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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Banana Hammocks and Spandex

A few months back I was at the gym and enjoying a long cardio workout when I noticed the man in front of me. He had on light grey spandex shorts that were completely see-through. He too was enjoying a long cardio work out - his long hair flopping around while energetically expelling countless calories from his lean frame. Having been here a while I am somewhat accustomed to the amount of spandex men wear albeit the see-through thing was a new one. At the pool I have had to come to accept that a regular “swimmer-sunbather” will climb out of the pool and change his wet speedo for a dry one - poolside.

I know that I blogged once before about the nudity, but I decided that perhaps it deserved one more. The trigger being a friend who happened to visit me from Vancouver and the look of panic on her face as she watched a huge amount of sweaty, spandexed men crowd in around her on a small gondola. There had been a large group of men who had climbed the mountain and now that it was dark, were taking the gondola down. All eager to get home, they crammed in taking every available inch.

My friend was mortified. To a Canadian, this was akin to being smushed in an elevator of naked men. However, these Austrian men were only wearing what they have deemed appropriate work out attire. Not wishing to get too close to these men my friend declined holding onto a bar and instead firmly planted her feet on the floor. Short lived, the initial jerk of the gondola commencing decent left her tumbling into the arms of the men she most wanted to avoid. Delighted they uttered greetings in German to which my normally outspoken friend could only reply with a timid “danke.”

The next day I took my friend to the pool. Although perhaps a little mean, I still had to do it. As soon as I saw the banana hammock man I made sure my friend was in the appropriate place to witness the inevitable. Mr. Banana Hammock did not disappoint.

I watched my friends face once again fill with a look of both horror and shock.

In Canada we are uptight about nudity. And if someone dares to show their body, our culture dictates that it must be young and toned to perfection. Banana Hammocks are not tolerated, and spandex shorts belong only on a bike. We also have unofficial rules - like not engaging in polite conversation with a man wearing spandex bike shorts, or publicly shunning any man who dons a speedo and calling 911 if someone strips down poolside.

I can’t say that I am used to being around a culture so comfortable with their bodies – perfect or not. But I now know what to expect and that has eliminated the discomfort I initially experienced after moving here. And my Vancouver friend? As hard as I tried, there was no way I could get her to the sauna.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Expensive Princess

As months have gone, it has been an eventful one. Every time I turned around my task list grew. Unexpected bills came my way. Water pipes blew up. And on the last day of August I had one more event that left me both amused and bewildered.

Instead of heading home, I decided to head to downtown Dornbirn and enjoy both a glass of wine and what may have been the last of the warm summer evening - and lucky for me I did not have to do it alone.

My mood was feisty. And over here that also makes me a bit different. The culture is more formal and I am more casual in nature – like most Canadians. Of my two companions I knew one a bit better than the other. The less familiar one seemingly more proper and reserved. However, he too had a day or month that had taken its toll.

One thing I do enjoy about being here is that I can push humour a little more and get away with it. People are just so darn polite – and my being Canadian is a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free-card. One of which I use constantly. Being in a feisty mood only made it worse. However this time my dry humour was being tested and challenged.

It was right about there that I was suddenly called “an expensive princess.”

I have to admit I was shocked. In my nine months of living here I have never had anyone say anything close to such a thing. Maybe from my long-time friend here or from those back home– but not in the circle of my recently acquired Vorarlberg friends. I was used to being treated more “gently”.

The conversation continued for a while longer. The unfiltered sarcasm, barbs and jabs did as well. At one point I noticeably refrained from a response in fear that I would go too far. “Oh go on” said my friend who was quietly watching the evening progress and the conversation digress.

It was my first real evening like that here. Although it is nice being treated gently and with kindness – it felt like a relief to not feel that I had to watch my words and instead just be me - and that it’s not just back home in Kelowna that people will push back.

One thing I have learned is that feeling homesick can manifest itself in different ways. I miss my son more than words can express - my family, friends and home. But what you don’t anticipate is the change that you go through when living elsewhere. As much as I would like to think I have not, I know I have changed a little. I have had to adapt to the unfamiliar structure of society here, and the overall formality. My words are slightly guarded and I am a bit more reserved. But for a few hours I was just me. Unguarded words, loud laugh and pushing the boundaries to see how far I could go…