Archive | Daily Life

Expat Life: Not Always A Smooth Ride!

Posted on 19 September 2013 by American expat!

There is an interesting and clever infographic going around looking at the major challenges with expat life around the world.

I particularly identify with the final point, Sense of Humor – I know my personality does not come across here (a good thing?) because so much of American humor is based on cultural references: Movie lines, ridiculous celebrities, news stories, subcultural references, TV and commercial references, product references…the list goes on. Image if ALL of that was gone from your repertoire of funny. Superimpose that on a top of a totally different culture of humor, one in which you are usually lost, a different language (point 9) and what you get is loneliness (point 7) and occasional homesickness (point 5)!

Expat Life: Not Always A Smooth Ride!
Expat Life: Not Always A Smooth Ride! – An infographic by the team at Overs


Which points do YOu most related to?

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Summer is underway.

Posted on 16 July 2013 by American expat!

The weather is heating up and the days are long, which means frequent trips to the beach. During the week, you head there after work to cool off and to give in to the gravity that has been pulling at your eyelids every afternoon at your desk. On the weekends, you spend entire days–6 to 8 hours or more–by the sea. You arrive by foot, bicycle, metro, train or scooter (rarely ever does anyone head to beach by car here in Spain) and stake your claim in the sand, as close to the water as possible. If you are lucky, you’ll have a bit of shade from a palm tree. If you are smart, you’ll have brought an umbrella. If you have neither, you’ll require a lot of sunscreen and frequent runs into the sea to cool down.

This is the time of year where the beach offers fantastic people watching, especially in Barcelona. You’ll hear languages from all over the world, and depending on what kind of travel specials are being offered by airlines and hotels, any given week you will hear gaggles of French girls speaking through pursed lips, American accents and laughter ringing out across the sand, or Italians speaking animatedly over one another. Congregations of English and Germans have their regular times too, and while they are immediately recognizable (read: sunburned) they are less audibly observable

The chiringuitos are in full swing, offering shade, views, music and the worst service you will ever experience. Perhaps they do not have enough room in the tiny, temporary kitchens to actually produce more than two dishes at a time, or perhaps they only hire servers based on their ability to speak multiple languages, or perhaps, like all Spanish companies, staff are just expected to figure out a process for how things should be run on their own with no way to work together to get things done. Fortunately, you are in the shade with your friends and music and breeze off the sea make it OK that you will wait forever and your order will always be wrong. Sometimes you will even be told that they are too busy to make food for you, which is why you always bring snacks and drinks in your beach bag.

As always, that amazing cultural, lingual and racial mix that is the Brazilian manifests in a grip of hard bodied expats who occupy the volleyball nets from morning until dark. It is a wonder to observe them, not only because they have invented new ways to play volleyball because normal volley is too easy (a common one is using only feet, heads and chests for example), but also because they maintain their beach dress codes from home, sporting the tiniest swim trunks (not speedos but still tight and lycra) and bikinis as they jump and sweat at the ball. 

It is often that your evening plans go unrealized, as your day at the beach spills over into the evening. The sun moves lower in the sky, and the chiringuitos bring in DJ’s, or sporting events are displayed on flat screen tvs hung off the ceilings as there are no walls. It’s easy to plan to pop in for one drink before leaving the beach and stay until way past sundown, which comes at almost 10pm. Those afternoons you planned only a quick snooze and a swim can easily turn into tapas and drinks until midnight. It is easy to forget time when you don’t have to worry about clothing.  

Soon, the visitors will overrun the beaches, and you too will need to get away from your city, to change your routine and see something different, just as the visitors are doing in your city. But for now, every hot, still morning holds the promise of the salty breeze your afternoon could hold (if you make the time). There is still some peace and space on the beach, still the chance to find your friends walking down the boardwalk. You still wish it was summer all year long. So you step out onto the balcony to collect your towel and swim suit, both baked and stiff from the sun. 



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The visit home – Part II

Posted on 25 June 2013 by American expat!

I visit the US twice a year. Part I was the winter visit, now here is Part II – Summer.

It is amazing how fast you adapt to the environment, especially if it is one you’re already familiar with. When I first arrived in California, I desperately missed not being able to walk out the door, grab a city bike or jump on the metro and just be out and moving. (It’s no huge mystery why Americans are so fat when we drive everywhere.) But cities have been designed, especially in the West, in a way that necessitates driving across the street or to the other side of the large parking lot instead of walking. Opting to walk is a strangely awkward experience. There is nowhere to walk through a parking lot. Sidewalks end abruptly, and the noise and proximity to so many moving cars is sometimes overwhelming, even in an older city that is considered foot traffic friendly like Little Italy in downtown San Diego.

