Old School

It’s been almost a year and a half since my last blog entry. Where has the time gone? What have I been doing? What have YOU been doing (whatever – you probably aren’t even around anymore! Sheesh!) I can’t really tell you what’s been happening in the last 12+ months over here at the bottom of the Earth, but let’s recap what we already know: I’m an expat living in Chile since July 2009 (holy crap, that’s FIVE WHOLE YEARS this year!), I got married, I went to grad school, I finished then finally started working here, got a bulldog, moved and then had a baby (which we all know wasn’t all peaches and cream for me but now it’s fine.)

Our favorite candy striped wanderer.
Our favorite candy striped wanderer.

A whole lot has happened in between all this, most of which I’ve already written about in previous blog entries but there is a WORLD of ideas, thoughts, opinions, what have you, to share post-baby in a strange land. Although, granted, Chile isn´t so strange anymore but that doesn´t mean that being a parent and having a kid isn’t strange. But that’s a huge can of worms and if I try to interpret every little possible idea I have in my mind about what’s been going on this whole time, I’m going to go batty and most likely lose you somewhere along the lines.

And so, the idea is to fuh-kis (focus) and I’m going to start this new chapter off by telling you that apparently, somewhere along the lines from back then to now, I turned into an adult and got, how do you say?…old. Don’t flatter me with your “But Andrea, you look so young!” nonsense. I’m not talking wrinkles, sun damage and genetics here, kiddo, I’m talking about my inability to navigate the new technology and having NO IDEA who Lorde was until about a week ago (btw – OBsessed)!!! How.did.this.happen? When did I become this person who only has retro songs in her iTunes collection and who owns all classic 80s movies and hasn’t seen a single Oscar nominated movie since circa 2008???

The first time I realized I was getting old was about eight months ago when we purchased really basic tablets for use at work. I couldn’t turn the darn thing ON! There was no middle button like on the iPhone and swiping my finger across the screen proved useless. At the time we had a junior in high school helping us with some adminy work and after several frustrated attempts on our part (my ex-coworkers don’t escape the “I’m-old-and-technology-frightens-me” label), we handed the tablets over to this 17-year old who had them up and running in a nanosecond. I mean…clearly she’s in MENSA, amiright?

Then, one night as I was talking to my 18-year old nephew and his friend, we started talking about Spotify (YES I know about Spotify!) and they were telling me about how cool it was and how the playlists were all saved and you can access them anywhere, etc, etc, what have you and I thought “holy sh*t, they really think Spotify is awesome… why haven’t I tried it?” The thing is, it had never OCCURRED to me to try it… they asked if I still purchased and downloaded music, as if that was “so 2010.” Um, apparently it is. Sweet. Now even HOW I listen to music is old school. They didn’t understand why I would spend money on each song I wanted when I could just add it to my playlist on Spotify. The whole idea of collecting the music seemed odd to them and since, in my opinion, that generation is based on “what’s next, what’s new” I wasn’t about to give them a crash course on how collecting and sitting in your piles of “collected stuff”, albeit virtual, gave one a sense of satisfaction.

So there’s all that and you already know about my whole Lorde debacle because I mentioned it above and, I mean, it’s literally one thing after another with this whole age vs. new technology/new releases thing. I guess I could have blamed the Lorde thing on living in Chile but she just performed at Lollapalooza this past weekend sooooooo …. I’m thinking it’s me, not Chile. Also, I’ve been meaning to blog for about two weeks now but it took me this long to configure my new blog layout and as you can see, it’s quite basic. I did that on purpose because the bells and whistles were getting me nowhere. See that Twitter feed to your left? Literally took me two days to figure out. For reals.

Finally, the last thing that serves as proof that I’m suddenly old just happened. How the hell does one insert an animated GIF into a blog post? Do people still use those for effect? No?
Whatever. I’m over you and your techy ways.

Just kidding, I love you.

Did you like this? Share it:

The Gringa Exodus

I guess it comes with the territory when you live as an expat. The likelihood that some people you meet, get to know, like and eventually become friends with, are bound to call it a day in Chile.

