Last Friday night was a benefit dinner for the parents' association that supports the girls' school here in Antwerp. We received a lovely invitation a few weeks ago and decided to buy tickets. Tuition was so reasonable, it was the least we could do, and it sounded fun. What a great opportunity to get to know some other parents and go to a restaurant we'd never have found on our own.
The invitation was intriguing. The location of the party was Barcelona at Hanger 26. Hadn't heard of it, and it's an unusual sort of name. Then at the bottom of the invitation, the English phrase "Bring your dancing shoes." To a school benefit attended by parents, teachers and school administrators? This I gotta see.
Our university students are sometimes able to babysit, but this past weekend they scattered to the four winds, taking advantage of their time here (and good for them!). Some went to Florence, some to Cologne, and some to Stockholm--brrr! What is it that makes young American men so curious about young Swedish women?? Anyway, the night of the benefit arrived and we had to choose which of us could go. Since John had gone to a fancy function earlier in our trip, it was my turn.
I got dressed up and caught a bus to Barcelona, which turned out to be a multipurpose room with catering facilities overlooking the River Schelde. The room itself is beautiful, with wood floors and huge expanses of white walls that make the room look very modern, like an art gallery. Long low white benches and black tables went along one wall, with candles and little bowls of munchies scattered around. A couple of lights were projecting artsy blue and red overlapping cog-like shapes on the walls that were turning slowly. I saw JieJie's teacher and went to her to chat. Everyone was dressed up, looking very sophisticated, and waiters came around with champagne and hors d'oeuvres.
More parents arrived around 8pm and people were very nice as far as introducing me around. There were some people whose response to meeting me was, "ah yes, the American. We've heard about your girls. How do you like the school?" and similar small talk.
Dinner was served about 9:30 and it was delicious. The buffet featured a huge bowl of calamari, some chicken yakitori, some vegetables, lamb, Chinese dumplings, and wrap sandwiches among other dishes. I pulled up a stool to a high table and sat with a couple whose daughter is in MeiMei's class. He's British and she's Flemish, an architect here in Antwerp. Their American friends were with them, a couple from the Philly area. Small world - someone tell my friend KH that the man from Philly has a friend from Hudson, Wisconsin!
We all chatted over dinner, there was more wine and beer served, and sparkling water to maintain a bit of equilibrium(!) and soon it was time for a raffle. Iena, the architect, said to her husband, "Hey, you've got a winning number already! Whoever gets #802 gets to marry Iena B!" Don't you know, the first item they drew for was a HUGE stuffed gorilla, and they picked #802!!! We laughed until we cried as her husband went up to claim his "bride." The stuffed gorilla sat on a barstool for the rest of the evening, observing.
About 11:30, the first of two dessert courses came around, little mini eclairs and raspberry tarts, and I went to sit with the couple who had offered me a ride home. We sat near MeiMei's teacher, so I got to check in with her too about how things are going. She said MeiMei had told her "I love you" last week. For the more formal Belgians, this is a bit much, and even for us huggy-huggy Americans, we've been trying to teach MeiMei the difference between saying "I like you" and "I love you." I told her teacher that it's fine with me if she helps reinforce the distinction--the teacher, Miss Y, said "oh, I just thought it must be an American way of expressing yourself." Yoix! Everything in the U.S. apparently seems like one big Casual Friday from here.
By this time it was after midnight, and I can safely say I was in a room full of some seriously inebriated parents! There was this wonderful air of carefree mischief to the evening. I loved seeing this side of people I'd known only as so-and-so's mom or dad. The final dessert course came around--Belgian chocolates of course!--and some people started saying their goodbyes, heading for taxis, while others made their way to the dance floor. The head of the parents' association was fully lubricated and started the dancing off with ABBA's "I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do." Next thing you know, moms and dads were throwing themselves into the dance melee with abandon, and the gym teacher was doing the jitterbug with one of the single moms I recognized from rainy morning drop-offs. I was glad to be heading out, since my dance partner was back at the apartment. I wonder when things finally wrapped up? Betcha it was 2am.
What a party! And not one I'm likely to see repeated among the more staid parents I know back home, at least not when we're all coming together for a school function (which is funny considering the stereotype of Americans as being so informal with one another...we're downright Puritannical when it comes to our Public Parental Duties!)