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!