Family

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For most of us, when we’re younger we think that our family can do no wrong. Our dad is our hero and our mum is our protector. I mean, I don’t even really remember thinking that about my dad but I know that it must have been true. My dad once worked for a furniture shop and he would dress in the hippo costume for that bed brand and I know that would have made me so happy.

When we get older, we start to see the cracks but it soon becomes normal and we don’t think that there is anything we can do to change it. We accept it. “That’s just my family.”

We survive the arguments and the incidents. We continue to love them because that’s just what you do in a family. You think that even if there is hate, there must be some love, right? Because blood is thicker than water.

I think it must be at different points where people see through the facade. They see through the obligation and they start to protect themselves rather than their family. I guess this comes easier if the family breaks up and so that one family member who was causing the stress is around less.

For me, I think it took far too long and now I write because I realise that your family isn’t a group of sacred people who can do no wrong. I realise that they are just people who are as fractured and flawed as anyone else. That at some point you grow out of the brother and sister phase and become more like adults who are bonded. Then there is less protection, less of some sort of family rose-tinted glasses and you think, oh god, have you always been like this?

I don’t live in the same country as my family and I haven’t seen most of them in over a year and a half. As Christmas approached, I was filled with excitement at the opportunity to spend Christmas with them. But believe me, it’s two weeks away and I wish I hadn’t spent hours and days finding someone to look after our pets so that we can be reunited with out ‘loved ones’. It would have been easier and less stress to have our own little Christmas like we have done the last two years.

Recently, I have fallen out with one of my family members that I don’t think I’ve ever fallen out with before. Although they have apologised for what they said, they’re not understanding what I am upset about. Every time I think that my point is finally getting across to them, they take one step forward and then two back. They were spiteful and it shattered the image I had of them. I mean I knew they were flawed, I knew things about them – about how they had treated other people – but they had never treated me like that.

Having been away, I get told what has been said about me and of course I can’t defend myself – I am thousands of miles away. I know they think it won’t get back to me, or that their comments will be taken as jokes or with a pinch of salt. I am starting to wonder whether they realise I have grown and changed. I no longer need to sit and take their comments. I don’t need to make nice and pretend that it’s all fine.

For ages, the idea of a black sheep in a family was interesting and for the longest time I could have quickly pointed it out in my family. But with all this tension and gossiping about me, I’m starting to wonder if I am the black sheep. I’m the one who doesn’t fit in with their norms and expectations.

We have been toying with the idea of not moving back home in the future, and to be honest, with all of this going on I am starting to see even fewer reasons to go back.

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Inconsiderate People

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I recently returned from a trip to Vietnam. First let me say, it is a lovely country and the people are friendly. However, there were a few things that were negative about the trip and they mostly concerned…foreigners being inconsiderate.

Yes, I was a foreigner in that country but I believe I acted respectfully. I want everyone to have a nice time, I ensure that my words are kind even if I don’t think that those listening will understand me, and I want to – not be an ambassador – but give a good impression. I don’t think being considerate is that hard to be – you just consider those around you. You consider your actions and your words and whether they are coming across the way that you want them to. You consider other people.

The main event that I wanted to speak of right now was on our second night in the city. We had been walking around Hanoi all day and we wanted to have dinner before we headed back to the hotel. So we found a place. It wasn’t exactly posh, the sign above the door stating ‘Cheap and Cheerful Restaurant’ so we weren’t expecting a Michelin Star meal. We sat at a table for two and perused the menu. There seemed to be a couple of options so we were deciding when this booming voice invaded our ears.

A few tables behind us there seemed to be a group of backpackers having a few drinks. I also assume that they had already HAD a few drinks because I don’t think anyone normally speaks this loudly. You know, the type of loud where you may as well had pulled up a chair and joined their table because you could hear their conversation word-for-word. The young speaker, as loud as if she was using a megaphone, was telling a story about a recent time when someone had called her fat. She was laughing, so she obviously wasn’t offended but the story didn’t seem to end. She continued and I could feel my patience about to explode. However, I’ve been raised to be polite so couldn’t feel as though I could politely ask her to shut up or turn the volume down because it wasn’t a very interesting story and wouldn’t be even if I’d been reading news about bread for the past 24 years of my life and she was the only alternative. I’d still choose the bread.

