Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mormons and Military Culture... Kind of Like Mixing Oil and Water (Part 3)

(Note: This is the last post of my 3 part series on Mormons and Military Culture.  You can read part 1 here, and part 2 here)

To the world, I can see how most people would think we were the most boring and uneventful people on the planet.  I think Mormon culture is great.  I love it.  It really makes me laugh to think about how we are and how we must look to everyone else.  I love being different.  Makes me feel unique and special... and we are happy as clams (if clams are happy anyway).

One of the most misunderstood things about Mormons, is that we really aren't as judgmental as people think we are.  If we seem aloof and quiet when we are in the minority, we are probably just feeling a little out of place and don't know what to do.  We aren't really sitting there shooting dagger eyes at people yelling "sinner" in our heads... most of the time, we just don't know what to say when we are way out of our comfort zones.

I have fallen in love with the Army style of life.  I love the community and getting to know people from all backgrounds, races, and cultures.  I couldn't care less how people choose to worship, just as long as they are friendly... and a good sense of humor never hurt either!  As long as people are respectful of me, I will go out of my way to be respectful of them.  I think some of the best conversations I have ever had were with people who held different beliefs than I do.  I love to learn about what makes different people tick... what gives them hope.

Now, I have never really felt uncomfortable around people of different faiths.  Some of my best friends growing up weren't Mormons and my mom's family aren't members of our faith either (except cousin LoLo -- Love you, Lolo!) and I love them to pieces!!  When we would go to California to see them, we were never weirded out that they were "drinking," and they were never weirded out that we weren't.  Never mattered to any of us that we were all different and even today we are all pretty close.

I think most of the wives probably thought I was a snob at the first Christmas party Ben took me to for his unit. I didn't say much because I was really having a hard time relating to them.  I usually can find common ground with people who have kids... children are ALWAYS a pretty safe subject to chat and joke about.  But the women around me didn't have kids.  We did talk a little bit about how we met our husbands, but conversation quickly went to subjects that I had no experience in like getting drunk, bar hopping and bar fights, their latest tattoos and other body modifications.  I honestly didn't know how to contribute to the conversation, so I just sat there and pretended to laugh when they did even if I didn't get the joke... which I usually didn't.  I wasn't judging them... just having a hard time relating, that's all.

I remember feeling sadness and telling Ben I felt I would never fit in.  And it took me a while to realize that it was okay.  That I would find the right friends, I just needed to be nice to everyone and the right friends would find me.  And guess what?  They did!  I have loads of great Army/ Military wife friends now, and I don't even live on a post yet.  The internet and this blog and other blogs have been an amazing way to met wives out there that have similar interests.

Last Friday night, Ben took me to my first Army "Dining Out."  And once again, I had one of my little culture shock moments.  Before we went, I got on line and researched all I could find out Dining Out and the etiquette involved.  I also read up a bit on the history and customs of the whole affair.  And I was pretty excited to dress all up got out for an evening with my handsome soldier.

I wasn't sure what to expect, and I showed up with little expectations.  However, it was a little awkward when all anyone was talking about was how drunk they got last year and their plans for getting even more "wasted" this time.  Here I was, all dressed up, all studied up, ready to have some deep and/or important conversation when all anyone cared about was skipping all the formalities and getting down to the drinking.  I read online that it was rude to take a drink with you as you walk past the receiving line and into the dinning hall.  So I was super confused when there was a bar next to the foyer and most the people there were enjoying drinks and taking them through the line.  Was I reading the wrong rules?  After getting thrown off by that, I noticed after we sat down that there was two big bowls in the middle of the room.  Next to one bowl there was every kind of bottled fruit juice.  Next to the second there sat more bottles of alcohol I have ever seen sitting together in my life -- there had to be like 30 different kinds.  I didn't have to ask Ben what it was... I had read all about it and heard rumors.  "The Grog".

