My life as a wuss

So here’s the deal: I’ve become a wuss. Although I believe to be way too young for this. Let me explain:

Die Feuerzangenbowle (1944 film)

Germans even made a whole film about booze! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About 18 months ago, I somehow lost the taste for alcohol. And it has nothing to do with conviction or principles or whatnot, I just don’t like it that much anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the taste of a good wine or champagne, but a sip is generally enough. It hasn’t always been like that, believe me. My father who has Eastern block roots and probably grew up with vodka instead of milk, always claims, “Never trust a man who doesn’t drink.” Same goes for women. That’s what emancipation does for you. Growing up, those were high stakes. Luckily, I spent my adolescence in Germany, and alcohol belongs to our culture just as much as sausages and sauerkraut. Since I like neither sausages nor sauerkraut, what else was there to do for me than to focus on alcohol? And it’s easy in Germany. You get to drink beer and wine as of the age of 16, and once you turn 18, there are no limits.

I remember my first bottle of white wine. I was at my friend’s house, and her parents had a marvelous wine cellar with high ceilings and torches and lots of dust. One day, it was our task to clean all those expensive wine bottles, and since we got thirsty, we opened one. It tasted like heaven! After the first glass, of course, we were already tipsy. After the second glass, I was rolling around on the floor. My dad would have been so proud!

Anyhow. Working in the hotel industry and later on, as a flight attendant included a lot of partying, a lot of drinks, a lot of hangovers. Of course, I got more sensible over time, but I still liked the feeling of getting tipsy (not drunk, just tipsy). Everything starts to sparkle then and becomes so much more exciting. But then something must have changed. When somebody pours me a glass of wine today, I hardly ever finish it. On rare occasions when I may have two glasses, I feel totally hungover the next morning. So I avoid drinking alcohol and only do it on special occasions – after all, I can’t bring shame on our family!

But I have noticed how big a role alcohol plays in our social lives. When somebody suggests to meet for drinks, you can be pretty sure that water is not considered a drink. And it is true, standing at a bar with a glass of water does feel strange and somehow meaningless. You would think that you normally go out with friends because of the conversations, but the truth is, that drinks play a vital role and without drinks, it is only half the fun.

Going out for dinner is easier, then you at least share the food, and people tend to drink less over dinner than at a bar. And somehow, you feel you have no right to be at a bar where the main purpose is to get people drunk. When you only go for water, then people eye you suspiciously. Either you have to be a recovering alcoholic, pregnant, or simply weird. In any case, you just outed yourself as a party pooper. So you order a glass of wine AND a glass of water, take an alibi sip from your wine and stick with water afterwards – the more your drinking fellows drink, the less likely it becomes for them to notice. But one thing is for certain, going out is only half the fun, for staying sober while everybody else is getting drunk is downright cruel.

Here’s the proof: At that age, we had tremendous fun without drinking.

You see their eyes glazing over, their movements becoming a little clumsy, and their speech getting more and more slurred. And oh, the importance with which they talk about profanities! Everything becomes deep and meaningful, every joke is hilarious, and people normally indifferent to one another, suddenly declare how important this wonderful, wonderful friendship is to them. So glad we met! So glad we talked!

There are three different kinds of drunks: The giggly ones, the melancholic ones, and the aggressive ones. So simple conversations might end in hugging, tears or fights, but hopefully, by the next morning, everything will be forgotten. By everybody but by the sober by-stander. When I witness those heartwarming scenes, I keep thinking to myself, “This used to be me!”

I sometimes wish I would go back to liking alcohol again, since it was so much easier to be part of this, instead staying sober means you just remain an outsider watching this whole unpredictable drama unfolding. The only comfort I have is that the next morning, I am the one bright-eyed and bushy-tailed… and therefore the one, who serves the breakfast. And the moral of the story? Always listen to your dad!

Please wait!

