Wassailing

“Quoi?”  MB calls out from the kitchen.

“Quoi what?”  I say this before the redundancy of it computes in my mind.

He steps out of the kitchen and into the living room where I am dancing like a maniac and going through my Christmas songs on Itunes to sort out a playlist for our upcoming party.  I grab his hand and make him dance with me which gets a laugh…one of his classic laughs in which I can tell he is trying really hard not to but can’t help it.

He kisses me on the cheek which is my cue to stop.  “What is this wassailing?”

“Oh,” I respond, putting “Here We go a-Wassailing”* on mute.  “You know, it’s to… “wassail.”  This seems like a totally logical answer to me.

“You don’t know what it means, do you?”

YES, of course I do, I sang this song when I was a kid!  Gaw!”  I have no idea what it is to “wassail.”

“So, what is it?”  He puts a hand on his hip and stands over my computer.

“Hold on…” I say, as I google it quickly.  “Huh…it is: 1 : an early English toast to someone’s health
2 : wild drinking : REVELRY.”

“So it is a Christmas carol about getting wasted?”  He asks me this with amusement on his face.

“No way, it can’t be,” I look up “wassailing” as opposed to the noun form “wassail” hoping there is some translation change; it isn’t much better.  “”Wassailing,” I read, “To go on a wild drinking spree.”

MB bursts out laughing.

“It also means to drink to someone’s health!”  I will defend “wassailing” forever!

He pats me on the head and walks back to the kitchen.  My whole childhood has just morphed into an old English drinking song.

When I was little I was a Girl Scout.  We had meetings once a week and events like camping (okay so camping in cabins not in tents but get real…we have bears in Tennessee) and selling Girl Scout cookies throughout the year.  I remember learning how to light a match, how to sew a button (quit giving me that look, Mom, just because I don’t do it well doesn’t mean I don’t know how), and I can still pick out poison oak.  Somewhere in the attic there is a sash with badges on it and I still keep in touch with a few girls from my troop and one of them even came to my wedding this year.

Every Christmas my Mother (a “forever” Girl Scout) would get the girls together over at our house and take us caroling in the neighborhood.  My Mother an avid…dare I say “hardcore”, caroler loved the tradition and so did I.  It was awesome and SO much cooler than it sounds…I swear.  We would all meet at someone’s house and dress up in super warm clothes and drink hot chocolate and afterwards we would have a cookie party.  It was fun to go out into a cold wintery night with all your best friends and sing songs to strangers.  Carolers are often made fun of in movies or on sitcoms but let’s face it – in this day in age it is pretty amazing to have a bunch of strangers show up at your door and sing songs to you for no other reason than to spread some cheer.

I remember one year in particular back in the late 80’s.  After the adults made sure we were all warmly attired in our totally cool purple, green, and fuchsia winter wear (I’m just assuming…I did say late 80’s) we set out with our song books into the wily streets of High Point Terrace in Memphis (this will be funny to anyone from Memphis).  We went to house after house singing our songs and generally being “ooh’d” and “awe’d” over by all the folks in the neighborhood (perhaps another reason we all loved Christmas caroling…a nice little ego boost if I do say so).

Only a few doors down from my house we came and knocked on a door.  Now let me give a little lesson in caroling for you novices out there, it’s not like you ring the doorbell and wait to take requests; you ring or knock and then get going with your song – if the people living there don’t like it then they are scrooges, plain and simple.  At this house my Mother whispered to us to start singing “Silent Night.”  The porch stayed quiet as we began our song and we started to wonder if they were going to open the door; we could see people in there.  Suddenly the door swung wide and the whole family was standing there.  I remember having a very odd sensation of seeing so much light around them as we stood on the dark porch.  While we sang I noticed their arms going around each other and hugs being given, heads rested on shoulders, a couple of the people even cried.  We had never made such an impact.  Later my Mother explained to us that the man who had lived there had died a few days ago and that the family was there comforting each other.

