Friday, February 18, 2011

Guess where I am?

Ah... it was amazing to get off the plane this afternoon and, despite instinctively bracing myself for the cold air outside, not feel any difference in temperature! It was just as warm outside as it was inside the plane, and it quickly became too warm for the jacket I had been using while walking in the snow towards the train station this morning in Oslo.

And just now, while waiting for A. at the hotel I started hearing thunder and, shortly after, the comforting sound of big drops of rain splashing against the window. Bliss! I love the sound of rain and thunder, especially when you are warm and dry and can watch the spectacle. This is one of the things I miss the most about very cold winters: snow is silent! It is like comparing a silent movie and one with a soundtrack... ;o)

So where am I? Currently in Athens, Greece.
And what justifies my location? Well, some craziness... A. has no classes this week and wanted to travel, I have to work though, so after some discussions I asked my boss if I stay a week away from the office, to which he agreed and I bought the tickets! I still need to work, but I brought my laptop and I have to plan classes for when I get back, so I'm hoping to get at least a couple of super productive hours of work each day.
Well, I guess they say people usually regret what they didn't do more than what they did... I'm betting on this!

And what's the plan? Well, no plan yet. Just got the tickets and booked us 2 nights in Athens. From here we might rent a car to go around the mainland or head to an island... Although from what I'm reading islands might be a bit like ghost towns this time of the year. So let's see...

No pics yet, but will post some soon!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How much is a good boss worth?

Not in terms of money, but also in terms of quality of work. Having someone cheering you on, while also helping out when you get stuck really makes a difference in how you see your work experience. So I am very happy to say that I have a great boss now.

Ok, ok... that would not have been enough for a post, after all blogs are usually about "issues". A. just got accepted for a dual degree at a Brazilian university. This means that he's going to be there at the most by August. And we are both tired of the long distance thing... If Oslo-Paris is far I can definitely not imagine Oslo-São Paulo. But how much am I willing to compromise to fix it?

So A. is going to Brazil and I'm going with him. But I am most definitely not the house-wife type and cannot envision myself in an apartment full time. Do I look for a new job? I have an very good offer in Brasília, but this would again be 1300km (800 miles) from São Paulo.... Do I try to keep the current job I have by negotiating time in Brazil and time in Norway? But then, this is not a permanent position, so is it worth sticking around? Do I stick to looking for jobs in São Paulo, despite knowing my chances there are lower?

Too many questions floating around... I guess this shows some of the difficulties of managing 2 careers all over the world simultaneously...

Monday, February 14, 2011


As we all know by now, food in Brazil is bland. We love onions, garlic, bay leaves, parsley and even sometimes coriander and cumin, but that's it. As my SIL put it: "But these are not spices!!" Well, you get the idea about our spiciness (granted that there are a few states that have African influences that make food spicier... but not much). So when A. first came to visit my Mom, who had been forewarned about his preference for spicy food, first thing she recommended was to go to the market and get some hot sauce.

A chilli stand in Barcelona... with spicier chillies than in Brazil.

Off A. and I went... and quickly found the stand full of red hotness in the form of chillies. I asked for the hottest. The vendor showed me some bottles... I asked which of them was the hottest and he asked if I really wanted THE hottest. I replied yes and he gave me a bottle of PQP (short for a curse word in Portuguese) recommending that I be extremely careful with it. I nodded and walked off.

During lunch there were some guests and my mom served some home grown chillies (cured in oil) along with the PQP sauce we got. And while her friends were complaining about how hot her home sauce was, A. was spooning PQP into his plate, mumbling that it was still not spicy enough.

Next day A. and I would have lunch later and my mom left some batter for manioc fritters ready to fry. Knowing that as it was A. would not like them much I put about 1/4 of the PQP sauce into the batter and then fried them. I did not tell A. at the time that the PQP sauce was my addition and did not tell my mom that I tampered her batter, but since then A. always says that this was the best dish my Mom made while he was there. I just have to come up with excuses why she did not make them the same ever again...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Brazilian wedding, part 1

A little explanation is needed before delving into the story...
In Portuguese:
Casar: (verb) to get married. Pronounced: kazar.
Caҫar: (verb) to hunt. Pronounced: kassar.

