Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The perfect excuse

Having been single for a while before meeting A. I was used to figuring things out by myself. And this includes finding excuses not to do things I didn't want to do. Like, for example, skipping that dinner with the annoying coworker, or scheduling the later than 8am Saturday meeting, or... mostly innocent stuff but things people get really annoyed at if you just say up front that you don't want to do it their way.

And then I met A. and we started going out. And then suddenly, without knowing this was happening, I found the perfect excuse for everything! It started by actual statements like:
- Hey, can you help me clean my house at 8am on Sunday?
- Sorry... My boyfriend...

And I realized that before I finished the sentence people were usually nodding and saying something like "I understand". Wow! It is amazing! Even if what I meant to say was "My boyfriend and I could help you at 9am though", people did not expect anything out of me as soon the reference to a male came out. And so I got hooked... even if before I really disliked women that used their "guys" as excuses, I suddenly understood how much easier it is than coming up with a new excuse each time. So if someone asked or suggested some lame activity and/or lame time A. would be suggested and the matter was settled in my favor.
Don't you think it is amazing how this works so well? And, I also know it works for A. using me as the boring and controlling girlfriend/wife when he doesn't want to do something. So at least it goes both ways! And I think I now understand why my mom blamed us (kids) when she did not want to accept some invitation... maybe it works even better then!

Just a quickie

Busy with the end of the semester over here. So decided to post this video, just because it made me laugh at a moment of distress.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How the world works

As we are settling in Europe and trying to make sense of the world around us, comparisons with other countries and other mentalities are inevitable. So here is a summary of what A. and I discussed and concluded about the underlying process in making things work:

USA: Things are set up for convenience and practicality. Drive thru (not even "through" as this would not be as efficient), fast food and buffet meals are prime examples of what it means to live in a place where spending time is an inconvenience and people strive to be efficient (and are always keeping the options open). Paperwork and bureaucracy is kept to the minimum and if you are not happy you are welcome to set up a competing business.

Europe: Things work in a certain way because they are meant to work in a certain way. Sometimes this statements is supported by history: it's been done like this for hundreds of years!" And sometimes it is like a dogma that should not be questioned. One consequence is a bigger presence of the State in all matters of civil society, from the public education to strict building code. This includes all business being closed on Sundays, tramways and slow food.

Brazil: Things work on minimum effort. (Of the supplier of the service, of course!) Meaning that there is always an excuse for people to leave work as early as possible. We even joke that Friday is part of the weekend and Monday is the recovery of the weekend. People are proud to not work much and there is usually a "jeitinho" (or way around) to get things done. This means that there is usually an extra form to be filled out anywhere you go, many lines (although this has improved substantially lately) and knowing someone personally is the best way to get things done.

India: Be happy if things work. In India things seem to be done the way that is possible to do things. This makes some amazing things come to life in the least expected occasions (like the perfect cup of chai after being drenched by a monsoon) and also leaves a lot to be desired. Usually the fixes are quick and dirty and most things are not expected to last long. Perhaps this makes people more prone to celebrate smaller accomplishments in life or take time off for social visits (since relatives become an important source of support).

Like living in the ruins at Hampi. It works, doesn't it?

Any other views of the world out there?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Shopping in the high tech age

I was buying train tickets for us in Spain on a website. After finding the time, type of coach, etc etc it was time to pay. In Norway you have a little black gadget that gives you a one time pin code every time you use your card (from logging on to the bank website to online purchases and a bunch of things in between). Well, at that very moment the device went crazy and stopped working. Ok, no problem, I called the bank. Soon some answering machine comes to life and starts giving me options in Norwegian... hum... not good. I dial 9, which just restarts the message... I dial 0 and the phone goes mute. Call again... press #, phone goes mute. Call again, dial 1, dial 1 again and again just hoping that at some point a person will pick up. Ok, someone picks up, I explain my problem and she says: "oh, but you should talk to customer service". Duh, I know, but I don't know what the option is in Norwegian, so she transfers me. I talk to the lady that determines that the device needs to be replaced so they will send one by mail. But that means I cannot use my card until then...

Little devil: just like mine but a different color.

So I pinged A. on skype and asked if I could use his French card to pay for the tickets. He gives me the info and I go back to the website, choose everything and finally get a message that I need to register a cell phone and they will send a one time code by sms. I confirm with A. that no cell phone is registered to the account. I figure it might be a security issue with using a French card to buy Spanish tickets in Norway so I ask A. to try from France. He gets the same issue and proceeds to call the bank to register his cell. Many random dials later he finally gets to talk to a person that speaks English and can register his number. Finally, I go back to the website, choose the ticket, enter A.'s card info, A. then send the sms number by skype to me, I enter it and voilĂ , the ticket is finally bought!

