Turning 40 at a Tupperware Party
It is strange to be thirty-nine years old and afraid to attend a Tupperware party. You see, I had left my Texas homeland and moved to rural Austria. So there I was at a neighbor’s farm, having brought my husband and children with me so that I would not be alone. The problem, you know, was the language. Mühlviertler folk don’t speak German; they speak Mühlviertlerisch. I spoke neither.
At the party, I sit surrounded by women whose words all sound so similar. They say “Mausen lausen yausen. Mausen lausen yausen.” I nod companionably, the sort of feminist who is repulsed yet eager to be included in this international Hausfrau’s female-bonding ritual, especially at the mystical, yet despised, sexy yet not-always-publically-admitted fortieth. I take a plate with cake.
“Grüss Gott, Grüss Gott,” I say and shake the hands of two arriving women. “Mausen lausen!” they say. I smile and nod. We eat cake, drink Kaffee, and I begin to sweat in my snow suit. The room is very warm; the others are dressed in pant suits. My neighbor passes me a piece of paper. I stare at it. Like a pre-schooler, I cannot understand the sign-in sheet and pass it on to my German-speaking husband, my caretaker, my babysitter, in this new land. He is the only man attending this women’s ritual.
To him I whisper, “I cannot understand a word they say.”
He asks, “Should we go?”
I answer, “Oh no!”
I admire the colourful Tupper brochure and delightedly recognize the word Tupperware.
I sit up attentively as the Tupper Fuhrer begins her spiel: “Tupper . . . Zwei tousand shilling.” I’m excited; I understood the price. I wipe the sweat from my brow and the talk drones on. Then I snatch onto the words, “Microwelle . . . microwausen.” The ladies all grin and somehow I know they are giggling because the Fuhrer is trying to sell them microwaveable Tupperware. A neighbor eyes me nervously, then leans close and whispers. I nod feverishly. “Ja, ja, ja!” I say, to let her know I got it: they don’t have microwaves; they have wood-burning ovens.
In fact, the tiled oven in the corner is pumping out so much heat, I feel faint. I unzip the bib of my snow suit for air and fan myself. And I notice that at frequent intervals, the Frauen bend over their brochures and write notes. Perhaps they are going to buy everything. I feel unprepared for such industry. And suddenly, I am homesick. My eyes fill with tears.
But my small children come and sit with me and I try to curb their frenzied cookie munching and help them balance full-to-the-brim glasses of juice in this Land-of-no-Napkins. Though this world of perilous, brink-of-spills disasters is nerve-wracking, I cling to it.
The Fuhrer holds up a new item, a small plastic yellow thing and hangs her ring on a spike at one end. This time she speaks with a hint of uncertainty. With a thrill, I instinctively sense that the yellow thing is a small soap dish and will be a free gift for each of us. The women in the circle all chatter and laugh at the dish and I know intuitively that they’re saying, “We can’t get our rings off anymore.” The Tupper Fuhrer frowns dispiritedly and picks up a bowl she has shown us twice before but this time not in orange or blue but lilac. “Mausen lausen . . .” she continues doggedly.
I turn back to the brochure for the eighth time.
I find the Tupperware popsicle forms I used as a child and romantically imagine my children sitting outside in Austria in the summer heat, licking popsicles made from our own hand-picked berries. But will it ever be that warm here? Out the window, are snow and mountains. Certainly, home-baked bread is more practical in this climate. My husband the bread baker has already quickly and efficiently scanned the brochure, and found the bread knife and bread dough bowl he needs and that are, as far as he is concerned, the reason we came.
“Mausen yausen?” the Tupper Fuhrer says, sad eyed. “Drei hundert shilling.” I nod enthusiastically at the price and grin at the women across the table. The Tupper Fuhrer seems defeated, and speaks slowly, “Mau-sen . . . lau-sen . . . yau-sen . . . Field tank!” She stops. The Frauen smile, relieved, and invite me to stay on for the real party after the party.
But my husband pulls me and the children up with a “Danke Sehr!” and explanation in German which I imagine means, “We must go. I have a hernia.” I eye him nervously, see no odd reaction from the ladies, and shake all hands twice. Then I hear it: “Auf Wiedersehen, Frau Grevel!”
I freeze, then take a step backward, thinking, Yeeooooow! Ich bin Frau Grevel? Me, a Frau? I refuse!
The tears slide down my face, and the Tupper Fuhrer shakes a finger at me. Perhaps she is saying, “Don’t worry—you can buy more!” The Tupper hostess may be saying, “Are you ill? A migraine?”
My husband hands me a child. “Time to go, Frau Grevel!”
No, I am not! O, Gott! Frau! That rhymes with oww and sow and cow and even . . . frown.
Outside, the cold is a relief. I blink. I have survived the Tupper party. As we walk toward our new farm, I breathe the clear fresh air, look out over soft white slopes and distant forests. The sky is rose and gold.
Frau? Well, Frau also rhymes with now and wow! And even Schau!*
So . . . How now brown cow!
Eine Frau, Schau!
Eine Vierziger Frau!**
Wow, that Frau!
Take a bow!
p.s. This piece was originally written as a performance piece for a friend’s fortieth birthday. The piece has been performed several times in Germany and Austria, at private and public events.
p.p.s. The Mühlviertel region of Austria is called Upper Austria in English. Each region of Austria has different dialects, with the dialects also varying within a region. These dialects are more closely related to Old English than to Modern High German. In this story, the words used to represent dialect are my own invention, used to entertain, rather than to show true dialect.
*Schau! = Look at that!
**Vierziger Frau = forty year old woman