How I almost offered someone our bathroom when all he wanted was money.

So this week has been a rather interesting one. It seems that the cosmic focus was on “loans”.

It first happened to me that one of our neighbourhood security guys pulled up next to me on his bike asking me whether I’d speak Spanish. Given that I have talked to him on several occasions, this question seemed pretty odd, but well… He then asked me for a prestamo. Huh, so here we go. I just had told him quite brusquely that I did speak Spanish, and then I don’t know what that word means! Well done, Miss Know-it-All!

I Want Your Money

I Want Your Money (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was looking at him confused. Prestamo? Pressed? Pressing matter? Urgent? Did he want to use our bathroom? But then I understood he was talking about dinero. That left me even more confused. It turned out he wanted to borrow 50 Pesos (3.70 USD – really peanuts!) from me to be able to buy himself some food. Oh, what a terrible feeling! There I was with my big SUV, the trunk loaded with groceries, and this guy was begging me for money. Of course, I gave it to him, and I was tempted to give him some more but I also didn’t want to shame him.

What was weird about it was that he didn’t seem embarrassed. I remember my first few months after I had moved out. I was doing a training at a hotel and was on a ridiculously low income. However, being young and very excited to start my adult life, I spent my money freely – and ended up totally broke. I could have easily asked my parents to help me out, but would that have been embarrassing! Instead, I was living on oatmeal for weeks. One handful in the morning, one handful at night cooked in water – a very effective diet. Never in my life would it have occurred to me to ask anyone for money, neither family member nor friend. It was a matter of pride to me. But people here don’t seem to feel it. Like our housekeeper A.

Because here comes the second weird incident of the week: A. asked me for a prestamo of 6,000 Pesos (about 450 USD). That’s not peanuts but she needed it to fix her door that was broken, and I was happy to help out. Again, I was surprised to not see the slightest bit of embarrassment. I was the one feeling awkward when I handed her the money and almost apologized. She on her part just accepted it very graciously. Up to now, she hasn’t done a single thing about her door, instead she started waterproofing her walls… But I guess, it is none of my business what she REALLY uses the money for.

International Money Pile in Cash and Coins

International Money Pile in Cash and Coins (Photo credit: epSos.de)

It seems that the people here see us as incredibly rich. Like we were having a never ending fountain of dinero in our backyard. Or a cash-donkey. Well, maybe I just have to take a closer look and we do – you never know what is hiding in the jungle, do you?

I hope that I am not wearing a label now on my forehead saying “Prestamo office – open house”. Being rich is just too embarrassing for me!

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Do you need anything? Customs regulations for Mexico

Sign No. 392 – customs. Passing without stoppi...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever people announce a visit, they are so kind as to offer to bring things that are hard to get by here. However, there is a lot of confusion in terms of what is allowed and what not. So here’s the deal:

You are allowed to bring gifts up to a value of 300 USD. Yayyy! But don’t bring too many cameras or recorders – you are only allowed one piece each. (I haven’t read any regulations regarding jewelry… or fabulous bags… just saying.) Whatever exceeds 300 bucks, I always remove all signs of it being new (or a gift), so who could know? (By the way, I read that you can carry up to 10,000 USD in cash, just in case you were wondering. I guess, that should be enough for a short vacation.)

Most websites claim that you must not bring food whatsoever, and when you fill out the customs questionnaire that you get prior to or on your flight, there is a section where they ask you whether you carry any foods. If you want to go through immigration in one swift swoosh, don’t pack food and tick off “No”. But giving in to my many cravings, I was brave enough to carry food on various occasions – sometimes facing difficulties when passing customs, sometimes not.

Of course, you must not carry any fresh food – but honestly, who would do that? Yes, I would love to take some lobster home from Seattle, but I somehow sensed it might not be the smartest thing to do… I once brought something like 20 lbs of German marzipan (OK, it was slightly less… but only slightly!) and got stopped when passing customs. I had to open my suitcase, present the sweets and was good to go. My heart was pounding, though, since I had checked “No” on my customs form in response to whether I was carrying any food.

So next time, I honestly answered “Yes” on my questionnaire. After all, who would like to be on the black list for “Threatening and Food Regulations Violating Tourists” (or expats, in my case)? When you answer “Yes”, you have to turn to the customs office upon arrival and present the food that you intend to get into the country. Normally, those guys are very friendly and helpful, always interested in the exotic stuff that you carry, and then they might accompany you to the bio scan machine and wave you good-bye.

One time, though, I got a little stuck. I had bought couscous (a coarse kind of couscous that I haven’t found here, yet) that had been packed at the store, so it was just in a clear plastic bag with a handwritten label. I shouldn’t have done that! After explaining everyone what it was and how to prepare it, where I had bought it, what Seattle was like and whether I liked Mexican food, I was told I couldn’t import it, since it wasn’t safe. Only food that comes in its original package is allowed into the country to make sure you don’t schlep any germs into the country. Makes sense, I guess.

