Men In Speedos

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Last year, I wrote about men in spandex.  Well, with the warm temperatures, people are showing more skin.  You gents are no exception.  I’ve seen a fair bit of y’all.

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You’ve seen men in spandex.   With the approach of summer, I bring you another cultural difference, men in Speedos.  This swimwear is rather foreign to us.  Unless you are a competitive swimmer, you just don’t see this in the US, where most guys wear boardshorts or some other type of swimsuit short.

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Michael PhelpsRyan LochteCullen Jones, and Jason Lezak all wear them, but then again they are also wearing goggles and swim caps.  Sometimes, they don’t even wear them, opting instead for those fancy new super fast getups.  I think they are called the Speedo Endurance Jammer.

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Anyway, in the US, non-competition swimmers just generally don’t wear Speedos.  You don’t see them at the beach.  Department stores don’t usually even stock them.  As you can see from the above photo, in France you have many options.

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The only thing to say is “wow,” this style is definitely another cultural difference.

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The Shock Of Your Life – Culture Shock

Moving to a new country with different customs, values and language, will cause you to experience culture shock.  We went through it.  Our friends went through it.  It’s normal, so try not to freak out too much (even though meltdowns are inevitable) and don’t worry, it will get better.   The crazy part is that once you’ve successfully adapted, the odds are that you will return to your native culture and experience the same thing (known as reverse culture shock).

Dictionary.com defines it as “a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange or foreign social and cultural environment.”  Everyone’s different and everyone’s experiences are different, but there is a common pattern.  People experiencing culture shock generally go through these stages.   It starts with the ‘Honeymoon Phase.’  This is the “oh, how charming” stage. You will find everything is an exciting and interesting.   It seems like you are on vacation.  Who ever vacations someplace long enough to get sick of it (‘Paris Syndrome,’ ‘Jerusalem Syndrome‘ and ‘Stendhal Syndrome‘ excluded)?

How much you put yourself out into the other culture, how insulated you are from it and the pressures you experience will help determine its length, but generally it this phases lasts a few days to a few weeks.  Obviously, the more you mix it up with the local culture, the quicker it will end.  Don’t worry though, the loss of this euphoria should ultimately lead you to better understanding of the culture and adaptation.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this, what happens next distressing, you will probably drop an expletive (in your native language since you probably don’t understand too much of the local one) and realize you have changed almost everything in your daily life.  While this may arrive in a time of peace (and induce panic), it is much more likely that you have just locked yourself out or had some other bad experience.  This is called the ‘Negotiation Phase.’

Just like that, the honeymoon/vacation is over and you have to start living your daily life someplace where you don’t know how to do it.  Between us, we felt disoriented, confused and lonely.  After trying to get the apartment set up and start work, we were exhausted.  Having been though it I fought the urge to speak in English and succeeded some of the time.  Other people, watch their American shows on sling boxes, hunger for food from the US (even if it is McDonald’s and they don’t even like fast food) or spend their time with other expats.  Essentially, you become nostalgic for your native culture (while forgetting its problems).

Instead of getting better, things only get worse (or at least they do until they get better).  Living somewhere where you don’t understand how things works is disorienting.  You get sick of feeling incompetent (see Les Incompetents posts).   You wonder how you went from someone who was competent to, well, this.  Plus, with your support systems far away and your new ones not well established, it can be even harder.  It’s easy to focus on the negative.  Even if you don’t, you’re likely experiencing many more negative emotions than usual.  Anger?  Check. Sadness?  Check.  Frustration? Impatience?  Dissatisfaction? Depression?  Aggression? Rage?  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  And, um, yep, check.

If this is you, remind yourself  that this is inevitable when adapting to a new and different culture.   It’s at this time that most people want to leave.  Others get really depressed or negative.  Try like hell to keep a positive and open attitude.  It will be hard to connect with people if you seem like a loose cannon.  I know that life is a minefield of potential problems and you will completely screw up the simplest things (that you used to do without thinking in your native country).