It was a special moment in my life, maybe it was a special moment in theirs.  Maybe it is a story that they still tell in their family about the night that Grandpa died and little girls showed up at the door during the wake and sang “Silent Night.”  We didn’t understand while we were singing what had happened and we only sort of understood later but I understand now and it can still bring a tear to my eye thinking about it; thinking about the fact that the simplest acts that you commit in your life can bring a sense of peace, a sense of thankfulness, a sense of joy and love to a complete stranger…and sometimes when they need most to not feel alone in this world.  I understand that often God or the Universe or Mother Nature, or whatever you believe in will use you as a tool for good even when you aren’t trying.

When I asked my Mother about this story to make sure I was telling it right she was so pleased that I remembered caroling and had happy memories of it.  She told me that the reason she always hosted this party was because of a memory she had when she was a little girl.  “It was probably only once in my life – one year,” she wrote, “The cold, the holiday season, the thrill of singing with others, the smiles on the other side of the doorway.  I still recall the intense delight I felt.”  It’s funny, isn’t it?  That two women in different stages in their life still think about and remember fondly singing to strangers a few times when they were children.

My Mother said that when we would go caroling sometimes people would try to give us money.  They would want to know why we were caroling, they assumed we were doing it for something.  Well…we were.  Maybe it sounds cheesy and maybe it is too trite for some people but we were just doing it to spread cheer.

So, “Wassail” my friends!  Drink an extra glass of egg nogg or vin chaud, be unnecessarily cheerful, sing songs too loudly, and allow yourself to be used in the crafting of someone’s happy holiday memories.

*Note – there are two different “Wassailing” songs around the holidays and neither is for Christmas but for the New Year.  There is “Here we go a –wassailing” and there is also (my favorite) “Wassail, Wassail”. 

Happy Holidays Everyone!  I’ll be back in the New Year!!

Holiday Season Part II: Spreadable Meat and Hot Wine

Alright, so we already know my favorite USA Christmas things…now for France!

7) Animatronics.  Yeah, that’s right…animatronics, love ‘em.  A merry band of robotic, glassy-eyed zombie bears playing Christmas Carols = awesome!  (maybe I’ve been watching too much Walking Dead)    This is something that I discovered last year during the Christmas season in France and that I found very random/charming.  I mean, don’t get me wrong – it’s not like I’ve never seen animatronics at home but I feel like there are more of them here in France during the holidays…which totally confuses me.  When I think of the French I think of them being uber-cool; I do not think of them as being animatronics people  (then again, Euro Disney has managed to survive) so it was quite a surprise when I started to notice Christmas animatronics all over town…at the marchés, at the magasins, at the malls, even at Carrefour.  Who would have ever suspected that the French would embrace something so…well, geeky?  Jerry Lewis probably would have guessed it.

6) The Chocolate Aisle ON STEROIDS.  In a previous post I wrote about the chocolate aisle at the grocery stores in France and all its glory (https://breadispain.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/chocolate-frogs-and-salty-dogs/).  Well, imagine that aisle winning the Tour de France 7 times on ‘roids and you would have the Christmas chocolate aisle.  (woah…did she just make an inappropriate joke about Lance Armstrong?  NOT cool)  Actually, once the holiday season arrives it isn’t even an aisle anymore but an entireSECTION of the grocery store, a section filled with mountainous towers of Lindt Truffles, Kinder Surprise, and Lanvin l’escargot (why shouldn’t chocolates be shaped like snails, don’t judge).  What’s even more nefarious awesome is that these sections are usually right at the entrance of the store…that’s right, the same masterminds at Carrefour (cue thunderclap and eerie music) who will only have three registers open on a Saturday afternoon have managed to figure out that forcing you through this chocolate mini-nation will effectively force you to buy some.  There is no defense against it…and I embrace that; if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