So we asked the waitress if we could go upstairs. She warned us that it was much hotter upstairs but we felt we would brave it. Although the heat hit us at first, the silence we were met with was beautiful. We chose a table and settled, much happier in our private space without needing a pair of earbuds. I wish I could say that was the end of the tale, but alas we were met with more obstacles to our evening.

We can hear the voices coming up the stairs, a group of 3. At first they went into a different section of the room and we breathe a sigh of relief. Until the voices come back, like the Jaws soundtrack getting louder and louder until finally they choose a table RIGHT NEXT TO US. I mean, come on! It’s like the chair rule…you don’t sit immediately next to someone. You choose one seat over. With a choice of about 11 tables, you don’t sit next to the couple. You just don’t. But they did.

Again, they seemed merry and the girl immediately boomed out with ‘I don’t have much money left’. So I guess the ‘cheap and cheerful restaurant’ was an apt choice of venue. My husband and I look at each other, not quite believing our luck. We had escaped one deafening group to be found by another. There were two Australian women and it seemed they had coerced a member of staff from their accommodation to accompany them. He definitely wasn’t the loud time and he hardly spoke really. Not that he had much chance.

We tried to drown our their conversation with their own. I’m not even sure what we discussed, I think it may have been how quick can we eat our food to get out of there. The first snippet of the conversation that I remember is the women talking about how one of them had gotten ‘too high’ during New Year’s. This was not a conversation we wanted to hear and I was thankful that there were no families in the area. The conversation then took a deep dive into persuading the Vietnamese gentleman to visit them in Australia.

Woman 1: You should come to Australia!
Woman 2: You should definitely come! You’d love it!
W1: Save for a year and then visit us.
W2: How much is a flight to Australia from Vietnam?
VMan: I don’t know.
W1: Well what is expensive to you?
VMan doesn’t reply or at least isn’t loud enough to hear over the women.
W2: Well save for a year and then visit us. We’ll get you in.
W1: Yeah, we’ll definitely get you in. You can stay with us.
W2: Yeah! So accommodation, free.
W1: And we’ll cook.
W2: So accommodation, free. Food, free.
W1 to W2: It’ll be expensive though. They only make like $300.
W2: We’ll help you out!
W1: Yeah, that’s nothing to us.
W2: Yeah, nothing to us.
W1: So you’ll do it?
VM: Okay.

Let me repeat… they blatantly told him that what was expensive to him was nothing to them. Who does that? Also, can we rewind to the part where one of the women said ‘I don’t have much money left’? I mean I can’t afford a pizza but sure let’s fly a random guy half way around the world.

The reality of the situation is that if a year passes and he contacts them looking for all the visa, accommodation, food, and money aid that they were offering – would they really hold their promise? I really doubt it. But you can’t do that. You can’t go to another country and belittle the locals. You shouldn’t compare your money to their money. You shouldn’t make them feel like what they have isn’t enough, after all you are visiting their country because it has something your home country is missing. Maybe they didn’t realise how they sounded, but they can’t have even thought about it either.
An invite is nice and all but that should be it. I was imagining those TV shows you find on at midday where the police go into a house and find a room full of Asians. You know the one, where they scramble to find all their documentation to prove they are legal and I could just imagine there would be one guy telling a tale about 2 Australian women who invited him to Australia with the promise that they would get him in, no problem.

Needless to say we did not return to that restaurant – just in case.

Another time we went to see a show. We were excited. A water puppet show. It was magical, it was unique, it was a pain in the arse to see past the people recording on their phones. It was like being on a rollercoaster, you were up, you were down, you were right, you were left, you were doing anything you could to see past the arms and bright lights of camera phones. At one point a guy started video recording with his flash on, he didn’t notice for quite a few moments but the blinded audience in front of him definitely did. Did this put him off using his phone for the rest of the show? Of course not. It wasn’t as if he was the only one. There were people all around us being inconsiderate to those around them, causing others not to see so they can film and take photos that they will probably never watch again except maybe once when showing off to friends like ‘look at this awesome video I shot when causing the people behind me to get irrationally angry and think about throwing you in the pool of water that the puppets are in’.

