Friday, August 19, 2016

bathing sans american prudishness



It's a later-post from December 2015! In which I report from Tunis, Tunisia.

I can't show you pictures of what goes on in this building, but I can describe in words what is one of my new favorite cross cultural experiences. I have now bathed in a public bath house--women only, of course--and been scrubbed (exfoliated) by another woman whose job it is to spend the day in the steamy, tiled bathing rooms scrubbing all the naked bodies who pass through, well naked except for panties (kind of like some French beaches!).

The woman in the front room (where you pay before disrobing and walking into the bath section, leaving your towel behind) who runs the place explained that you need to come at least once a week for some good scrubbing, but if you can't make that, then once every 15 days is essential. She also explained that European women and even other Arab women besides those of North Africa just don't understand how important it is to take care of yourself this way. This scrubdown seems to be traditional mostly only in Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. Owner-woman was a flight attendant in her younger days and still enjoys meeting people--running the bath house is much nicer, she says, than staying at home all day with just her 26-year-old son around for occasional company. 

Raise your hand if you, too, have been to a bathhouse! #thingsineverdreamediwoulddo

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

les vacances

'Tis the season of vacation here in France. These photos offer just a tiny sampling of all the similar signs gracing restaurants, cafés, boulangeries, and shops around town.

As crazy as it may seem to profit-conscious Americans, businesses here regularly shut down for two weeks or more in late-July/August. It's vacation time!

This can be rather annoying when you yourself aren't on vacation and are trying to live a normal life during August. There's no telling whether the places you're used to frequenting will be open. It can also be annoying if you're traveling on vacation somewhere in France. I still don't really understand how it works - everyone's traveling but what is there to do if all the shops are closed?

But on the other hand, I really respect the underlying idea that money isn't everything. It's rather beautiful to live in a place that doesn't see production and profit as the greatest god to be worshipped. Taking time off, traveling, lounging with family, resting, enjoying some good meals - these are valued here. So much so that shop owners around France have posted charming (or boring) signs in their windows to explain why they won't be opening their doors or turning on their lights or firing up their ovens for the next few weeks.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

doctors: a crossing cultures episode

After pausing outside her office until her phone call ended, I let the receptionist know I had arrived for my appointment. She said she would tell the doctor I was there. I took a seat in the sunny waiting room down the wide hall where others who entered after me offered a "bonjour" to the room as they sat down. I had missed that step. Oops.

Doctors' offices here in the center of a French town are often located in the same buildings that house apartments. For example, there's a doctors' office on the ground floor of the building some friends of mine in Aix live in. This can be convenient when packages are delivered when they're not home, as they effectively have a concierge in doctor's clothes to accept their deliveries. As you can imagine, though, a doctor's office in an apartment building might be configured a little differently than the strip mall/medical office building variety I'm used to from back home.

When it was my turn before the doctor, it was he himself who poked his head into the waiting room and called my name. The same thing happened the one time I went to the dentist here. It was the dentist who came to collect me. As is the way with subtle cultural things you don't realize affect what you're expecting, I never realized before that it's perhaps an American norm rather than a worldwide norm that there's always an assistant of some sort of who does such banal tasks as getting patients situated in exam rooms.

In the States, I've perhaps never been inside a doctor's actual office--the place where he or she keeps their books and papers and photos of family. If I have, it's been a rare occurrence. Normally, I only ever see the small exam rooms, usually dressed in white and sterile-seeming décor, though with occasional slightly personal touches (my childhood doctor's exam rooms were graced with those famous images of bulldogs in upper class dinner attire smoking cigars around pool tables).

Here in France, though, I've twice now been ushered into large rooms with a messy desk and accompanying desk-accoutrements in one corner and an exam table and sink and other exam room things in another corner. The doctor does his exams in the same room in which he replies to email. Novel (to me) but not super novel I suppose. I must say, though, that it feels weird to climb upon an exam table in the middle of a large room (even if it's sort of in a corner). I end up feeling exposed. It's weird how weird it feels. Because on the face of it, it's not that crazy.

When it came time to pay yesterday, the doctor wasn't giving clear instructions, just kind of pausing as he sat behind his desk after he'd finished writing prescriptions. And I was internally confused about what was supposed to happen next. When I had time to sort it out later, I realized that again, this is how cross cultural moments work: something collides with what you're expecting, but it takes some seconds to understand that this is the reason it feels like you're moving through the moment in slow motion, trying to find firm footing where you know what you're supposed to do or say next.

