Single White Female

As exciting as it can be to move from country to country, it is also challenging – especially when it comes to making friends.

In a previous post, I was talking about how easy it is for children to make friends, and how hard it is for us (or some of us) in adult life. And I even find it more difficult now that I am married.

English: friendship

English: friendship (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During my single years, I used to go out with friends and it was easy to just start chatting with somebody new which of course (in the case of a guy) very often also led to a date. So that’s no option anymore. Says my husband, and he is usually right. Friends seem to be a little bit like money: If you have some, it is just adding up to more, but getting together the first couple of bucks (or friends) is the hardest.

Recently, I mustered the energy to ask another expat wife whether she would like to go for a coffee – and boy, was that hard for me! It is just as hard as asking somebody out on a date. Or so I assume, because let’s face it: I am a girl. And being a girl, I liked to take the easy route and wait for the guy to ask me out, which always worked. Never in my life have I asked a guy out. And while asking another woman to go for a coffee is certainly not asking somebody out on a romantic date, it involves the same silly thoughts:

What if she thinks I am too needy? What if she thinks I must be weird because apparently I have no friends? What if she thinks I am really stupid but because she is so polite, she doesn’t want to say no? What if she thinks I am a creepy psychopath like Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Single White Female“?

need some coffee?

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those had been my exact thoughts before I scored my very first coffee date in Seattle. Almost two years had passed without me making any friends apart from colleagues of my husband’s. And that is not the same, right? It is like borrowed friends. Or second hand friends. But even meeting up with colleagues was difficult, since we were living downtown and most of his colleagues were living outside of the city. Most people our age have their families and are eager to go home after work. So our social life was non-existent. So I took up yoga class, partly because of the yoga, partly because I wanted to meet akin people. However, almost everybody stayed to him/herself (that’s very Seattleite), and I still felt quite isolated.

And then Miss N. joined the yoga studio and immediately I felt drawn towards her. So I started thinking… Maybe I should ask her to go for a coffee? And all of the above questions and many more sprang to my mind and made me hesitate and hold out – until one day I did ask her. And she said yes! (If that sounds like the beginning of a romantic love story to you, then it proves my point: it is very similar to asking somebody out on a date.)

And like on a first date, I felt a bit nervous upon meeting her for the first time, and later on she confessed that she had been struggling with the same doubts. By now we are best friends and I wouldn’t want to miss her for the world. Which is one of the reasons why I keep going back to Seattle whenever I can. It’s like a long-distance relationship, haha!

Bearing that experience in mind and deciding that at the age of 36 I should be able to make the first step towards what may become a new friendship, I now asked that nice lady out on a coffee. She said she would love to and that she was glad I had asked her. But what if she is just too polite to say no? What if she thinks I am a bore? …

…Uuh, the beauty of first dates! 🙂

To wear or not to wear

Until yesterday, my brother in-law was staying with us for a few days which gave us an opportunity to (again) do all the fun tourist stuff. On those days when it wasn’t raining buckets. So once again, I felt like a tourist and got to all the tourist watch hotspots. (Some of you may remember that I LOVE to watch tourists!)

And it crossed my mind: Why are tourists so prone to bad choices when it comes to their holiday outfits? It seems that they like to buy anything that appears to be funny. Possibly only after a couple of drinks at the beach bar. Yes, we all like to spend more money when travelling, but the vacation taste level is something that often leaves me in awe.

To be honest, I too stumbled into the same pitfall once. I was 15 and on a summer vacation with my best friend in the north of France, when I discovered a super hot black and white stretch dress that made me look like a sad cladded stick. On top of that, I fell in love with a silly something that was supposed to be a hat. It was made from red and golden brocade, and I still have no idea what was with its shape. It was just sitting on my head like a frisbee and the minute I moved my head, it slipped off. Really bad. I put it in my suitcase and looked at it from time to time proud of my daring purchase. After that, though, I never managed to come home with something REALLY stupid.