Anyway, rant aside. Just have a thought for those around you. Do they need to hear your conversation about you being high? Do they need to have their view of a show ruined by your arm? Do they need to be seeing white spots because you were stupid enough to have your flash on? Just be considerate.

Social Media Madness

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So I am absolutely aware that I’m not the first to talk about this topic, nor am I the second, or third, or hundredth… you get my point. However, I wanted to add my two cents (or pennies as I’m British).

First off, let me say that I am an avid user of social media. I have many accounts and, although I’m not as active as I used to be, it is part of daily routine. I also have to thank social media for the fact that although I am thousands of miles away from friends and family, I’ve been able to keep *most* of them in a good condition.

However, the more I think about social media and discuss it with my good friend, the more I see the dangers and faults of it. I’m aware that this is probably going to get a little ranty more than rambly – apologies in advance. Let me finally say that I know that not everyone falls into these problems, so don’t feel like I’m pointing at you.

  1. Let me tell you about the sandwich I ate…

When we talk in a real conversation, we filter. We prioritise the most important information because we don’t know how long we’ll have a listener. We think Well they probably want to know about my new house but they probably won’t care that I ate a chocolate bar yesterday. However, on social media some people don’t prioritise because they don’t need to. Social media means that there is always a listener/viewer and there are often so many ‘friends’ that will see it that you don’t have to tailor your news to your audience because someone will care. It also means that if you overshare, it is unlikely to be called out, whereas in real life the look on someone’s face would be the instant confirmation that you shouldn’t have said that.

2.  I care..but only this much.

I won’t go into how it creates the illusion that we all have hundreds of friends who care about us. On the other hand, I do think that although it can create connections between people who are far apart from each other, it also creates fake connections. Let me explain: when I post a status about something happening in my life, I have the same group of people comment. If I could place bets, I would be making money. The issue is that these people do not contact me, they don’t talk to me, they literally use status’ to communicate with me. And I’m not cool with that. If you want to know how I am, then ask me. I’ve heard the excuse of ‘We know you’re busy so we don’t want to interfere’ but it’s bull. If you cared enough, you’d interfere – at least that’s how it feels. Please note that I have actually reached out to these people to try and talk to them but it must be too much effort to move the mouse to the private conversation box from the newsfeed.

3. Good news for you, good news for you, everyone has good news!

I’m not old enough to know how it used to be, but I can imagine. If someone said ‘Oh, she graduated university!’ or ‘She just got a new job!’ then it was news and it was special and it deserved to be celebrated. The problem now is that we have so many people in our circles that these special events aren’t rare anymore. Heck, even someone having a baby is sometimes met with ‘Oh great, another baby’ because our screens are full of photos of friends’ babies when in reality most of those babies are the spawn of strangers. It creates this idea that everyone has these big life events, so they aren’t that special anymore.

For many people they have to ask themselves. Is my life interesting? Is my relationship perfect? Do I look amazing in my photo? Are people jealous of my holidays? Then they post status’ or photos and get that instant validation that they wanted.

Even to the point that people want to feel cared about. I’m sure we’ve all seen them. They throw out the line and wait for a fish to grab on.

That person: Grrrr! I can’t believe this!
Fish: Oh no!! What happened babe?
That person: Oh I’ll pm you.

In reality that fish is probably just a nosy parker who doesn’t actually care but they’ll bite to find out whether the news is gossip worthy.

Then for some it generates comparison because everyone has the highs (and the lows) so we need to one up it. We need to give the new and shiny information. The flawless photos. The exciting news. We’re competing for attention to stop that person scrolling. The majority of people only post about the positive in their life so there are so many highs that we want to make sure ours are higher. Some people regularly post about the negative things in their life, but unfortunately I think that makes people tune out. A bit like the boy who cried wolf – how does someone know when you really need help. We become desensitized.

4. Tradition of Gossip

Last one.

Let me set the scene. You’re at your parents or grandparents or whoevers and they lean forward and say, “Did you hear about your cousins/uncles/aunties/local random person?” and proceed to go into a 10 minute monologue detailing the tales of said person.
I remember being at my grandmother’s house and the vast majority of the visit being filled with stories about my cousins.