Trust me when I tell you people may try to help, but 99% of them don’t understand what you are going through.  Trust me also when I tell you that lots of others of them flat-out don’t care.  I know it sounds bleak and you are probably asking why would anyone ever do this.  Remind yourself that you are in the middle of the ‘Adjustment Phase.’  Trust me one more time when I tell you that it will get better and it is worth it.  I repeat.  It will get better and it is more than worth it.

If you work hard to learn the culture, accept the customs, adjust and integrate, at some point things will get better (usually from six to nine months).  You will acquire a critical mass of knowledge, reach an inflection point and things will get easier.  You will start to feel like less of an idiot all the time.  Heck, you might even feel competent.  Even if you still don’t understand everything, daily tasks won’t induce the same level of anxiety.  It makes your life a lot easier and enables you to have a more balanced view of your new culture.  You will get happier and people tend to respond positively to this.  You’ll still probably make a fool of yourself (see Les Incompetents posts), but it won’t be as often.

Finally, you will enter the ‘Mastery Phase.’  It’s enriching and rewarding.  It builds your confidence and increases your understanding of the world.  You better understand and appreciate your native culture (or aspects of it anyway).  You will grow in ways you never imagined.  You have made amazing friends.  Some continue even further break through to an even deeper and richer understanding of your new culture.

Culture shock isn’t the easiest thing in the world to deal with, but since when do you get something for nothing?   It’s the price you pay for the wonderful experiences, knowledge, growth and friends.

This post is for one special person who rocks.   Hang in there.

Why I Love Running

I had a bad day yesterday.  It was crushing.  After bawling for a few minutes, I decided should just go for a good long run because it never fails to make me feel better and clear my head.  On the run, I saw Mont Blanc behind lush, green fields and thought “god, I love this.”

Here’s why I love to run:

