To bare or not to bare?

So here’s the deal: Whenever I go to a spa in a different country, I am reminded that the most essential things are never mentioned in travel guides. We all know there is a spa etiquette – but that’s something nobody talks about, it is considered common knowledge.

Yield to nudists
Please note: It’s not a German sign! (Photo credit: mag3737)

But come on, I am German! We are famous for our habit of getting naked everywhere and constantly. Which is why when I was little, I started to undress the minute I entered the tube. When I got married, I had to promise to Mr. R. though, that I would stop this.

When you go to a German spa, everybody is naked. We sit in the sauna – naked (on our towels, of course!). We sweat in the steam room – naked. We take a dip in the pool – naked. Which can lead to peculiar situations. Like when you bump into a superior there. Next time you meet, you can always picture his weeny. Or you know that your colleague is not too keen on bikini waxes.

English: A Finnish savusauna ("smoke saun...

Yes, that’s how beautiful Scandinavian saunas are! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I mean, we are not as crazy as the Scandinavians who like to whip each other with birch bunches and run around outside after a trip to the sauna before jumping into the nearest lake. Yeah, how is that for weird?

But especially my fellow Germans from the “new German Laender”. (Funny thing, we still call the Eastern German states “new”. The wall came down in 1989. If anyone still owns a car from that year, I am pretty sure that he or she doesn’t call it new anymore.) But that’s beside the point. People in Eastern Germany like to go to nudist beaches. Maybe because that was where they actually felt free. I personally don’t see any advantage in playing beach volleyball naked. (Not that I would know how to play.) Or in preparing dinner naked. I like to wear bikinis on the beach, and I prefer to see other people wearing swimwear, too, because let’s face it: Not all Germans look like Heidi Klum or… Is there a sexy German male??? There must be, but I cannot think of any.

Nudists

(photo credit: Kaptain Kobold)

Well, so there I am. A child of naked culture. In the US I learned very fast that you better don’t get naked. All those movies must be pure propaganda, I have never met so many prudes as in the States. In Croatia my dear friend Miss K. and I encountered a whole nudist society which totally freaked me out. In Canada I saw nude bikers – not a pretty sight, but I don’t think (nor hope) they are representative for Canadians. People seemed to keep the clothes on most of the times, thank heavens.

 

So how about Mexico? Ever since I went to the spa the first time, I was mostly either alone or surrounded by swimsuits wearing Americans. I have no idea about Mexican spa culture. And our travel guides cover everything from “business hours” to “water”, but nothing about spas. Even online I couldn’t find anything apart from the fact that in Guatemala “everything goes”. It’s time somebody sheds light on the dark to help us poor confused naked Germans!

 

I want longer days! …please!

Lately, I have been quite busy with some translation work and editing. As a consequence, I have been thinking about stress.

Airport security line

This is what the beginning of my day usually looked like. (Photo credit: oddharmonic)

You know, it is such a weird thing. In my former jobs I used to travel A LOT. My husband and I were having a long-distance relationship with him living in Switzerland and me living in Germany, so nobody was waiting for me at home. I just packed my bags and went.

As long as I was having a very busy career, I didn’t even think about pursuing any hobbies. The only thing I was passionate about apart from my job was cooking, but I rarely found the time. Most nights I spent at hotels, sometimes I went to the hotel gym, but very often I would just read, hang out in the bar, prepare the next day, and it never occurred to me that I might be missing out on something. After all, I had my job! When being at home, I tried to catch up with all my friends, visited my parents, and basically did all the everyday stuff that I usually had no time for. When I didn’t hop on the next plane to Switzerland, that is.

Clearly, that was a stressful way of living, so when it was time for me to give up my job, I was looking forward to the unfamiliar principle of “leisure time”. Little did I know, because it was only then that the stress started!

Me flambeing some prawns. YUMM!! (Please note the Swiss apron.)

Since all of a sudden, this job alibi was gone – time to find out what I would LIKE to do. And it turned out that I still enjoy the same things I did when I was little: reading, writing, painting and drawing. So I got out my brushes and created children stories for my godson and my niece which was a lot of fun. I also finally had the time to cook as much as I wanted, so I also created a cookbook. Then I started doing yoga every day – and all of a sudden, I found myself in the mornings wide awake, eager to start the day!

Before, I slept until the last minute, rushed to work, and if I had some unpleasant work thing ahead of me, I even wished that the day was over already and I could retire to my hotel room. On a bad day – don’t get me wrong. After re-discovering my hobbies and creating new ones, I couldn’t get out of bed fast enough and still wished the day would have more hours. And all of a sudden, I understood why all retirees seem to have no time at all!