Yesterday was one of those days… You know: One of THOSE days. Actually, lately I’ve been having plenty of THOSE days, and I am growing a little tired of it.

It seems that ever since we moved, I’ve been waiting. Which is not the case, I went to Seattle for a week, apart from the airports, there was no waiting involved. But other than that, my life has been consistent waiting for 7 weeks now.

English: Santa Claus as illustrated in , v. 52...

Looks like these ladies also enjoyed waiting for Santa Claus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I mean, waiting can also be fun. Waiting for Santa Claus used to be big fun. Waiting for the first snow is, too. Waiting for the first kiss – very exciting (and Mr. R. knew how to keep me in suspense). However, waiting for Mexican handymen – not so much fun.

I don’t want to repeat myself. You know how I keep waiting and waiting for them to show up, and when they finally do, the waiting starts all over again for they need to fix what they screwed up. Sometimes, I even forget whom I am waiting for this day, so I started to make a list.

This week e.g. I am waiting for a guy to fix the mosquito screens (yes, still), for the delivery of newly bought furniture, for the telephone guys (yes, again) since our brandnew internet connection has slowed down to one and a bit MB, and I assume it’s the gardeners’ fault who tend to put the phone booths under water (yes, still). But the first people who should knock on my door today are the guys from the gas company.

Yesterday morning, we discovered we had run out of gas, which seemed peculiar since the owner assured us he had filled up the gas tank prior to our moving in. Be it as it may, we had no hot water yesterday, a fact that made Mr. R. extremely grumpy. So I started calling the gas companies. However, since it was kind of a bank holiday (though not a real one… only for schools and banks and people too lazy to work), companies opened a lot later than usual, but finally, I managed to place an order for gas. They promised to be there before 2pm.

At 2:15 pm, I decided to call the gas company again, only to make sure that they hadn’t forgotten about the poor expat with the grumpy husband. I was waiting in line until 3 pm. When they finally answered the phone, they immediately knew who I was to my surprise! “Oh”, she said, “casa 7? Yes, our guys were there, but the hose wasn’t long enough.”

"Mad as a hatter"

A few more weeks like this and I will be “Mad as a hatter” (Photo credit: brizzle born and bred)

Right. No need to tell me, I guess. I had only been waiting for SIX long hours. But well, in Mexican time currency that’s peanuts. I had already gotten that loopy that I giggled hysterically upon telling myself that now I was a “waiter”. I know, such a lame joke, but I was already getting a little funny… But anyway, so I called the second gas company. This time, I was smarter and asked them whether they had a hose long enough for this housing complex. They didn’t. Finally, I found a company that do deliver here, but of course, given that it was already afternoon, they promised to come the next day. So Mr. R. had to take another cold shower this morning, and he doesn’t seem to get used to it. However, he tried hard to be more cheerful after he found me in tears last night for yet another day had gone by without me having accomplished any of my set tasks for the day. Let alone having had any social contact or any meaningful conversation (apart from with some fellow bloggers, of course!). After 7 weeks, this programme gets a little dreary…

But here I am. Waiting. Again. And I really hope the gas guys will show up today. It always feels good to cross one thing off the list – because then, there’s room for a new waiting project!

Expat Adventures: A Visit to the Doctor

Like probably every expat, I love to read expat blogs. And while I very much enjoy reading about countries that I do not know yet, I am at the same time highly amused by all the posts of expats living in Germany. Some things that seem pretty normal to me, all of a sudden become very entertaining, even ridiculous. Very often, I also read about visits to the doctor. And indeed, I believe that other expats will agree, doctor visits can become rather adventurous in a foreign country.

Elaine Benes

Elaine Benes prepared me for my very first visit to an American doctor! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember my disbelief when I had to undress all the time in order to put on a very peculiar gown at American doctor’s offices – but then of course I remembered Seinfeld’s Elaine struggling with getting appointments after she refused to put on the gown. (Unfortunately I couldn’t find that scene online, but some of you may know it.) And after all, as you know as a German, I have no or few problems with getting undressed…

Here, we already went to see a doctor on several occasions. Since we belong to the lucky few with a decent insurance, we can go to a renowned hospital for whatever issue we might have. Of course, that makes it already so much easier than finding doctors all over town.