One of the first stories one shares when meeting other expats in Chile pertains to how much time one has left in this country. You talk about what brought you here, what you’re doing right now and the approximate time left before you leave again. Sometimes X,Y,Z needs to happen (i.e. we’re waiting for the green card -or- we’re waiting for his graduate school acceptance letter) and sometimes it’s about sticking around while the getting’s good here (i.e. you’ve built a pretty solid life for yourself in Chile – maybe one that is even better than that of friends back home – so why quit now?)

This reality is always a bit of a downer because already there’s a clock ticking to the amount of time you have to spend with this new, awesome person you’ve met and, let’s face it, as we get older, the ability to bond and make friends becomes harder and harder. You desperately NEED quality, physical time together to allow the friendship to take off. You need outings, experiences, laughter and time together, just as you do with a romantic relationship. Personally as an expat, I found it to be quite fortunate that I had this common denominator with female expats – a group that “got” it and a group that would feel my pain on the idiosyncrasies of living in Latin America. Except that somewhere along the line I began to notice that one by one, the women I had met and started to become friends with, were slowly leaving Chile. Suddenly the reality of expat living began to sink in … how feasible is it to build a life here when such an important aspect, such is a social life and the friendships that ensue, is also quite temporary?

In about three weeks, I’ll be celebrating my two-year anniversary of moving to Chile. And in that time, five of the Gringa friends I made here, have left. That’s one friend that leaves every 4.8 months – this is my average thus far. How am I supposed to building long-lasting, stand-the-test-of-time friendships 4.8 months at a time??!! As it is, I’ve never been known as Miss-Social-Butterfly and personally, it’s really difficult for me to make friends. I’m not, by any means, crying you a river here, people. Not.at.all because, hey, that’s not me. But I’m as pragmatic as they come and I know what I know. And what I know about me is this: since starting my new job, I’ve had a hell of a time finding the balance between home life, work life, personal time and social time. It’s like I forgot how to make all those things work and let’s face it, I know it was easier back home because I held on to the same friends year after year. There was none of this new initiation process of friendships that, quite honestly, need time and commitment. Of course, all friendships deserve that, new and old!

Also, I realize that after living here almost two years, I have not gone through the Gringa exodus as others may have gone through it. I may have very little rights to complain about this expat reality when compared to those who have lived here 5, 10, 20+ years. I can’t even imagine the kind of friendships that have come and gone in their lives. Part of my problem (and yes, I DO recognize it) is that after seeing five amazing females leave before I ever really got a chance to throw down roots with them, I’m jaded about Gringa expat friendships now! It’s so unfair because I realize I’m not doing a good job about balancing my social life with work life, yet I find that I keep arm’s distance to everyone because, hey, they’re leaving at some point anyway!

I sound like a little kid, stomping my feet and shouting “I want my friends, I want my friends!”

Maybe the root of my internal issue is this: I see that everyone else has the option to leave, if that’s what they so choose and, in the end, we don’t share that same reality. In marrying a wonderful man who also happens to have an amazing job and equally amazing kids, I decided, forever, that my future didn’t hold the possibility of returning home. No wonder Chile seems to be a life sentence as opposed to a fabulous, wild adventure I’m living with my new husband. And I guess I wish I could also meet Gringas who are planning to base their life here as well. It would help me accept that life here can carry on quite normally and, dare I ever find out, quite exceptionally.

So in the end, the Gringa Exodus means this (to me):
1.) Friendships and people I’ve met thus far, aren’t long-term. At least not long-term while living in the same hemisphere (yes long term because they marked a period in my life and will never be forgotten -heyyyy!).

2.) This has directly caused me to hesitate in venturing out and (attempt to) build friendships or even acquaintances.

3.) Number 2 combined with the fact that I am learning to find balance between the new job and a normal life here has led to quite the stagnant social life since late 2010.

So what’s the point I’m trying to make here? Nothing, really. Just that it’s quite daunting to sit and think about the fact that I’ve met some cool people here … but a lot of them have already left Chile. I wonder, if we hadn’t been “thrown” together in this narrow land, would we have had a silver lining threading us all together? I do believe that in some cases yes, and in some cases no. But that’s what makes it all the sadder to realize they’ve left and have moved on to the next phase of their lives and that the phase of their lives that intertwined with mine is now over. It’s like I’m on this same path and different paths have weaved in and out of mine.