5) CRAZY Christmas Lights (part II).  Okay, so we have established that in the U.S. people go a little over the top decorating their houses…in France it is not like that, in France they keep their decorum at home and instead go over the top decorating their towns.  All over the city centres there are lights running up and down the streets, maybe hanging over the streets, dangling down the sides of buildings, and hanging from every light pole.  And it isn’t just the main streets; you can find light displays on the smaller side streets as well.  You will never walk down an un-festive street and it really makes going into town more fun…especially when that special Grenoble “icnoain” (that would be ice/snow/rain) is pissing down out of the sky (no bitterness).  The only thing that could make this more fun and awesome would be if they would take the decorations down during the rest of the year instead of leaving them up which violently murders Christmas spirit…evil.*

4) Spreadable meat.  Now, I realize that spreadable meat in France is not just attached to the Christmas season but I’m using it as one of my favorite things anyway because much like the grocery store chocolate it is just MORE at the Christmas season.  For instance, MB and I might normally have a can or two of pate lying around for a party or some such occasion but just last week we bought over 40euros worth of pates and foie gras creations (because you can stuff everything with foie gras and shove it in a can…including magret canard which we discovered is amazing) from a vendor at the neighborhood market because…well, it was there.  Do you remember what happens if you get the Gremlins wet (if not, rent the Christmas classic Gremlins and enjoy 80s ridiculousness at its finest)?  Well, that is pretty much what happens to pate in France during the holidays.  Normally, there might be one stand at your neighborhood market and a shelf or two at the grocery store; but during Christmas time, it multiplies.  Suddenly, it’s like you can’t get away from spreadable meat options – they are everywhere, taunting you with their fatty goodness, duck, goose, wild boar, rabbit, all of them mixed together.  Whatever kind of spreadable meat situation you want, you can have in France during the holidays…just remember to take your Lipitor.

3) Vin Chaud.  Wine is already tremendous.  It is fruity, it is alcoholic, it comes in a wide variety of flavors, and (saints be praised) it is even good for you…in moderate amounts blah blah blah…fine print…blah blah.  So how could wine possibly become any more comforting and awesome?  Not possible, right? WRONG – heat that b-tch up and make it spicy.  In England they call it mulled wine, in France it is vin chaud (hot wine…which sounds funny so I like to say it) and is basically red wine with a variety of spices in it, heated up.  Again, it’s one of those few things that makes winter worth struggling through and definitely one of my favs about being in France during the holidays.

2) Easy Presents.   Okay, so this isn’t necessarily a French Christmas thing but it is a Christmas thing for me while living in France so I’m using it.  Living in a country that produces some of the yummiest food products in the world makes Christmas shopping ridiculously easy.  While other people back home are searching to find those perfect gifts for their loved ones, all I have to do is buy some cheese and spreadable meat and we’re all good.  And the best part is that everyone always loves it, in fact I don’t think anyone in the history of the world has received a gift box of French food and not been happy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Roman provincial governors were sending back parcels of Gallic goodies home.

Two Roman sentinels are stationed in Gallic territory and standing outside the praetorium shooting the breeze.

Gaius:  So, what are you going to send Aurelia and the boys for Saturnalia?

Sextus:  I don’t know, you know, the boys want some swords but clearly that is better bought in Rome.

They kick a passing Gaul and laugh to each other.

Sextus:  I think Aurelia wants a new dress.  I’ll probably just get a gift certificate.

Gaius:  No way!  It’s not personal – Helena tells me it’s tacky so I’ve never gotten her one.

Sextus:  Well, alright tough guy, what are you sending?

Gaius:  Gallic Gift Baskets.

Sextus:  Huh?

Gaius:  You know food from the region, specialties.  I make my slave put it together – it’s awesome.  Always a hit!

Sextus:  Really?

Gaius:  Yeah, everyone loves Gallic food, come on.  It’s better than having everything taste like garum!

SCENE.

I’m pretty sure that is exactly how it all went down.  However, the point is that not only do I not have to fight holiday shopping crowds but I also have the assurance that the gift will be well-received.  High-five, France!