After I had given all proper cooking instructions to the nice lady, she took pity on me, though, and let me keep my precious couscous. Taking the above-mentioned regulations into account, it didn’t make sense, but who was I to complain?

So if you want to bring food, I would recommend to be honest about it, claim it on your customs form, and normally, you should be allowed to keep it. If you are a cissy like me, it saves you a lot of sweat and keeps your blood pressure at a normal level, even though as a result the customs may take longer. But who knows, you also might gain a new friend!

I am not old – I am semi young!

Lately, I was talking about euphemisms in my English class – a subject that I find highly entertaining. Not everybody might know what a euphemism is, so here is the definition according to Merriam-Webster:

Euphemism: the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant

Most euphemisms that I could find were related to unemployment, death or the use of the washrooms (ha, see: I’ve already used a euphemism!). Which makes sense, as none of those subjects are very pleasant topics to talk about.

Seminuevo

Now, I do speak Spanish but not to a degree that I would be familiar with a whole lot of Spanish euphemisms, but there is one that I do know very well: If you want to buy a used car, it isn’t called “used” (usado), but “seminuevo” = “semi new”. Now isn’t that nice? I love the idea behind that and decided that once I turn… let’s say 50, I will call myself semi young from then on.”Semi” is a great euphemism builder, don’t you think? No, I am not fat, I am semi slim. No, she is not dumb, she is semi intelligent. No, Dear, my new dress wasn’t expensive, it was semi cheap. I could go on forever with this!

So as you can see, I got a little inspired and came up with more euphemisms for my Mexican everyday life. Here’s my list:

Tardiness: creative time management (the Mexican euphemism for that is “manana”, by the way)

Poor craftmanship: follow-up business guarantee

Unreliability: suspense feature

Leak: automatic water dispenser

Bureaucracy: patience builder

Poverty: creativity enhancer

Waiting: state decreed resting time

 Mexican postal service:mail scavanger hunt

Mexican Letter Box

I think, this will make life so much nicer! What do you think? Any euphemisms you have created and would like to share?

How green is YOUR grass?

Lately, a friend of mine sent me a message for the first time after months and brought me up to speed what had been going on in her life. Apparently, she unfortunately had experienced a bad luck streak which led to her saying that she really envied me for what I have. Since it is not the first time that I hear that, I have been thinking a lot lately about all the comparisons that we make in life and how they spoil our happiness.

My friend still lives in my hometown, goes to the same bars that we used to go to back then, meets with her other friends who are also still there – meanwhile she thinks how lucky I am to live this big, adventurous life of mine. Whereas I sometimes think how lucky she is for still having this homely feeling, for still being part of that life that had once been so dear to me.

When I gave up my job to follow my husband around the world, some of my colleagues expressed their envy (in a positive way). After the first couple of months without a career, though, I started thinking how nice it would be to once again wear a business suit, fly around the world, live in fancy hotels, attend conferences…

Of course, Facebook and Twitter and whatnot do not really help, since we all post the happiest and jolliest pictures of us that we can find, so everybody gets the impression that our life is a big party. But unless your last name is Kardashian, whose life is a constant party? We create an image of ourselves on Facebook, but sadly, anybody thinks that this is reality. It is not! It is like a commercial for our lives, and surely it is not a documentary. Once we understand that, we might stop comparing.

Scan of a Valentine greeting card dated 1909.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because comparing ourselves to others doesn’t do us any good. We all know it, yet we all do it. People who are single look at happy couples and wish they had a partner. Then they find that significant other and glance at their single friends who are all so enviably unattached. Or they look at other couples who are already married, and all of a sudden, the happy relationship is worth nothing – until that ring sparkles on their finger. The first marriage bliss though fades away in view of everyday life – but wait, if we had children, we would be so much happier!

At a certain stage in life, children seem to become the make or break factor for our happiness. Childless people envy all those large families they see at Walmart, whereas the mother of triplets shoots a jealous glance over to the cuddly couple who seem so happy without the ordinary kids’ chaos.

The truth is simple: Nothing is perfect. Or maybe the opposite is true: Everything IS perfect, but we choose not to see it. After all, it is all a matter of perspective. As long as I always admire the greener grass on the other side of the fence, I will never pay attention to the lovely roses in my own yard. We all have to make a decision whether we WANT to be happy or not. That sounds easy, but it is hard work – and kind of scary. For let’s face it: Being happy is not in our upbringing.

