Expat Entertainment

Living Abroad, Uncategorized

In her most recent post, Chickster from Up, Up, and Awayz (http://www.upupandawayz.com/2012/05/its-awards-season.html)  awarded me with the Liebster Award.  Thanks so much, Chickster!

The Liebster Award is for blogs with under 200 followers and has no standing rules; but she has asked that I follow the guidelines from the Versatile Blogger Award and post 7 things about myself.  So, I’m going to post the 7 things that I find most entertaining about being an expat.

7.  Bon Voyage!  Over the last four years I’ve spent a lot of time on airplanes and in airports.  While this certainly has its disadvantages (see #4) there are also certain benefits to being a constant international traveler.  For one thing, I do it really well, I know exactly what to expect on long flights and I am always prepared; my on board carry-on bag has been perfected, I know exactly what I will need to be wearing in order to be comfortable on a plane for 12+ hours (don’t wear jeans, NEVER wear jeans),  I am aware of what my entertainment options are on board…sometimes I plan it.  Okay, so I will watch Dirty Dancing and then Pretty Woman.  Second of all, I know airports.  For instance, I know that if I have a really long layover at the Amsterdam airport that they have spas that I can use (seriously, this is one of the best things ever, what better way to spend a five hour layover than getting a massage and facial).  I know that if I am flying internationally out of Los Angeles that I will want to eat ahead of time because the international terminal is tiny – there are like three places to buy food and last time I paid 12 (that’s right, 12) dollars for a turkey sandwich that was totally average.  This may sound silly, but seriously, knowing what lies ahead on long journeys can go a long way in making them more comfortable.

6.  The Timbuktu Clause.  Another thing that entertains me about being an expat is that a lot of your friends and family back home don’t really know where you live.  For instance, when I lived in New Zealand, if any natural disaster happened anywhere in the ring of fire, I would immediately get emails from people asking if I was okay.  There could be a typhoon in Fiji and people would want to make sure we still had electricity.  Here in France, everyone just assumes that I live in Paris.

“So, you live in Paris, that is so cool!”

“What? No, I just told you, I live in Grenoble.”

“So tell me about your life…in Paris.”

It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I explain that I live in Grenoble, people still ask me about my fabulous life in Paris.

5.  This is not real.  You remember that night five years ago when you got completely wasted with all your friends and your boss and you decided to streak through the neighborhood?  Great if you do, but no one else will because they weren’t there.  One of the great things about being an expat is that embarrassing stories from your past don’t haunt you in your current life.  This also means that you can convince yourself that your new embarrassing stories won’t haunt you in your future life (this is particularly helpful if you do not know how long you will be staying in the country).  Did you embarrass yourself in front of someone you were interested in?  Did you mess up and get a horrible reprimand at work?  Did you split your pants open at a restaurant?  None of this matters because as an expat you can just shrug and tell yourself that it isn’t real life, this isn’t really where you live, right?  It is one of the most brilliant (and untrue) expat rationalizations.

4. Travel Traumas.  Now you may be wondering why I would find traumatic traveling situations entertaining, and while they are happening they are not.  However, afterwards, they usually make for hilarious stories and you get to wear your survival like a badge of honor.  When MB had to bribe a security officer to be allowed to leave Chad it was scary but afterwards it made for a great story and totally upped his street cred (that’s right, my fiancé how to bribe corrupt government officials, what can your fiancé do?).   When I left my passport on a bus bench and missed my flight to the Philippines it was decidedly un-funny, as crying at the airport usually is (https://breadispain.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/jamais-deux-sans-trois/).  How does someone forget their passport on a bus bench, you ask?  A valid question.  I was using it to fan myself because it was hot outside and I didn’t want my makeup to melt off.  That’s right, I ended up losing the single most important travel document that any person in the world has for the sake of my vanity.  Proud moment?  Not really…but damn funny story later.

3.  Party favor.  Another great thing about living the expat life is that you always have plenty of interesting small talk.  An expat never has to have that awkward conversation at dinner parties when you get stuck talking to someone with whom you have nothing in common.

“So, you work in HR?  That’s cool.  I actually know someone who…um…also works in HR.”

“Oh really, what are the chances?”

“Right?”

“Right.”

“So um, how do you know Tom and Sally?”

“Tom works with me…you know, in HR.”

DEAR GOD.  We have all been there and it is awful.  As an expat, you never have to endure this.  If you are at a party overseas, people will be curious to know how your experience has been in their country and how you are liking it; and if you are back in your home country people will be curious to know what it was like living overseas.  Never again will you have to feign interest in a golfing story.