The Grog is some military tradition (at least in the Army) where they mix a bunch of drinks and other stuff together (by other stuff, I mean like socks).  Then the soldiers have to drink it and all that.  As they were throwing stuff in the bowl they told some story and recited some lines about the importance and symbolism of the Grog.  I zoned out after the first few minutes.  But I did keep an eye on the non-alcoholic bowl to make sure they didn't try to sneak something naughty in it.  Then after all was mixed up, the soldiers and some of the ladies got glasses of it.  I had punch and Ben had some of the non-alcoholic grog.  And we did a bunch of toasts to people and groups of people.  This was my first time toasting... EVER.  I see it on TV all the time, but I always wondered if people did it in real life.  They do, just in case my fellow Mormons were wondering.  By the time the toasting was done, the majority of the people were pretty tipsy.  I, on the other hand, was so focused on not vomiting from the horrid smell that wafted from the Grog that I didn't really notice how people were acting out.

I had been so worried about not making a fool out of myself and following all the rules, that it shocked me that others didn't feel the same way.  Their tipsy behavior was a little creepy to me -- I only say that because I have never really been around drunk people and I don't understand them.  I just kept thinking, they are breaking the rules.  (Note: those of you who know me, know that I live by rules.  I love them.  They bring order to the world... as long as they are reasonable and don't infringe on my rights as an individual.  And to me, rules aren't made to be broken.  Maybe my attitude has something to do with being a cop's kid...I don't know.) They had everyone leave the dinning room at one point and a huge group went out to smoke cigars.  We stayed in and chatted with some of the other cadets.  When the group came in, some of the couples were intoxicated and some of the women were wearing pieces of their husband's uniforms... can they do that?  At one point I poked Ben and asked him.  He told me that the rules were a little skewed at "Dinning Out" affairs.  Well, that was something I hadn't read about.

Between the horrid smell, drunken soldiers and wives yelling crazy stuff and dancing right out of some of their clothes, Ben and I decided to skip out the rest of the night and come home.  I was a little disappointed.  I was expecting something totally different because of the impression I got from what I read online.  I had a long time to think on our way home (it was an hour drive) and I asked Ben if military parties were always going to be like that.  He told me that every unit is different, so we will just have to see.

Many of you have been wondering about my title of these posts: "Mormons and Military Culture... Kind of Like Mixing Oil and Water."  Let me explain, now.  I love making my own salad dressings.  One of favorites is a vinaigrette, with oil and vinegar.  I love to watch the different ingredients swirl together and if you use the right seasonings the colors can be beautiful.  The only problem is, is that if you let it set for a while, everything separates, the oil and the vinegar and even the seasonings become layers rather than the beautiful tasty dressing I love... until I shake it up once again, that is.  That's how I feel a little bit about Mormons and the Military Culture.  The military seems to really like it's alcohol, bars/clubs, and other stuff Mormons aren't into... Mormons can seem like the ultimate party poopers sometimes... but they make the best designated drivers!  Military culture is like the water or vinegar, and the Mormon soldiers and families are that oil.  If the two can learn to be and work together, great and wonderful things can happen.  However, if there is no effort made to respect one another that oil and water can just as easily separate into something not as good.  We are different, but compliment each other and I think there is amazing potential out there.

The one thing I really liked and respected about the men and women I met that night, was that every single one of them that we talked to respected the fact that we didn't drink.  Sure they teased a little, but it was actually pretty funny.  And you know what? I didn't judge them either... of course, I was a little scared of when they got drunk, only because I don't know how to talk to people that way.  But when I meet them again, we can pick up where we left off, being friendly.

I hope that I have helped some of you understand Mormons a little better as well.  We can be a peculiar people sometimes, misjudged and hard to understand.  Also, I am really grateful for the opportunity I had to learn more about the Army and the men and women that serve in it. I feel like I have been let in on a little secret, and you know what?  I think I have.



Ana said...

Okay, I just wanted to jump in and say that what you experienced is really NOT what a military ball is like outside of college. (Granted, I've only been to Navy ones, so maybe the Army is a little different, but still...) Yes, people drink, and there does come a time when it's better to just leave, but everyone there is not just out of high school and learning how to be on their own.