English: Jump! Deutsch: Spring!

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now with a part time job that leaves me a lot of flexibility, I still feel that I want to do all the stuff that I used to do before, and that can actually become quite a bit of pressure! A good pressure, but still.

Although I sometimes miss the corporate world, I have to admit that my life has become so much richer. And honestly, I just have no time for a corporate job anymore!

Addicted to Mexican driving

There, I have to say it: I LOVE driving in Mexico! Love, love, love it!

It is so much fun! Yes, there are rules. My husband just got reminded of that when he went to renew his driver’s license. However, rules in this country are meant to be brokenbent.

Sign No. 330 – motorway
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You would think that being from Germany makes me a very spoilt driver. After all, we have the autobahn, don’t we? But on a German autobahn, you have to drive on the right lane and may only overtake on the left lane. Although most people drive on the middle lane, as the right lane is packed with trucks. And everybody who owns a German quality car is driving on the left lane (or people 80 years of age or older). OK, yeah, that’s about 80% of all drivers probably. So in reality, even driving on the fast left lane can make you go really slow.

In Mexico, there are no lanes assigned to the different speed limits. You can just drive wherever you feel comfortable. And you can also use every lane to overtake slower drivers. It’s like a James Bond movie: If you pay attention, you may be able to go left and right and left again and just swerve around the traffic congestion, and I love that feeling!

In Germany, turning lanes are there for making a turn. Here, you can also use them to pass slower cars which is very convenient when there are trucks and busses on every single lane. Because that is the downturn of the free lane choice. So at a traffic light, you just pass the other cars on your turning lane and push the accelerator the second the traffic light gives you the go-ahead. Or even a second earlier.

That’s another advantage: Only one direction has a green traffic light at a time. Therefore, there is no waiting on your left turn. Of course, you still have to pay attention, since some people ignore red traffic lights. Which is ok, you very often can do that, because nobody seems to mind.

Basically, you can do everything: speed, run a red light, tailgate… Everybody is just watching out for him/herself, and nobody holds you liable. Well, as long as you drive a decent car that is. And as long as you carry some cash in your pocket.

English: mexican federal police shieldBecause if some petty policeman does disagree with your style of driving, you just bat your lashes and pay a minor fine (normally between 500 and 2,000 pesos / 40 to 150 USD).

Say what you want, but in comparison to driving in Mexico, the German autobahn is a big snooze!

Hero in Disguise

Captain Future

Captain Future (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We all need heroes in our lives. When I was little, my heroes were Captain Future, Captain Kirk and Karlsson-on-the-Roof. Apparently, I was always drawn towards flying people. (And apparently, I was also very influenced by my older brother.)

Since living in Mexico, I have a new superhero. Like all heroes, he comes in a streamlined outfit and has more super powers than just one.

Please meet Mr. OFF.

At first glance, he might appear to be just another mosquito repellent. And true, he fights off all those vicious bloodsuckers that I already warned you about. But like all superheroes, Mr. OFF has many more hidden qualities (apart from the citrussy summer smell that sets him apart from smelly Mr. Autan e.g.):

He removes your nail polish! And you don’t even need a cotton ball! Just put some repellent on your nail and see how you can easily slip it off.

He also removes all kind of surface paint. Before we knew that, we bought some expensive liquid to lift off old paint, but now we let Mr. OFF do the trick. And it also works on newly painted surfaces, isn’t that good news? If you get some repellent under your soles, you can even create very artsy footprint marks!

But his removal skills don’t end here: Mr. OFF also takes off wood sealers and transforms them into stylish tattoos that stick to your skin for hours.

And now to my personal favourite feature: Mr. OFF reduces hair growth! After spraying my legs, I don’t have to shave them for days! Forget about waxing appointments – just ask Mr. OFF to take care of that unpleasant matter. Little word of caution: I have not used it in the bikini zone yet, and dear children, please do not try this on neither pets nor grandparents.

Baby Colt 3

Baby Colt 3 (Photo credit: xopherlance)

The only flaw that Mr. OFF has is that he claims to only be suitable for children over 12. Really? It would be worth a try, but I believe that if you spray babies, they might remain small and cuddly (and possibly hairless) for years.

 

 

This being said, Mr. OFF should not be missing in any household!

It’s a glamorous life!

In a previous post, I was talking about how we compare ourselves to others, and how that keeps us from being happy. A lot of people picture our expat lives as one glamorous adventure after another.

Lara Croft

Lara Croft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So how is life as an expat? Or better: How is life as an expat wife (or wifey, how some seem to see us)? Is it as adventurous as people picture it? I daresay yes, although so far I have neither jumped out of a burning car, nor have I helped hide a spy. I just never got the opportunity. But yeah, we have our everyday adventures, don’t we?

Of course, I can only speak for myself. Our experiences depend on our personality and most certainly, on our location. But it seems when talking to fellow expats, we more or less face the same emotional ups and downs.

But first things first. It all starts with some phone calls, the first emails, any sign that suggests we might be up for a move. All of a sudden I grow new eyes and wander the streets in a new awareness. Dirty side streets become kind of poetic, that neighbour who never greets you seems much friendlier and you are sure, there must be a sad story behind that cold facade. Things that used to annoy you become quirky details, and the littlest things become meaningful things of beauty.

But there is not much time for nostalgia, we need to prepare ourselves for the new adventure.Thank goodness for Wikipedia, where we can find all information re climate, currency, politics and healthcare system. We can even look up different neighbourhoods, check real estate prices, and we already know exactly what our new house should look like. Honestly, I have no idea how we would survive without the internet! In my mind I start packing things into boxes, wondering where they, where we might end up. Finally, the contract gets signed, and in our case that leaves us 2 – 4 weeks to wrap things up.

And that’s when the real fun begins. And also my frantic list making. The tone of our marriage changes from couple talk to colleague talk. Breakfasts turn into morning meetings, and during the day, Mr. R. shoots me reminder emails and vice versa. I get quotes from various moving companies for which I have to list the value of all things we possess. Last time I counted, we had 262 soft cover books, 174 hard covers und 208 non-fiction books. The numbers have increased by now, in contrast to our china and glasswear by the way. Go figure.

In the evenings, Mr. R. gets home exhausted and sad as he has to get things at the office in order and attend farewell dinners, while I try to hang out as much as possible with my friends which leaves me just as miserable. Yeah, those are fun nights. And all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a different country, possibly in a different climate. (Boy, I am sweating just thinking about our move from Seattle to Playa del Carmen!)

While we are waiting for our stuff to arrive, we live in the hotel which is very pleasant the first 4 weeks. Afterwards, it starts to suck. Honestly. Even if that hotel is like paradise. But paradise without privacy – not so much fun. Mr. R. leaves in the morning with a busy schedule, while I am browsing the area for housing options. And in the evenings, we both have to deal with a bit of jealousy. I envy my husband for having his new colleagues and a new routine straight away, and he envies me for having the time and freedom to explore the region.

For me, the first few months are constant ups and downs.  Part of me feels very lucky and adventurous, but when things go wrong ALL THE TIME (like when I try to open a new account with the gas company…), then it can happen that I just burst into tears over nothing. Life becomes like a scavenger hunt looking for doctors, figuring out visa stuff, driver’s license, bank accounts… And it is those simple things that become very big. Which supermarket carries what? What is the difference between the various kinds of petrol? (In Mexico: One is like water, one is like water with petrol.) How do I get a plumber? And how many days do I have to wait for him to show up? Where do I pay bills? Is there public transport? What is the best phone company? Millions of little things that need to be taken care of.

Superwoman

Superwoman (Photo credit: cotton_man)

The upside is that you can feel like a hero every now and then. Like when you managed your first bribe. Or got your client number after 5 days non-stop phone calls to that above-mentioned gas company and you take your first hot shower. Or when the plumber showed up after less than a week and you can actually use the washing machine. Those are the moments when I always feel like Superwoman. Of course, when the tube bursts and leaves me completely soaked because the plumber forgot to seal it off, then that Superwoman moment is over. But that’s life, right?

Once you get into a certain routine, you find a job, places that you like, favourite restaurants and stores, you develop a social life apart from work, and finally you even manage to speak and understand the language, then life becomes fun. Especially when the first visitors show up and you get to do all the fun stuff while feeling like a local. But that only lasts a short time, then we already get a little itchy… And that is mostly about the time when the phone rings again… One thing is for sure: It never gets boring!

So how about you? How do you feel about living the expat life? I would love to hear about your experiences!

Who’s afraid of Mexico?

Today I learned that Corona, Mexico’s biggest beer company, was taken over by the Belgian beer brewer Anheuser Busch. Naturally, the Mexicans are very upset, after all, they are very proud of Mexican products. That is why you can read “Mexican product” on many packages.

When we first got here, I was very surprised to see how proud the Mexicans are indeed of their country. When reading the US newspapers, all you get is drug war and crime rate. And you get the impression that all that Mexicans want is get out and live in the States. Which is why when my husband told me we were about to move to Mexico, I was in shock. And a lot of people show the same reaction, everybody keeps asking me whether I feel safe here. However, I haven’t yet met a Mexican who really wants to leave the country. It can’t be all too bad then, can it?

