Monday, January 21, 2013

2 years of European livin'

2 years ago this week, I left Canada for the great unknown which is European life.  Looking back, it seems kind of like a lifetime ago.  In 2 years of living on this continent, I've had more adventure than the past 5 years of living in Vancouver.

In 2 years, I've had 2 jobs, lived in 2 countries, had 2 surgeries, kept German lawsuits at bay, made great friends, and have been to some pretty cool places!

I left Vancouver because I wanted a challenge.  I'd been with the same company for 7 years, lived in the same apartment for over 5 years and though I thought for a flash of time that my life was headed toward settling down and having kids, it wasn't.  So, when the golden opportunity presented itself for me to shake my ass on over across the ocean, I jumped at it.

A lot of people thought I was crazy.  Vancouver is constantly voted one of the world's most livable cities and I had a pretty comfortable and flexible job which  awarded me twice yearly business class travel, flexi days and a 38 hour work week.

But an idle mind is a dangerous thing and idle I was.  So I gave up security, a support network, cheap healthcare and an apartment in the center of one of the world's most livable cities for life in a small Bavarian town. 

When small town Bavarian living didn't work out so well, I packed up my things (no I didn't, Romanian movers did, but details...) and moved south of the Alps to Switaly.

European living isn't for the faint of heart.  I used to pride myself on being an open minded and easy going Canadian that was adaptable to most circumstances, and though that's still (mostly) true, it's been put to the test a lot. For the most part, we North Americans think that Europeans are so much more cosmopolitan than us North American hicks, but I've learned that that's not always the case.  You see, Europeans may be a whole lot more liberal when it comes to nudity, but when it comes to multiculturalism, not so much.  No matter how much I look like a local and try to blend in, I'll always be a foreigner.  Auslander, Stranieri, whatever you want to call it! 

Being a foreigner aside, I'll never figure out all the rules.  I really wish when you moved to a new country, there would be someone to welcome you with a handbook of the unspoken rules of your newly adopted country.  Because there's a lot of rules here.  And some of them are just down right weird.  Like in Bavaria, washing your car on Sundays was "verbotten".   Or that J-walking was akin to capital murder.  Or in Switzerland, I get a washing "day".  Designated day, once a week, where I'm "allowed" to do my laundry. 

Sure, there are lots of weird things to put up with, but at the same time, a lot of it is oddly....liberating.   For instance, I don't feel like a leper because I don't own my own postage size condo that I paid 15 years salary for.  Or that I'm not on my way to 2.2 kids and a townhouse in the suburbs.  It IS normal to spend a weekend skiing with friends or enjoying a bottle of wine at the beach with friends (where in Canada, the beach patrol would ticket you)

I've learned in the past 2 years that there is no perfect country or perfect place to live.  I do miss Canadian affordable healthcare, multiculturalism and wilderness.   However, there's a lot about European living that I'm not in a hurry to give up anytime soon.  Something about 5 weeks vacation and the fact that a 3 hour flight can take me to easily 2 dozen countries is pretty sexy.   Even though there seems to be a lot of rules here, things seem to be, well, less regulated.  My favorite bar in the summer is on a floating dock with 2 inch gaps between the slats of wood on the dock.  In North America, that would be a lawsuit waiting to happen and so it wouldn't exist.  Or that in Germany, I can drive 200 km/h on the autobahn.  Or that I can walk thru a village that's over 10 times older than the country I was born in. Or that I can take Lucy on any train, bus and most restaurants.   It could be partially due to the fact I don't fully understand the language or fully know the rules, but I've found great comfort in European life, at least for now!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Witch Hunting

When I got back from Vancouver last week, all the local shops and ads had witch cartoons and drawings.  I thought someone had missed the memo on Halloween until I started asking around.  It turns out it had nothing to do with Halloween but January 6th.  January 6th is a big holiday in these parts.  We know it as epiphany but it's not a big deal in North America: it is in Europe.  In Germany, kids come around, recite bible passages and mark the quotes they've read from the bible in chalk on doorways.   In these parts, epiphany inexplicably involves a witch. 

Befana as she's known, usually swings by on epiphany eve. From what I can figure out, Befana is a witch (or old lady with a broom, big nose, hat and a bag of candy)  and much like Santa Claus in North America, she comes down the chimney.  Like Santa, she brings treats.  For the good kids, she leaves out candy, for the bad ones, she leaves out a lump of coal, or onions (?!?!)  Where she's different than Santa is that she prefers wine to milk and cookies, so kids leave her a glass of wine.  Also, since she travels with a broom, she's known to sweep up after herself before she leaves.