I get the feeling you guys are a bit older than the average college student, so I absolutely understand why you would feel a little out of place! The "real world" military has a wide variety of people of various ages. Plenty of them have kids, and I haven't found it all that hard to find some that don't drink. I've been to several military balls, and even the one here, where drinking is by far the biggest past time, it wasn't even close to as, well, college, as it sounds the one you went to was.

And, I hesitate to say this because I don't want to offend you, but I look forward to when you guys get to get out of Utah and it's, well, bubble.

Cat said...

Thanks for your comment, Ana! That's pretty much what Ben told me, that every unit is different and when we leave Utah we will have LOTS of new experiences, some good and some bad... as it would be like with every profession out there :)

One thing that I guess I could have made more clear, is that the Dinning Out we went to was NOT a college affair. It was with Ben's unit. He was enlisted first, so he is still with a unit... the ROTC is a different affair (and those parties are totally different because alcohol is not allowed on campus).

It was a weird experience for me, but I learned a lot from it. I look forward to the many adventures that the ARMY holds for us :)

Morhia said...

I being a Christian understand that people may look at us different and that we have to uphold that Christian name. My husband and I choose to have a drink on special ocassion but the people we do go out with on special ocassion drink like we do. A glass of wine with dinner. I work at a Chemical Dependency Clinic and have ran into clients while having dinner who later have commented on they appreciate that my husband and I don't get drunk while in public.

I told them that we DONT get drunk period. Some are flabbergasted *sp that we NEVER get drunk. I explain that in the Bible wine was served and it clearly states Drink and Don't be Drunk. That does'nt mean puch your limits to see how much you may drink and not get drunk it means be "Responsible". So many people weren't raised to know the difference and our church actually frowns upon people who drink. I would have to say our church is split when it comes to that. I find that it is difficult with fellow members of the congregation.

I get upset because our church is wonderful at not passing judgement on those who enter our chuch but when we members are seen with people who don't go to our church we seemed to be treated as if we have left God. This is not true! I tell you this because it has bothered me so that I get upset even going to church now.

My husband tells me it's not like that but it is. The people say things like "Wow, I seen you with ***". I then say "Oh yes, I love being around them because I share with them what God lays on my heart". I am even crtitcized about hanging out with people who are members of people from different church denominations. It bothers me because it doesn't state in the Bible that we can only be pentecostal, morman, baptist, and so on. It never said we can be this but not that. I love what my church believs and love the oath we had to take but disagree that we should stay away from this or from that. Our job is to shine and let non-believers see God's light shinning and want what we have. Sorry to go on and on. This is just something that I am passionate about. I have learned to love you and your family. I love your values. They are similar to my own. I am not mormon but have great respect for them even if I disagree with some of what is said. I did use to be mormon but found something that I actually felt God in and I never did feel taht way in the Mormon church. There I felt like it was rules and by the book but with out true relationship with Christ. I have found my spot and know that I have relationship with God as I should. I believe we don't have to be one Christian but not another. God loves us all and it is about the relationship and the fear that we have with him and for him. I believe you are my sister in Christ. I believe you have relationship with God and LOVE taht about you. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Good blog. I am in the military searching about Mormon culture. I have managed big formal military gatherings. Those of a higher paygrade along with their spouses normally uphold themselves to higher standards. They know they have juniors looking at them so they set an example at all times. Juniors do tend to get crazy. Thanks again.


Cat said...

Thanks Gerry for your comment! If you have any questions at all, feel free to email me!

Anonymous said...

I found this blog post through Google and I thought it was really interesting! I'm a Mormon and I grew up in the church, and my best friend, also a Mormon, is joining the armed forces very soon, so I thought it'd be interesting to read a few perspectives & experiences of Mormon life meeting military life. Having grown up in a pretty progressive/liberal area, not much surprises the two of us when it comes to others' actions that aren't in keeping with Church standards, but I've never gotten a clear view into what life would be like. Very insightful, thank you for posting!