Angels in Disguise…

Be not inhospitable to strangers, less they be angels in disguise.

                                                                  – W.B. Yeats

This quote from an Irish poet is painted above a doorway in the legendary Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company. It’s also on the canvas bag I bought from said bookstore and took with me just now to the grocery store, which is how I found myself randomly thinking about it today.

I’ve always loved that quote but it’s taken on new meaning for me since becoming an expat, especially an expat who has to do pretty much everything on her own. When you are by yourself in a new country, it’s amazing how uplifting random acts of kindness are and how demoralizing random acts of asshole-ishness can be. But I’m not dwelling on the assholes today.

Today I’ve found myself reflecting on complete strangers who were indeed hospitable to me. There have been so many both before and during my expat life. But these are the moments that crept into my mind on the walk to the grocery store today:

  • At a Starbuck’s in Manhattan Beach a couple teenagers asked my friend and me if they could pay for our drinks as part of their “random acts of kindness project” for their church.
  • On a cold November morning at the University of Michigan I was heading home for Thanksgiving and doing the twenty minute trek with loads of luggage from my dorm to where I parked my car. I had one of those ancient wheelie suitcases that you dragged behind you with a loose strap like an unwilling dog on a leash. The stupid thing kept tipping every five steps until a woman saw me struggling, picked the suitcase up and walked it all the way to my car.
  • On my second day ever in Dublin, I was on the main road in Ranelagh, completely, utterly lost looking for the apartment I was supposed to be viewing. Two different people actually pulled their cars over to the side of the road and helped me find my way.
  • On a bus in Reims, France I had no idea where my stop was. The bus map was completely in French and my bus phobia didn’t help matters anyway. An extremely stylish French woman told me how many stops I had to go and when the stop was coming up she signaled the driver and asked him to wait her. She then got off the bus with me and made sure I knew how to walk to my destination from the stop.
  • When at a dingy bar in Santa Monica to see a band, a lovely Aussie girl gave me and my friend her extra passes so that we could be in the front row. That girl, Brooke, became a dear friend and after that night in Santa Monica adventures in London, New  York and Hawaii followed, as well as a friendship that has lasted nearly fifteen years.
  • When at an American Expat Meetup in Paris, the people were far from welcoming. Except for one person – Caren. As I was about to leave, Caren introduced herself and started a conversation with me. A friendship was started that night and, through Caren, I’ve been introduced to many other lovely people in Paris that I am now lucky enough to call friends.

In all of these instances, I was the stranger and these people were most certainly not inhospitable to me. Most were just quick moments that, despite their transience, have remained with me even years later. And some even developed into friendships that I treasure.

Expat or not, the way a stranger treats you really can make a difference in your life. I hope that at some point, I’ve managed to treat a stranger with a kindness that stays with them in much the same way these have stayed with me.

 

The World Turned Upside Down…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard that the UK has voted to leave the EU. To say I am gutted is an understatement. I am also so angry that I can barely form coherent thoughts.  I therefore want to apologize ahead of time for what will most likely be an inarticulate, curse-laden post. You have been warned.

So, the Brexit. Let me try to summarize how I am feeling:

  • First of all, fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. I’m mean seriously – fuck.
  • A majority of people over the age of 65 voted to leave. To which I say, fuck you old people. You’ve just royally screwed the younger generations because you want to return to the good old days. Today’s youth are the ones who are going to have to actually live with the decision you made. The prospects for those grandkids you dote over just got decidedly more dismal. Well done.
  • However, turn-out in areas with a higher percentage of young people was lower than in other areas. So, to those 18-24 year olds who didn’t feel the need to vote – this is what you get. If you didn’t vote, you have no one to blame but yourself.
  • We are now seeing all over the TV and internet news people with “bregret” (can we seriously stop with the cutesy names?) – those who didn’t actually realize what a leave vote would mean for them and their country but voted to leave anyway. For fuck’s sake, do your homework people.
  • And then there are the protest voters. Those who voted to leave as a protest because they didn’t think that enough people would vote leave for it to actually win. Seriously?! YOUR VOTE COUNTS! To all those “Bernie or Bust” people out there, please learn from this. A protest vote from you could very well be the reason President Trump gets sworn in next January.
  • The British Pound, not surprisingly, has tanked. I am currently paid in sterling and in the past two days have suffered a €10,000 cut in my salary. Same job, same responsibilities, same hours, A LOT less money. Fuck you very much.
  • The amount of racism and bigotry that I have seen displayed since Thursday is truly astonishing, and scary. This vote was about xenophobia more than anything and that makes me want to weep.
  • I am an immigrant. And to those who say to me “Well, we don’t mean you when we say we want to keep the foreigners out”, I say “Fuck you.”  I am an immigrant. I am a foreigner. If you don’t want “them”, you don’t want me.
  • I once thought I would like to give living in the UK a try. Not anymore. Why would I want to live in a place that is going backwards? Sorry, London – we could have had a beautiful thing, but it’s not going to happen now. I’m holding out hope for Edinburgh though, as the one good thing to come of this debacle could be Scottish independence.
  • Donald Trump and Sarah Palin both rejoiced that the leave vote won. Need I say more?
  • We are now living in a post-factual world. The actual truth doesn’t appear to matter to many people any more. They hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe. Seriously, when did FACT become a four letter word.
  • If this can happen in the UK, then Trump can win in the US. Come on, America – now is your chance to show the UK that, despite their fancy accents, you really are the smarter of the two. Don’t blow it.
  • Fuck.

Umbrellas and candles…

Yesterday was my last French class and we had to do a ten minute presentation about where we live. Yeah. Public speaking… in French.

What I imagined I was saying: “Dublin has been a around since the time of the Vikings. A beautiful and vibrant city, it is filled with history and culture and boasts, arguably, the friendliest people in all of Europe. It is a city of great literature, wonderful art and lovely nature. Yes, it rains a lot, but that means we get rainbows.”

What I probably actually said: “Dublin be old of the vikings. A city beauty and live with much the history and people of the very smiles. It is a place of more books and good the paintings but also to pretty the plants. Rain more, yes. But we be have much bows of rain.”

“It nice, the Dublin.”  😉

I really do struggle to learn this baffling but beautiful language. (Well, beautiful when someone other than me is speaking it.) But it’s hard, and the French, perhaps justifiably, are not charitable when it comes to their language. That can be frustrating when someone like me, who does not have an ear for languages, is nonetheless really trying.

Perhaps my biggest frustration is the accent. Not only am I trying to learn a new language, but I am expected to master the French accent as well. Now, I have a bit of a problem with this. I know a lot of French people who speak excellent English – with a French accent. I don’t understand why I have to get the accent right when they don’t.

True story – a couple years ago I was leaving the office for the weekend and in saying good-bye to a French colleague I said “Bon week-end.” And, I kid you not, he corrected my pronunciation of “week-end”. Seriously?!  I don’t think I could have rolled my eyes farther up into my head.

When I get responses like that, I’ve learned to “fight back” a teeny bit. I say “J’essaye”, which means “I am trying.”. Which I am. Really hard. And I have made progress. My daily class this month and back in November really helped my comprehension and conversation, though I still have a really difficult time understanding what people are saying when they speak to me – everyone talks so fast!

Some key phrases that help me in these situations:

  • Je ne comprends pas – I do not understand.
  • Désolé, mon français est très mauvais – I’m sorry, my french is very bad. 
  • Lentement, s’il vous plaît – Slowly, please.

I’ve also learned some french phrases that I kind of love:

  • ça m’est égal – this means “I don’t care” but it’s the formal more respectful way of saying it.
  • je m’en fiche – this also means “I don’t care” but it’s familiar, reserved for special people who are driving you nuts, like friends and family.
  • je m’en fous – and when you really need to kick it up a notch, this means “I don’t give a shit”. Everything really does sound better in French.
  • mon petit chou – literally “my little cabbage” but this is a term of endearment in French. I would love to be someone’s little cabbage.
  • tomber dans les pommes – literally “falling in the apples”, this is the french term for fainting.
  • chanter comme une casserole – I think this one is my favorite. It literally means “to sing like a saucepan” and it’s the phrase used to describe a god-awful singer.

