Dropping the Ball

It’s Ball Season here in Austria – a fact that is mostly irrelevant to my life with one major exception. Once a year I am obligated to de-mothball the evening gown and brace myself for five hours of being jostled around while petty small talk is yelled at me over the bustle and din. I have to smile and nod my head and say “yes, yes” to 100 comments I didn’t hear well enough to understand. One by one, I have to shake hands and bussi bussi with every teacher+partner in the school and then try to come up with something cleverer to say than “Hi. How are you?” I have to share in my husband’s jitters as he addresses a crowd of 2000 people. I have to waltz in front of cameras and chat with small town mayors. It is the Graduation Ball of my husband’s school and, as the wife of the Principal, there is no getting out of it unless I can manage to work up a fever that can be verified with a thermometer.

Way back in the days when my husband was deciding whether to take the position or not, he made the classic side-by-side lists of arguments – for and against. On the contra side, I added “unsuitable wife”. I meant it seriously. Last night at the ball, I proved my point – as I do every year.

I thought the theme chosen for the ball – “Per Aspera Ad Astra” or “the rocky road to the stars” – was particularly fitting this year. My rocky road started with me addressing all the local dignitaries with the informal “du” instead of the respectfully distant “Sie”. I confused their names and positions despite the drilling I went through beforehand. I said “It’s nice to meet you” to people I had met five times already. And when a local politician told a sexist joke – (“What is the difference between women and mineral water? Mineral water comes in a ‘still’ variety.”) – my response was “You just lost my vote.”

But it was not a total train wreck. My hair looked pretty nice. And I got through it this year without tearing my dress or spilling my Coke on anyone. I only yawned twice. And at some point in the evening, I realized that I now have only 10 more of these evenings to get through. Then I can pass the title of “Frau Direktor” on to the next lucky recipient and retire into happy uninterrupted obscurity.


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