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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Warm Thought for a Dark Day


Going Home

I've been asked so many times in recent years to describe a typical Canadian.  That had me a bit puzzled.  There is no typical look or mannerism that came to mind beyond being friendly.  

But now as the days count down to when I am back on my home turf I am excited.  Not just to see the people I love and miss, but for the way I can just "be". That means letting all my Canadianisms out.  Engaging strangers in random conversation, making a goofy joke with a passerby, smiling at strangers...laughing at the quirkiness of a friend and taking turns to pick up a bill instead of splitting it to the penny.  

As I say this it sounds as if I resent some of my life here.   Nothing could be further from the truth.  I love Europe.  It is where I feel most at home.  The people, the places, the structure - it is my home.  In my heart though,  I am still that goofy Canadian.  The one who enjoys laughter provoked from a joke either at my own or someone else's expensive, and the one who talks to pretty much everyone and anyone.

So I suppose it came to be that the more I miss home the more I realize what it means to be Canadian.  We kind of like to talk (to anyone), we love laughter and we don't get too uptight when things do not go according to plan.  We have more of an "oh well that's life" kind of philosophy.   

All that said, I am not suggesting that any one way is better than another;  only that in a few short weeks I am looking forward to relaxing and letting that hyper and goofy Canadian inside me - out :)










Saturday, November 23, 2013

Call me Nadia

I have started on a matcha latte kick.  Every work day afternoon I duck out of the office and round the corner to the nearest Starbucks.

(Before I go on any further I must clarify something.  I don"t normally do Starbucks here in Europe.  To me that is an American, or a North American thing and I really do not wish to be one of "those" people that frequent what they have back home.  However, this is the only place near me that I know of where I can get a matcha latte.)

Matcha lattes are kind of gross for those people who have never had one before.  They taste like warm, liquid grass.  They also look like warm, liquid grass.  Yuck.  Why do I drink them?  That is a reasonable question.  Answer is, I am not sure.  I just do.  It is like me against the gross green goo and by drinking it I win.  A small victory on a busy afternoon.

So the team at Starbucks is getting a bit used to me and my 3pm matcha run.  But as soon as they see me, a flash of panic flashes across their eyes.  My name you see, causes them constant grief.  Dawn is an English name and it does not go well in these parts.  At work most people call me Antle because they think that looks more like a first name than Dawn.  I just go with it.  Some have implored upon me to adopt the use of my middle name Leigh instead to help offset the confusion. They are likely correct, but the amount of paperwork required is daunting.

At Starbucks it has come to the point now that people actually make busy when I arrive.  The whole name thing is an awkward moment for both parties. On this day the young out going guy steps up to handle me.  He starts to write my name on the cup and then shows me what he has written.  "Sure" I say at the interesting interpretation.  That is when he declares "from now on you are Nadia."  The barrister is also relieved at this declaration.

This worked out so well for everyone concerned I decided to try it elsewhere in my life.  At the store when a clerk looks puzzled at my name I throw out Nadia.  Restaurant reservations, I am Nadia.  I have discovered that in doing this,  that it is not so much my German vocabulary that is causing confusion, but my name.

Today I have to go and reserve movie tickets, I think that is a good task for Nadia...











Monday, November 18, 2013

An Insomnia Inspired Ramble

Sleepless tonight.  I find myself dwelling on a comment that a friend said earlier.  We were discussing my rather eventful past week.  A lot of unexpected drama was flung my way, so much that I still find myself feeling a little bit numb from it all still.   

Then my friend said the mother of all comments that haunts me this sleepless night.

In this life we seem to get caught up on things.  Always looking for the next big thing.  We get bored.  Our need for constant stimulation transcends into so many things in our daily life.  Our constant checking of our smartphones, busy calendars crammed full until we achieve utter exhaustion, our need to buy the next latest and greatest thing, a new job and so on.  Sometimes people create drama just to make life a bit more exciting.  However, when it gets particularly sad is when it enters into our personal life.  The avoidance of intimacy, commitment and juggling of multiple relationships because we cannot be still, or we get bored or are afraid that something better will soon come along.  

I think we have all been that way at one point or another. Me included.  It is easier sometimes to live in this way because it lacks depth and provides a protective cloak for our vulnerability.  But the truth is I am bored with constant stimulation.  I want to enjoy a quiet mind and soak in the moment.  Be it alone or with someone.  So it was surprising tonight to hear someone suggest that it was probably a good thing that I had this drama in my life otherwise I would get bored.  Funny, but also a bit disappointing that my friend would think this of me.  

As I lay awake in bed a text came in from Canada (yes, I know, but I am not perfect.).  It said "I just heard this song and knew instantly that you would love it."  What is particularly cool is that it is indeed my favourite song of the moment.  When I asked how they knew this the reply was "because I love you."

Yeah.  It was a pretty awesome moment that was worth losing a night of sleep.  It is nice to known.  To be understood.  Thought of by someone who knows you so well.  This does not happen when life is going at a seriously rapid pace, or when we find ourselves unable to enjoy a moment or are already thinking about the next one.  Is that boring?  Perhaps. But I kind of like the balance 'boring' brings to my life.  Drama happens of course and there is sometimes little you can do to avoid it.   Laughter, a hug, an 'I love you', that is something special and worth scaling back on the other stimuli and distractions.  

There, I think I can sleep now...

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Canadian Mayoral Debacle

Okay, I just caught the Jon Stewart clip on Toronto mayor Rob Ford and I found myself feeling entertained, mortified and stunned at the incredible level idiocy. Forgive me, but this is one of those rare times that I simply cannot find a 'glass half full' perspective.  The dude has not one redeeming quality that I can see.

However, the fact that he is still in office encapsulates that incredible Canadian tolerance for which we are so well-known.   This dude is a one man train wreck.  If you want to be both shocked and entertained I recommend that you forward the video to 2:59 and hang on until the end.  You will not believe that it is actually true and happening today in Toronto, Canada.






Saturday, November 9, 2013

Brevity: Not a Canadian thing

So last night I went to a comedy show with a group of friends.  The last comedian took the stage and he just so happened to be Canadian.

Keep in mind that I was the only Canadian in this group.  On this particular evening we happened to be a mix of German, Swiss, Bulgarian and of course one token Canadian.

Anyway, the dude started on about how he actually hated Canadians and that was why he had since moved to the UK.  His reason?  Because they "go on, and on, and on..." about things.

Firstly I was a bit surprised, generally speaking Canadians are lucky enough to not provoke any serious type of emotion in people.  (I mean, why hate a people that have to withstand winter 12 months a year - right?)  So it was quite strange to hear how much we were loathed by someone.

Second surprise - the way my friends all erupted into uncontrolled laughter at the "on and on" part.  Keep in mind that I am the the only Canadian in our group, so I am the baseline for 'what is Canadian'. (Yes, I am sorry about that as well Canada.)  The guilty glances my way while they enjoyed the Canadian inspired jokes were also telling.

Yeah.  You get the point, so I will stop this blog here.  I think you know why...  :)




Monday, November 4, 2013

The Explosive Gift Situation : His Version

Note:  For the first time I have let someone else write something for my blog.  After stating how absurd our fight was I had told my friend that I at least appreciated the blogging material.  He then stated that it was only fair that he get to share his side of the story as well.  Here it is...

The gift.
A true story.
By anonymous.

I am the only son of an Italian, divorced, wealthy mother, and for me the nanosecond has always been the unit of measure to count the time intercurring between "I want" and the answer "here it is!" Therefore, when Dawn told me that she bought me a present, I immediately spot the cliffs in front of us. "I'm not very patient, Dawn," is my 'intelligenti pauca' for her. Unfortunately Dawn doesn't speak Latin, and proudly replies with a clear political program of how this affair is going to evolve: "I know. This is why you'll have to wait!"

I met Dawn Antle something more of a year ago in toytown Zurich, and we immediately became friends. She's a mix between a geek (at her job), a Talleyrand (in her social life) and a lioness (as a mother), all in the packaging of a full optional, top level, Canadian. She just can't avoid being used to have it always her way. 

Anyway, on with the story.
In the next two weeks after the official announcement that a gift was waiting for me, and after asking her, probably every day (I'm not sure if I missed one, I would need to check), when I could have it, my expectations had grown like a soufflĂ©. Yellow shields with black horses on them were already flashing in my imagination, when here comes the first cold shower: "it's just not ready yet".  "If it's not ready, can I at least know what it is?". "No", is the reply, "I'll send you a picture". What I see is a cubic shapeless package in a brownish gift paper, unintelligible in size. "Thanks, it's what I've always wished for.", is my sarcastic thought.

I'm now at the point where my patience has to be measured with negative numbers. The mood when you're so hungry that you'd rather eat crude eggs than waiting for the omelette. So I drop her the first warning that I'm at boiling point: I send her pictures of objects that I think might be the actual content. In front of them, a warm blooded mammal, moved by compassion, would just reveal the secret. Well, not her.

A week passes fruitlessly, so I resolve to use the "N" bomb in my arsenal: Give her a present myself. Something that would make her impossible not to reciprocate, something that would make her feel guilty at any time she just looks at that. What I buy is a biscuits tin box with a carillon that rings whenever it's moved. "This is genius", I giggle. "If she doesn't fall for it, she's not human", is my thinking. 

She doesn't. The Canadian Caterpillar, in front of a hint the size of the Matterhorn, just carries on with ruthless stubbornness.

Another week week later,  I'm forced to wave my white flag, but since I would like to have at least the honors of war, I have to resort to Padrino tactics: the proposal that you can't refuse. After a kind good morning from her, I retort: "You're not clearing your conscience so easily, dear. But I'm sure you like this subtle torture, don't you?" Now, this is the closest I can get to begging "give me the damn present now or we are not friends anymore," and anybody who knows me would understand it. But not her. The red fingernailed juggernaut, in front of the moral equivalent of a bleeding horse head in your bed, just escalates to Defcon 1: "That's ok, I will win this one yet."

This is how our friendship was over forever (that is, until she just lowers her big blue eyes and softly whispers 'I'm sorry'). Not because she is an incorruptible torturer without a cause, but because she still hasn't understood that men have feelings too! And that if you shake one of our deepest rooted certainties, i.e. that we can have whatever we want no need to ask, you will get in trouble.

In the end, even I have not clearly understood how a spontaneous act of kindness has been turned into a claw. That's beyond me. What I'm sure of, is that at the end of the story, she'll walk away with it. She always does.

Footnote:  I have to be honest, the battle still rages.  In the end there will be a casualty or two, but I thought it would be interesting to share two sides of a story - and how a seemingly benign, and even intended thoughtful gesture can have the opposite affect when two people refrain from sharing openly.  Even two very good friends...


The Explosive Gift Situation : My Version

Sometimes you cross paths with someone who immediately gets you.  From literally the first moment you meet you know that person is going to be someone special in your life.
So is the case with my guy pal.  I met him within weeks of moving to Zurich and adored how he would listen to my work stories ad nauseam (and trust me, this is no easy feat), he listened to my family related dramas and best yet he laughed at my bad jokes - and he made me laugh.  I remember one particular time; it was in fact Halloween evening last year, when he spent his evening celebrating the conclusion of a very important and exhausting project of mine.  I remember one time he was driving me home from German class and I was rambling a mile a minute, when I noticed it and commented how cool it was that he listened to my blah blah blah, he responded with a laugh and gestured around the car “Dawn, where exactly can I go?” He is also the person that made sure I had pumpkin for my much longed for Thanksgiving dinner, the one that fixes my bike, and so on - that is just the kind of friend that he is…
Pretty cool huh?  But wait, I am not finished yet.  This is going to be one long blog….
One of the other things I love about my friend is that he knows how to handle me.  I am in spirit a fighter.  Everything I have in this life I fought for – and fought hard.  So when I am determined, I can be a bit, uhm, well… lets just say difficult.  However, to this friend of mine, I am not so difficult.  So somehow he became my go-to-person when the drama of life started to get to me.  “Dawn, it sounds like you are making your own movie,” is one of my favourite lines of his when I start to lose my perspective.
It all sounds kind of perfect doesn’t it? 
Now on the other hand, he  is someone who likes to have control over any and all situations.  But then as much as he likes having everything his own way, it also bores him.  He is a bit of a walking contradiction.  Normally he picks where we will meet, when we meet, what we will do – everything.  I am okay with that because he in turn listens to my long ramblings and dramatic outbursts.  For the most part, it is a friendship that is tough to beat.
But then the trouble started.  I got in trouble for not inviting my friend to do things.  I was confused.  We talked about it, but I remained confused.  To make matters more confusing for me I tried to make a suggestion and he immediately countered it with another.  In the end we did what he wanted.  (in all fairness, he had the better idea).
One day I was thinking about him and how much his friendship meant to me.  I wanted to express it, particularly after getting in trouble.  Since my attempt at planning was quickly thwarted, I thought of a gift.  Nothing special.  It had a couple of parts, one of which was not so easy to procure.  Excited I informed him that I had “a gift” for him.  To my surprise he was excited - and started texting me and demanding to see “the gift”.  As always, he demands were full of humour and light.  So I was fun back.  Soon he gave me a gift that was cute and thoughtful which made me sorry that the last part of his gift had still not arrived.  So I decided to make him wait until he could have it all and thus the full impact.
The banter of “the gift” continued.  It was fun.  Or so I thought – until the last text.  “Dawn, I don’t even want the gift anymore.”  He was annoyed!  My longest running pal here in Zurich was literally so irritated that I felt our friendship was in serious jeopardy.  So we had a heated phone discussion – he still could not see how he was so in the wrong on this one.  A gesture intended to show my appreciation was actually causing a massive conflict.  He was in my opinion completely unreasonable.
I did what any normal female would do.  I called my mother and lamented about how I was losing a friend over a stupid gift – how annoying and unreasonable my friend was being over the whole thing.   And maybe just maybe, this friendship had run its course. 
“He is right Dawn” she said.  I am still not so sure that this is the case, but alas I apologized.  A mother is the trump card on all issues otherwise unresolvable.
I told my friend that I though we were the only two people who fought over a gift.  “You could be right” he agreed.
Until now our friendship has been easy, uncomplicated.  (okay, except for another disagreement that happened about the same time last year – but alas that is another blog)  We can relate to nearly everything in each others lives because we are so similar.  We are difficult and demanding as well as sensitive.  It really is a recipe for disaster.  However, as with all good things in life – they are not always so easy.  I am glad I was able to navigate my friend’s displeasure with me – and I am glad he was able to navigate my subsequent temper tantrum.  As a result the friendship fortunately remains intact.
But what about the gift you ask?  Well, he still hasn’t got it :)

FOOTNOTE:  My friend has asked that his version of the event follow mine, so tomorrow you can read his and decide for yourself who is the more reasonable of the two of us. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Expat Love

My beautiful running trail today.
Oh yeah, I am going to go there...

Expats are unique.  I think that in order to leave everything familiar behind, you are making a conscious decision to do so - and that there is some motivation for that.  Perhaps a broken heart, a desire to leave a previously cultivated identity behind - or just a change.  
Look at the elephant I found in
the middle of no where.

And, for the purpose of this blog I am writing about the single expat.  Not the ones that move abroad with their family.

So here we are.  A bunch of foreigners in a foreign land.  How long we are here, where we are going - no one knows.  It is a rather transient lifestyle.  However as human beings we crave intimacy - and no I am not talking about sex, I am referring to intimacy in all of its forms.  Talking, sharing, snuggling up, laughing - knowing that someone is is always there.  

As I was saying, expats, like all humans long for intimacy.  However the transient lifestyle dictates a certain behaviour pattern.  We (and yes I am including myself in this equation) avoid getting close to other people - particularly romantically.  When things start getting close - I hit the road.  Or create a drama that results in the termination of that particular relationship.  It is a recipe that works well for me - and as far as I can see, many others expats as well. 

Kind of sad huh?  

This past week I ran into someone from my past.  Someone had I walked away from. I am not sure how it happened, but we started talking.  Something that I had avoided previously.  Conversations that speak of the future, feelings and commitment make me stressed.  They are in direct conflict with my live-in-the-moment approach to life.  But it got me to thinking.  In those few moments of open honest conversation, I got to know him better than I had in all the time we previously spent together.  As did he, I.  But that (and he) is in the past and not a part of my future.  It is sometimes easier to speak openly when there is nothing to lose.

The other evening at a dinner party one fellow was sharing how he wanted to settle down and have a family.  One other fellow laughed at him and he remarked at how odd expats were when it came to relationships and their view of them. That got me thinking too.

Today I went for a challenging run with a friend.  It felt wonderful.  The spectacular autumn foliage only added to my appreciation of it all.  My thoughts wandered to the past, the present and of course what lay ahead.  Uncertainty or no uncertainty - it time to plant roots and settle in to my place here in the world - and, maybe, just maybe take a chance on love...


And now I am sending this song out to my running friend...