Anna Karenina (1948 film)

Anna Karenina (1948 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We all learn that nothing is true and deep and intense, if we don’t suffer. Tolstoi lets Ana Karenina die once she decides to follow her heart. The minute Kundera’s Tomas decides to be happy with the lovely Tereza, they suffer a deadly car crash. Well, and we all know about the Sorrows of Young Werther. There are no books nor movies about people who are once and for all happy. What kind of a story would that ultimately be?

I don’t mean that we need to close our eyes to our desires and strivings and refrain from all kinds of change. But it has to be OUR desires, it has to be what makes us US, not what we see on happy summer sunshine Facebook pictures of others. Following someone else’s example, won’t make us happy. And once we have determined what we want, we shouldn’t shy away from it out of lack of faith in the principles of happiness. And then finally, when we have reached our goal, we shouldn’t spoil it again by making comparisons. Eventually, we might be in for a happy ending!

happiness

happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tired of household chores? Or: How to operate your man.

Very often I hear women complaining about their husbands not lifting a finger at home. Unless it is for the remote control. What a cliche! I don’t have this problem, so maybe it is time to share my universal wisdom when it comes to the pressing matter of “How to pass on household chores to the common male”.

Exercising with Good Housekeeping

Exercising with Good Housekeeping (Photo credit: kevin dooley)

When it comes to small chores, the easiest thing is to just relax. As long as I am busy doing something, my husband can browse the web for hours checking international politics, business affairs and the latest sports events. When I try to talk to him, I get an “Uhummm…” at the utmost. I could basically set the kitchen on fire or fall off the balcony in an attempt to get his attention, he wouldn’t notice. But as soon as I sit down with a cup of tea ready to relax myself, I can be sure he will jump up and get busy. He might be sitting around all day long – when I serve the 5 o’clock tea, sure enough he gets antsy. So the easiest thing, ladies, is to do some minor chores and then sigh and sit back – and watch the miracle unfold.

Of course, it can also get annoying. Like when I prepare for a big event – which is a lot of work, too. So there I am in the bathroom, messing around with concealers, moisturizer, body lotions, nail polish and the latest makeup acquirements, sweating and cursing… After all, it is a lot of pressure! You wouldn’t want anybody to notice that you, too, got a year older! Meanwhile my husband is reading in front of the fireplace, perfectly relaxed. But the minute I am all tarted up, ready to sip a glass of champagne and gaze into his eyes while he confesses to still be madly in love with me…, he jumps up to look for his cufflinks or bow tie, and I can sip my champagne alone toasting myself in the mirror. But well, that doesn’t happen too often anyway, does it, so let’s focus on the positive side of this funny quirk and how we can make it work in our favour.

An advertisement for a pneumatic vacuum cleaner

An advertisement for a pneumatic vacuum cleaner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another dead sure strategy to get him working is to invite people. When I was still living with my parents, it was enough that my mom was expressing an invitation on the phone, and my dad would get out the vacuum cleaner. Which drove my mom crazy for hadn’t she just cleaned the house anyway? I always told her she could stop cleaning altogether, if she just told him somebody would come over later and she could watch my dad turning into a very efficient maid. Same thing works with my husband. While I start making meal plans and thinking flowers and excursions and other fun stuff to do, he gets out the paint to eliminate stains, tidies up everything, fixes anything that needs repairing – it is wonderful!

Maid outfit

(Photo credit: Whitfield-In-World)

Women, on the contrary, function differently. My husband always tries by telling me: “WE need to do this and that.” Of course, that doesn’t work for me. If it is “we”, I don’t feel the pressure to do it all by myself. If he said “you”, I would get bitchy. As much as we like them to talk to us, we don’t like to be told. Right? So, dear male readers, if you want the love of your life to become more hands on, get her a maid. No, honestly! There is no better way to make sure that she starts tidying up. All of my friends have said it on at least one occasion: “I am in a hurry, can’t talk now. My maid is coming, so I need to clean up.” After all, we wouldn’t want our maid to think that we were lazy and filthy, would we? So basically, we all pay our cleaning ladies not for cleaning but for motivating us to get our act together at home. Let’s hope they don’t read this, otherwise they might demand a pay rise and we would have less to spend when going on a reward shopping spree for all the hard work!

Forgive me, I am German!

A good thing about living in Mexico is that we finally are living in a soccer enthusiastic country. Hence, we can watch the Euro 2012 everywhere right now – which helps, since we didn’t sign up for cable.

German soccer fans in Aachen cheering after Ge...

German soccer fans in Aachen cheering after Germany’s victory over Sweden in the World Cup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How I missed soccer! I never got into football or baseball, and since Seattle had lost the Sonics, there was no basketball to explore. Yes, Seattle got their soccer team the Sounders, but that wasn’t the same… Only too well do I remember the worldcup 2006 in Germany that was BIG. Really BIG. Worldcup and Euro are THE times when Germans put out flags, paint their faces and wear silly clothes in German colours. And for once, we don’t feel bad about it. Because let’s face it, other than during important sports events, Germans never display patriotism. I even daresay that Germans don’t feel patriotism. At least, I don’t. (I guess, I am up for some mean criticism now. So ok, let me have it!)