1) Marche de Noel.  In the U.S. we have Marchés de Noël…they are called malls.  In France (and all of Europe really) most towns have these ridiculously adorable Marchés de Noël that do not involve Forever 21 or Taco Bells**; these marches, on the other hand,  are like delightful little alpine villages that crop up in the middle of your city centres.  The marchés have little pathways that weave around small stands with vendors selling a variety of games, toys, etc (most of it is crap but you know…still cute), there might be some musicians (they may or may not be animatronic) and people selling Christmas carols, there will definitely be a large variety of artery-clogging, delicious food (did anyone say foie gras sandwich?), and there will undoubtedly be plenty of vin chaud.  Basically the Marché de Noël manages to combine almost everything I love about Christmas-time in Europe.  It is Christmas spirit and liveliness, cheerful people and music…and an unhealthy dose of booze and high-fat foods.

*I could go on about this subject for a very long time as it is something that has irritated me the entire time I have lived in France.  WHY oh WHY can they not take down the decorations in the off-season?  I mean, won’t that give people jobs…not to mention make it possible for me to see them without screeching in annoyed outrage?

**This is not a diss to Taco Bell.  I love Taco Bell with every fiber of my being, yes, I know what is in it and no, I don’t care whatsoever.  I would eat 5 burrito supremes right now if I could.

Bise! Boo!

In honor of Halloween next week I thought I should write about the scariest thing in France…

Sometimes I actually know what is going on when I am in France…I mean, okay so it is probably not the majority of the time but I’m getting there; now when I nod at something someone says there is like a 50% chance that I know what they meant (45%…WHATEVER).  Point being, I am making progress.  There is one area, however, in which zero progress has been made.  I am basically just as lost as I was the first day I got here.  It is wily and ever-changing, a chameleon in the world of social niceties…

*cue thunderclap and lightening*

A tradition so scary…so intimidating…

*teeth chattering in fear*

…that even the creators themselves can’t seem to get a handle on their Frankenstein, it is…

THE BISE!

*SCREAM*

MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Alright…maybe that is a little dramatic but seriously, what is the deal?  Even some French are confused by what to do!

Exhibit A:  http://combiendebises.free.fr/

Exhibit B:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9m0OEpE0z8

Now, I know I’ve written about this before but last time I was writing about getting over the hump of allowing a stranger into my highly coveted personal space so that they can apply their lips to my face (I have accepted it fully, I swear); but this time I want to talk about the actual rules…or lack thereof.  As you can see in Exhibit B, the side you start on varies, the number of kisses varies, and the time in which you give them varies, as does the person you are giving them to vary.  Now the French have grown up with this tradition and seem to move on instinct…subtly noticing the direction a head is going to go before it has gone there but I have no such luck.  I do things like catch half of a person’s mouth and accidentally force them into a half-way make out because I thought their head was going in the other direction.  I mean, how does any normal touching –phobic Anglo recover from this?

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to just lick your mouth.”

Furthermore, I can’t seem to get a handle on the number of kisses that are going to be doled out to me.  I have often had the same person sometimes do two and then sometimes do three.  So, just when I think I’m down with the three and go in for another round, they stop at two and I feel like a jackass.  Why, French people, WHY?!  Don’t you know that I already feel super awkward about kissing strangers?! And don’t even get me started on entering large parties or what to do with children who don’t want to get near you…the confusion abounds.

So, while other people dress as ghosts and goblins this Halloween, I think I will dress as the scariest thing I know…the bise!

7 Tips to Make Friends…without being creepy.

A few weeks ago, Cécile, from the always fabulous Trying to be Conscious, passed on the “One Lovely Blog Award” to me (http://tryingtobeconscious.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/a-little-sugar-in-my-bowl/).  Thanks so much Cécile!!  If you haven’t already, you should all check out her blog, always funny and always spot on!