I see them in the horizon and remember them fondly (as well as the great times we once had here), but the eventual Gringa Exodus makes me sad, regardless of any pragmatic approach I take.

Did you like this? Share it:

The weirdo

I can’t remember where it was I read that one of the key elements to writing a ‘tween or young adult book was to make sure you had an awkward, relatively weird, outsider kind of protagonist. This made sense to me since teenagers, especially pre-teens, are all kinds of awkward. In fact, today we needn’t think any further than Twilight and its leading lady, Bella Swan, who embodies clumsy, awkward and weird all in one package. When I was younger, I used to be drawn to these kinds of characters as well. Deenie, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Blubber, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, and of course, Anne of Green Gables, were all books that I adored when I was younger. I’d go to the library, check them out, read them, re-read them, take them back and repeat the process the following week all over again. I loved them because each protagonist was, in a word, weird. Since I considered myself to be weird too, reading about kids who were awkward and totally different from the norm allowed me to believe that I had a posse of like martians ready to hang out with me at any given notice. Books were my escape and my entertainment, more so than television or anything else available to me (which, let’s face it, was very limited). I was constantly fighting against being different and desperately tried to be “normal” like everybody else.

When we first arrived in San Francisco, I can safely say that I didn’t notice that I was different. My classmates were all different too. Some were Chinese, some were Korean, some where Russian, others Italian. I had a Mexican friend and a Filipino friend and I sat behind a red-headed boy named Billy in class who was probably of Irish-decent or something. We all attended Catholic school and as such, wore uniforms to school everyday. Because of this, no one noticed if someone had “cooler” clothes and the concept of “designer” anything just wasn’t our reality due to our age and our different backgrounds. Then of course there was the ONE thing many of us had in common besides this: being the first generation “Americans” growing up in a major city. When we went home, yes, some of the kids spoke English with their parents and siblings, but many of us went home and spoke a completely different language! You’d see the influences of our parents’ heritage in our packed lunches which ranged from PB&J to sushi to some kind of Chinese soup that was heavy on the cabbage. Sometimes you’d go over to a friend’s house and notice the traditions there: removal of shoes before walking in, eccentric, colorful art hanging on the walls, spicy cooking and the rich smells associated with it and multi-generational households that included the grandmother and sometimes even the great-grandmother! We lived in a city so many of us took the bus to school and as is the norm living in a city, many of us lived in apartments or flats, not always houses. And you know what? Because of this, I don’t recall any of my school mates and/or friends having pets.

To me, all of the above foster great memories of my childhood. I wasn’t weird because we were all “weird.” I wasn’t any different than my Korean classmate who removed her shoes before going inside her apartment and who brought sushi for lunch. Whereas I went home and spoke Spanish with my mom and ate “lentejas” for dinner, my Chinese, Mexican and Italian friends had their own traditions and day-to-day at home that greatly differed from my own. Such was the melting pot of my early years that soon took a nasty turn to dullsville Suburbia when I turned 14. It was at this age that we left San Francisco and moved to the Peninsula, 30 minutes south of the city. With this move came a change of school and a new chapter of my life that took an eternity to shake myself out of: weirdo martian from another country chapter.

From the time I was 14 to oh, about age 28 or 29, it was a constant battle to be considered part of the crowd and “normal.” I moved to Edward Scissorhands town and realized that the melting pot that had been my home for as long as I could remember, was no more. I found myself in a place, in a school, in a town, where every single person was “normal” and even those of a different ethnicity were, to the naked eye, diluted. I became self conscious of the fact that my mom didn’t speak English fluently. I was anguished like only a teenager can be over the fact that we didn’t live in a house like everyone else did. I didn’t grow up playing soccer so I immediately signed up for AYSO soccer and made a fool of myself trying to perform with non-existent skills. At 14 I had never shaved my legs because my mom never told me about it (in Chile people wax and she grew up always waxing, something she obviously thought I would do too once I was old enough.) All of a sudden I was the brown, hairy girl who moved from SF! No I didn’t have Guess jeans but realized soon enough that if I was going to be anybody at the new school, I NEEDED GUESS JEANS (is 14 too young to be sporting $80 jeans, anyone, anyone?) I didn’t even know about the GAP until I moved to this said Edward Scissorhand town and apparently, by the time I hit high school, it was the only option for my wardrobe. That and Eddie Bauer’s flannel shirts, what with the grunge thing in full effect.