Living abroad, though, has taught me a valuable lesson: Germans are in fact well respected. Huh, that was a huge surprise to me, because for me being a German always meant to live with a feeling of shame. Maybe I am just a little stupid, for I know that other fellow Germans don’t struggle the same way that I do, but ever since I learnt about the cruelties of the holocaust, I hated to say that I am German.

A lot of people, Germans or non-Germans, don’t understand my dilemma. After all, it wasn’t ME committing all those terrible crimes. Not even my generation. Not even our parents’, nor possibly grandparents’ generation. But to me, that doesn’t matter. To know that seemingly ordinary people (in my case, my (great-)grandparents) were able to act that way or, if not acting, to look away so persistently, for me was always enough to feel ashamed.

I remember my first trip to New York (my dad lent me his credit card, oh, he shouldn’t have done that!): I had bought so much that I needed to buy another suitcase. Where better to go than to Macy’s? The guy in the luggage department asked me where I was from and upon hearing that I was German, he started laughing saying: “Oh, yeah, yeah, Germany. Hitler, Hitler.” I felt my cheeks burning and tears dwelling up in my eyes, so I left the store. And I remember thinking that it was a terrible fate to be German. So next time when someone asked me where I was from, I would say Switzerland, and everybody would just think chocolate and cheese. Hooray. As Basil Fawlty would say: Don’t mention the war!

Maybe the next generations will do better on this subject than I do. Who knows. But our history was not the only reason for me to be so unpatriotic. For me, it was also the image of “the Germans”. Italians are said to be funny and sensual, the French are supposed to be gourmets and great lovers, the English have their wellies wearing Queen and that alone makes them delightfully quirky – but Germans? It’s all about puncuality and efficiency, isn’t it? Oh, and bad clothing when on vacation. Amen to that.

At least the image thing is something that I apparently share with many fellow countrymen: We try to get away from each other when travelling. My husband and I shut up the minute we hear German language somewhere. We just give each other a meaningful look and refrain from talking until the danger is averted. The danger of talking to someone in GERMAN! God forbid! I have noticed those looks, too, when apparently German couples overhear us talking in German, and I keep thinking: Germans are like old people.

You know, the way old people always try to stay away from other old people? They say, oh, I can’t go there, there are only OLD people! And you think, what the heck are you talking about? You ARE old! That’s how Germans act abroad. Oh, I can’t go there, there are Germans!

English: Meals on Wheels 'HotShot' delivery ve...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So honestly, what do we do once we get old? We will have no place to go, because there will always be either old people OR Germans OR both. But I guess, if we go back to Germany then, at least our meals on wheels will be on time!

Sunshine Award

Yesterday, I was thrilled to learn that Expat Alien has honoured me with the Sunshine Award – thank you so much!

The Sunshine Award guidelines are:  1.Link the award to the person who gave it to you.  2.Answer the questions that come with it.  3.Pass it along to other bloggers and let them know they have received it.

The questions:

Favourite color: All colours of the sky.

Coati

Favourite animal: If I said “dog”, Mr P. would be grumpy with me. If I said “cat”, Mrs P. would be grumpy with me. And I really love horses, too… So putting it all together, I would get a HoDot, I guess… Instead, I am going to name my favourite WILD animal in Mexico: the coati!

Favourite number: 7 – I think it looks elegant!

Favourite non-alcoholic drink: water from a birch tree. My dad used to drink that in Latvia where he grew up. You either cut off a branch from a birch tree or drill a little hole in its stem. The water that you gain is wonderfully crisp and sweet! (No birch trees have ever been killed in this process.)

Facebook or Twitter: Still don’t get Twitter… I am too old for this!

My passion: Yoga. And I don’t mean my daily asanas, my exercises alone, I mean integrating yoga in all parts of my life, to lead a yogic life. Yoga gives me the energy and peace to enjoy all the other things that I love: reading, writing, painting, music, cooking, the outdoors… Can you tell I am passionate about yoga???

Giving or receiving: Giving. You always receive so much when you give.

Favourite pattern:

Beach

Favourite day of the week: Friday. I love the feeling of work completed and a weekend stretching ahead of me.

Calla Lilies

Calla Lilies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Favourite flower: White Calla. It is a most perfect flower in all its simplicity.

 

 

 

As I was recently nominated for The Versatile Blogger Award and had a hard time choosing amongst so many wonderful and skilled bloggers, I am glad that I have another opportunity to now pass this award on to:

Outbound Mom

Expat Lingo

American TaiTai

An American Hermit Crab in Denmark

Looking for the Sweet Spot

Congratulations! 🙂