But after a month in the US, what bothered me at first is now routine and comfortable. I find myself appreciating the quiet and privacy of being enveloped in a car everywhere I go. I am surprised and relieved that over the span of 4 weeks I have heard only one screaming child, whereas in Spain I can’t get through one day without bearing witness to literally dozens of fit throwing ankle biters. I really don’t hear a lot of yelling, which is also a daily experience in Spain.

I also start to notice things that a car culture manifests, things you don’t see elsewhere. For example, driving around, even on the freeways, people look at each other in their cars–I mean they make eye contact and gesture.  I’ve noticed a lot of flirting and smiling going on between drivers just as frequently as any frustration driven gestures and steely stares at other drivers. Friendly waves, mutual eye rolls at traffic, exchanges of bewildered glances at the crazy person dancing across the street. It is strange to notice that this goes on, but I see that it has to, because we are enclosed in our cars for so much of the day. We are social animals–we have to interact through the windows of our cars because otherwise perhaps it would be too lonesome and boring. 

A surprise for me was that for the first week of being here, and indeed for the first time in my life, I experienced restaurant service that was too fast. I had dinner the second day here with my father and it felt like the meal was over before it even started. I was enjoying the conversation with him and enjoying his company, during which the meal was served, done and the check presented before I could even finish one glass of wine. And then it happened again with a friend I was visiting the next week – suddenly the meal was over and the check presented, and I was only halfway into the conversation. Funny coming from me who complains about the slow service in Spain all the time. But after that I didn’t notice, and in fact the final week in the US I found myself wondering where the waiter was at dinner.

Upon arrival, I was giddy with how cheap everything is (thank you free trade and a complete absence of VAT). I also gushed at how big all my friends living spaces are, looking at the giant kitchens and endless storage spaces. But those feeling subsided too, and by the end of my trip, I returned with just a few key purchases and the realization that more living space for me would just mean more junk stored and forgotten.

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The visit home – Part I

Posted on 11 December 2012 by American expat!

It’s Xmas time again, and I am on the second leg of my bi-yearly pilgrimage to the states. I’m in California after a brief visit to my brother’s place in Rhode Island, where he forgot me at the airport and already had three drinks in him when he finally answered his phone, 45 minutes after I landed. It took about 5 hours, but I made it to his place where, after a drug store shopping spree for all my brands of shampoo, makeup, vitamins, energy bars, toothpaste, eye drops and face creams that I can’t get in Spain (and for half the price of similar products), I stayed a few days before heading off to the West coast.

Here in California, it is a typical December-68 degrees under cloudless skies. I never tire of this, nor will I ever tire of the ability to purchase toilet paper, wine and ice cream at 10 o’clock on a Sunday night. I don’t tire of the customer service here either – there is no getting told off by bank tellers because you have too many questions, no getting yelled at that the supermarket is closed as you walk through 15 minutes before it actually does close, no failures to return from siesta–and of course no siesta in the middle of the afternoon to begin with–no asking for a restaurant check a second and third time before it finally is deposited, no getting hung up on by the telephone company…I could go on.

What I don’t miss–ever–are the endless hours spent isolated in the car, the daily driving to the market, bank, friends, dinner, coffee, shopping, beach, even the dog park requires a drive. I’m over it after the first day. I skip events, don’t visit friends in other cities, pass up anything that requires more than a 30 minute drive (and here, that accounts for quite a bit). I find myself constantly thinking that in Spain, I would be riding my bike, walking or taking public transportation to the same type of appointment and would likely run into someone I knew on the way back, come across some interesting event, parade or market, or at the very least see something interesting while riding the city bikes home.

I know it’s not a fair comparison – my home town is a small, agricultural community that cannot be compared to a city like Barcelona. And probably I’m reminded too much of my isolated childhood here, how when I was growing up in this town there wasn’t even a coffee shop where solitary people could gather in public. But there is now, so at 7:30 my first Saturday morning here, I drive my jet lagged body off to Starbucks for some palatable coffee. I don’t even like Starbucks, but it is better than the sickening, flavored swill that passes for coffee at my father’s house.

I’ll sit here awhile, watching one solitary aging white man after another order a small coffee and nothing else, carry it to an empty table to sit for awhile, contemplating the many ways his life could have been different…or, more likely, how many 2x4s he needs to get from Home Depot to finish the garage shelves. I’ll stare at everyone who comes in, and forget to smile when eye contact is made, becoming startled every time someone returns my gaze and then breaks into an automatic “Oops we made eye contact, it’s OK I’m harmless” smile. I’m not accustomed to doing this anymore, and I finally experience the awkwardness I heard Europeans talk about so many years ago regarding strangers smiling at you. I understand now that smiling connotes recognition, and that stranger smiling at you is not really a smile, it actually means something else. But Europeans don’t know this, so they call smiling at strangers disingenuous.