The other day my mother said “Did you hear about…?” and my answer was “Yeah, I saw it on facebook” which pretty much killed the conversation.

This got me to thinking. A lot of the older generation relied on these stories, these pieces of news to pass on to the rest of their family. They don’t keep up with modern music or the hit TV shows, and many of the younger generation don’t keep up with the news…it was the middle ground, the key to the conversation. How has social media affected this?

Now, when someone has a piece of news we are much more likely to read it off a screen than to hear it from a mouth. Isn’t that sad?

 

 

The Unforgiving Mind

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I know I’m not the only one this happens to. You’re casually sitting around and you begin daydreaming and then your mind goes “Hey! Remember this really embarrassing thing that happened TEN YEARS AGO!?”

I also know that this topic has been written about many times, but I wanted to share with you some of the moments that my brain likes to remind me about when I’d really rather it didn’t.

Case 1: Year 7 in Secondary School

I remember this so vividly even though it’s been nearly 15 years ago now. I was walking across the yard with my friend and two boys from my class came up to me. I remember feeling nervous because these boys were what I, at the time, considered to be cool. (I now realise they were definitely not.)
“Can we borrow 10p?” they ask.

Oh, uh, sure,” I say, excited that I can help them – thinking this meant I too would become a cool kid.
I open my bag and start sifting through the back section to grab a 10 pence coin and as I feel the shape of it and begin pulling it up, I can see their faces get embarrassed. I wonder why and as I look down I feel my cheeks flush red and I pray that the ground will open and swallow me whole.

I’ve not only pulled out a 10p coin, but I’ve also pulled out a sanitary pad.
But not just any sanitary pad. This is a loose, cheap supermarket sanitary pad that’s been in my bag so long that it’s looking a bit worn…wait, not worn worn, but you get it.

I’m not sure whether what I said next saved the situation at all but I quickly said, “I don’t think you want that” and giggled, still hoping that a spontaneous tornado would pick me up and take me away.

Thankfully they didn’t say anything but just walked away as quickly as they could.

Case 2: 16 years old meeting my primary headmaster in a Boots store.

It was about Christmas time and I was out shopping for some last minute gifts, including a phone for my sister (which proves how much detail I remember). While shopping in a…drug store (I have no idea how to describe Boots – medicine, gifts, sunscreen, hair dye and…sandwich meal deals?) I bumped into my headmaster from primary school. I only ever have fond memories of him and we began chatting about what was going on now and he asked about my siblings. All in all it was a friendly conversation. Then it was clear the conversation was wrapping up, and so I said goodbye…

AND I HUGGED HIM.

I don’t know why! I’m not even that big of a hugger! But something in my brain convinced me that it was how I should say goodbye.
It was awkward to say the least. He was taken aback, I was taken aback, my brain was having a grand old time thinking of how much cruelty it could bestow upon me with this memory.

I made a swift exit afterwards.

Case 3: The boy’s housemates

It was a Sunday afternoon. I was heading over to a boy’s house and we were going to chill out. I was definitely hoping for some kissing action. I remember thinking I better get some because I’m missing the Disney movie that’s showing on Channel 5. Here I should probably say that I was 17, not a child. I also think the movie was either Pocohontas or Monster’s Inc – so good choices.

So we’re in his bedroom and we start kissing, it’s getting a little heated (but I’ll leave out all of the details) until we hear a KNOCK ON THE WINDOW. This is made weirder by the fact that we’re UPSTAIRS in his bedroom.

We look over and his housemates have scaled the conservatory to sit on the roof and knock the window and COMPLETELY ruin the mood.

Suffice to say I made my excuses, text my mother to be picked up, and grumbled about how I’d missed the movie.

So yeah, these are 3 of numerous memories that my brain likes to keep and remind me about them so I never get too confident, you know. I’ve got some more, but they’re a bit TMI so I’ll save you the experience. And although I do wish I could forget about these memories, I do enjoy telling the stories.

Rugrat Reenaction by Yours Truly

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I may have reached a new low in my adult life.

I had a tantrum. A full-blown toddler tantrum.