I asked if I was supposed to pay him or the person out front. He was probably wondering why in the world I would be so confused about all this and why the person out front would have anything to do with this and why I kept asking if such-and-such was something he would do or her. To my American self, the doctor never occupies himself with such things and never has a credit card machine right there among all his desk-accoutrements. Again, processing payment is to be done by assistants after you leave the exam room and while the doctor rushes off to do the important work of doctoring the patient waiting in the next tiny, private, white exam room, with their chart waiting in the chart holder thing on the wall beside the door. But not in France. Here the doctor handles all that while seated at his desk in a large warmly decorated (in this case, anyway) room.

This is only my second doctor's visit in this country, and the last one was two years ago. There've been lots of other slow motion cross-cultural moments to wade through in the meantime. But maybe now that I've written about it, I'll remember the unspoken rules better the next time I climb onto an exam table in the middle of a large room, and next time I'll need a little less prompting on how to conduct myself. Maybe?

Monday, July 25, 2016

doors that demand poetry


Textured.

J'adore.

Run your hand along me

and feel the beauty of the world.

Aging. Beautifying.

Earning my wrinkles.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

café life


Working from home, I try to get out of the house at some point in most days. I can't always take work with me, in which case I go for an end-of-the-day coffee and reading time at my favorite around-the-corner (or three)-from-my-house café.

Despite their sometimes status as rodents, pigeons still crack me up. And this one was bold this early evening--pulling up a seat as though he'd been invited, making the rounds like an expert but unbeloved mingler.

This photo inspired me to dig out my watercolors, or maybe just tap over to the app that lets you pretend to be a painter. (Thanks, waterlogue app!)


   The persistent pigeon, un client non-payant au café.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

brexit continued: Philip's full comments

Here's Philip Worré's full Brexit quote, a portion of which is included in my article over on Blue Dot today:

Despite its shortfalls, the EU is overall a success story. People tend to focus on the negative aspects of the EU, such as the institutional complexity, the decision-making process, or high financial cost. But programmes such as ERASMUS or Commission-funded research programmes have been overwhelmingly successful.

However, this is not well communicated – which is a shame, as many British voters were misinformed about the EU. The EU is not a communication agency – it is up to national governments to promote its achievements and the benefits of membership to citizens. However, the EU is too often used as a scapegoat for the failures of national governmental policies.

Above all, I am saddened by the Brexit vote. I haven’t changed my mind – I grew up in a bi-national European family, and understood very early on the importance of cross-cultural exchanges, and how these promote peace. The EU was founded following the end of the WWII to ensure lasting peace through cooperation and trade. Yet, following the Brexit vote, the spectres of nationalism and xenophobia are reemerging, promoted by populist parties throughout Europe – the very same issues that were at the root of the last world war.

Regarding what comes next, I believe the UK will face uncertain and challenging times. There are the "internal" questions of Scottish independence, as well as the future of Northern Ireland. Above all, the main issue that the next government will have to tackle is bridging the deep divide within British society between "Brexiters" and "Remainers," which is essentially a clash of generations: the outward-looking, well-travelled, more educated, affluent and connected younger generation versus a more concerned, conservative and apprehensive older generation. There will also be the “external” issue of negotiating a fair deal with the EU. I personally believe that all parties will be realistic and understand that obtaining a productive agreement would be in everybody’s interest – although it is almost certain that the final deal won’t be as beneficial to the UK as EU membership would be.

brexit continued: E. Amato's full quote

Here's E. Amato's full Brexit quote, a portion of which is included in my article over on Blue Dot today:
Obviously, you couldn't vote, but how would you have voted if you could have?
As a nomad, and as someone who loves London for its ever blooming and shifting cultural world, I could only see the remain argument. But that is a London-centric viewpoint, and may be the crux of much of the energy behind the Leave campaign.

As an American, I am awed by the freedom of movement in the EU and the great advantage that people take of it to travel, work and study in countries not their own. That coupled with the intertwined economic interdependence between the UK and the EU states made it clear that my choice would be remain. I could visualize the massive economic fallout, as well as the cultural fallout of a Leave vote, and it made me wonder how any elected official could responsibly make that argument.
Why do you think exiting is a bad idea?