As with most awards, this one comes with a few rules.  First of all, I need to link back to the blog which awarded me, then pass on the award to up to 15 other blogs, and finally share 7 things about myself.   Per usual, I’m going to change it up slightly and instead of sharing 7 things about me, I’m going to share a bit of advice by listing what I believe to be the 7 best ways to make friends at bars.

Okay, so don’t get the wrong idea.  I’m not talking about creepily trying to hit on people but rather tips on how to approach a group of people or start a conversation with someone who looks like they could be fun.  When you move to a new country, city, etc. it can be difficult to figure out how to meet people to hang out with.  I mean, sure if you are into kickball leagues and book clubs you will be just fine, but what about the slackers like me (and MB…sorry honey: truth gun)?  We don’t “do” organized activities.  We like to talk about them and say how great they sound and say “totally send us the info and we will join up” but yeah…we don’t do that.  Instead, we either sit on the couch and watch TV or we go to bars.  So, how do we find like-minded slackers?  Well, here ya go…

Top 7 ways to meet strangers out at bars:

  • Sit at the bar!  Really, I can’t stress this enough; it should be number 1 on this list.  You are never going to meet anyone sitting at a table; in fact, I would go so far as to say that nothing even remotely interesting is going to happen to you there.  It makes me crazy when I come into a bar and my friends all want to sit in some back corner.  Bar going is like a sport to me, a sport in which I try to see how many interesting people I can talk to in a night.  I feel as though this is the true spirit of the bar and thus cannot understand those who besmirch this spirit by being table dwellers.  It is such an easy way to start a conversation because you are naturally forced into periods of waiting with complete strangers.  You can turn to the person next to you and whine about how long the bartender is taking or talk about how awesome the bartender is or make fun of someone in the bar who has just done something ridiculous.  While in this unique waiting period it is completely acceptable to speak to anyone without it being creepy and it is a great way to make new friends.
  • Offer to take pictures.  First of all, it’s a nice thing to do, but second of all, another great ice-breaker.  You see a group of people who look like they are a lot of fun and have a camera out, just offer!  Once in Bologna, I did this for a table next to us and within about 15 minutes we had pulled our tables together, enjoyed a meal, and ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the evening.  With just a “click” we managed to form our own clique!  “That joke was so lame.  I can’t believe I’m even going to keep reading after that.  I mean, cameras don’t even “click” anymore.  Do you remember those “Le Clic”* cameras from the 80’s.  Those were awesome.” 
  • Talk loudly.  Okay, every American does this anyway so to my American readers you can skip this one; BUT for the rest of you, pay attention.  Granted, talking loudly can be really annoying so you have to gauge it just right, however, if you can figure out the correct balance it can be an excellent way to meet people…especially if you are funny or interesting (boring people should also skip this step).  For instance, basically every single time my best friend and I leave the house we end up having funny exchanges with strangers who have overheard our absurd (and yes, hilarious – high five, friend) chatter.

“Sorry,” says the sales lady to us.  “I’m just laughing because everything you are saying is so true!”

“Right?”  My friend responds.  “Fifity Shades of Grey is so weird and over-rated but it really does make you want to have sex.”

We talked with this sales lady for almost 40 minutes after already purchasing our clothes.