And technology was supposed to make things simpler...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fitting in

I think there are 3 types of "not fitting in". And not to mention that neither is "not belonging", which is a completely different feeling and situation that can happen even once you do fit in.
The first not fitting in and the most common in is when you just arrived at a place, you don't feel like you fit it and it is obvious to everyone around you that you don't have a clue about the place. This happens with me in India for example. I barely know how to get things done or how things work and it is apparent to everyone else that the gori is not from there. This includes all the tourist attraction doormen (that always charge me full price whether I'm wearing a full salwar kameez or not), fruit vendors and rickshaw drivers (who always charge much more than they would charge my in laws or A.).

The second not fitting is is more nuanced. You've been there for a while, you know your way around but people insist on treating you like a foreigner. This for example happens to A. a lot in Europe or even in the US where being brown is not the norm and people assume you don't know how things work. This is also how I think it would be if I lived in India for a while: I would know the basics but people would still act as if I didn't.

And finally there is the third not fitting in type which can be quite amusing or exasperating in same measures. This happens when you just arrived at a place, don't know anything but seem to fit right in (at least others assume so). This first happened when I moved to the US and although I spoke English I could just not understand the strong Southern accept people had. This annoyed people considerably, since they thought I was making fun of them. Another example is A. in Brazil where by looks he fits right in... he even had a woman ask him at a dollar store if he worked there! He was pissed off but I told him to take it as a compliment. And finally, this is what is happening to me here in Norway. People seem to single me out on the street, come straight to me and start speaking Norwegian (asking for what I think are directions). When I answer that I don't speak Norwegian there is usually a "oh" and then they switch to English or just walk off.
The hope for most of these not fitting in situations is that they will change over time and at some point, when you have almost given up hope, you find yourself fitting in!
Although not fitting in is not necessarily bad... Like I was shocked when I found myself suddenly fitting into the US car culture after biking around for 4 years!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Romantic husband

Short story for the day... Last weekend, after getting home from picking A. up from the train station he gets inside shivering.
Me: It's cold, isn't it?
A.: Cold?? I wouldn't pee in this direction if you were not here!
Me: funny look
A.: What? And then you say I'm not romantic...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter fashion

I've been wanting to write a post about this for a while, but wanted to wait and see how much more weird stuff I saw around. Yes, that's right: weird. I know that for most of you coming from frigid areas the pics below won't seem so abnormal, but for me, they are. While I've seen all of these in the streets of Oslo, these are not my photos. I cannot get myself to be blunt and take pics. Also, most of the time it is dark here, which would require flash, which would make it even more awkward. So, here we go:

A must-have in the Winter. While there are many "normal types" these just make my jaw drop every time someone walks by in them:
Who would choose these? I mean, maybe I'm too functional but shoes with fur and snow slush don't seem to go together for me...

And then here is the option for nights out:
Short boots with skinny pants are everywhere. Last I checked (in Brazil) we had a ban about short boots with pants inside (meaning they are usually worn with pants covering the hem). But maybe I'm just outdated.

Next point, starting from same pic: how can the Norwegians survive with such thin pants?? Going out at night, most girls have some really skimpy skirts on with nothing but pantyhoses covering their legs!! I am all for less clothes, but when it is -15oC (5oF) outside I consider it a bit cold...

And I could not find a picture of the general inverted triangle that people here dress as. This means boots (or small shoes), skinny jeans, a short stuffy jacket and a huge scarf. The pic below gets close, but the stuffy jacket is missing...


Or maybe like this (hehehe):

Sometimes it is as if a coat is walking around on sticks :o) And since I mentioned coats... 
This is usually the old lady attire (which means a long fur coat which looks so so heavy) but they could be mistaken for rambling bears at any time:

But you also have the younger generation with oversized faux fur: 

And see the size of the hood? Yup, huge hoods are also "in". 

From the pics above you probably noticed that I don't like like fur... It is mostly the volume and the stray hairs that come with it that I don't like. But seeing something like this makes me balk for other reasons:

Really?? With the dead animal's head and paws hanging around? A bit much I think...

So you might be curious in what I've been going around these days. 
Ta-da! My most favorite piece of clothing, that I bought for a bargain in the last week in the USA (when I knew I'd be coming here). Note: bargain was full price in the US, but half the price of any comparable jacket here. I still feel (and look) like I have a huge blanket wrapped around me, but I'd rather be warm....