On my first consultation, I went to see a dermatologist. Already stoked by having successfully made an appointment, I confidently handed my insurance card over to the receptionist who eyed it suspiciously and shrugging her shoulders, handed it back to me. Upon entering the doctor’s office then, I realized that in Mexico, you don’t have to undress all the time. Even when it would make sense – like in this case: for I wanted the doctor to check my moles of which I have PLENTY, so yes, I was prepared to take off my clothes. But no, instead I was to lift my clothes here and there until I was completely tangled, then the friendly doctor assured me there was nothing to worry about , and it was not without doubts that I left the hospital and drove home.

About an hour later, my phone rang and I was told that I still had to pay my hospital bill. Good to know, that they don’t send you an invoice! So I went back and presented myself to the cashier. Again, I tried to woo her with my fancy insurance card, but she merely shook her head. At this point, it became clear to me that going to a hospital is not so much different than going to the supermarket: you take, you pay.

English: Cartoon of 1906. The physician has pl...

Yes, I get why SHE doesn’t have to undress – it would take her forever to get dressed again! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During various visits to different doctors, I learned that every now and then you do have to undress and put on that gown. However, discretion is key. So you lie down on the bed and get covered by a blanket. Depending on what the doctor has to examine, he gives you the tools and instructions what to do. Not a single time has a doctor really looked at me, let alone touched me! Even the gynaecologist didn’t come close but let me do all the work. It’s very bizarre! I just hope that in case someone needs surgery, they will drop their over-discretion. And I am still not sure how it works in the delivery room. Maybe they all wear blindfolds and just hold out their hands hoping to catch the baby? 

Oh, wait, on one occasion a doctor actually did get closer: I showed an allergic reaction to a horsefly bite and got an injection in my behind. A few weeks later, I found out that that same doctor was my student who then greeted me with the words, “Oh, hello, I know you!” When what he really meant was, “Oh, hello, I know your butt!” What are the odds, huh?

Hidden in the jungle: Coba

Can you feel it? Christmas is around the corner! Not that in this part of the world anything would indicate it except for the very persistent Christmas items in all the stores. And it is surprising they are still available, after all, I spotted the first stands of wrapping paper and dancing santas already in July.

That’s as Christmassy as it gets: Christmas Tree in Cancun.

Last year, my parents came for Christmas which is why at the moment I am thinking a lot about all the fun stuff we did together. And I realized that I never wrote that post about Coba that I actually promised in August!

Every tourist visits Tulum at some point, but not everybody makes it all the way to Coba. But if you have one full day and are in the mood to discover some ancient Mayan history, you can easily set off for Tulum in the morning and then go to Coba from there. From Playa del Carmen you drive about an hour to the south to get to Tulum. It takes most people about an hour, maybe an hour and a half to explore the ruins, afterwards there is plenty of time to drive another hour northwest to Coba. And even the drive is worthwhile: You pass through tiny Mexican villages and finally get to Coba that is set amongst two lagoons, so you can catch a glimpse over the water before entering the parking lot.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, if you think (like I did) that seeing one Maya site covers them all more or less, you are wrong. They are all very different and unique, and while I love Tulum for its picturesque setting by the sea, I still prefer Coba due to its almost mystical flair.

Coba is a lot older than Tulum, it is said to have been founded between 100 BC and 100 AD. It very quickly became the most important and powerful trade hub in Yucatan with more than 50,000 inhabitants. I read that Coba had strong connections with Guatemala and the south states of Campeche and established not only military alliances with those states, but also arranged marriages. I always wonder how people back then travelled that far. By the time the bride arrived, she must have grown a lot older!

