Anyone who has been in an international relationship has had the talk about customs and traditions. It tends to happen pretty early on and is part of the we’re-different-but-maybe-not-really-so-different (ie “How weird are you and can I handle it?”) conversation that hopefully eventually leads to you figuring out that although worlds apart you were meant to be together.
Oliver and I met in the Fall and that led pretty quickly to talk about the winter holidays and Christmas traditions. With him being German, I wasn’t expecting anything too shocking or different to pop up: some real candles on the Christmas tree maybe (yes), celebrating the evening before rather than the morning of (yes), and not following the cult of the Coca-cola Santa (yep, non-Coke Weihnachtsmann).
Everything was pretty much as expected until he floored me with the following: For Christmas dinner, he said, his family ate roasted porcupine.
“Porcupine? Really??,” I asked (did I hear that right?).
“Yes, of course,” he said confidently, “It’s a delicacy over here and quite popular.” In fact, the majority of the families he knows eat porcupine. Haven’t I ever had some? He sounded incredulous.
“Um, no,” I said, “I don’t think anyone’s done that since we were pioneers crossing the prairie. I didn’t even know you had porcupine over there. Are you sure we’re talking about the same thing? Porcupine? Prickly spines?”
“Yes,” he said, starting to sound a little irritated, “that’s exactly what I mean. The best are the ones that are shot in the wild. It’s delicious and even better the next day as a cold cut on bread.”
He was so adamant that I didn’t question him about it anymore. I’d learned something new. Germans ate porcupine for Christmas dinner. This factoid quickly made the rounds with my friends and family.
“Did you know? They eat por-cupine of all things. How odd is that?”
“Really? I never knew. My grandmother was German but she never said anything about that. How interesting…”
The word spread far and wide. Then in early February of the following year, I came over for my first visit to Munich. On top of both of us being poor students, I was fish-eating-otherwise-vegetarian at the time, so he took me to a restaurant frequented by students that suited our budget and dietary restrictions but also had some Bavarian charm: Wirtshaus Fraunhofer
Although the outside now is rather plain (all the great exterior deco was knocked off during the bombing in WWII), the inside is gorgeous, almost overwhelming for a first-time-in-Europe American.
Actually, this was in 2000 before the smoking laws were passed so it looked more like this:
We found a table and he painstakingly translated the menu for me (it’s a long one and it was too early in our relationship for him to give up and let me fend for myself). Then as we were waiting for our order he said, “There! That’s a porcupine!” and pointed to something behind my head.
I turned around and, between some pictures and a stag’s head, saw the porcupine. The porcupine I had been surprised to learn lived in Europe and that he was shocked I’d never tasted. The same porcupine that now all of Northern California and beyond was certain that Germans ate for Christmas dinner.
Oliver’s English was damn good even then, but in this case I suspected that he meant to say “pork”. And to be fair I have to admit that they are pretty damn prickly on the outside, albeit not so much as the North American porcupine.
I had had months to spread this misinformation and, although I did update the immediate family, I am sure that there are plenty of folks out there still who are under the impression that Germans eat porcupine. (They probably also think that Germans hang pickles in their Christmas trees.)
This has been a joke with us ever since, and is why I have this very strong urge to hang this in our baby’s room:
(The photographer is Sharon Montrose, her Animal Print Shop is here.)
Very cute, but I doubt she’s very tasty on bread, and that’s ok. She’ll have nothing to worry about when Christmas comes around.