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Chapati making

Chapatis are a staple for A. And while living in Raleigh he many times tried to get the owner of Cool Breeze (the local Indian fast food joint) to sell his some for take out (usually they only serve them as part of their thali) to no avail. So he used to go there quite often and order the thali... just for the chapatis...

He even brought me a chapati roller pin and board from India on one of the trips in hopes that it would be widely used. To be honest, they were used only once.... after A. bugged me so much that I said we could do chapatis anytime if he rolled them. We did them once... and never again. Needless to say, he stopped bugging after that :)

Well, now we are in Europe, I have a bigger kitchen (there was no where to roll the chapatis in Raleigh, which had to be done in the carpet covered living room... not a good combination) and I got to making parathas (which are easy and so so yummy!). (The pin and board disappeared somewhere in the moving though...) So yesterday, taking advantage that the chapati eater (A.) was here (and I got another pin), I invited a bunch of friends over for dinner, made some curries and a lot of dough. After some bottles of wine we headed to the kitchen where A. organized a series of contests between everyone while I cooked them. First round was "perfect circle chapati" which was easily won by one of the girls... Then came the "square chapati round" and finally a "holiday season motif" chapati. This is a reindeer chapati:

And at the end they tasted good too! So everyone was quite happy... especially A. who got his chapati crave under control... at least for now! It is just so much more fun to make chapatis in good company.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Showers (or, the best of the USA part 1)

I get home from work... feeling tired and stressed. I put something to cook on the stove. Then comes the moment that makes anything feel much better: a steamy shower! There are variations in temperature (I don't mind taking cold showers once in a while when the temperature is high), in methods and in volume of water.

Home to the infamous bucket and pitcher. I don't like having to hold the pitcher and getting it full of soap. And, while at some places you have hot and cold taps to adjust the temperature, in others you still have to boil water and then proceed with mixing in cold water. I can take it, but am not a fan. It does get an A+ for efficiency though...

Ok, mine is not so shiny... But there are a few perks:
1) The shower head tends to turn and twist around without notice and usually goes everywhere but straight ahead (as seen in pic). Or you can take it off the hook...
2) Noticed that there is no shower curtain? This is not always so, but I've seen this (what I consider indispensable accessory) missing more than once. Differently from India, bathrooms here are not wet. So what is the fun of taking a shower if you have to take care the entire time not to flood the bathroom?
3) Why are they always so low? Norwegians are definitely tall (I'm about average here) and the support for the shower head usually is only as tall as my shoulder (one more reason to use it as handheld).
In my opinion these points make them barely better than the bucket-and-pitcher combo.

Ok, so here we have the usual electric shower used in most households in Brazil.
Not handheld: check!
Height above head: check!
So what is the issue here? Water is heated as it goes through coil in the shower head. This means that the shower only has so much "capacity", meaning that the more water comes out the less it heats. In the Summer this is not a problem since the country is so warm. But in the Winter this means ending up taking a shower of droplets. And in case the fuse blows... bad luck, cold water for the rest of the shower!

Ah... bliss! Shower curtain in place, right height, hot water and, get this: the more you open it the MORE hot water comes out! Add to this that most houses have good water pressure and that's it, your daily troubles are down the drain! I must admit that when I first moved to the US from Brazil, in January in Virginia, I took a cold shower for 2 days because I did not figure out that you have to open the shower more (not less) to have hot water come out. But after this small quirk was fixed I was hooked! Oh, how I miss the US showers! 
Definitely not efficient though...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter pearls

Here are some short conversations I've had in the last few days:

Friend 1: What are you doing over the holidays?
Me: Want to go somewhere warm.
Friend 1: Why? What s really nice is that when it is cold outside you can stay inside.
Me: :S (Can't you stay inside at any point in time?)

Me: I wonder why Norwegians keep their fridge working in the Winter if it is so cold outside...
Friend 2: Because it is too cold outside! You mean why they keep their freezer running?
Me: Yeah...
Friend 2: Maybe it is because they are afraid cats or dogs might eat it.
Me: I have never seen a stray cat or dog here...
Friend 2: True... and probably the food would be too hard for them to eat anyway...

Me: Wow... it's cold!
My boss: A little. But did you know that in Norway they at least cancel preschool if the temperature falls below -16oC.
Me: That was this morning!
My boss: Yeah, but in Russia they don't cancel preschool until it is something like -52oC!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

When being nice is a problem.

Every culture has some unwritten social rules that (most) people abide to. For Brazilians being nice a big thing. For example you offer anything you are going to eat to others before taking a bite, you nicely refuse the bite and only after further probing and being asked 2 or 3 times do you actually accept a favor. Now, this is not to say we did not want the sandwich, or that we did not need help, it is just a social norm. And I follow it... which turns out to be a problem sometimes.