Millennials have had the hardest time of any generation post World War II in starting their lives as adults. In the EU, they have found ways to mitigate the bad circumstances by studying in other countries, forming new types of communities and building businesses from the ground up. Exiting puts a huge kibosh on this ingenuity, and basically sets this generation back again to where they were pre-crash. Additionally, they are the ones who have to live with this decision for a lifetime. Those over 65 are essentially voting fear of a diminished pension, while forgetting the importance of the economic viability of all the generations coming up after them.

It will be devastating to lose the EU money that freely flows into the UK's current economy. When you factor in other foreign investors, who are leaving in droves, you are looking at something far worse than the 2008 crash and over a much longer period.

Culturally, it's an isolationist argument penned in another century. There is a sense of nostalgia for something that never was - a white, British country. It seems clear that the first two agenda items will be closing borders altogether and decimating the NHS.

From your outsider-insider perspective (non-Brit who's spent lots of time there), what was the tone in the run-up to the referendum?

I was in Edinburgh before the vote. The feeling was strong that Scotland would vote remain. Additionally, there is a bitter pill in the vote, as Cameron promised Scotland that the UK would remain in the EU in his negotiations with the country before its independence referendum in September 2015. That promise, among a few other points, may be what swayed the undecideds in favor of staying part of the UK. There was a strong sense that there would be another independence referendum upon a Leave vote.

And what has been the tone since?

I arrived in London the night of the vote. In the morning I found out that the UK had voted to leave. It was the most surreal feeling. On the street, people were so quiet, it was if the whole city was hushed. It was a Friday, but there was no sense of a summer weekend jubilation. Glastonbury was starting and it seemed unthinkable that people could be enjoying a festival environment. Since then Cameron has resigned, there were massive Labour party resignations, the pound has dropped dramatically, the Chilcot report has come out, and every day reveals a new drama. No one seems to know who's leading the country. Yet people do go on. Busses run, trains run (well, about the same as always), and people go to work, go home and go about their lives. But there are many questions, confusion and a sense of limbo underneath it all. 

How would you explain to other Americans why this should matter to Americans?


Power. This was very much a vote of the people to entirely change their union. The campaign was badly handled, and there was clearly no plan on the part of leadership for a Leave vote, however, that is not the fault of the people. The people mandated massive change in a way we see maybe once in a lifetime.

brexit continued: Carole's quote in French

Here is the French version of Carole's Brexit quote, which is included in my article over on Blue Dot today:

Dire non à cette Europe telle qu'elle est aujourd'hui, ce n'est pas dire non à l'Europe, c'est dire non à des réglementations et des lois qui nous plombent.

Le manichéisme et la pensée binaire classent TOUT en deux clans opposés:

pour le Brexit= contre l'Europe= vieux= raciste= c'est les méchants
contre le Brexit= pour l'Europe= jeunes= tolérant= c'est les gentils

La réalité est forcément beaucoup plus nuancée. Ce qui est dangereux dans cette manière binaire (orientée par les médias et les poltiques) de voir les choses c'est que cela détourne l'attention des vrais problèmes.

La vraie question ce n'est pas l'idée d'appartenir ou de sortir de l'UE. La vraie question c'est oui ou non, allons nous continuer à obéir aux traités successifs qui nous plongent dans l'ultralibéralisme et nous enlèvent tout souveraineté nationale.

Malheureusement ce que nous voyons tous aujourd'hui c'est que tout le système est bien bloqué et nous, les citoyens européens, n'avons aucun poids sur les décisions de Bruxelles. Donc la seule solution, c'est de mettre un gros coup de pied dans tout ça, il faut que quelque chose change. On est dans un rapport de force et ça ne peut être que radical, on ne fait pas d'omelette sans casser des œufs. Ce qui m'étonne beaucoup c'est que tout le monde est dégouté, tout le monde voit que les conditions de vie et de travail se dégradent par les effets de cette Europe mais on laisse faire, on continue.........va comprendre.......et tout le monde est choqué par les résultats du référendum britannique.......?!!!!!

brexit continued: Mark's full quote

Here's a bit more from Mark Roberts on Brexit, a portion of which is included in my article over on Blue Dot today:

“I see it as a really complex situation. I don’t think it’s black and white. I tend in general in any situation to see both sides [and that’s been the case in this situation too]….
“For me it seemed straightforward that we’d remain in Europe. I didn’t see the advantage of leaving. [The experts, business leaders, and movers and shakers in the world were advocating staying, and they tend to know these things.] I had a generally positive perspective toward the EU….I supposed I’ve benefited a lot by being able to come over to Europe, live and work here. So I’ve seen the advantages of the EU. I hadn’t really looked into the disadvantages.”
The night of the referendum, Mark stayed up late to find out the results.
“It was a shock to see Britain is leaving [and so much happened that same day, the pound plummeted, talk of Scotland leaving the UK, the prime minister stepping down…]. I think everyone was a bit lost….I was quite removed from the situation. It was bizarre to be on the outside looking in. It was unpleasant. There was a lot of anger between those who voted leave and those who voted remain...."

"I was feeling really frustrated, really stressed. That first week was really hard. I was going to work but thinking about what was happening in the U.K.”
Mark decided it was time to call home, since it had been so hard to get the real picture of things via Facebook. He talked to older family members who surprised him by saying they were in favor of leaving. According to Mark, they’re people who aren’t anti-immigrant, one of the images regularly painted of those in the leave camp.
Instead, these family members had done a lot of reading and explained that things that had been promised with the EU hadn’t happened. They also noted that without a democratic basis, the EU is a dangerous system with a huge amount of power. So that was why they were against it, not because they didn't like immigrants.
“I can understand the leave camp, and I can understand the remain camp. I think the thing that’s really sad for me is that we left without having a proper plan….The whole country is in this confusion and uncertainty about the future which is quite serious.
“The United Kingdom is no longer united. It’s divided. [There are those who’ve taken the decision to leave as an excuse to be very anti-immigrant, for example.] I’ve seen the country change hugely in the last two weeks. Two weeks ago we looked like we had everything under control; now it’s more like we’re in a spiral.”
“I think the U.S. can take a lot of warning, to realize how quickly things can change in a country based on one vote. It can be a wake-up call for the U.S.”

brexit continued: Louise's full quote


Here's Louise Lawson's full Brexit quote, a portion of which is included in my article over on Blue Dot today:


Have I changed my mind in the aftermath?
After my initial reaction to the results, I was pretty sad (I expressed this in my Facebook post). I found Facebook frustrating that day because everyone was very opinionated and more divided than I anticipated. I dreaded viewing people’s gloating statuses, [but] people were nicer than I anticipated, there was a little back and forth, some passive aggressive statuses and lively discussions, that I foolishly engaged in until I thought better of it. I think I was a bad loser though.
I think my sadness stemmed from feeling that people weren’t sure why they were making the decisions they were; many voted to leave, but many couldn’t fully identify why. For me, the desire to remain was from taking counsel from a friend of mine who warned that Britain would experience a recession and how millions had been taken out of the country in the lead-up to the referendum, already. I read up on the arguments, I listened to news dominated by the referendum, and I asked for guidance on which way to vote. I felt that we had chosen to exit much like trying to leave YouTube--where it asks if you’re sure and says ‘cancel’ or ‘exit’. It felt that it had happened too easily, but there’d be no way back in, once the decision was made. It felt so final. Which it is.
I felt the majority of people were going to vote to exit and had friends who did but weren’t sure why, so I wasn’t surprised at the outcome. What can only be described as propaganda had been bad leading up to the referendum, and although it was a long time coming, I felt we didn’t do our homework, and a massive decision was placed in our hands.
I am unusual in that I have been brought up under the European Union, passed freely through countries, and lived in a few EU countries, something made far easier through being a European Union country. I felt like many without a full grasp of what the EU even is or does gave that all up too easily.
I thought exiting was a bad idea because I didn’t feel the negatives outweighed the positives. I was, if I am honest, happy with the status quo and have benefitted from being part of the EU. Many people never expressed an opposite opinion until the referendum was offered; nobody ever spoke of our EU membership until the last few months.
I wanted to remain, as I felt we were just fine being a part of the EU. I have benefitted greatly from being an EU citizen, living in France for four years, Germany for 3 prior to that, and working all over Austria. I never once had to go through an intrusive medical exam, fill in a visa application, or jump through the hoops my American or Australian friends have had to. In retrospect, maybe my own reasons are naïve or misguided, but time will tell what the true implications of this decision are. Some of my ‘remain’ friends are less hopeful, but over the weeks I have been mindful that whatever the outcome, my trust is in a sovereign God.
It has been strange watching the government disintegrate and realize that they didn’t really have much of a plan B. I’ve heard one party, who focused on the fear mongering regarding mass immigration, back pedal after promising the £350M we currently put into the EU per week could be filtered into the National Health Service instead. It has felt like a farce--so many of the Labour party resigning and our own Prime Minister stepping down.
Why do you think exiting was a bad idea? Is it bad for Europe, bad for the UK, or both and why?
Initially I felt it would be bad to leave, mainly for the UK. In the light of recent news stories (which are hard to wade through for truth), it seems like it is also bad for the rest of the EU--this is unchartered territory, we are the first to leave. Interestingly, countries who were happy trading with us are working to maintain that relationship, countries such as Germany--which gives me hope we may be okay. Sadly, it has created dissension with Scotland again (who almost 100% voted to remain). They have since talked of another referendum to become independent from England.
Funding that we as a country have received will now be withdrawn, and we have been told there will be an inevitable recession. A period of austerity is never a fun prospect. I feel less fearful as I don’t have a high paying job, I don’t drive an expensive car, I don’t have any investments, so I don’t have as much to lose as the people who are better off than me.
I didn’t anticipate the mess it was after the decision was made: people pitted against one another, petty arguments, our prime minister stepping down, and most of the Labour government (the shadow cabinet) resigning and trying to get their leader to resign. People we thought would take us through the Brexit, such as the prime minister, have stepped down, and others have refused to stand for leadership, and those that have are the best of a bad bunch. It seems that all bets are of’ and we have a storm to weather, yet a lot of us are remaining calm. Maybe it’s our renowned stiff upper lip.
How I feel Post- Brexit
I feel less sad about the turn of events, not because nothing felt that different overnight, as there was still media focus on what is happening post referendum. Now I feel more resigned, I realized there was no point agonizing over a decision that is made, and my initial sadness has resided. I disliked the mud slinging between people who voted to leave and people that voted to remain, though it has been interesting to hear the reasons why people voted either way, and I realize it certainly wasn’t black and white. I’ve been disgusted to hear that people have told non-British citizens to 'go home' and feel we have stooped to an all-time low. In an age of extreme political correctness, this is unusual, yet I feel is largely down to UKIP scaremongering about the amount of immigrants arriving in the UK and stretching our already tight health service and taking 'our' jobs. I keep waiting for this to just blow over.
I felt the referendum was clouded by ‘confusion and delusion’-- that was my opinion. This didn’t surprise me, but it was almost surreal to be living in the aftermath, and the 24th June felt like a bad dream. It divided people, yet many didn’t fully understand the implications of their decision. Many expressed their certainty that they now had some extra control and that they would get what they wanted in a way they had never before. I think they were high on the victory of getting their way. Many wanted to leave the EU yet dictate their own agreements (these are my Facebook observations). Many felt we would become ‘great’ again and this was heralding a new time, a new season, a New Britain. This remains to be seen; I hope it is true. I am not fearful of such a government shake-up. Britain is a small island and has come through a lot worse, it is in our DNA and blood. How we deal with the next couple of years remains to be seen. Perhaps this is the change we need– I fear we have symmetry with the USA though, a leadership race with no clear candidate of promising potential. I fear we will both settle. I pray we do not. Again, time will tell.

brexit continued: Paul's full quote


Here's Paul Adlington's full Brexit quote, a portion of which is included in my article over on Blue Dot today:

I voted to remain in the EU. My belief in inclusivity and equality and my dislike of nationalistic pride played a part I’m sure, but ultimately I voted to remain because the UK, as the 5th largest economy in the world, should be a net giver, not a net receiver. I know there is a strong case to argue that the UK receives more than it gives – i.e. the economy is stronger and British citizens are wealthier as part of the EU – but the leave campaign’s  repeated claim that we give more than we receive and it’s desire to abandon responsibility for refugees helped make my final decision. The reason to remain is that we should be taking responsibility, as part of Europe, especially in times of economic and refugee crises – in times such as now!