Stuffed tiger wearing a sombrero

Stuffed tiger wearing a sombrero (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I am not alone. Hats are very popular amongst tourists. Of course, hats come in handy at the beach, but a lot of tourists who normally never dare to wear a hat like to go overboard during their vacation. They like to put them on with a big gesture as if trying to say: “I know it looks silly, but it is my holiday!” while inside they hope everybody will notice how cute they look.

It seems that people on vacation like to buy things they consider funny. I mean, honestly, ladies, would you ever consider wearing a long stretchy cross-striped dress at home? (And I am not talking to the Kate Mosses amongst us. THEY can wear anything anyway.) No? Why? Because it makes you look bigger? Guess what, same rule applies during vacation but nobody seems to care at a beach resort. And only because you make a funny face for the camera, your body doesn’t look smaller.

What’s with those funny pictures anyway? People like to put on silly hats, stick out their tongues, give the photographer a cross-eyed look – while at home they always try to sit pretty for the picture. Do they truly believe their colleagues will get jealous when they see them pulling faces in really bad clothes?

Tattoo in progress

Tattoo in progress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And what happens to their purchases after their holidays? Do they throw them out or do they keep it like I did back then? Some souvenirs, though, are hard to get rid of anyway. Since sometimes, strange looking clothes are not enough. People like to go wild on vacation. The accountant sips a margarita and decides to go for a tattoo or a piercing or both. At home, she will only show that to her best friend and they will both giggle a little. But who knows, maybe when she is 90, she will still look at that little heart and sigh and think of her wild vacation…

I really have to have a look now whether I still kept my red and golden thingy somewhere… Man, those were good times…

Mexican Grocery Hunt

Every expat will agree that living in a foreign country, maybe on a different continent, changes you and how you see the world. And now everybody is thinking about those meaningful, profound changes, but we must not forget those everyday lessons that we learn. After all, that’s what defines our lives 24/7.

Grape-Shot: 1915 English magazine illustration...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the biggest changes I certainly made to my shopping habits. I am not talking fancy boutique shopping, but grocery shopping. During my single years, I hardly did any grocery shopping. I had some oatmeal in an otherwise empty kitchen cabinet, occasionally bought some fruit, my fridge contained some bottles of white wine and some champagne, and that was about it.

Once married I used to shop on a daily basis, both in Switzerland and in Seattle, since I just cannot stand a packed fridge. Everything has to be neat and in order, and the interior of a fridge in my opinion should rather resemble a fancy downtown loft than a stuffed country house.

When I open my fridge now, I could scream as it is so jammed. And it all started with yogurt, plain yogurt. That was hard to come by. I bought yogurt after yogurt only to learn that they were all sweetened. And then I found one brand that did unsweetened yogurt. I bought 2 jars – and then it was out of stock for weeks! So next time this fancy product was available, I bought 6. And as soon, as I got down to 3, I started looking out for it. Funny thing, though: Recently I have come to notice that the supermarkets stock a much higher quantity of unsweetened plain yogurt – I think I might have given the Mexican dairy industry a boost!

When I bake, I like to use the good old Baker’s chocolate, since I haven’t found any high quality Mexican chocolate yet. It is all very sweet and for my taste just disgusting. Strange, huh? Isn’t Mexico famous for chocolate? But anyway, I found 2 supermarkets that sell Baker’s chocolate – but again, only once in a while. Which leads to me buying 5 packs at a time, so I have enough time to drive back and forth between the stores on a grim chocolate hunt.

On my shopping tours, I feel like hunter and gatherer at the same time: I hunt the products down and once I get my hands on them, I take as much as I can get – or as much as fits into my fridge. There are many, many products that you get once in a while, and then they seem to disappear. I don’t know why that is. Very often, we pass trucks that had been involved in an accident, and they seem to stand by the road forever waiting to get repaired. So I assume that they might be filled with all those products that I am craving but unfortunately, I haven’t had the courage yet to open one, get in and indulge in a yogurt chocolate bath…

Let’s talk about Weather!

English: cloud and rain, weather forecast symbol

English: cloud and rain, weather forecast symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was surprised to see how many clicks my latest post about the rainy season got. It confirms my very strong believes that weather is still under the top ten subjects of all times.