I called my mom back in March 2010 while walking on campus and after talking about a few things I said:
"Mom, I'm getting married."
"What? Can't hear you..."
"Mom, I'm getting married."
"What? Who are you going hunting with?" (She was mixing up the verbs above.)
"Mom, I'm getting married!" (Detail: the quality of the phone call was fine during the previous topics...)
"Against whom?"
"What?? A. of course! But not against him..."
"Oh... wow... (silence) this is a surprise..."
"Mom... we've been living together for 3 years..."
"Yeah, I know, but still... so suddenly... When will it be?"
"We are thinking about June..."
"That's 3 months away!!"
"Exactly, but we want something small anyway. What are the minimum family requirements?"
"Well... we can have a small ceremony at my house, just family and a few friends..."
We chatted a few more lines and I hung up, as she needed to recover from the shock :P

The very next day Mom calls me:
"Hi! Do you have a list of guests for the wedding yet??"
"Well, I have put one together and I wanted to compare it to yours. Very small, nothing big..."
"Sorry Ma, no list yet."
"Hum... I'm wondering if I should include some extra slots beyond the 200 names I've got so far then."
200?? And it was supposed to be small!

Well... this is how the crazy Brazilian wedding started...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rice is rice, right?

Oh no... never... How could I have been so naïve?

Basmati rice.

Early on when A. and I were at the dating stage, when going grocery shopping together was a new experience and when cooking dinners was something special... We were in the aisle of an Indian grocery store, trying to figure out which 5kg bag of rice we'd get. Why get a 5kg bag of rice for 2 people was beyond me, so the only reason I could conjure was saving on money. Which lead me to suggest a cheaper bag of rice to A. instead of the sona masoori he had in his hands. A. promptly dismissed my choice, mumbling something under his breath.  Then I asked:

But rice is rice, right?
Oh boy, the look on his face was that of complete disappointment. He was probably weighing the odds of being able to keep a relationship with a person so dismissive of... rice! 

I admit I'm not a rice person. Yes, many people in Brazil have rice and beans every day, but 1) I'm not one of those and 2) I've always been more of a beans and rice person anyway (or, even better, beans with manioc flour!!). Also, in Brazil we basically have 1 type of rice which is classified into different categories based on quality (broken grains included or not) and whether it is parboiled. That's it! And the making of the rice is different, usually including frying some onions and garlic, then adding the rice, frying some more, then adding (gasp!) salt, and then water. Meaning that the actual taste of the rice is not something we focus on.

Brazilian rice and beans. But note they are usually just sides.

A. on the other hand loves rice. Basmati rice above all. He can differentiate types of rice by their smell, look and taste. He easily eats more than 5 kgs of rice by himself in a month. If there is rice a meal is complete, without it no matter how many curries there are, there will always be something missing. Fried rice or carrot/tomato/coconut/lemon/tamarind rice are full fledged meals for him. You get the picture.

So, years later, what happened? We did get the 5kg sona masoori, A. continues eating rice as much as always, and I, well, I admit I've learned to recognize basmati rice.... but please bring me the sides! 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mastering Indian breakfast

There are 2 dimensions to mastering Indian breakfasts: the taste and the cooking.

On the taste criteria let's just say that spice in the morning does take a lot to get used to. Chillies for breakfast were never in my menu in pre-A. times. Therefore, when we first moved in together we were still sticking to cereal, banana bread and the like. Soon came A.'s craving for something more Indian, and I learned to cook upma. It's easy, A. liked it and I would usually not eat it. Well, after a while upma became more interesting to me and I started having some when I cooked it. When in India the less spicy choice were idlis, but idlis embody the epitome of "empty calories" for me: tasteless carbohydrates. Not that I don't eat them, it all depends on the sambar/chutneys accompanying them but if there is an alternative...