  • Be a smoker.  “Oh my god!  Did she just write that?  So SO inappropriate.”  Yeah, yeah, I know but I’m convinced that somewhere there must be a statistic about smokers making friends more easily than non-smokers.  I mean, let’s think about this for a second, we they are forced outside in small groups often without any music or bar, so no distractions, in which conversations with strangers can be easily induced.  I mean, good grief, all you have to do is ask for a lighter and BAM! CONVERSATION.  But okay, if you don’t want to risk your life and your health than you can always find the people who are left behind by their smoking friends and bond over the fact that they are all idiots.
  • Be polite.  You Mother was right, you will catch more bees with honey; and if you are interested in bee-catching or friend-making then be sweet!  Many times, I have started a conversation by using a simple “excuse me” or by picking up someone’s jacket or catching a purse that is falling off a chair.  People appreciate it and it can easily serve as your “in”.  Talk about how annoying it is that the backs of the chairs are round so things won’t stay on them or show them the hooks underneath the bar (I assume that of course you are AT THE BAR) where they can hang things.  Everyone likes a helping hand and it is a good way to make a great first impression.
  • Find the loners.  Often in my travels I have found myself sitting alone at a bar and I would have been thrilled to have a group of strangers come and ask me to join their party.  “What?  Doesn’t she know about stranger danger?  This is bad advice.”  If you are in the mood to make some new friends this can be a great way to do it.  Since you and your friends are obviously standing at the bar (and if the loner is smart then they are as well) then you can easily ask if this person feels like joining.  Maybe they will think you are crazy, maybe they will turn out to be crazy themselves, or maybe you will end up meeting someone really cool who ends up being a long-term friend…believe me, it happens.
  • Find something in common.  This is the most important of all of these little tips and is really the whole point of the exercise anyway, isn’t it?  To meet someone who you find interesting or shares an interest that you have.  Having something in common is what puts people at ease.  So use any one of these methods or a combination and maybe you will stumble across someone who just moved to your town, who is from a different country, who speaks a different native language, and who also thinks that Back to the Future III was completely under-rated and actually an amazing film.  Hey, it could happen!

Good hunting!  (sorry, just finished Battlestar Galactica)

Now for the fun part – getting to pass this award on!

* In case you have no idea what I am talking about: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Le-Clic-110-Point-and-Shoot-Camera-with-built-in-flash-/221050012094?pt=Film_Cameras&hash=item33779b81be  This is the exact model of the one I had; I am sure that shortly it will be sported by some 20-something hipster as opposed to a rockin’ 8 year old with leggings, a puff-paint t-shirt, and wicked big-bow headband.  That’s right, I was rad.

Expat Entertainment

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!

The Beau Reve

People say that when you begin to dream in another language that you are really starting to get it.   I suppose this shows that the new language has finally made enough of an impact on your brain to be able to seep into your subconscious.  Recently, I had just such a dream.  However, in my dream my subconscious and brain concocted a special little treat for me.

I can just imagine them strategizing:

Brain:  Okay, so what do we want to do tonight?

Subconscious:  Man…I don’t know, tidal wave?

Brain:  I’m so over the tidal-wave-coming-at-you-dream.  It symbolizes stress, duh.  I mean, if she hasn’t gotten the message by now then she never will.  I want something fresh, something different.

Subconscious:  Naked in public?

Brain:  Nah, it’s so lame, totally 1980’s sitcom.  Anyway, that one doesn’t seem to unnerve her that much.  I’m looking for something more entertaining.  It’s been slow lately.

Subconscious:  …sex dream?

Brain:  What?!  No way, dude.  You always end up putting some weird element in there.  It makes me uncomfortable.  I mean, Kevin Arnold from The Wonder Years!  What was that about?”

Subconscious:  Whatever, we loved that show.

Brain:  All I know is that I ended up having to work out some serious guilt issues about Winnie Cooper.

My Subconscious shrugs.

Brain:  Hmmm…we could always do a dream with mean friends from the past.

Subconscious:  Ugh.  Please no, those are the worst.  They are always so painfully obvious and allegorical.  Vomit.

Brain:  Well, we have to come up with something.  We can’t keep her awake forever.

A moment passes.

Brain:  Haha, actually we totally could.  I could start coming up with lists right now.  She’ll never sleep!

Subconscious:  Ha, right?!  But seriously, it is so much easier when she just takes a Lunesta.  I could use some time off.

Brain:  Wait a minute…something new is coming in…something interesting, is that…no way, is that French?!

Subconscious:  You’re kidding?  It’s finally crossed over?  We can use it?