  1. There are no shortcuts.  What you get out of it is what you put into it.
  2. I am a nicer person when I’ve run all the piss and vinegar out of me.  I swear it’s true, just ask him.
  3. I love how train running forces me to be in the moment.  To avoid roots, holes, etc.  I must be hyper-aware of my surroundings.  My brain can’t make grocery lists or worry about trivialities.  That being said…  While I am thinking about getting up the hill, my subconscious works on things.
  4. Running clears my mind.  I solve problems, write blog posts, prioritize…
  5. I am almost a midget little person.  There aren’t many activities where I get to feel physically powerful, running is one of them.  Catching (and dropping) a couple of big, strong guys running up a giant hill yesterday brought me my first smile of the run (FYI, Switzerland isn’t flat).
  6. You don’t have to be pretty or dress up.  Most of my favorite things to do necessitate a shower and don’t require makeup.  Running, cycling, hiking, painting, skiing, gardening…you get the idea.
  7. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to run.  Even when my day is bad, if I am still healthy enough and safe enough to have the opportunity to run. It reminds me that I am pretty lucky.
  8. Gettin’ high.  Who doesn’t love themselves some runner’s high?
  9. You don’t have to wait for the gym to open.  You don’t even need a gym membership.  There’s no fancy equipment.  All you need is a good sports bra (or two if you are double-bagging) and you are off and running…literally.
  10. I love being outside.  It is a great way to experience beautiful places.  Some of my favorite runs have been on vacations, but I could probably wax have waxed nostalgic about my high school cross-country course too.
  11. Running has taught me how to break down a big task into smaller manageable ones.  A marathon training program is a series of smaller activities that add up to something huge.
  12. Energy begets energy.  It’s true.
  13. I have no natural gift for running, but the longer I do it, the better I get.  I am one of those who will have to age into her Boston Marathon qualifying time.  I’m okay with that.  I should be so lucky as to be the last woman standing running.
  14. I love to eat and would be overweight if I didn’t exercise.  Period.
  15. Better nutrition.  Running also helps me to make healthy choices.  I may not be smart, but I learn from my mistakes.  Eating fried pickles (dipped in copious amounts of ranch and bleu cheese) and sweet potato fries (dipped in honey mustard) for dinner the night before a long run was a mistake I will only make once.  I don’t eat as much crap when I know it will feel like it (yes crap, a pile of steaming poo) on the next day’s run.  Decent food nourishes me and allows me to have the energy, the stamina to do long runs.
  16. The camaraderie.  In Geneva, I have run by myself.  Our incessant traveling has gotten in the way of joining a weekend running group.  It is better for the blog, but worse for socializing.  In North Carolina I used to gleefully hop out of bed well before dawn to go meet my running group.  I am not a morning person and can’t function without a cup of coffee, but even without coffee I would be excited to go (and not just for the caffeine in the GU’s).
  17. It’s a challenge.  Challenges are good for us.  They teach us how to push ourselves beyond our limits.  Running has taught me about strength, how to push myself, that I am capable of more and how complaining doesn’t help (even if I still do it).  Trying something new and pushing beyond our comfort zone, even if it is hard, is good for us. It can also be habit-forming tackling one challenge makes me want to tackle others.
  18. I am always happier at the end of the run than at the beginning.  It is (almost) never because the run is over.  Running is a great stress reliever.
  19. I love the sense of accomplishment.  Even if I did nothing else productive during the day, knocking out some miles is a measurable, quantifiable accomplishment.
  20. It is something that I do for me.  I like to help others, but running is something I do because I love it.  There aren’t many things (or weren’t until we started travelling so much) that I do just because I want to.
  21. I love a good project.  Training for a race, particularly a marathon, is definitely a good project.
  22. It’s easy.  I am short and have no coordination.  You don’t even want me in right field.  Any sport with a moving ball is out of the question.  Running = a sport for the uncoordinated.
  23. It is a great way to explore.  I have learned how to navigate Geneva and the surrounding area not by studying a map, but by running its streets.  I am constantly intrigued by what I see.  Sometimes I even run back with a camera to take pictures of cool stuff for the blog.
  24. It is supposed to be good for my health.
  25. Running here, I get to see more men in spandex.
  26. Who doesn’t love an hour (or more) with a rockin’ playlist?

Sorry, the photo above is an old pic. I didn’t bring my camera.  I should have.  Yesterday was clearer and even more beautiful.

The Man Scarf

It seems to be a commonly held belief over here that letting your throat get chilled or exposed to a cold breeze causes colds.  This helps to explain the prevalence of scarves with both men and women.

In an attempt to look more European, he got a scarf. Unfortunately, he’s unsure how to wear it.  I told him that there is no one right or wrong way, but he remains skeptical.   I suggested putting it out on the blog and polling people.  He thought is was a great idea even though it would give those with Photoshop additional fodder (you know who you are).  Here are your choices:

 
Which one is the winner?
 
 

 

Grateful

When I was in Soweto, I learned that there are 300-400 funerals there every weekend for people dying from AIDS.  Today, as we go home to visit our friends and families.  It puts things in perspective and we are profoundly grateful not just for the opportunity to be with them, but for their health and well-being.


 

When Cows Fly

From a Swiss travel brochure, you’ve got to love it!

Cows graze in the high altitudes all summer.  Occasionally, they find themselves in trouble. Click on these YouTube links to see what happens when they do:

 

 

Panache – The One Beer That Can Make Him Do This

In the Summer here, people find Panache refreshing.  It is beer with some lemonade, kind of like a Shandy. It is a bit too sweet for me, but I can understand it.  He did this.

 

Dear Charlotte

Dear Charlotte,

Thank you for all of the good times over the past nine years.  We will miss you. As we sit here at the airport(frantically taking care of last minute details), we are afraid to think too much about leaving you.  We worry that if we do, we will start crying and fall apart.  Hopefully we will see you again soon.

Love,

Us