Oh, and my two favorite words in the entire french language are parapluie (umbrella) and bougie (candle). I love how they sound and I often say them just because I find it fun.

I will continue to strive toward fluency in French and I will, to be sure, continue to struggle. But I love this language too much to not try. Or should I say “essaye“?

 

 

 

Paris, part deux…

Earlier this week, an interview I did about my month in Paris last November was published on the website Bonjour Paris, rather synchronously, as I spend a second extended sojourn in the City of Light.

I have been back in Paris for two weeks and will be here for four more. So far, it’s been fairly awesome. And here are some of the reasons why:

  • My view of the (top of the) Eiffel Tower from the skylight in my bedroom. Most nights, I watch it twinkle at the top of the hour before I go to bed.
  • The fresh flowers and bottles of wine my Airbnb host left for me as a welcome gift.
  • Being here for the May 1st holiday and buying myself some Lilies of the Valley, as tradition dictates.
  • The way the tree outside my living room window sways in even the slightest breeze.
  • The picnic at the Parc du Champ De Mars last Sunday with friends.
  • Having an office to go to in Neuilly-Sur-Seine.
  • Making a restaurant reservation over the phone, in french.
  • One of my best friends in Dublin flying to Paris just to celebrate my birthday with me.
  • The classical music concert at Saint Chapelle with that friend.
  • The “Ça va?” I get from the waiter as I walk by the cafe where I am a regular.
  • Writing jokes in french as part of my language class assignment, and getting laughs from my classmates when I read them out loud.
  • The magical thunder storm on Friday night. I opened my windows wide and just listened and breathed in the air.
  • The dinner party last night where our host made “french mex” (it was delicious!).

Now, I’m off to add enjoy this beautiful day and add to the list.

Bon dimanche à vous!

 

 

 

 

Goodbye to the Hill…

The other night I met my friend for a drink at The Hill pub in Ranelagh. The Hill is famous. It has been a part of Ranelagh since 1845. It even appeared in a book by Irish author Lee Dunne, called, Goodbye to the Hill. Every Dubliner, not just those living in Ranelagh, know it. Which makes it very convenient when I am telling taxi drivers or delivery people how to find my house – I literally live right around the corner from it.

The Hill has always personified the traditional old Irish Pub to me. While they only served little airplane bottles of wine, they poured one helluva pint of Guinness. The only food they served were tiny bags of peanuts or crisps. The bar was usually lined with regulars – male and well past seventy years old.

Since moving into this house, I’ve always brought my out-of-town guests to The Hill for a proper pint – and they’ve always loved it. I’ve developed a fondness for The Hill during my time in Ranelagh. It’s always been scrappy and unprententious – and rather empty. Part of its charm was knowing that I could walk in, even on a Saturday night, and there’d be a table (okay, several) available. Not being one for crowds, or even people, I loved this. But it’s hard to imagine how the owners made any money.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when I was there earlier this week I learned that The Hill is under new ownership and is now going to be a gastropub specializing in craft beers. I am not sure how I feel about this. I like that I can now order an actual glass of wine. I like a nice craft beer as much as the next person. And it’s still The Hill, so I think it’s safe to assume that their Guinness pour will remain unchanged. The kitchen isn’t operational yet but within a few weeks, they will serve what I’m sure will be lovely gastropub food, that I’ll probably enjoy more than the tiny packs of peanuts that made up the old Hill’s menu.

But as my friend and I were chatting, I noticed first one, then another, then a few more bearded, hair-gelled, skinny-jeaned hipsters walk in and make themselves at home – something I doubt they would have done during the previous Hill’s incarnation. It was all I could do to resist the urge to tackle them and take a razor to their stupid, pretentious faces.

I’m sure that I will drink and eat at this new Hill. I imagine I’ll still bring my out-of-town guests there. But I can’t help feeling that this change may not be for the better. Ranelagh has, I think, suffered quite a loss.