2.  Sweet Little Lies.  Because I am evil, I also think one of the funniest things about living the expat life is that you can make up all sorts of stuff and no one will ever be able to call you on it (unless they have lived in the country that you are spreading lies about – awkward).  For example, just last night two Scottish expats spent ten minutes trying to convince me that haggis was an animal with three legs.  Anyone from Scotland would think this was hilarious but there are probably a few foreigners out there who would totally believe it.  This is, without a doubt, one of the things that amuses me most about being an expat because…well, because it is fun to mess with people (there, I said it).  By the way, have I told you about Drop Bears? (http://australianmuseum.net.au/Drop-Bear)

1. Cool looking passport.  There is really not much else to say.  It is a vain, self-congratulatory sort of thing but it is true.  I LOVE having a full passport, I love flipping through it and seeing all the stamps of the places I’ve been to; it drums up a lot of great memories and stories but it also makes me feel unbelievably cool, I shamefacedly admit it.

And there you have it, the top 7 things that I find entertaining about being an expat!

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Can Bacon be a Vegetable?

French Food

“Mwah!  Look at me, I am a big sausage!”  I am walking through the room dramatically, landing hard on each of my feet.  “Watch out, my fat sausage tread might bring the house down!”

“Quoi?”  MB is amused but not sure why.

“What do you mean “quoi”,” I ask.  “I’m a sausage person…obviously.

“I don’t know what this is, a “sausage person”.”

“It’s a fatty, it’s a big fat fatty which is what I have become.  Do you see this?”  I lift one of my legs.  “My jeans are so tight that my thighs look like encased sausages.”

“You are ridiculous.”

“Really, first trimester?”  I raise an eyebrow at the little belly that MB has developed.

His jaw drops in mock horror.

WHAT?! There is a salad on the plate...

Don’t judge – there is a salad on the plate…

“Dude, I’m just sayin’, we gotta go on a diet.”

For the first four months of the year, MB and I had eight visitors stay with us.  While this was a whole lot of fun it also means that we did a whole lot of eating.  For each new visitor we had particular cheeses, restaurants, or regional specialties for them to try, and in effect, for us to try.  Normally, MB and I go out to dinner once a week; but with the onslaught of visitors, we were having “special occasion” meals almost every single night.  There is no amount of exercise that can burn off daily three-course dinners so naturally, he and I both put on a few pounds.  At first it wasn’t so bad, the clothes were a little tight, MB started to get a wee belly but after month three things had gotten out of hand.  I was starting to have trouble figuring out where my chin ended and my neck began.  So, for the past month, MB and I have been dieting which has been an interesting experience.

No more of this!

Dieting in France is both easy and complicated.

On the one hand, it was easy to cut massive amounts of fat out of our diet by doing things like not having foie gras and duck confit every day (crazy, I know, but it works).  On the other hand, deciding that you are going to diet in France and try to avoid high fat cuisine basically means that you are eating at home.  At the French restaurants in our town there are almost no low-fat options.  You want a salad?  That is great, it will come with lardons, goat cheese, possibly an egg (or my favorite salad which comes with magret canard, gesiers, and foie gras).  You want to get the fish?  Excellent, monsieur.  That will be accompanied with a cream sauce.

I remember one of our visitors telling me that she just wanted to have a light meal at the restaurant that evening.  She decided to take the salmon…which came with a cream sauce.

“That’s okay,” she said.  “I will just have the vegetable side dish.”

She asked the waiter what the vegetable option was.  It was potatoes Sardalaise.  That would be, potatoes cooked in garlic and duck fat.  Enjoy your “light” dinner.

Note the category of “legumes” on the left-hand bottom.

So basically, in France, I think it has to be all or nothing.  If you want to diet, or go on a “régime” (even the French word for diet sounds malevolent) then you better make your own food at home because you are not going to find diet food at a restaurant.  Although, note that even at home you must be vigilant. In one of MB’s French cookbooks pasta carbonara is listed under “legumes” (vegetables).  I mean, come on!  So, at the end of the day, dieting in France takes a huge amount of self-control, a lot of dinners at home, and not believing the cookbooks when they tell you that a crème fraîche and bacon salad is a vegetable.

Duck a L’Orange in an Ashtray

Cultural Differences

The French are not big on rules.

The other night, a friend of ours asked if we could drive him to Ikea; some of the wooden slats on his couch had broken and he wanted to see if he could buy replacements.  We suggested that he call first to make sure that the slats he needed were available for purchase.

“So, what did they say when you called,” I asked him.

“Oh, yeah, so they said that they don’t sell them.”

“Dang, so what are you going to do?”

“We should go anyway.  The guy on the phone said that they don’t sell them but I should just argue with them until they give them to me.”

“What?”

“Yeah, he said they weren’t supposed to sell them but if I just got into a fight it would probably be fine.”

“This is what the employee told you?”

“Yep.”

Welcome to France, a place where the employee of a company will advise you to pick a fight with his coworkers in order to get what you want.  Now, that is what I call customer service!

This is a normal type of attitude in France.  Rules are considered sort of loose guidelines that you can choose to follow or not.  On the streets, cars will be parked in all manner of fashions, in different directions, on sidewalks, sometimes the little cars will pull in perpendicular to a parking spot so that front of the car is on the sidewalk and the back of the car is on the street.  My entire neighborhood parks in the spots on the street which are blocked off for fire hydrants.  I remember leaving a bar with a friend one night and upon arrival at his car he found he had a ticket.  He was outraged.