On of my favourite bloggers Expat Lingo talked in her latest post about the potential dangers of living in China and how she actually has never felt unsafe. She also admits that there is another side to life in China. Same goes for Mexico. And I believe, same goes for everywhere in the world.

First of all, Mexico is a huge country. There are safer parts and parts that are less safe. The Riviera Maya definitely belongs to the very safe areas. Touch wood, I have never been robbed, nor have I felt unsafe at any time. I even leave our door open when I go out. And believe me, Mrs P. is not a guard dog! I also left our car unlocked (by mistake), and it is still there. I even left our keys lying on our porch (Mrs P. distracted me, she gets to take the blame.), and nothing happened. Yes, my daily confusion might be cause for concern, but that is not the point.

Sure. You wouldn’t want to drive around in your Porsche near the border. (Or in case of my husband: on your Harley. But that’s a different story.) And you probably shouldn’t wear all your jewellery on a night out in Acapulco. But go to the wrong part of San Francisco, you would be in trouble there, too.

 

Sex and the City: Original Motion Picture Soun...

Sex and the City: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

remember that in Seattle I overheard people talking about how dangerous Europe would be and that you should never carry a bag because of all the pickpockets. Funny thing. When Europeans talk about flying to NY, they are equally afraid of being robbed. But when you look around: Everywhere in the world (mainly female, thank goodness) locals carry handbags or purses or whatever you want to call it. After all, can you imagine the “Sex & the City” girls walking around with fanny packs???

So should tourists worry when they plan a holiday at the Riviera Maya? Yes, they should. But not because of the crime. Riviera Maya holds other dangers:

1. Mosquitoes. No worries, the malaria and dengue region starts much farther south (think Belize), nevertheless, they are a big nuisance and your tan looks so much less appealing with all the red dots!

2. Tequila. A lot of tourists fall prey to this vicious drink. Afterwards, they might not remember. If you plan to indulge, make sure there is no camera nearby.

3. The sun. Judging from the lobster coloured (mainly British) tourists, this is a danger you should be aware of. And don’t give me the SPF 15 excuse. It doesn’t help. Go for 50 or higher, even if you stay in the shade.

4. Bugs. Many people worry about quality of food, but it is actually very, very good. No nasty stories here. Only if you eat somewhere on the street, maybe it is not so wise to choose seafood. If you happen to feel a little nauseous for days, you should go and get a pill against bugs. It is said, by the way, that eating the crazy hotsalsa habanerahelps desinfecting and therefore protects against all kinds of stomach diseases.

5. Tacos, fajitas & co. Obesity is a big problem in Mexico. Guess why.

So you see, you don’t have to be Lara Croft or James Bond to travel to Mexico. Just practice the same caution that you do everywhere (that includes not leaving your keys outside the house e.g.), and you will be fine. Isn’t that even a tad disappointing?

Bye-bye, little Pupuce!

Some of you might have wondered why I have been keeping so quiet lately. The sad truth is that I found our little cat dead on our doorstep, and I have been having trouble dealing with it. Of course, that is a situation only a “pet person” can understand. Someone told me “Uh well, that’s the way life goes.” Well, yes, that is true, and it is true for every loss and every sad thing happening to us, but it is not a great comfort.

Losing a pet is not just losing an animal. It is like losing a good friend or relative. Those little guys leave a big hole in our life once they are gone. Pupuce (which means “little flea” in French) sure does.

He showed up a year ago on our doorstep as a tiny kitten and moved not only into our home but also into our hearts. Never would I have imagined that having a cat can be so much fun! After all, I always considered myself a dog person. But Pupuce managed to always cheer me up, I always, always felt utterly and completely happy just when I saw him, and everything he did was beautiful and elegant.

Also our dog Pippa seems sad since Pupuce used to be her best friend. When we got her she was all mistreated and frightened, and Pupuce treated her so gently that soon she wouldn’t leave the house without him. So Pupuce had to accompany us on our walks which he proudly did. When we passed the other cats, all of Pupuce’ family, Pupuce walked a little taller as if he wanted to say “See, I’ve got my own dog.” And my heart was jumping with joy when I saw the two of them strolling along.

So now our little guy got probably hit by a car, managed to find his way home and died on our doorstep, and the house seems terribly quiet all of a sudden. Our housekeeper A. said little Pupuce would be happy now for he got wings and could fly, and I hope she might be right. Little Super Pupuce sure would like the adventure!