In fact, what would we talk about if we didn’t have weather? When we got here my Spanish was so rusty, weather was THE subject I felt most comfortable with. Let’s just stick with it, shall we?

Cocktail Party At The Imperial Hotel: March 13...

Cocktail Party At The Imperial Hotel: March 13, 1961 (Tokyo, Japan) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you meet new people, every awkward silence can be overcome by a short comment about the current weather condition. All of a sudden, everybody starts talking.

Why is that? Is it because everybody knows about weather? Frankly, if back then somebody here would have started a conversation about the forth-coming elections, I would have been in a fix. (And I admit to still only know basic data. Shame on me.) Or go and try to talk about the latest art exhibition in town – only few people can participate. But we all know weather. And we are all interested in weather.

[en] weatherman weather forecaster, meteorolog...

[en] weatherman weather forecaster, meteorology, meteorologist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We like to make comparisons. This May is very wet. Is this normal? How was last May? What do you think June will be like? Were you here last May? It was beautiful back then, but that was very unusual. – Bam, 5 minutes of conversation! A weather forecaster must be a heck of a party guest!

What always surprises me is how people expect the weather in foreign countries to be exactly the same every year. Like when people ask me what a particular month is like in Mexico. I always ask them about the weather in their country then, and most of the times, we all come to the friendly conclusion that weather does not follow any rules.

So, please: If you ask me what the best time is to visit the Riviera Maya – I don’t know. There is a rough guideline, yes. May to November are the rainy months. But did we have rain last year from May to November? No. It was raining a lot in January, though. Very unusual. And again, a perfect subject to do some smalltalk with our gardener.

English: sun, weather forecast symbol

English: sun, weather forecast symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

See, I even filled a whole post with this universal, all-time favourite subject! Hooray for weather for making our conversations so much easier!

Say Hello to Rain Season

So there we go again. The rainy season has started. Right on time, may I add, for the arrival of my brother in-law from England. At least, he won’t get homesick, I guess.

And while I hear all the summer-sunshine-ice-cream stories from home and read the summer-is-beautiful stories from my fellow bloggers, the water level in our pool is undeniably rising, in fact, wouldn’t our pool guy take out some water once in a while, our whole garden would be flooded by now. And it’s for free, that’s the good news.

Some of you might remember my struggles with a local newly designed outdoor swimming pool on the parking lot of our supermarket and my good intentions when it comes to rainy weather. And yes, I have managed so far to not get annoyed by all the water, only my dog Mrs P. sadly refuses to leave the house. Well, she is a princess.

Rain here is a funny thing. You cannot put on your rainboots, since it is too hot. Same goes for rain jackets. Often you cannot take an umbrella, because it is too gusty. But nobody really seems to care. Water is getting in everywhere, into every house, every shop, every restaurant. (Which can be helpful when being househunting.) People spend more time in shopping malls. It rains through the roof there, too, but you have enough space to move around all the buckets. A clear advantage to their tiny homes.

On the streets, the water rises so high that you can sometimes just pray that you may float in the direction you want to go. People who only have a scooter have to take the little public transport vans. Or they just stay at home, which is the more common thing to do.

Rain is a perfect tool to spot newly arrived expats. They are the ones who look at all the buckets and indoor puddles in astonishment, shaking their heads, while the rest of us just go on about their day without even noticing those minor details.

Rain is also good for downtown bars. Frustrated tourists seek shelter and get drunk. Maybe it is easier to tolerate the wet surrounding when it all becomes blurry.

No, I cannot say that I have been particularly looking forward to the rainy season, and I hope that we will get some nicer days soon so we can show my brother in-law around. If not, well, then at least he knows what summer is all about on the Riviera Maya!

Are you a shrinker?

When we have visitors, I can’t help but notice how people tend to successfully shrink this world. And I am sure you know a shrinker (not a shrink!), too – maybe even you are a shrinker? Truth be told, there is at least a little bit of a shrinker in all of us.

worldmap, world map, maps of world

worldmap, world map, maps of world (Photo credit: nsikander28)

Shrinkers go through life with tons of pictures in their heads of places they’ve visited so far. And instead of admiring something new and unknown, they will tell you: “Oh, this looks like Italy!” Or: “Without the mountains and if this was by the sea, then it would be just like this tiny village by the Baltic Sea I went to when I was little.”

Shrinkers take in the new place in a heartbeat and then you can see them wandering about studying nothing else but the pavement, since they desperately want to figure out what to compare this place to.

While it might be nice to give comparisons to people who have never visited just so they can get an idea as of what to expect, it can be highly annoying while being THERE. Whenever I feel my mind drifting into shrinkage mode, I ban all comparisons from my mind and start over with fresh eyes, because otherwise, places lose their magic and their uniqueness.

On the other hand, shrinkage adds some madness that can be highly entertaining. Just to give you a few examples:

A tiny Caribbean village in Mexico becomes Miami. Or Lisbon. Minus the trams. And minus the hype.

Paris Exposition: Eiffel Tower, Paris, France,...

Paris Exposition: Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, 1900 (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)

Seattle becomes Paris. Minus the couture. (Really?)

A little Swiss town becomes Canada, while a little Canadian town becomes Switzerland. Or Norway. Whatever.

Isn’t it enough that we can travel from Paris to Australia within a day, more or less? Do we really have to look then for Paris in Australia?

Stop shrinking! And if you can’t, see a shrink!

 

Death by Bureaucracy

Being a polite human being, my husband asks me every evening: “So how was your day?” There are days, when I just can chat away about my job (students can be funny!), our pets (dogs and cats can be funny!), Skype conversations with my friends (friends can be funny!), but then there are those days when I seem to have only dealt with Mexican bureaucracy (Mexican bureaucracy is not funny!). And not even sensational, big bureaucracy. Like: I almost got deported today, since they found out I am not a guy! (Yes, it said “hombre” first in my visa. So much for short hair.) No, it is the petty everyday bureaucracy that sometimes just kills me. Or makes me want to kill myself.

We are living in a fenced-in community, and if you want to leave or to enter, there are two lanes: one for visitors, the other one for residents. Last October, they installed electronic gate openers which seemed like a pretty smart idea given that sometimes, depending on the mental abilities of each security guard, you had to wait several minutes for them to let you in or out.

So those electronic thingies were in place. What now? – Let’s think about that manana, shall we? In January then, we got a letter telling us that we could get some electronic devices for our cars at the administration office, however, no pressure no fun, we had to pick them up within three days. Since I had booked a flight to Seattle for the second day of this undertaking, I went there right on the first day – only to find out that they were not ready yet, and would I please return in the evening. Of course. So in the evening, I got a funny little card because since we are only renters, they thought it would make no sense to install anything in our car. Well, never mind, I put that card behind the windshield…and got stopped every time I passed the barrier. Nobody knew what the card was, but anyway, those electronic fences didn’t work yet.

Later, the card managed to disappear behind the dashboard, and nobody ever asked for it again. This month all of a sudden, they finally inaugurated the electronic fences. This time without warning. So if you drove up to the usual gate, it wouldn’t open and the security guards would stand there smirking and make you drive backwards and queue up in the visitor line. It was total chaos! Horns were honked, heads turned red, fists got shaken – all of a sudden, this part of Mexico became as dangerous as everybody seems to believe!

So back I went to the administration office to explain them that my card had slipped behind the dashboard. I was in a queue with five people who were all attended at the same time. Now, they usually have EVERYTHING on file there, but different matters, different files, so whenever you go, you have to present the same documents again. And they make copies of your passport, your visa, your resident ID, a proof of residence, a proof that you have no debts towards the community and of course, whatever form you have to fill out. And now there were three girls attending to five annoyed residents, the copier was running hot, and the paper was piling up, until nobody could remember where she put what.

Surprisingly, it only took me 40 minutes to finally walk away with an electronic gate opener. Proudly, I made my way to the fence and oops, it didn’t work. They installed it in a way that you have to drive in a slalom through the barrier. Not the easiest thing to do. But that doesn’t really matter, for after a couple of days, the fences stopped working anyway. When I come to think of it: Bureaucracy can be fun!

Bureaucracy cover art

Bureaucracy cover art (Photo credit: Wikipedia)