But then a major breakthrough came when I discovered dosas. I love the crispy texture! So different from
idlis yet from the same batter...

Dosa with sambar and chutneys.

Unfortunately when I tried making dosas they always got stuck to the pan. I tried different recipes, different doughs, but all ended in the same way. So I gave up (temporarily) and went back to upma and rices, besides bread and cereals. I even got to saying that my objective in mastering Indian cooking was to be able to make paper dosas.

Only this past year did I give parathas a go. I really like them, I like the idea of whole wheat flour, but I could not figure out how to get the potato mix into the dough. During my last trip to India I saw a friend rolling them out and then once I got back I googled a recipe: instant success! And easy too! (Especially if you have a nice countertop to roll them on... which I did not have until last semester.)

Then, finally, last week I decided to go back to dosas... A. misses them dearly and it is nowhere to be found in Oslo. One more try, low expectations, A. decided to help oiling the pan, and ta-da! It worked!!! A. guarantees it is his oiling technique but my guess is the new non-stick pan I used (the previous one had some scratches). Not too bad at all! Just like pancakes, with a little extra work in spreading the dough. And the masala was good too! A. ate a package of ready-made dosa mix almost by himself!

It is hard to find time to cook in the morning, so we usually stick to these innovations on the weekends. It is also just as much work to cook them for 1 or for 5 people, so I never cook them for myself alone. But now that we are living apart, sometimes I want A.'s visit to come quicker, just to justify some Indian breakfast cooking!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ranting and skiing

After some months living in Oslo and a pretty slow social life I decided to try to find our where the expats are hiding. Having tried to socialize with Norwegians to little avail I figured that there should be more people out there with similar issues. So looked online for groups of expats and found 2.

Went to the first meeting last week, and although it was nice to be in a place that I could understand what (almost) everyone was saying (mostly English hehehe) the topics were a bit off. Most of it was strictly for networking purposes for business, so working at a university was not that popular for other people there. Yesterday I joined the other group for a Thai dinner and a beer afterwards. The group was much smaller, which makes it a lot easier for me (not much into unknown crowds) and I had a good time. It is interesting to see that indeed all foreigners seem to have the same difficulties here. And I admit it was nice to find someone to bitch to.

So what did we talk about?
Mainly that life quality here in Oslo is great, but social life is lacking. That is it quite hard to make friends here. Norwegians seem to have the belief that you make friends in school and then stick to those friends, making it hard for foreigners or new comers to join a set group. They are also reluctant to invest energy in people that are not here for long, so usually the second question that pops up in a conversation is "so, for how long are you staying here?" And the answer to this question can pretty much determine whether the conversation continues (i.e. if you answer is more than 2 years) or ends abruptly. In retrospect I think I was being a bit too candid when I got here, saying that it is hard for me to plan more than a year at a time and therefore I did not know how long I would be here.... wrong answer!

How to get a Norwegian involved in a conversation? The answer to this one seems to be unanimous: skiing topics! You can ask about what type of skis to buy, what wax to use on any given day, what the snow conditions are like.... It's almost like talking about the weather, but a bit more specific. Makes me wonder what people talk about in the Summer. But in an attempt to integrate into society here and figure out what skiing is all about I gave it a try this week. I had never skied before and don't seem to be a natural at it, so it was nice that some professors organized a "class" for international students and researchers. We basically never left the flat area right in the middle of the university, mostly playing around in the mini hill next to it. But it was fun... to the point I'm even considering buying my own skis.

Group pic.

Completely flat.

Not bad!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Women's worst enemies

Ok, so why is it that women make lives of other women so much harder? This topic has come up several times recently (like in yesterday's post), in different settings, with different people, in different contexts, and even in different countries but the conclusion seems to be unanimous: women make other women's lives complicated.

