, but the pot followed the spoon up into the air with no release. I resorted to holding onto the handle of the spoon while banging the pot against the counter so the two would separate, but the two had become one and would have nothing of my infuriated hits.
As it usually goes in times of distress, one bad moment led to several more, the second worst thing(s) to happen and inevitably led to my demise: The baked pumpkin was dry and thus appeared to be something more like orange throw up rather than smooth puree. The sifted flour and baking soda didn’t create self-rising flour like some lady in a Foodie forum had promised. I didn’t even get around to the ground cloves. I lividly went ahead with substituting honey in for the ruined corn syrup in attempts to save my homemade marshmallow puff for the fudge. In the end, the fudge looked like fudge, but made a great frosting instead of a set square. The pumpkin cheesecake was an utter failure and had destroyed the looks of my kitchen after the baked pumpkin had splattered itself all over me and all over my blue walls. Then the sugar cookies, those stupid cookies, tasted like flour with a hint of pencil eraser (I know this from Elementary school), and that was the end of Wonder Woman. I kicked open the cabinet door where my trashcan calmly sat, unaware of the beatings it was about to receive. The pumpkin “puree” throw up was the first to go and I smashed the pumpkin’s remains in after it. I grabbed the mortar and dumped out the newly ground cloves as if they had done something to offend me. The pot and spoon friendship didn’t escape my fury as I very ungracefully heaved one of my legs up onto the counter and pushed all my weight against the handle of the pot with my foot while I pulled and tugged on the handle of the spoon. The break sent me flying backwards as hundreds of brown candies scattered themselves across the kitchen floor. I shrieked with exasperation and furiously continued my quest to rid myself of everything that to me said, “Vienna hates you”.
The sounds of loud bangs and angry mutters made their way to my husband’s ears who sat happily and problem-less in the living room. He became concerned and tested the waters first:
Uhm… Honey? Is everything okay?
EVERYTHING’S FINE! (Code for: Check on me, if you dare.)
He picked up on my tone and stayed in the safety of the living room while I finished up my rage against the kitchen. The nasty eraser cookies were the last to meet the trashcan as I slammed a cookie tray at a time against the top of the trash bag. The trash bag was filled to the brim with my failures and I wanted to dispose of the evidence as quickly as possible. I yanked the two white ties at either side of the bag and tied an un-neat little bow, then hoisted the trash bag out of its home to take it outside. I stomped about three steps when the third worst thing happened: The trash bag exploded. I stared emotionless at the mess that now covered my floor as well as my feet, then I was done. My eyes leaked tear after tear and I brought my hands up to my face to hide my cooking shame with the busted trash bag still intertwined between my fingers. My sweet husband ran into the kitchen, completely taken aback at the sight of his wife bawling among a giant heap of trash. He snuggled my head against his chest while I explained through chokes and sobs what had happened – A-a-and.. *sniff* and then…*sniff* the pot ate the spoon… *sniff* and the pumpkin… *sniff* and the c-c-cookieeees! My story quickly turned into an angry rant, and I asked my husband questions like:
WHY DOESN’T VIENNA HAVE PUMPKIN SPICE?
HOW DOES IT NOT HAVE PUMPKIN SPICE?
WHY CAN’T VIENNA HAVE PUMPKIN SPICE?
WHY DOES VIENNA HATE ME??????
My temper and sorrow-filled howls eventually calmed with the help of my husband and my favorite TV show, and in just a few days I told my friends about my encounter with Culture Shock and laughed the whole way through the story. My first extreme bout with Culture Shock was not an easy one, but I survived it and know that Vienna does in fact love me despite its lack of pumpkin spice. Now months later, my pantry contains 4 bottles of pumpkin spice, 3 cans of pumpkin puree, 2 cans of marshmallow puff, and my kitchen contains 1 very happy Vienna-living me.