I looked around and realized something that rang true in high school, college and some time after college as well. To be popular, interesting, solicited and listened to meant that you had to somewhat blend in and only stand out in the most traditional of ways. In high school this meant that I had to be in student government (all the cool kids were in student government.) It also meant that I had to be in drama but this only lasted through my freshman year and I gladly gave it up in lieu of the school newspaper (which incidentally, wasn’t “cool” by any means.) So I ran for Student Body Secretary my senior year in high school and lost to one of my classmates who was (and continues to be) Ms. Overachiever (actually now she’s Dr. Overachiever). That was a blow but thankfully, since I ran for a “big” office, I was given a pity prize and co-chaired something that had to do with school clubs (my co-chair was another popular girl, known more for her work in dance and performance arts.) I didn’t wear the right clothes, didn’t run with the right crowd (though GOD KNOWS it wasn’t for lack of trying!), didn’t play the right sports, I didn’t dance or do drama (which in my high school was the epitome of cool.) I did manage to break into Honors/Advanced English (again bc all the popular kids were in that class) and ONCE even pulled off the 2nd highest grade on a term paper (the highest grade went to Dr. Overachiever, I believe.) Still, I felt I had proved something to the “right” crowd.

By the time I got to college, I’d somewhat mastered the wardrobe mess I had when I first arrived at a public school and found my own style (or lack thereof). This wasn’t a major issue in college for me. The major issue was once again being the one “foreign” girl in a sea of … politely speaking, non-foreign boys and girls. Many grew up in suburbia, had a mom and a dad (dad was always a lawyer or some corporate executive and mom was most likely a school teacher) and I just had my mom. My mom who was a nanny, a great one at that, for a very successful, very wonderful family. No, there was no dad. No we didn’t take vacations to Tahoe every winter and summer. No, we’ve never owned an SUV. What was that? Was I going to Europe after graduating college? Um, no. I guess I could have done myself a favor and NOT gone out and join a sorority which only served to remind me how different, poor, weird, and non-mainstream I really was. Instead I DID join one, proceeded to binge drink to fit in, gain 15 pounds my first year at Davis, spend money I didn’t have on monthly sorority dues and pretty much drag myself through the mud trying to “be cool” and fit in with those I considered to be cool. That’s not to say or imply that people weren’t NICE. They were nice, actually. It’s just too bad that I was so awkward about being different that they couldn’t get to know me for me. It wasn’t their fault, it was mine. I assumed they thought I was weird and so I took that as fact and acted accordingly to try and fix it. The irony is that people who are NOW my good friends post-college are women who 1) weren’t in a sorority or 2) are the “cool” girls I wanted to impress who are more impressed with my weirdo foreignness than whoever it is I was pretending to be in college.

Life works in the kookiest of ways, really. Post-college it was through work, my career, travel and my accomplishments in the workplace that actually helped me shed all embarrassment for being different. I was given opportunities at a relatively young age that NO ONE my age had and that made me feel like a bad ass. I ended up working for a Japanese company and getting to know a culture that was a million times removed from both my own and actually LIKING and APPRECIATING it. It dawned on me that different was funky and I liked it. It also finally dawned on me that “normal” was so boring, I could die. Yawn. It helped that I was back in San Francisco (albeit for work only) and that I could once again be reminded that the melting pot existed and that I was a fabulous part of that.

The irony is this: I’m now living in Chile and again, I’m reminded with constant lucidity of how different I am. I’m a gringa in a Chilean world. I’m weird, I’m a foreigner and I’m not “normal” (what’s this about wearing open-toed shoes before October??!!! Owning a Bulldog? Not partaking in “once” and checking my blind spot when I drive?) That’s ok though. This time around in life I’m fine with it. I’m actually in the process of maintaining said weirdness, working off it and finding my place in this Chilean world. I’m sorry to tell you Chile, I don’t plan on playing the role I once did of fitting in. This is me, foreign and awkward, take it or leave it.

Did you like this? Share it: