I have awesome colleagues. There's no doubt about it. I enjoy going to work, and they've quickly become a surrogate family and support system. The locally engaged staff are also really great about guiding me in Saudi culture and society (even though none of them are Saudi). So I was thinking of ideas for a nice, non-Christmas-y seasonal celebration. And I found one. Something that is a New England tradition and that I remember doing at least a few times growing up. (Am I right, Mom?) I bought my kit from the Vermont Country Store, purveyors of oddities and other wonderful goods. It arrived yesterday. I convened a staff meeting today to discuss door decorating for the Consulate's contest and to share my holiday treat. About that time my boss remarked, jokingly, that it was an odd choice for the Saudi context. And then, for the very first time, I realized how culturally inappropriate my idea might be.
I had brought in a peppermint pig.
Now the peppermint pig is a tradition begun in upstate NY in the 1880s. After a holiday meal, families would pass around the peppermint pig in a velvet bag. Every person would discuss some of their good fortune for the year and then tap the pig with a hammer. At the end, the broken pieces could be consumed, and there would be good fortune for the new year.
But a pig. Really, Sadie? I turned bright red, could barely speak, and couldn't stop apologizing. (About half our office is Muslim.) But everyone took it in stride, laughed at my obvious embarrassment, and took turns talking about good fortune and hammering the pig. I cannot believe it never occurred to me to think about the religious aspect of the pig. The good news is, I was so obviously flabbergasted by my own faux pas that everyone knew it was truly a mistake. And everyone did enjoy using the hammer!
The other great thing about my colleagues is that they'll tell me the truth. So when I apologized to people individually later on, they told me that they knew I was just sharing a tradition and not trying to offend anyone. And laughed at me again.
I still feel bad.