When I found out that Como (a city about 30 minutes from where I live) had a famous Befana event, I had to find out what it was all about.  A colleague told me that the Befana shows up in Como on January 6th.  After googling it and looking up a YouTube video where the Befana swings down a zip line from the main cathedral, I decided I had to check this out.  So today, I set out to find Befana.

I headed to the main cathedral and tried to determine where she was going to zip line in from.  Seeing no zip line, I was confused.  Yet there were zillions of people so something was bound to happen.  Maybe Befana was going wireless this year?  I parked myself where the largest crowd seemed to be, by the fire truck and hoped for the best.   I asked about of older ladies equipped with a camera where Befana was planning on flying in from.  Apparently, that's part of the mystery, you never know.  Right at 4, firemen got on the truck and worked the ladder.  Befana was going to fly in on the fire truck ladder!   Even though I hate massive crowds, hearing all the kids shout "Befana, Befana" was pretty damn cute.

The Italian firemen picked up Befana from the rooftop next to the cathedral.   It was a cool to see Befana swinging in, but I have to say, I've seen safer things than a witch dangling from a 100 foot ladder.  At one point, it looked like Befana was going to crash into the cathedral and all the onlookers shouted at her "Befana, watch out for the cathedral", but maybe it was on purpose.  At one point, she was dangling directly overhead and I have to say, it was a little worrying have a witch with a bag of candy dangling 100 feet over you.

Halloween is not a big event in Europe and I don't know that it'll ever be.  But then again, when you have witches in January bringing you candy and carinvale in February where you get to dress up, why do you need only 1 night a year?

Going to pick up Befana

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I've seen safer things than a witch be dangled 100 feet above a crowd

Friday, January 04, 2013

Dating, European style

There are a lot of things I love about living in Europe but dating isn’t one of them. Dating in Canada was also one of my least favorite things, but I have to say, it’s worse here.  And that’s saying a lot!  Now dating in your 30’s is awkward to start with.  Dating in your late 30’s is either downright torture or comedy gold depending on your perspective (my vote is on the latter) My interest in dating isn’t necessarily about finding a guy who will bring me flowers and recite poetry to me every day (though flowers are nice, I could never take poetry seriously!) but it “would” be nice to have a friend, companion and partner in adventure.

Meeting single people in this age range is the first challenge.  My first choice is to meet people organically (i.e. the old fashioned way of meeting thru friends etc.…) but there are zero single men in my social circle.  Approaching someone out of the blue, is not something I’m a fan of on a good day and couple that with my inability to speak Italian, know who’s single and straight is not something I’d ever take on!

So, my next step is to approach the world of online dating.  Something I’m not afraid of and have tried before.  You know it’s gone mainstream when even your mother suggests you try it and in North America it’s an openly accepted way to meet someone.  From what I gather and the specimens I’ve met, it’s not nearly as open and accepted in Europe.

I’ve only went on a few dates since I’ve lived in Europe, but to say they’ve been horribly bad would be a safe description.   There was the Australian living in Zurich who was not only socially awkward, controlling and racist (I was able to determine all of this on our first and only date) Then there was the Scottish guy I went for dinner with in Barcelona who made me pay the bill and then asked for the receipt so he could get reimbursed by his employer.  And recently, there was the Italian osteopath I went out with last month who said he could never be in a relationship where he was forced to be faithful and where his partner wasn’t open to partner swapping (swear on my grandmother’s grave- you can’t make this stuff up!)

I was starting to think the whole thing was a hopeless game and then on my last business trip to Hong Kong, I went to see a street side fortuneteller.  For no other reason than the fact that I’d been to Hong Kong almost a dozen times, and there’s only so much shopping and eating you could do.  

All she asked me for was my birthday, time and location of where I was born and looked into my eyes.  The first thing she said to me was that my 30’s were no time for love.  No matter what I did, love wouldn’t work in my 30’s.  If I got married in my 30’s, it would be a “great disaster” (at this I smirked as I spent a short time married to a narcissistic physopath when I was 35!)  She told me some other fun stuff about being careful around water, that my second marriage would be long lasting and full of love and that in my 50’s I would have it all.  

I’m not really one to put too much faith into something a street side fortune teller was telling me, but it did get me thinking… maybe no matter what I would have done and where I would have done it would have left me with a laughable love life for the past 10 years! 

Yes, dating in your 30’s is peculiar, because it’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Of course I still believe that there are attractive, active, funny and single men out there that aren’t too emotionally scarred from previous relationships, but I can tell you based on my experience of dating this decade, it’s a bit like believing in unicorns: I’ve heard about them and seen pictures of them, but I haven’t met one! 

After a plethora of losers and a short lived marriage to a narcissist psychopath later, my street side Hong Kong fortune teller has given me something to look forward to as I turn 40 in a few weeks.   It can’t really be any worse, can it???