There are so many great things about living here, but last night I realized a new one that I have been perhaps taking for granted. I'm from a pretty international area - New York and New Jersey have more then their fair share of different cultures that weave into a global hodgepodge that takes influences from the farthest corners of the planet. Sushi isn't even "ethnic" anymore, and people flock to new openings of cuisines they can't even find on a map - Sri Lankan (spicy and like Thai and Indian had a culinary offspring), the provinces of India, Ethiopia, all the countries and colors of South America, Mongolia, Northern Europe, and so forth. If Antartica had a cuisine, a parade, an anything, you bet we'd have it in New York.
What I found myself engaging in culinary in the city - a sort of culinary tourism if you will - I'm immersed in here. Instead of sitting down at a table and interacting in a culture by eating it's food, I'm in a place that fills with tourists, and not all of them American. It's a lesson in tolerance every day - it's easy to say one culture is loud, another rude, another demanding, but there are wonderful people and idiots in every country, and I've encountered both.
Today, I started the day learning how to say hi in Vietnamese, and smiling that the United States is the only country where you can ask a group of people eating and chatting excitedly in a foreign language where they are from, and they say happily, "California". The Vietnamese table was followed by a incredibly sweet elderly French couple from Marsailles, who spoke no Italian or English, but yelled, laughing, "Mamma Mia" every time I dropped a plate off, and gave me the international thumbs up, waving and giggling. They were a few tables over from another German couple, eagerly trying their Italian, but dropping in German words every few seconds "eins espresso per favore" which made my heart melt. A gorgeous Swedish couple dropped by for dessert, smiling, blonde, with relatives in New York and soft accents. A couple from Turino with their newborn ate leisurely, taking pictures, sipping wine. Americans, Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders were everywhere, along with Brazilian families who speak words here and there for Italian mixed in with Portugese. An Indian family wolfed down spicy vegetarian pasta - prepared spicy, just for them - as next to them an older couple from Minnesota told me this was a trip they saved up their whole lives for. An Italian family on hoiliday asked me, in Italian, to babysit their two incredibly rowdy toddlers, the mother not really kidding - hair out of place, brow furrowed as she chased them down the road. I talked white wines with a couple from Monteral, who then befriended a table from Lyon next to them, and we parted with a "Bon soir". I went home that night with a bar full of Italians, chatting after finishing long days of work at other restaurants in town.
If anything, it's made my resolve to learn French (after I get this Italian in my head), and to learn a word or two in every language. You can't imagine the look of surprise on someone's face when you tell them "Cheers" in Norwegian or Tagolog, or ask them if they want another round in Japanese. Good or bad, it's always something new, interesting and different - and after a year like we've had, I've never been more thankful for these people coming to visit us and help us after what we've rebuilt.