Like when A. and I rented a cabin for the weekend for some friends back in the US, we arrived early and had put our stuff in the master bedroom. When the last couple arrived I (out of habit) asked if they'd like the master bedroom to which they (as good Americans) quickly replied: Sure! A. laughed a lot at the look of dismay on my face, until he realized that I had given out his bed too... meaning we were both bedless.

Fast-forward a few years in which A. tried hard to make me "less nice" with people... And now I'm in Norway, living in an apartment full of boxes (Apt2) with a roommate that is too busy to organize. I asked if I could help (and I really meant it) and she said "no". I asked again... another "no". Yesterday I probed further, as having the apartment as is makes it impossible to cook (which is a must at Oslo prices) and that is getting on my nerves. My roommate again declined, but now she said that she'd rather be the one organizing as she wants things in the place she thinks they should be (meaning she does not trust my organization skills). I understand some people need to be in control of their lives... but to this point?? And then she went on to say that her life is pretty busy right now (work and what not) and that she is hoping to have some time to organize things during the holidays... WHAT??? That is at least 3 weeks away... But I, again, was too nice and said "sure, no problem I know you are busy". And then there is the apartment layout issue...

Here is our new apartment (not drawn to scale... but almost):
I know, weird layout, huh? My roommate found the place and rented it without any input. Ok, fine, I have a lot to do anyway. Then she moved in and gave me the closed bedroom. Great. But after knowing that I have to go through her room to get to the living room and even the bathroom, I'm not so thrilled. How can you have people over if between the kitchen and the dining table you have someone wanting to work or even sleep? So I offered her to take the living room as her room. She was almost harsh and said "no", that she wanted to have a decent living room. Hum... no advance here either!

I can be nice... but sometimes "nice" is so tiring!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Multicultural gym

I decided to try the zumba class at the gym here in Oslo today. The gym here has new classes every month and zumba has been packed for the last 3 months. So yesterday I tried to sign up (yup, you've got to sign up online for each class here) and luckily was number 2 in the wait list. Today those 2 people cancelled and when I got to the gym I got the pass...

Now, I must admit I had no clue what the class was about. I'm usually lazy about running, so I like group classes mainly for trying something different and not yet monotonous. And for that same reason I sign up for classes I have no clue about: at least they are unexpected!

Early on I realize this is dancing mixed with aerobics. Hum... tricky. Being Brazilian everyone expects me to be great at dancing... but my German genetics don't allow it (I feel like a broomstick trying to move around). Add to it some shyness and group exposure is a bad result. Well, at least no one at the gym class knows I don't speak Norwegian, let alone that I'm from another continent.

We start with some latin music... then, to my surprise comes samba! (And the general lack of coordination makes me feel better.)
Then some salsa... ok...
Some other songs... And, when I'm almost relaxing, comes funk from Rio de Janeiro.

Now, I need to pause to explain that the funk in Rio (called funk carioca) is a style in its own, the lyrics are always very graphic and describe men dominating women and sex. As most pop songs in Brazil, lyrics are usually not paid attention to, which makes them worse. Then there is a coreography, which is as explicit as you can get in public. Funk carioca is very heavy on ass shaking and back and forth motions to be more exact.

As the song tchutchuca (for videos you can always do your own search :P ) picks up in the gym class I blush. I mean, in Brazil I always refused to dance these songs... they are a bit over the top for me. And here in Norway, where no one has a clue about the lyrics the girls start to roll their waist, shake their butts and dance as if... Well, could I argue that not knowing the lyrics makes it ok? Then at least I could use the comparative advantage of knowing the choreography beforehand... Ah... stupidity is bliss.

And with export products like this it is no wonder that Brazilians abroad have to put up with ideas that our country is all about soccer (football), naked women, and carnival...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Back to the freezer

After being in Paris for a whole 10 days it is time to go back to Oslo (aka the freezer). Sad to be leaving Paris? Definitely. Sorry to be going to Oslo? Not really. The 10 days here in Paris were great to spend time with A.. We did a lot of sight seeing and partying (I'm still recovering from Friday...), spent time together, etc like the good ol' days in Raleigh. But it is also easy to see that my life is not here.

- First, I've never been good at working from home. There is always something more interesting to do, be it cooking, dishes, cleaning or even just plain procrastinating. I also don't like to work by myself and enjoy the sounds of people chatting, occasional hellos and just not feeling like I am the only one who's stuck in a place with work (I wrote my PhD thesis at coffee shops where I knew all the owners and got special deals). So working from a 40m2 apartment the entire week was crazy (and not very productive).

