Monday, May 24, 2010

Small Talk

One thing that drives me nuts is small talk. Yes, we all have to do it and I actually have to do quite a bit of it for my job but that doesn't make it any the more enjoyable.

Case in point. We recently went to a social function where we knew only 2 other people. We met a (seemingly) nice guy and were chatting with him for quite awhile. People were grilling and I've learned from long experience to always bring my own veggie burgers.

Anyway, we had been talking to this guy and I had gotten the sense that he was quite a bit of a wannabe macho guy (I think it had to do with him being all of about 5 feet tall) and as I got my veggie burger he looks at it and says, "What's wrong with good ol' American beef?" First of all, it was rude as I never comment on what other people eat (except for my husband when I tell him to eat more veggies, but my husband eats meat for crissakes). It's nobody else's business what I eat or don't eat.

If someone has a dietary restriction due to religion (which is concerned with morality as is my decision not to eat meat) no one says anything about that. I've never heard of anyone cornering a Jew or Muslim (or a Catholic on Fridays) and demand to know why they don't eat certain food items.

Out of a BBQ of 10-12 people, 3 were vegetarians so I'm not even so much in the minority anymore.

I've learned to shrug it off over the years and most people forget that I don't eat meat. While I fully support animal rights and have worked on political campaigns, I dislike the "shout in your face" tactics and morally superior attitude some vegetarians/vegans have.

But I digress. It was just something about this guy's sneering tone that got to me. Not to mention, he had just been chatting with me and the hubs for 15 minutes or so.

I just looked at him and in my coldest voice said, "Really? Are you trying to start an argument with me?"

That shut him up and sent him on his way.

One down.

Another lady came over to chat with us. Did I mention this was a group of people who all know each other through scuba diving (which Leo and I don't do) so our topics of convo were a little limited from the start.

Running out of topics, I asked her what she did. She got all squirrelly and said she worked in IT but wanted to find a new field. That was it. She didn't ask what we did. She just kind of sat there. I thought the rules of conversation were kind of tit-for-tat.

Asking about someone's work isn't an out of bounds question (I think) and I figure if you don't want to talk about your work, you can just answer vaguely (which that lady did) and then steer the convo to what the other people do.

Strike 2.

Leo had gone off to chat with some older guy and as I walked over. Leo introduced me and before the other guy said his name or shook my hand, he said really loud, "Are you in the military?"

Put out, I just gave him a strange look and said, "No. Are you?" What kind of question is that? Especially when you shout it at someone. Although maybe he was deaf, who knows.

I just hate it when people go out of order. I don't mind if he asks if I'm in the military but at least tell me your name first and shake my freaking hand!

It's like when I was a waitress.

There's a certain order to the whole process. I come up to the table, say hi and take your drink order. I come back with the drinks and I take your food order.

It drove my nuts when people went out of order.

The one table that absolutely sticks in my mind for this was when I was working at Bennigan's (yes, Bennigan's) in Philly.

I came up, asked what they wanted to drink and the guy starts asking me about what kinds of soup we have.

Ok, I can roll with the punches as well as anyone but this was a slammed Friday night and I was in the weeds.

I told him. He hems and haws. I ask him again what he would like to drink. He doesn't answer. I ask him again and he orders soup.

He'll order a drink later.

While this might not sound like much, the life of a server depends on a reliable system. If you get one step out of this system your whole world can crash and burn in a second.

And this guy was seriously messing up my system.

Back to the BBQ.

We did meet a few nice people though so that redeemed it. And this night was hardly unique. I use it as an example because it happened recently.

I mean, I'm not a small talk Nazi or anything, but c,mon there are some rules that have to be followed.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Moving and traveling to South America

In my previous post, I wrote about us moving to Toledo, Ohio and I said there was a reason I wasn't so upset about it. The main reason is that I get to take a 2.5 month study vacation to central and South America.

But, in reality, I'm more of an East Coast girl and miss being close to friends and family. Not to mention, with all the earthquakes we've been having, I think it's high time to get outta Cali. We had a 5.8 this morning.

But back to my plans. I told Leo that if we were going to have to move and I was going to have to give up my job, I wanted to take the first couple of months in our new place and study Spanish rather than sit on the couch waiting for someone to call back about a job interview.

I did that when we first moved here 4 years ago and it sucked. I ended up taking a waitressing job just to have something to do while I waited. Although I didn't feel so bad about it when I met up with a girl who I used to work with at a public relations firm in Philly. She moved out here too and ended up taking a job at Sea World shucking oysters while she waited to find a job in PR. So I wasn't so bad off. But I digress.

My plan so far is this:

Leave late August and spend a month with my Mom in Boquete, Panama where she retired a few years ago. I'm going to Spanish classes in the morning and then volunteering in the afternoon. I'm sure I'll end up teaching English, which I have experience in but I'm thinking it may be nice to branch out. We'll see. This flight is already booked.

Then, I travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina for about a month and a half. I already booked my apartment but haven't booked a flight yet.

