The Mother-in-Law’s Hat

You are going to have to bear with me with this post. It is wholly relevant to my experience in Cambodia, but it’s going to seem a little “out there” at first. It’s going to explain some of the difficulties in discussing aspects of travelling abroad with those back at home. But in order to do this, (perhaps it’s the English teacher within me) I’m going to tell a story.

This story is about you. It’s your wedding day. You’re getting married to the person you love and you can’t wait for it to happen. It’s such a significant and important day.

However, there’s a problem. It’s your mother-in-law to be. Well, actually, it’s her hat. She has come to your wedding wearing something that looks like the results of some horrific genetic experiment, where someone tried to cross-breed a badger with a pheasant with a rabbit with an armadillo. The poor monstrous animal died, out in the sun and rain, and three weeks later someone decided to make it into a hat. That abomination is what your new mother-in-law is wearing.

You laugh it off and you put it out of your mind; this is your special day, no hat is going to ruin it. So you go through the service and all the rituals of the cake cutting and the photographs. You’re tired but you’re so very happy.

You start doing the compulsory mingling. And something strange happens. Usually at this moment you’re inundated with complements and congratulations: people saying how lovely the service was or how good the food is. The first table of guests, however, don’t talk about any of these things. Instead, all they want to discuss is the hat. “Who was that woman with the roadkill on her head?” or “What was your mother-in-law wearing?” You assume it’s because this table has drunk too much (they’re your university friends, after all). But each and every table you go to mention the horrid headpiece.

Years later, and every time it comes to your anniversary or people talk about weddings or hats, the hat is always brought up. In fact, you stop telling people when your anniversary is, you’ve taken your wedding photos off the wall, and if anyone else gets engaged you refuse to speak to them at all. All because of the hat.

This is because of various reasons. First of all, you just get tired of talking about it. It was a hat. Okay, it was a pretty ugly one, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not that bad. There have been other interesting fashion choices, but no one seems to talk about them anymore (Remember Lady Gaga’s meat dress?).

Second, you actually find it quite painful. It was your wedding day. It was such a good time for you. You were surrounded by your loved ones; you embarked on one of the most sacred and special of commitments with someone you cherish; the effort and care you put into making sure people had a good time seemed to pay off. But no one remembers those things. No one discusses the most significant things about the day. All they talk about it the hat. You feel as if the whole day was a waste of time, or why these people bothered coming if all the cared about was what other people were wearing. You’d never admit it, but it really hurts.

Third, you love your mother-in-law. At first you laughed along with the comments and even pointed it out yourself, but you started to feel uneasy. Now, you are mortified that she has become such a laughing-stock all because of this hat. You feel guilty and protective and angry at everyone for making her into a joke. They don’t know about the time she drove sixty-two miles (even though she hates driving on motorways) with a thermos-flask of chicken soup and a hot water bottle with a hand-knitted cover, because she heard you caught the flu. Or every time she would phone you up when she saw something she knew you liked in a shop and she would ask if you wanted her to buy it for you. She has been welcoming and kind and loving to you. But the people at your wedding don’t seem to know about that or seem to care. All they know about her is the hat and they continue to laugh about it and to deride her for her poor fashion sense.

This has made the whole topic of your mother-in-law’s hat really difficult for you.

So, how does this apply to my situation in Cambodia you are probably wondering. This is because there are topics or situations I’ve been in that threaten to become my mother-in-law’s hat. They are things that if I discuss they will perhaps become the focus of people’s impressions of my trip, or more significant than it needs to be or is at the expense of people who I care about.

The good thing is that I have a little bit more control over what to talk about because I’m not in such a public venue as a wedding. But it does mean that there will be things I don’t talk about or I will only discuss with select people. (If there is something I’ve told you in person, it might be something I don’t want shared around.) If it is on this blog or Facebook however, it’s free to be public knowledge. Tell whoever you like.

I thought it was good to be honest that there are going to be omissions or things I’m a bit more cagey about. Simply because I don’t want the topic to become a mother-in-law’s hat.


Random aside: I discovered that there are hats you can buy which are literally dead badgers. Yep, they exist.

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