- It is evident that A.'s life is here: his work, his friends, his gossip, he knows the quirks and the ways things work. And it is hard to catch up! Whenever we go out I hang out with A. (primarily) or anyone that cares to "network" with me (it is crazy how these MBA's calculate how much time they are spending on each person and have to rationalize it as networking). Most of A.'s class (around 75%) are single males... which means they are on a hunt, especially for younger French girls from the rest of the university. The married ones usually don't go out and I cannot really relate much to the housewives who's main topic of conversation is shopping and kids. Having no one to talk to is tough! But, hey, I've been sitting on the same chair by myself the whole day and NEED to spend some of my daily word quota!

- This means that not only was I working from home, but as soon as A. got back I would flood him with questions, conversation, chatting and talking which he doesn't like. I understand that when you are mentally tired and have been around people the entire day you might not want to chat. As the week went on A. became more and more intolerant to random questions... "Why do you think the bar is so empty?" "Is there going to be food at the Japanese week event?" "Where is X from?" Not that I really cared about the answers, and a plain "Don't know." would have done the trick. I admit I was trying to keep his attention and was not doing a good job. But to blow up after 2 innocent questions is a bit much to take. I understand he does not have all info but he's the best and only source of information I have so sometimes I ask just to see if there is any info out there, not that I really need it.

So while in Paris I get to have A. close by, I think it is high time to get back to where my life is. Oslo is where I am motivated to work in a team, where I have a schedule, where I get things done, and where I have some friends. But on the other hand I'm just hoping this year apart will fly by so that we can just get back to having both lives in the same place...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Indians and visas: the nightmare (Part II)

Someone from the Moroccan embassy called this morning... I picked up, explained I was A.'s wife and said A. wasn't home. The guy did not tell me anything, just asked me to tell A. to call them asap. I was surprised to get a call so early (merely 2 days after applying) and thought that maybe there was some document missing in the application.

When A. got home for lunch he headed straight to the phone... 20 attempts later (no one was picking up) the same guy he talked to at the consulate picked up. And the result of A.'s Moroccan visa application was an unapologetic, without reason, resounding denial! This had never happened to A. before as he quickly pointed out to the guy. The guy went on to say that they did not make the decisions about visas, they had sent his application by mail to Morocco and had only received the result. (By mail in 2 days????????). On the reason for the denial, no clue either.

So that leaves us with useless air tickets to and from Morocco worth €450 (unchangeable). The 2 friends that are coming to the US to travel with us have been told by email (no response yet). But, overall, the worse is the feeling of being stranded and powerless. Why deny a tourist visa for 2 weeks?? Why can't we have more clearcut visa rules around? Are visas like lotteries in which at some point in time your unlucky number is drawn and you are denied the right to travel? Damn!

I'm pissed and sad... And I offered to go get the passport back from the consulate (since A. has class) so I guess all there is for me to do is sit on the trains for 5 hours...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Life lessons

When I was small I always dreamed about traveling far and wide.
As I grew older I tried to go after this dream as well as I could.
And I managed to go far... quite far and wide.
But I never thought that "far" had a limit.
Probably it doesn't... there is always one more place you have not seen yet.
But time goes by...
As I get older I begin understanding why people actually end up settling down.
"Where" is still a big question (too big for now)
But I find myself missing places, and specially friends made and left behind more and more
So I'm wondering whether settling down is actually about accepting the place you are at
Instead of not going around anymore.

The best of developing countries

Any developing country has them, but they are almost impossible to find in more developed parts of the world:

Can you see how many things this little store sells? And inside the store there was everything you might need from hairbrushes, to cooking pots, to soap, to rain jackets, to needles and thread, to plastic toys, to fake Christmas trees, to... anything! Usually in the USA you can find all this at a Wal Mart type place, which is huge and usually requires a car to get to. The beauty of developing country stores is that there is one in almost every neighborhood. So if you run out of something essential, you just head down the street and get it.

Yesterday, after the whole visa episode, we were walking around Paris (in an immigrant neighborhood) and guess what!! We found the store above! Having no car and still getting used to the long time it takes to get by train to almost anywhere, this was too good to pass. We went in and in 10 minutes found all we needed for the house: clothes hangers, toothpicks, comb, tupperware, grater, winter caps, a thermos, nail cutter, and even cotton balls. All for a very good price too!

I guess developed places also have the advantage of immigrant communities, so maybe it is just a matter of knowing where to look... A. wasn't too excited about carrying the backpack full of stuff for the rest of the afternoon though ;o)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Indians and visas: the nightmare

Anyone that has traveled with an Indian friend, boyfriend, family member, or is an Indiam him(her)self knows that Indians need visas to go almost anywhere in the world. This means that whenever A. and I want to travel abroad he needs to get one. Sometimes it is easier (like getting a Brazilian visa by mail in the USA), sometimes it is expected (like the hassle everyone goes through to get an American visa), sometimes it just happens to not be so hard (like when there is a Mexican consulate in Raleigh that is always empty and doesn't even require appointments) and sometimes, like today, it drives A. crazy.

Some friends of ours from the USA suggested an end of the year trip and we ended up settling on Morocco. At the time we got the tickets I mentioned to A. that he needed a visa and he said he's get it (without having checked what it entailed). As the trip is less than a month away now A. and I started searching for information on how to apply for a visa. The website did not help (all in French, and even after translation it did not provide much info) and upon calling them I was told that for Indians the visa application was sent to Morocco for approval, which could take up to 6 weeks!! Needless to say we headed to the consulate the very next day (today) to apply for the visa. The Moroccan consulate turns out to be about 2.5 hours by train from A.'s apartment... which means that he missed a day of classes. I went with him for the moral support, hoping to catch up on the work later in the week. Arriving at the consulate was interesting... an old house, with lots of papers pasted on the walls (in French and mostly in Arabic), many people sitting around in confusion and lot's of offices filled with desks covered in papers (and with oil paintings of old men on the walls). A. went in.

The guy takes all the papers and hands him a "new" visa application form to be filled out saying that the application A. had downloaded from their website was an old one. Then A. returns with the new form and the guys goes through all papers and passport and starts asking questions:
"So, your name is A.?" (No, duh, his name is Mustafa!)
"Are you from India?" (Hum... had he just gotten the wrong cover for his Canadian passport??)
"So you are married to a German woman?" (Yes, I'm both Brazilian and German... but I like the stress on woman he put in the sentence).
"You and your wife live together?"
"Does she work?"
"Why do you want to go to Morocco?" (Because it happens to be nice and warm when it is chilly here)
"Why Morocco?" (By now A. was questioning that himself...)

So he kept A.'s passport and said that the visa might be done in a week. There is no proof A. ever applied for a visa or that they have his passport (which happens to be his only ID in France), except for a handwritten note with a name and a phone number he should call in one week. And then 2.5 hours to get there and 2.5 hours back...

As I mentioned above, I have dual citizenship (my grandparents on my father's side were German and the nationality was passed down to me). Having a developing and a developed country passport has turned out to be super useful to travel around. No need for visas, even work authorization in Norway, etc.

But visas also reflect a country's foreign policy. Brazil's visa requirements are based on the rule of reciprocity: if a given country requires an entry visa for a Brazilian citizen then Brazil requires an entry visa for citizens of that country. This is why Americans need a visa to go to Brazil but Europeans do not. On the other hand, only citizens of Buthan, Nepal and Maldives do not need a visa to visit India...

If you are interested in checking out how many countries you can visit without needing a visa, check out the Henley Index. The score each country gets is the number of countries that it's citizens do not need a visa to visit.

Any horror stories to share?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Paris as a tourist

On Saturday we went around Paris. We woke up early (a great feat!!), took the train and arrived in Paris right on time to have lunch at Saravana Bhavan. This place is a South Indian institution, with delicious dosas, thalis, idlis, and anything else you might be craving for. A. had found out they have a restaurant in Paris and was eager to try it out!

A. super excited with his thali, puris and papads.

After a huge meal we walked around the neighborhood and stocked up on Indian groceries and veggies. Nice to find a place carrying them here! If only A.'s school wasn't 1:30 from this place by train I'm sure he'd be here every day!

From there we headed to the Eiffel Tower and A.'s new student-on-a-budget mentality kicked in and he did not want to go up. "Are you nuts? Pay to go up the tower? I've seen it from down here and this is fine for me". I finally convinced him that it was ok to pay €4,50 to climb the stairs, so up we went. It was definitely worth it, as the view is quite amazing.

Windy pic.

Back down we walked around a bit and then decided to go to the Latin Quarter for some Latin food. Well, it seems like many tourists make this mistake... but the Latin Quarter has nothing to do with Latin culture other than the universities located there that used to teach in Latin!! So, as cheap tourists we ended up searching Paris guide books at a bookstore for a good place to eat. Off we went for St. Paul. And, on the way, was Notre Dame cathedral:

Notre Dame at night.

Not bad, not bad. The place we headed to was actually closed, but it was in a very cute Israeli part of town, where we found a great place selling fallafel. It was an amazing meal, that was topped off with some pistachio gelatto we got next door. We headed back home and crashed. What a good Saturday!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

And next?

A. is doing his MBA in Paris. But his university has the option of doing a dual degree. This means that he would do one year in Paris (ending in April 2011) and then the second year could be undertaken in any of the schools his university has agreements with. The choices are vast... from London to Singapore and China, Mexico, Brazil, etc, etc (nope, no options in Norway). And A. is excited about going elsewhere (hopefully a developing country) and increasing his network (it's all about networking in an MBA) and getting some more international experience.

So as the end of his first semester approaches, A. has to start applying for a place to do his dual degree. Each day a different option seems to pick our fancy... it has varied from Mexico to London, he suggests Brazil, I counter with India. But lately Brazil seems to be the option of choice. And that's when an interesting interaction occurs:
A. has been learning Portuguese with me and then had a month of classes in Rio de Janeiro in May. So he wants to put this knowledge to work by doing an MBA in Brazil. I am not as excited about this as he is. Not that I don't love my country, but I've always believed that a third country would be easier for us to live in. In Brazil I will have no problems with language, culture, and all the quirks that come from living in a different culture than your own. However, for A. everything will be new: new language (including classes in Portuguese), new classmates (differently from his school in Paris in which only 10% of the student are French, in Brazil 99.9% will be Brazilians), new culture, new everything. Yes, he's been there and has an idea of what to expect but that's quite different from living there for a longer while. And then there are all the not-so-nice comments we make about countries other than our own, but that can be hurtful for the people of that country. I mean, we all know the problems of our countries, but we don't like them thrown in our face. So I am worried about moving to Brazil and A. is worried that I'm worried about moving there. I think he's a little overoptimistic about the whole thing, not that he would not do well professionally, but I think that personally the difficulties will be a tad greater than he's considering.

Then there is the job issue. Yes, I'm flexible where I work, but changing jobs every year is not  a good strategy. There is the job seeking, applying, interviews, and besides, in my field, let's just say that there are not jobs in every corner. To find work at a university in Brazil is mainly a matter of luck: post docs are badly paid and scarce and faculty positions are even scarcer. (The latter point has to do with public servants keeping their job until they retire without a chance of being fired and there not being so many universities in my field.) So I told A. I would like to consider Brazil if we could stay more than a year there, to which he said he's fine, since he hopes to work in Brazil for a while after the MBA.

Yes, I guess the best is to stop wondering and be patient...

So this is where we stand right now. Making decisions in a couple in which both have careers, both are hard headed and both have an idea about what they want to do is hard!!!!!!!!!
Any experiences in how to reconcile such decisions?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Southern France

Just a quick update...

I arrived back in Oslo from Italy on Sunday. I taught class (the last class of the semester!!!) and packed my entire Oslo stuff on Monday.  And went to work on Tuesday. After work I managed to skip by the doctor (finally got one... but she doesn't speak English...) and then took the train to the airport. At 9:50pm I arrived at A.'s apartment... exhausted but happy to be there.

On a related note... I'm realizing how A. is changing. Not on weekends when we travel together, but mostly on a daily routine way... For example, last night we were in bed, almost asleep talking a little about nothing much and he just jumped out without saying a word! I stayed in bed asking what it was... to no avail... he didn't even answer. I fell asleep wondering if I had said something wrong, if he was mad or if something else was bothering him (yes, female over-analysis). This morning when we got up I asked him what was the jumping out of bed for. His reply: "oh, nothing, I was just hungry and went to find something to eat!". This is definitely a changed A., in Raleigh he would have asked me to help him fix something, but now he's clearly independent (as he likes to stress).

A.'s class and exam schedule is taking up a whole lot of his time, which is understandable (almost anyone that has gone through grad school knows how it is) but I think it is especially harder after a long break of 9 years in which A. was working. This means that he's usually in a rush during the week nowadays and sometimes works in the evenings too. Which is also funny as when I was doing my PhD he insisted that working at night was merely mismanaging your day time. :P

Today (the next day after all this traveling) I took the train in the afternoon to Clermont Ferrand, in Southern France, where I will be for the next 2 days. Then I go back to Paris for 10 looooooooooooong days!! Yay!! I'm looking forward to having so much time with A.!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Winter musings

It snowed! A considerable amount! And life went on as usual, without more than a smile of people walking through the dense flakes hoping they could keep falling so the skiing season would start soon. This is not good... where I come from it never snows. Where I moved from (Raleigh, USA), any snow was enough to shut down the whole city. And where I live now snow is nothing more than the sign that even more snow is to come. Cars have already had their winter tires one for a few weeks, streets are salted and coats are out of the closet. Nothing new...