I don’t believe there is a problem with the free movement of people, and I don’t believe that too many people are coming to this country. Why did we need to sell a row of houses in Liverpool for £1 each last year if we really don’t have enough houses to give people homes?

The real issue is investment, incentives and honest governance: A well-organized, non-corrupt Europe could provide investment and incentives to help create healthy, prosperous and safe areas all over this country and Europe, areas where people can build their lives without having to leave loved ones [behind] while they migrate for meagre wages and poor conditions miles from home.

Besides – the UK is a much better place because of its cultural and ethnic diversity. We should be embracing it.

After the vote I was reminded, as I was after the last general election, how we live in a bubble in London. The majority of the country must have felt very disempowered to vote in such a way. This really needs addressing politically, and also with the media – who must take a portion of the blame after their insistence on publishing mainly extreme minority views.

After the vote our politicians seem utterly lost. Honestly, I am praying and hoping that something good comes from the mess they have led us into, the mess that the two key leaders have now abandoned for somebody else to clear up! My hope is that the European leaders don’t react out of anger and hurt but that they allow this referendum to serve to kickstart EU reform, and then allow the UK back in.

However, my greatest sadness following the result is the way some people seem to have used it as an excuse for racist and xenophobic behaviour. I am dreadfully ashamed of this. There can be no future with this attitude!

Friday, July 8, 2016

c'est la vie en france

Classic Mediterranean view on the Giens Peninsula.











I may have lived in France for a while now, but there's still a lot that doesn't feel normal yet. Including these moments






>>Vignette #1: July 2 ~~ French admin rightfully has a terrible reputation. But this week I've spent two days going in person into various offices and finally getting answers to some long-standing admin things I didn't know how to do. It's been so much better than trying to do it by phone (or trying to guess how to do things), and everyone in the offices has been super nice and helpful, and I didn't even get scolded for being six months late on turning in one particular piece of important paperwork. I feel like a huge administrative weight has been lifted! And I feel like I've taken some sort of giant leap forward in navigating some of the hardest parts of expat life. 

>>Vignette #2: July 4 ~~ In honor of my homeland, a July 4 Independence Day quiz: At 10:10 pm a girl walked into the neighborhood sushi restaurant thinking she could still get takeaway dinner after a long day of travel. According to its posted hours, the restaurant closes at 10:30 pm. Why did said girl leave empty-handed?

(France, I love you, but seriously, could you have mercy on me and not shut down your kitchen 30 minutes before you close, and not shrug your shoulders as though this is the most normal thing in the world? ;-) Sorry, France, but there are some moments where America outshines you. But no hard feelings, it's a friendly competition! ;-) )

>>Vignette #3: July 7 ~~ France, the land where it's not weird when a stranger kisses you (on the cheeks, évidemment) after the home team has just won a big match!


Thursday, June 9, 2016

a montmartre moment

Come along on a short tour of a street in Montmartre in Paris! 

There were so many interesting things happening along this little stretch of Paris that it nearly felt like a set-up -- like a film was being made and all the extras had been tasked to create "normal" street life in Montmartre.

So enjoy this little reality film! :-)

In the opening scene, one of the roving portrait artists had cornered a poor American girl who was too nice to tell him no. When they approached me telling me I was a good model, I'd tell them they could draw if they wanted, but I wouldn't buy it. Their pencils usually stopped moving pretty quickly then. Scene 2: I'm not sure what was so mesmerizing about that guy's cooking, but it did smell good. Scene 3: Of course, there's someone talking to a selfie stick. It wouldn't be believable without it. Scene 4: I think the guy smoking didn't want to be on video. Scene 5: Note the bridal couple who was having a Montmartre photo shoot. 

Et voilà - it's as though you were there!





Tuesday, May 31, 2016

race cars are cool



For two weekends in a row in May, racecars zoomed around the streets of my new town -- modern cars the first weekend and historic ones the next. By weekend number two, I decided to ask for a press pass, so I could learn a little more about car racing than I knew at the beginning of May.

And then I wrote about it. And took pictures. And shared it with the world.

Find out what I discovered!

Sometimes There's a Historic Car Race Around the Next Corner