When I'm in BA, my friend Danielle is going to come visit. Our plan is for her to stay a week or 10 days or however long she feels like staying. We'll go to Montevideo, Uruguay since it's only a 3-hour ferry ride and then we'll both fly to Porto Alegre, Brazil where she'll fly back home and I'll fly back to BA.

I figure I had to pay about $280 for my Brazil visa last year and it's good for 10 years, I might as well use it. I found flights for about $300 so you can't beat that.

I have 2 other trips planned. First, to Ushuaia, Argentina which is in the Tierra del Fuego (Earth/Land of Fire) region and claims that it is the southernmost city in the world. There is 1 city in Chile that is actually more southerly, but it's a military base and doesn't seem so equipped for tourism. So, I"m just going for this one.

Apparently, it's the jumping off point for Antartica. Alas, this will have to wait for another trip.

The other trip that I'm going to take is to Santiago, Chile and Valpraiso, Chile. I've always wanted to see Valparaiso ever since I read Portrait in Sepia by Isabelle Allende. I'm a little scared flying over the Andes, since isn't that where the Chilean soccer team crashed (aka, the movie Alive) happened? I'm just kidding, but for real I hate flying and have to have at least 3 cocktails even if the flight is at 9 in the morning. Thank God for airport bars.

Anyway, if anyone out there in blogland has any advice/tips/recommendations on cheap hotels/things to do/travel advice/etc about any of the above destinations I would be forever in your debt.

I know if have an ambitious travel schedule, but it's so far away that I may never get there again so I want to take as much advantage as I can. BTW, this isn't a Spanish post but Spanish has a verb that is so useful.

Aprovechar=to take advantage of.

Usually, Spanish is so much longer than English, but in this case they have us beat for succintness.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I didn't want to post this until I had told my boss (since we are FB friends and all and she could actually find this blog) but we're moving August 1.

When you move in the military (called getting orders or PCS'ing--Permanent Change of Station) there is a certain system that is followed.

There is someone called a "detailer" and this person basically controls your destiny. He is the person who can tell you what places are open for your job and your rank to transfer to. Everyone is always sucking up to these guys, as they are just about akin to God. If the detailer doesn't like you or if you're competing for a place against someone the detailer is friends with, forget it. You're probably going to Fargo, North Dakota or some other really hard position (billet) to fill.

A lot of people do back-door deals with the detailer to get the duty station they want.

Alas, for whatever reason that wasn't an option for us and so we got stuck with Toledo, Ohio.

And we had to fight for it which makes the whole situation pretty Twilight-zoney. I grew up in Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan and have only been to Toledo twice in my life. Both times to go to the Art Museum (which is amazing fabulous, BTW).

So this is how the process works.

The military only lets people stay at the job for 3-4 years and then they force you to transfer. The hubs says this is so you don't always have the same Commanding Officer and you experience different leadership styles. You're not supposed to get loyal to one person, rather it's all about the mission.

Personally, I think it's so you don't get too entrenched in a community that when they ask you to go to war/go to Guantanamo Bay for a solo 1-year tour/go to the Philippines/etc, that you don't want to go. Saying that your softball team needs you to play in the state championships is not a good enough reason for the military not to send you to Iraq, lol.

You can transfer within the same city, but that didn't work out for us.

About 6 months before you're scheduled to leave your job, the detailer sends you a list of places that you can transfer to. My husband is in a specialized job, so there aren't that many places to choose from in general.

About 3 or 4 months ago we got our first round of "choices". Let's just say they weren't good.

The only one I really recall was Buffalo, NY which we immediately vetoed because of the year-round snow.

We waited a month to see what new joys the detailer would bring.

This time Memphis, TN and Camp Lejeune, NC popped up.

We debated about Memphis for awhile. It's actually a pretty nice city and much more cosmopolitan that I thought (although we only spent a half-day there when we drove out to the West Coast). It doesn't seem so veg friendly though, so that was a negative.

As for Camp Lejeune, I've had Marines tell me they would rather go back to Iraq then go back to Camp Lejeune. Apparently, it's a very swamp, humid area where the whole town is military (from the cashiers at Wal-Mart to the taxi drivers). Having lived in Norfolk, VA I remember how tiring this can be.

I've never been to Camp Lejeune, but I've heard it's like all heavily military cities. Basically, a 21-year old males dream. Crappy sports bars with cougars on the prowl. Fast food and Denny's everywhere, used car lots and pawn shops, as well as divey strip bars.

No thanks.

So we decided to roll the dice and see what came out our final round. You only get 3 rounds (1 per month) and it's a gamble since other people can take the duty station you want. The general rule of thumb is that if you see something you want, grab it because it may not be around the next time.

On the final spin of the great fate wheel, Dover, NJ was still one of our choices but it came down to a choice between there and Toledo, OH.

However, the BAH (Basic Allowance Housing) was more expensive for Dover than for San Diego (something I never thought was possible) because it's about 30 minutes west of Manhattan. This sounds great until you realize that it's basically a bedroom community for NYC. Not so exciting.