Around 750 AD, Chichen Itza emerged and altered Coba’s importance. In fact, those 2 cities got into a power struggle resulting in Coba losing its position as political leader, but maintaining its religious importance. But although Coba lost its leading role to cities closer to the coastline, it only got abandoned around 1550 when the Spanish conquered Yucatan.

Taxi Bikes in Coba.

By now, I have been to Coba a few times, but I vividly remember the first time: It was magical! Unlike Tulum, Coba is not such a popular tourist attraction and I was relieved to see that we didn’t have to pass a plaza of souvenir shops and restaurants to get to the site. Instead, you enter through a large gate and find yourself amidst the jungle. If you don’t like to walk, you can either rent a bike for USD 3 per hour, but there are also rickshaws waiting behind the entrance which is great for people who are in whatever way handicapped (they cost USD 10 per hour).Or lazy. My vicious me couldn’t help but notice how bizarre it looks to see young, slim, and mostly short guys transporting big and often just sluggish tourists through the woods… Could there be any better motivation to get your butt off the couch than seeing a muscular sweaty back in front of you while you are doing nothing but having your heavy body carried around? Sorry, got sidetracked…

Coba gets a lot less visitors than Tulum, but even if you might feel that there are still quite a few tourists with you when you enter the site, after a few yards everyone spreads out, and it is getting really quiet around you. The first ruin that you encounter is the iglesia, the church. The name is due to a little statue that people once interpreted as a statue or virgin Mary. Unfortunately, this statue got destroyed during a hurricane, yet the name remains.

Right behind the church is the ballcourt where they used to play pelota – the Maya version of soccer.

The ball court.

Afterwards you follow the little pathway towards the big Nohoch Mul pyramid that is actually the tallest pyramid on the whole Yucatan peninsula. You can climb up the 120 steps that are rather steep (bring hiking boots!) and enjoy the view over the treetops. But although the pyramid is very impressive, my favourite part is getting there: You wander amongst the high trees and lucious bushes – and all of a sudden you stumble upon a majestic ruin! It always makes me realize how enthralling it must have been for archeologists to detect those ancient buildings! And still, there is a lot to discover, a lot that lies hidden in the jungle. You really have to look left and right in order not to miss a ruin, it feels like being an explorer!

The big pyramid.

And like a real explorer, you shouldn’t forget to bring mosquito repellent, water and good hiking shoes (if you want to climb the pyramid). Now that I come to think of it… It’s time we get some more visitors, I am really in the mood for another trip to Coba now!

A building from the paintings complex.

In danger of becoming a mental patient

As I confessed in an earlier post, I love driving in Mexico. And yes, I was being serious. However, I had to find out that though I am an enthusiastic driver, I am at the same time a very grumpy bystander. Let me explain:

He should be still alive.

As some of you may know, not too long ago our little cat, the adorable Mr. P. died after being hit by a car. (Bummer, and I still tear up thinking of him.) And he didn’t get killed on one of the major roads but in our very quiet little neighbourhood that has a speed limit of 20 km/h which is about 12 mph. Unfortunately, everybody is far too busy to stay within the speed limit, especially young (expat) mothers who have to get to their spa appointments while their nanny is taking their precious children for a walk.

The first few months after losing Mr. P., I underwent a dramatic metamorphosis from friendly neighbour to crazy person shaking my fists at reckless drivers, swearing and cursing. At times this got a little embarrassing, e.g. when I found out later that it was a business partner of Mr. R.’s. But uh, well… I am just the loopy wife then, I guess. Luckily, I can still dress myself, but in some years you might see me standing by the side of the road in my nightgown, my hair all over the place (oh wait, that’s me NOW!), mumbling crazy things.