It all started last Saturday during our get together when the 6 guys present said that women are complicated. It was especially funny to see their reaction when the 4 women present resoundingly agreed. I mean, we know women are complicated. And that's why we (most women) like men. So it was up to the guys to explain why they like complicated women, but no reasonable answer came out (except physical attraction). Then one of the girls brought up the topic of how mean women can be to each other, giving an example that she'd MUCH rather have a job interview with a guy than a woman. And we (women) all agreed. The guys disagreed, saying that interviewing with women was much easier. The conversation went on about how women can be harsh to other women at work, making unreasonable requests or being harsher to the female colleague than to her male counterparts.

Then during the discussion about Indian aunties yesterday, :) rightfully pointed out that it is not a "Indian" aunties issue but a "aunties" in general issue. Women tend to be harsher and more judgmental in social settings too. Women seem to be the first to criticize someone's choice of significant other, be it verbal or not (those feared piercing stares). Women also many times carry the burden of taking care of and following tradition, even when the traditions go against their own liberty. It is probably not a formalized task assigned to them but somehow it seems to be ingrained??

So I can only come up with few attempts at explaining it, but please help me out with your thoughts:
- Competition: according to this "theory" (:o) women would be harsher to women they see as competition. This would explain work and MIL/family harshness. In the sense that having another woman around would "steal" attention from the one already there. I think competition for male attention goes into here too, and I also think that this goes much further than a guy you actually have an interest in, it could be based on plain old jealousy for a situation you are not living.
- Stability: as women are usually seen as the center of a family or social circle, caring for all the ones involved it would seem natural to "shoo away" factors of instability or innovation that go beyond what is within cultural norms or what is acceptable. If things change too fast it could affect a woman's social circle and throw it off balance, a balance that has been painstakingly woven. This would explain animosity against mixed race, intercultural or interfaith couples, for example.
- Men vs women: this is not so much a reason for women's behavior but rather just pointing out that there might be some ingrained differences. For example, A. always wonders how can women spend so much time talking about "nothing" (meaning people, relationships, analyzing each situation critically, what ifs) while he and his friends usually talk about "ideas or things" with silences in between that do not make either uncomfortable. I guess this explains why women are complicated :)

So, where does this animosity among women come from? Do we un(consciously) perpetuate it? Why??? 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Auntie syndrome

Anyone that has married (or dated, or even been born) into an Indian family can potentially understand this: I'm afraid of Indian aunties! Ok, not in a "I need to run 'cause I saw a sari-clad older woman on the street" sort of way but definitely in a acute self-awareness and unease way.

When did this start? Most probably right in my first visit to India and my first encounter with the said aunties. When the fear of not getting things right materialized into a scorn, comment, or a comment passed on to A. later when I wasn't around. The fear became a syndrome in the sense that there is no way I can control it since, by definition, I don't know what is "wrong". Such as inadvertently crossing my legs while sitting on the sofa (and therefore sort of pointing in someone's direction with my foot) which is how ladies are always supposed to sit where I'm from. Or occasionally forgetting the left hand taboo and reaching for something with it. Or... Or... At the same time, the aunties tend to be very good at making faces or comments at you and then turning to their nephew/son/etc with the sweetest voice and changing topics, which complicates reactions.

And when I returned to India for my wedding the syndrome definitely settled in. There are so many things you can get wrong in a wedding ceremony that trying hard is almost useless. And to top it off some aunties are just mean... like the auntie that said that no, I could not use the toilet before rewrapping the 9 yards sari (it ties in between your legs, making it impossible to pee unless you untie it). I obeyed, thinking it might be some belief related to purity. When I asked A. after the ceremony he got pissed and went to talk to her... the auntie had just said that to make life difficult for me!!

When did I self diagnose this syndrome? Well, a few weeks ago, when I went to a South Indian restaurant with A. and some old Indian ladies came to sit next to us. Immediately I sat straight, unfolded my legs. When the food came I sat on my left hand and concentrated hard on eating without making a fool of myself (was having dosa and eating with my hand). I was sure they were watching (actually staring and scrutinizing) me. But when I mentioned it to A. he insisted it was all in my head. So... am I going crazy?? Or do you also relate?