Brain:  Yeah dude, we got it if we want it.  What what! (my Brain sometimes masquerades as a character from Cougar Town) 

Subconscious:  Do people even say that anymore?  …Okay.  So, what are we gonna do with this?

Brain:  Oh, it’s gonna be so good.  This is what we do:  she’ll be in her dream, somewhere totally normal and commonplace in France.  Everyone will be speaking in perfect French but she won’t be able to come up with the right sentences.  She’ll respond to the perfect French that you and I are creating, – so in essence she is creating – , with the broken French that she uses in everyday life.

Subconscious:  Woah, what a mindf*ck.

Brain:  Right?

Subconscious:  So like, when she wakes up she will realize that she dreamed in correct French but that she still isn’t able to use it when she is awake.  Just wait until Conscious hears about this.  You are an evil genius.

My Brain lets out a malevolent laugh a-la Count Dracula. 

And Scene.

Yes, this dream did actually happen.

I actually dreamed in French, which was correct.  Everyone else in my dream could speak fluently and effortlessly except for moi; I was still speaking in my current level of French.  At first, I found this hugely unnerving but now I have decided that it should give me hope for the future.  Clearly, I’ve got the right components rolling around in my head, I just haven’t quite figured out how to put them all together.  I just hope that at the next strategy meeting my Conscious decides to show up.

Life and Foie Gras

“So what do you think?”

MB and I are whispering in the kitchen.

“I mean, I guess we could,” he says.

“Is it too much?  Maybe it is too much.”  I am feeling doubtful as I look over at my guests.

“Well, it is probably too much but who cares?”

This seems like a good point and I grab the jar of foie gras out of the cupboard.  A friend of mine from the U.S. is staying with is for one night with two of his ski buddies that I have just met.  Even though they are not hungry and we are going to fondue later that evening, I cannot resist the urge to ply them with French goodies.  I have already put out a cheese plate and now I am pulling out a bottle of sauterne and onion confit for the foie gras.

“Wait!  We don’t have baguette!”  MB says.

“That’s okay,” I say, throwing on my coat.  “I will go and buy some!”

MB looks at me incredulously.

“Really?”

“Yeah, it’s totally fine, you stay here and drink wine.  I’ll be right back.”

MB can’t believe his luck; this never happens.

Normally, to get me to leave the house at night time when it is about -10˚C (7˚F) there would need to be some sort of disaster, maybe there is a burglar or a fire…even then, it is possible I would choose death over being cold (depending on how much wine I have consumed).  However, the mere notion of being able to serve foie gras for the first time to two people I’ve never met has me shooting out of the house like some sort of weird food-oriented super hero (maybe with an “FG” logo on my unitard…and a slight pot belly).

Upon return from the bakery, I crack open the foie gras and pour the wine.  I watch, expectantly as our two guests try their first ever bit of foie gras.  Casually I take a sip of my wine, acting as though I don’t care at all whether or not they think it is totally amazing.

Slowly, one of them begins to speak.  “It’s-,” he breaks off and takes another bite.  “It’s not what I expected.”

“Not what you expected good or not what you expected bad?”  My voice sounds tense as I desperately try to keep my cool disinterest.

“Definitely, definitely not what I expected in a good way.”

MUHAHAHAHA!  SUCCESS!

I’m thrilled.

Throughout my entire life, I have cherished the moments when I’ve been able to watch someone else enjoy something that I, too, have enjoyed.  It’s like sharing a wonderful secret.  Once, in a book store a lady exclaimed loudly at me in excited terms about a book that I was considering buying, her family looked at her aghast at her show of enthusiasm towards a completely random individual; but I totally got it.  One of the most wonderful gifts of our existence is to share the things that give us joy.  It’s the reason your neighbor comes to make you fondue, or why you take your parents to your favorite spot in a new town, it’s why you sit through a movie you’ve seen a million times just so someone else can see it for the first, and it’s why, with a migraine headache in -10˚ weather, you will run out to buy baguette for two brand new acquaintances.