Well, except for the Brazilian over here... I have kept on my challenge to keep biking as long as possible. I thought the experience of biking in the snow I accumulated from living in the mountains in Southwest Virginia would be enough. But today was different. When biking back from my office to the train station I noticed my gears were not shifting properly... didn't give it a second thought. Then when I was about to start a downhill I pulled my brakes and... they were frozen!! They did not move (and this had never happened to me before), so my feet were the brakes on the slippery refreezing-snow-turning-into-ice. I finally made it to the station and quickly locked my bike and walked/wadded to the overpass (in my knee long black coat I felt like a true penguin). Up the stairs, down the stairs... and then, when I was almost at the platform... thump!

Yup, that was me... suddenly sitting on my butt.

Tomorrow will be worse with all the water refrozen into ice... Let's just hope I safely make it down the hill from my apartment to the train station ;o)

PS- I know... it is not even Winter yet. But it snowed 15cm (5") last night and now it is -8oC (20oF) out there so I refuse to call this anything else.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Long weekend

Ah... it is times like the last 4 days that make the whole long distance time worthwhile. A. did not have class on Thursday and Friday so I had bought tickets for us to go to Italy. Well, I still had to find an excuse not to go to work on those days, since there was no break for me. Opportunity arose in an email exchange with my boss on Wednesday morning, when I "casually" said I'd work from home the next 2 days. He didn't ask anything else, and therefore "working from home" was the best I could come up with. That was good enough for me, so on that evening I took the flight to Milan and met A. at 11pm when he arrived on his flight from Paris. Not bad!
A. in front of the Duomo in Milan.

We took the bus to the city, found our hotel and crashed. Next day we slept until noon (actually, A. slept until noon and I tried to do some emailing for work... to keep the bosses content) and then wandered around the city. We saw the Duomo (cathedral) and then the Castello Sforzesco, which was from where the Sforzesco family ruled the region. They are both quite impressive. At night we decided to try some real Italian food (aka pizza) and ended up being quite disappointed when the cook walked by... he was Chinese!!

Pizza in hand and ready to board the train!

The next day we did some lazying around the hotel and then went off to the train station. A. was impressed at how I understood the Italian ticket vendor ranting off in Italian about the time of the trains, the tickets, etc. It definitely pays off to know some other Latin languages ;o) We took the train to Venice and arrived mid afternoon.
First view right off the train in Venice.

And Venice is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! I thought so the first time I went several years back, but going back now only made me like it more. A. had not been there and also loved it. It is like a huge city-sized maze formed by over 100 islands with canals cutting through them and bridges to cross at strategic points. We loved just walking randomly in any direction and then, when completely lost, following the next group of tourists, checking our map or just walking some more until a landmark popped out of nowhere. It is a magical place, full of history, past wealth and amazing architecture, and all decently preserved too!!

Me! Roaming around Venice.

We had a great 4 days. And like so many times we meet these days there seems to be no nagging, no annoying each other, just really enjoying time together. And yes, all this comes at the price of being apart during the week, but most probably we would not be traveling as much if we lived together. How many weekends did we just pass on the couch, postponing the cleaning and doing some cooking? Too many! It is just so easy to stick to routine... But now that we have to put in the effort of travel to see each other we are doing more, both in terms of showing the other around the place we live but also enjoying discovering all the quirks Europe has to offer! And may there be many more to come!

Venice by night.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Endurance and sunrises

My eyes sting with tears, my face burns, I can hardly feel my nose.... My legs seem as hard as rock, but they must continue pedaling as fast as they can in order to minimize the torture...

Seems like a horror movie scene or... just my 5 minute bike ride from office to the train station (or reverse in the morning). With temperatures around -5oC (in the lower 20s) in the morning and afternoons this week and highs around zero (when I'm in the office) biking has been a challenge. I've insisted on biking since I see the trade off as being a choice between longer exposure and less wind (walk) or shorter exposure and more wind (biking) and the latter has won so far. Let's see how long it lasts!

The other day I brought my down jacket to work and my boss teased me asking me: "Why did you already bring my -20oC (-5oF) jacket out?" Well... let's just say that I'm not used to this range in temperature. But I do hope the jacket continues to keep me warm when it gets colder!! For now it has been the best thing I brought with me (purchased in the US especially for this Nordic climate as soon as I knew I was moving here!!).

On a related topic, I see the sunrise every morning! In Brazil this would probably mean that you are partying all the time. Well, here it is not so. I get up at 7am now and there is barely any light. At 8:15am when the train pulls into the station is about the time the sun shows its first rays. Getting ready for the dark winter months...
But people say that everything becomes brighter when it snows (snow reflects light). So let's see if they are right tomorrow, since the forecast says it is going to snow tonight!