But I don’t only blame speeding for quite a few accidents in our neighbourhood. One behaviour drives me absolutely nuts: The multitask driver. Well, I do have to admit that once I used to have that tendency as well. Talking on the phone, fixing lipstick, searching my bag for my housekeys – all the while driving. But I am pretty sure that I never did that in a housing area with children playing on the street and cats and dogs running around. (Not that it would be less dangerous to do that on a freeway…) However, I never mastered this art form quite as well as people here. I’ve seen it all:

Tacos

That’s how you should eat tacos! (Photo credit: antianki)

Some eat tacos with salsa which requires two hands (unless you are a circus freak), so they have no spare hand for their phone which then gets squeezed in between ear and shoulder while they are busy telling their friend about the hot new gym teacher. The gym teacher who should help them lose the weight they put on by eating too many tacos. Some juggle with a hot pot of coffee and a cigarette, meanwhile texting their latest crush, trying hard not to spill any coffee or burn down the car. But still my favourite is the mobile makeup application. I mean, come on! If you apply makeup in a car, it can only be so good, right? And makeup that’s only so good would only take 2 minutes at home! But no, they keep driving on the left lane, one eye closed, the other one peeping into the mirror trying hard not to poke out their eye with an applicator. Not only that it is dangerous, it also looks really stupid.

eyes left, cars right

eyes left, cars right (Photo credit: nomsaleena)

I don’t really get this. How come that everything is so much more important than keeping the eyes on the street? In Mexico, nobody ever is on time, so what’s the rush? Everybody is speeding along, trying to set some kind of a record, but the minute people get out of their cars, they start moving at snail speed.

But we are also in a country where you can just talk away a fine or get a 50% discount if you pay cash and straight away. It’s time they get a public transport system here, so people could eat and text and apply makeup without being disturbed by traffic.

Home is where the heart is

Many people ask me why I love Seattle so much. Sometimes, I even hear disapproval in their voice. Especially when it comes to my folks. There is one thing you need to know about us people from Hamburg in Northern Germany: We are beyond proud of our home town, and there is no doubt in “Hamburgers'” minds that our city is the most beautiful of all cities. (It really sounds bad in English to say “Hamburgers”, especially since I am a vegetarian!) We even have two different names for people from Hamburg: native-borns and borns. If I remember correctly, the born Hamburgers are the ones whose family members up to grandparents are all from Hamburg. Without exception. And the native-borns are the ones who just were born there. Only to give you an idea what snobs we are!

Yes, I do love my home town. However, I feel as if Seattle were my real home. Even if that means I am getting tarred and feathered on my next visit to Hamburg. I mean, of course, my friends and family whom I miss dearly will always come first if I had to make a decision as of where to live, but if I could, I would rather have them all live in Seattle, so I could have the best of everything. So what’s special about the “rainy city”?

Seattle – what’s not to love?

Of course, Seattle has plenty of great attributes: its variety of neighbourhoods includes everything from Scandinavian to Asian, but what makes it even better is its closeness to so many beautiful places: Within an hour or two you can be by the ocean, in the mountains, in the rainforest or in the wine country. Seattleites are extremely friendly, very polite, and the least pretentious of all people I know. (The downside is that they are also the least fashionable people I know, but oh well…) Well, I could go on and on, but I really don’t want to drag any more tourists to Seattle. Of course, I realize that there are plenty of cities who might offer the same advantages, maybe even more. Maybe I would love those cities just as much, but I doubt it. Because my love for this city goes beyond. As my friend the wise Miss N. puts it: “Seattle is a transformative city.” At least for me.

I just got reminded of that while browsing through the latest edition of Yoga Journal. One article caught my special attention: It deals with false-identification, or asmita in Sanskrit. If you are interested in yoga philosophy, you should definitely read it. The article is about how we sometimes identify ourselves with parts of our lives that change. E.g. you might refer to yourself as “teacher” or “mother” or “beautiful” or “successful”. If those circumstances change, we often feel like our whole life is falling apart.