“Why did he get a ticket,” I asked MB.

“Did you see the way he was parked,” MB responded.

I looked at the car and realized that he had basically just stopped in the middle of a road and left it there.

This attitude extends to all variety of things.  Crosswalks: just a suggestion, lines: if you feel like waiting, ashtrays: if you can find one.  I have no idea how to deal with this.  What can I say?  I’m a rule follower.  I wait in long lines, if someone tells me that they don’t sell an item then I take that as the answer, and if I get a fine for doing something wrong I accept that.  I’m terrified to try to break the rules.  The French, on the other hand, appear to take a sort of glee in “getting away with it”.  MB always looks so satisfied with himself if he has managed to bend a rule without getting caught.

One of my first interactions with a French person was about ten years ago at a French restaurant in New York City.  The proprietor, who is Parisian, was there and my friends and I happened in on a quiet night.  He sat with us and chatted for a bit at the beginning of our meal.  Towards the end of the meal, one friend and I went out front to smoke a cigarette; the cigarette ban had just recently passed in New York City.  As we were walking to the door, he approached us.

“Ah, my friends, you are leaving already?”

“No, no, we are just going to smoke a cigarette.”

“Pfff…,” he rolled his eyes.  “You come with me.  My patrons do not smoke on ze street!”

We followed him up the back stairs and into a private dining room towards the rear of the restaurant.  He pulled out a tea saucer and we all sat.  I wasn’t sure what to do.

“I’m sorry, should I just ash on the plate?”  I didn’t want to be rude or break a rule.

“Oui, I can now get a fine for having an ashtray in the restaurant.  It is reediculous.  What if I want to serve duck a l’orange in an ashtray, huh?!  I cannot!”

My friend and I told this story for ages.  It was so classic and so perfectly French.


Stylistically Cool

Adjusting to France, Cultural Differences

I’m not cool enough to pull off “French”.

Just last week, on Trying to be Conscious (a GREAT blog that you should check out), Cécile wrote about the elusive and ever-sexy French style.  She explains what she thinks are the essentials and how it can be achieved.  As I read over her post (http://tryingtobeconscious.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/how-to-look-french/), I found myself laughing because it was so spot-on.

The French have a seemingly effortless style that exudes “cool”.  The women aren’t over-done; the skirts aren’t too short and the tops aren’t too tight, typically, they are not smeared in make-up.  The men will look more put together than your typical American male and are probably a bit more interested in wearing what is currently trending (as opposed to the U.S. khaki pants and blue blazer ensemble).  However, they will not be too over the top either and they would never look like they have tried too hard.  And that, the whole “don’t-look-like-you’re-trying-thing”, is why I think this look can be so hard to achieve; with a casually draped scarf and hair thrown up in a messy bun they are able to exude the attitude of:

“Why would I dress up?  I don’t need to impress anyone because I am so cool as I am, obviously. ( I mean, I am French, no?)”

As an American I find this hard to pull off.

First of all, I do want to impress you, it is inherently part of my culture; I’m aching for you to like me…immediately (https://breadispain.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/the-truth-about-cats-and-dogs/).  I am desperately uncool because of this desire and have never been able to convincingly achieve blasé-ness (a quality that the French have, without a doubt, perfected).  So even, if I were to leave the house with a “casual cool” look I would then ask you if you thought it was okay.

“What do you think?  Is it too casual?  Can I pull this off?  Do I look stupid?”

I’m not even sure the French would understand the questions.

“Why do you want to know what I think?  I don’t understand.  Oh wait, is this what insecurity is?  I have never witnessed it before.  Interesting, I don’t like it, it is not attractive; this makes you seem desperate, no?” 

Yes, yes it does; and this desperation completely destroys any aspect of a “casual” or “cool” look that I attempt.

Second of all, I was raised in the southern United States (any Southerner reading this need not bother with the following explanation but for the rest of you…).  The southern U.S. is not a place that greatly values the natural look.  When my grandmother was on oxygen in a nursing home she still had her hair and nails done every other week.  In fact, the nursing home had a salon in-house for just such a purpose…every Southern lady goes to her grave with perfectly coiffed hair.  The clothes and the make-up are another thing.  I was taught from a very young age that a lady never leaves the house without make-up on, even if you are just popping out to the store; and I distinctly remember having to fight for faded jeans (let alone ripped) because they were “tacky”.  Basically, southern women do not do “casual” well; we are either looking fabulous or in workout clothes…with make-up on.  If I try to pull off a “relaxed” bed-head look I seriously just look like I rolled out of bed.  I cannot figure out how to give it that perfectly unfussy appearance the way the French women can.

So, I am destined to live in France surrounded by “casual cool”, a look that I will never quite manage.  In the meantime, I will happily forgo any further attempts at attractive messy hair, continue to wear workout clothes on the street, and over dress for parties.