I am between cultures, not fully a part of either my native culture nor the culture I live in overseas. But I do have a community of expats where I live, a community that understands me and the world as I know it, even better than my culture of origin. So when I return to the place I now call home, they will nod while I swoon over the BBQ and Mexican food eaten, the visits to the beach a week before Xmas, and the fistfuls of people I meet with their own reality show I’ve never heard of and will never see. I’ll recount friend’s auditions, interviews and/or fund searching for such reality shows. Then I’ll complain about the hours wasted in the car along with the other hours in the car avoided and how mini malls are destroying my state.

Later, back in Europe, I’ll walk my anonymous, reality TV show-free self into a coffee bar. There, I will stare at strangers as they come in, sit down, do their thing. And when I am caught looking at them, I won’t smile apologetically–and no one will care in the slightest.


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The Spanish are not shy

Posted on 10 August 2012 by American expat!

The Spanish in general are not a shy nor modest bunch. Any trip to the beach will make that abundantly clear before you even step foot onto the sand. This is not merely due to the fact that all beaches are topless (as in the rest of Europe), but also because you’ll see about one in every 20 people lacking any kind of swimsuit whatsoever. Now, some of them will strip down to their tighty whities, bikini briefs, thong underwear, bras – whatever happens to be under the clothes they showed up in –and jump right in the water or laze in the sun, while a smaller number will just get naked. There ARE designated nude beaches, all of which are gay gathering spots (are there any nude beaches in the world that are not?) but other beaches generally tolerate nudity, and off leash dogs, and just about anything else you can think of.  I know, I have posted about this before, but it is summer and it truly does deserve repeating because it is hot I’ve been spending a lot of time at the beach. Moving on… Despite being a Catholic country, Spain’s citizens (refreshingly) have little to no interest in upholding any kind of biblical law themselves, much less deciding what anyone else should be doing. There are no zealots here, and people understand that you are what you are – and that is perfectly fine.

Case in point: Gay marriage is legal. In fact, I don’t know that is was ever even debated. Sexual orientation is such a non-issue here, it is hard to explain to a North American how the word “tolerance” isn’t used because it isn’t needed. Imagine this scenario happening in North America: The other day at the beach, I was watching a group of teenagers, I’d say all about 16 years old, interact over the course of a couple of hours. The group was clearly familiar, probably schoolmates, and while at first the girls grouped their towels separately from the boys, within an hour they were all together and a few couples were forming in the group. It was easy to see because public displays of affection are an everyday thing and Spaniards are quite demonstrative.  The group of ten young friends continued to enjoy their day as a few of them paired up, and not one of them blinked when two boys in the group paired off and clearly flirted and touched each other. They were a non issue, something that entire country has contact with every day. In my country, there would be staring, whispers, and then probably someone would get beaten up.

Another example of sexuality being a total non issue. About a month ago in Spanish class, we had an exercise where we read about seven different people and their struggles with learning a foreign language. The profiles included a little history and what they did for a living. When I came to the last profile, Antonio, his profile stated that he was 28 years old and “Amo de casa”. Ama de casa means housewife, so imagine my delight when I thought, good one Spain, I am going to read about this guy who stays home while his wife goes to work! (While openness regarding sex, masturbation and sexual orientation are the norm, Spain has not progressed quite as far with gender equality topics). Anyway, upon further reading, I discover that Antonio met his husband in France. So, yes he is an Amo de Casa — and his husband goes to work. Finally, let me share with you something that was on Groupon in Spain a few weeks ago: Yes, those are masturbatory eggs. They come in six…flavors, if you will, which, according to the ad, are described as (my translations):

  • Spider:  Inhibits you in a web of pleasure, while jumping from thrill to thrill.
  • Wavy: For the quietest moments.
  • Clicker: It will prepared you patiently until it makes you succumb to a torrent of stimulation.
  • Stepper: The one that produces the most intense sensations.
  • Silky: It will envelope you without advance notice.
  • Twister: It’s name says it all: You will feel a tornado!

Imagine this on Groupon in the US. People would have hernias. But Spain is unfazed by anything to do with masturbation or sex and doesn’t hide it. And while my American sensibilities still giggle like a school girl at this entire ad, it is kinda refreshing.

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