However, there is a part of us that never changes, our true self. Yet, we often ignore that part, because we become so attached to the image we have created of ourselves. To connect with our true self, the author recommends “Find a place where you feel comfortable, nurtured, and supported and that you associate with feeling like your best self. If you cannot find such a physical place, think of a place or a memory that you associate with this feeling. It might be a spot under a tree you loved as a child or the memory of playing a favorite game or riding your bike.”

And that’s exactly what happened to me when we started to build our new life in Seattle. Some of you may have read my post about homesickness where I talked about my difficulties with settling in. After weeks, or rather: months of misery I did exactly what Kate Holcombe suggests: I dived back into my childhood, remembering what I used to love, and I found out that at my core I hadn’t changed at all. And just connecting with this inner child helped me find inner peace and happiness.

For years, I had been trying so hard to be someone else. To be stronger, tougher, less vulnerable, but the truth is I am still the same that I used to be when I was little. Seattle helped me to see that it is OK. That the world needs all sorts of people, that we can’t be all the same, that there is no “normal”. I am not sure whether this could have happened in any city, or whether Seattle played a special role because of its very unique people. But it doesn’t really matter. The fact is, that it was Seattle that let me remember and discover my true self again.

Bainbridge Island

I remember this afternoon in a little bakery on Bainbridge Island (huh, so now my Seattle friends even know why I am so attached to Bainbridge!). I was sitting under the blossoming cherry trees crying because I felt so lonely and homesick, and it was exactly then that I suddenly dipped into my childhood memories and realized that there was a part of me that remains the same no matter what happens on the outside. And after some time and hard work where I tried to shift my view of the world and re-discovered the things I loved to do instead of the things I thought I was supposed to do, I had this unbelievable feeling of strength, like nothing could ever hurt and haunt me anymore, for my core would always remain untouched.

That’s why Seattle plays such a special role in my life, and I will always, always keep this little bakery on Bainbridge Island in my heart, no matter where we might be living in the future.

How I turned into the Miss Marple of the skies

Recently, as you now, I had the pleasure to take a little plane trip again after quite some time. As I mentioned before, in former times I used to fly on an almost daily basis (not only while being a flight attendant), and it definitely is my preferred method of transportation. However, there is just a liiiittle downside…

Is this situation familiar to you: You have already taken your seat and are scanning the incoming passengers thinking who might be your travel buddy this time, and then, sure enough, the person you really, really wish to walk by stops and sits down right next to you? When I was single, I remember my frustration when the most handsome guys all walked past me, and the chubby, smelly nerd took his seat next to me…

Since I am kind of superstitious, I stopped looking at the incoming passengers, hoping to break the pattern. And it seemed to work. This time a nice young couple had reservations for the seats next to me. Huh, what a relief! But then I realized something:

Those were the days… (Like my hair-do?)

There are many qualities you don’t like in fellow passengers: The huge ones who can hardly close their buckle and make you feel like a little sardine. The chatty ones who never let go of you. The snoring ones. The head-droppers. The smelly ones. The nose-pickers. The bossy ones (although this might be a remnant of old airline days, I guess). But to me the worst ones are the cuddlers.

Yes, I get it, young love is wonderful. However, sitting next to a couple that doesn’t stop kissing, tickling, giggling, and whispering in 4 hours can be VERY annoying. Doesn’t anybody teach those kids that there is a time and place for everything? And that an aeroplane is not a bedroom?

So while sitting next to those two lovebirds, I started to feel…old. In fact, I started to feel Miss Marple-like. Not a sexy feeling, let me tell you. I felt like I had to look the other way all the time, which made my loosened up by a massage neck go all tense again, and my smile became a little frozen. Oh, how I wished that this nice sweaty, nosepicking guy from my earlier flight were next to me…

Murder at the Gallop (1963)
Yes, that was me the other day. Unfortunately, my Mr. Stringer wasn’t with me. Otherwise, we might have cuddled a bit, too… (Photo credit: Mr. AEL)