As my brother put it, "How many times, really, are you going to go to NYC? Dover sounds like hell on earth. At least Toledo is a city."

Since I'm not 24 and into clubbing all hours of the night, I had to concede that he had a point.

Plus, my parents are 1 hour away from Toledo and it would be nice for them to get to know Leo, since we met in Philadelphia and got married in Norfolk. I still have some friends in the area, so it seemed like a good fit. Although I have to admit, I cried, mostly out of shock when I first learned that was our best choice.

So we decided and then the detailer calls Leo at 5 p.m. one night and leaves a message saying, "Call me back. It's about your duty station." And that's it. No other info. I hate when people do that because then you're left wondering all night. Which is exactly what happened to us.

The next day, the detailer tells us it was a mistake and that Toledo shouldn't have "popped up" and our only choices were Dover, NJ and Billings, Montana which just popped up.

To make a (very) long story short, Leo was like, "No, this is your problem. You have to fix it. My wife's parents think we're coming. We've mentally prepared to go to Toledo. This isn't my problem."

Well, do you remember how I mentioned about back-door deals? Well, we ended up kind of making one of our own.

The only way we could go to Toledo was if the other corpsman (medic) there was willing to leave and take one of the open options (ie. Dover or Billings).

Whether it was luck or whatever, the corpsman in Toledo is a Haitian guy from NYC so he was happy taking the Dover billet.

So after all that, we're going to Toledo, Ohio.

However, there are a couple good things about it which I'll put in my next post since I know this is hella long.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pedro Picapiedra (aka Fred Flintstone)

One of the things I liked best about teaching English as a Second Language (besides the for-the-most-part-awesome- students) was learning new things about your own world.

Case in point. Spanish speaking countries repackaged The Flintstones cartoons and renamed them. This came up with some trivia I had given the students. If I remember correctly, it was that the first TV couple shown in bed together were Fred and Wilma Flintstone. And no, I was not that kind of teacher. It was a fact list of Americana.

Well, the students from Spain had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

It went something like this:

Me: So Fred and Wilma Flintstone were the first couple shown in bed together.

Spanish Student (SS): Who are Fred and Wilma?

Me: What? They didn't have this cartoon in Spain? It's about the Stone Age and there are 2 couples who are neighbors. Fred and Barney work in a stone quarry (although to be fair, there's no reason they should know the English words for stone quarry).

SS: No, I don't know this program.

Me: C'mon! They had a baby dinosaur named Dino and Fred drove a car that was powered with his feet. You must know it. It's super famous.

SS: Ah, you mean Pedro Picapiedra (Peter Stonecutter) and Pablo Marmol!!!! (Paul Marble--there's apparently no Spanish equivalent of Barney)

Me: What? Who? What are you talking about?

That's when I learned that Spanish basically repackages most/all American movies and TV and gives them a Spanish name.

Another case in point--we were all talking about Die Hard with Bruce Willis (don't ask why. We often got off point and I just ran with it). Again, another SS was like what? I have no idea what this movie is.

That's when he finally realized, oh you mean "La selva de vidrio!". (aka The glass jungle). That's what they called the movie in Spain.

I'm not 100% sure of the logic that goes behind importing an American movie and then changing the name so that everybody outside of Spain has no idea what movie you're talking about, but then again the Spanish Department of Culture doesn't consult me on these matters so I'll just have to be content with not knowing.

However, the Flintstones example is one of my favorites. I love that I have a new way to think about a childhood favorite.

Now, I just need to find the Spanish version of Nick at Nite and catch up on my Pedro Picapiedra and Pablo Marmol!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Strange Fruit

One thing I'm addicted to right now is Brazilian Crystal Light.

Yes, you read that correctly. Instead of saying the whole words Crystal Light they just shorten it to Clight.

Which I assumed was pronounced with a hard C (like see) but which my good friend Danielle, who currently lives in Brazil, tells me is pronounced Clight, like rhymes with tight. To me, that sounds too much like a crude term for a part of a woman's anatomy so I'll just stick with calling it See Light.

It was when I was visiting Danielle last year that I discovered and fell in love with Clight. Granted, I love American Crystal Light too but Clight has SO many cool flavors that we don't have.

Such as:
  • Caju (cashew). I just learned from Wikipedia that the English cashew actually comes from the Portuguese word caju.

  • Pineapple with Mint. My absolute favorite.

  • Lime ice tea

  • Tangerina (tangerine)

  • Pessago (peach). Not peach ice tea, but actual peach "juice"
  • Kiwi

  • Maracuja (passion fruit)

What's strange about the passion fruit one is that I just tried the actual fruit the other day. A colleague's boyfriend grows them on his ranch, but they go for about $2 each in the store.

Just a warning. They are probably the weirdest/ugliest/slimiest things I've ever seen. Kind of like a cross between a dinosaur egg and caviar. But they taste really good! If you can get over the whole slime factor.