 

 

 

 

Return to La La Land…

April has been a whirlwind of a month so far. I got an unexpected but very welcome new job that required me to spend the last two weeks in Toronto and Los Angeles and now I am back in Dublin for just one week before I head to Paris for six weeks – it’s all very jet-setty and very exciting, but also very exhausting.

The travel to Toronto was a huge positive for me. Going to Toronto basically means going home, and I was lucky enough to get three days in Buffalo between time in Canada and that place with the earthquakes and sunshine where I used to live.

Los Angeles.

Los Angeles and I have always had a troubled relationship. I’ve lived there twice. The first time, I fled after less than a year vowing never to return. But then I did. And that second breakup took eight years. My first exit from Los Angeles was, quite literally, spurred by violence. A huge earthquake shattered not only the city in which I was living, but my also dreams.

My second stint in LA was a more codependent relationship. Despite carpe-ing my diems and leaping without regard for a net, my time in LA was filled with anxiety, disappointment and more shattered dreams – though, thankfully, no earthquakes worth mentioning.  But when I left LA that time, I was moving toward something rather than running away. I had my sights set on Europe, on Dublin.

That was nearly four years ago. I wasn’t sure how it would feel to return to the City of Angels for which my feelings are decidedly un-angelic. And it was weird. From the moment I stepped outside LAX and breathed in what I can only assume was smog and sunshine, it was weird. For the entire first day, I felt like an outsider looking in. And then in the subsequent days, things began to feel familiar again. My hotel was not far from my old neighborhood. Streets and restaurants and even billboards were the same. And the weather was typical. But that familiar feeling of not belonging returned as well.

It was interesting, and even nice, to return to Los Angeles for a few days. I enjoyed the work that I did while I was there and was very happy to hang with some very dear friends. And I forgot how much I like iced tea and tacos. But if I ever had any fleeting moments of doubt as to whether I made the right decision in leaving LA and moving to Europe, then these few days solidified things for me forever. I know that I belong in Europe. I can feel it.

Though seriously, iced tea is awesome.

 

Trump Change…

I arrived in Dublin in November 2012 – the day before the Presidential election to be exact. And I learned very quickly that asking someone who they voted for isn’t considered rude, as it is in America – it’s just making conversation. Not surprisingly, it was definitely a popular topic of conversation as soon as anyone heard my accent. Taxi drivers, hotel clerks, waiters – everyone was very interested in who this American had voted for. And I was happy enough to engage in the conversation. Being a staunch Obama supporter and knowing that the Irish generally feel quite positive about him, I didn’t think I was in danger of getting into any fierce political arguments.

Now another American Presidential election is upon us. And, here in Ireland, both friends and strangers alike are keen to talk to me about it again. But this time, instead of inquiring about who I am supporting they pretty much just want to know – WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?! The election has gone in a direction that no one predicted. The entire world seems to have been blind-sided – and you all know why.

Trump.

In much the same way non-Americans ask me to explain “why” each time there is a mass shooting back home, they now ask me to explain “why” each time Trump opens his stupid mouth and says something that, up until a few months ago, would have been unbelievable. And my answer is the same. I have no effing clue. I can no more explain why a scary number of Americans love Trump than I can explain why those same Americans love guns.

It has been very interesting (in the same way a car wreck is interesting) to watch the rise of Trump from a distance. Even six short months ago, it all seemed like a joke. Sure, Trump was running but there’s no way people could be stupid enough to believe his racist, sexist, mono-syllabic bullshit. Now, he is all but guaranteed to be the Republican nominee. WTF? This is scary. And not just for America, but for the world.

Because, whether the rest of the world likes it or not, the person who is President of the United States is a matter of importance and significance to everyone, not just Americans.

And Trump as President would be a scary, scary proposition for the entire world. This is the man who promises to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep all the rapists out. This is the man who wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States. This is the man who advocates war crimes. And, oh yeah, he apparently has a big penis.

Please do not ask this expat to explain what is going on in her country because she can’t. I have no words of explanation for this. I cannot begin to understand how this has happened. Or what could happen.

I cannot even fathom an America where Donald Trump is President. I have no idea what that America would be, but it certainly would no longer be my America.