Let me set the scene…

I’m in a rush to leave the house, I’ve already left things a little late but in my head I figured it would take me 10 minutes to get ready and leave. Of course this meant that multiple things would go wrong.
As I grab my go-to jeans, I find that the button is missing. For most people this would just be a simple case of grabbing the next pair of jeans. However, for me that means lint rolling for 10 minutes in different lighting situations to ensure that all of the white animal fur is off my black jeans. Guaranteed, there will still be a lovely layer when I leave the apartment.

I got past that part until I started brushing my hair. It was kind of wet and it’s started getting really humid here so it’s a mess. I’ve been brushing it for a good 5 to 10 minutes and figure that it must have less knots in it now. I moved it to the other side and found a knot the size of the an elephant. So I begin trying to de-tangle a knot as complicated as relationships between countries in Europe right now. It’s not going well and I can feel myself getting frustrated. First the huffing, then the cursing… my husband’s standing close by trying his best to help me get ready… I’m starting to not use words, I’m whinging and squeaking and then…

I exploded.

I throw my arms down in fists and stomp my feet 4 times as I’m making weird frustrated noises.

Even as it was happening, my rational brain was shaking its head in embarrassment.

Immediately after the stamping, I’m crying hysterically. At this point my husband cautiously approaches and tries his best to comfort me.

‘Everything is shit!’ I’m crying.
‘No it’s not,’ he replies. His novice reply doesn’t comfort me and I find myself cursing why I hadn’t made him watch the rom-coms that tell men to just listen and not contradict women who are upset, or in my case reenacting a 2-year old who needs to go to sleep but refuses to go to bed.

The crying subsides, I try to make my hair into a more controlled mess and tie it back. I dress normally and try to continue as normal. As we head out and we’re walking to get a taxi I turn to my husband and mutter ‘Let’s never mention that again’.

Of course we both know that the tantrum was nothing to do with my jeans, or my hair. It was to do with the hundreds of things that I am currently juggling in my mind. It was the explosion of frustration that’s been building up for weeks, and I completely understand that and I am fully aware that it was probably for the best. However, I am not okay with stomping and bawling like a toddler in front of my other half…or even myself. I’m sure I’m not the only one who this has happened to, possibly not in the same ridiculous manner, but you’ve stayed strong for too long and it comes out in the most annoying way. Maybe it’s snapping at someone for something petty, or causing an argument just to get frustration out. Maybe it’s crying at a television show when a character finally has their love reciprocated, or when your favorite person is voted off a reality TV show. I think we all need to have an emotional cleanse now and then.

Whatever yours is, I think it’s time I find myself an alternative. I think a tantrum caused by brushing your hair is one step away from getting out the shaver and shaving it all off and I really don’t want to have to explain that to others. (No offence, Britney.)

 

 

 

Who are you, really?

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I think there are many situations in life where we’re put with a group of people and you kind of have to choose the best of the bunch to socialize with. It starts in school, happens in university, and then continues in every work place. It happens at parties, weddings, training sessions…basically everywhere. Now I’m not saying that every person you meet is just the ‘best of the bunch’, that sounds just like a consolation prize. Every now and then you meet someone who is your kind of friend soulmate. I met mine in a work place about 7 years ago and no matter how much distance has been between us (I’ve moved a lot) she’s always been there. But sometimes your school or workplace doesn’t have that shining savior who is going to make every lesson or shift bearable or even enjoyable. In those situations you choose the person who you can get along with and you make it work.

The problem with those ‘make it work’ relationships, no matter how good they are, is that there’s always an element of unfamiliarity. Sure you may know their favorite color, or what kind of food they like to eat, but how much do you really know about them?

I’m currently in this kind of situation. I’ve known this friend for about 2 years and we’ve been pretty close for about a year and a half. I know many things about her but I know that I’ve been avoiding finding out those personal details which change someone from a ‘work-friend’ to a ‘close-friend’.
On a fundamental level we are very different people. Part of this is no one’s fault. She is hyper-christian from the Bible-belt of America. I am…I have no idea what religion…from the very satirical UK where religious jokes are galore. With this one difference comes a lot of boundaries and that’s where the friendship is stopped from developing.

I feel like I’m on my guard, unable to fully be myself because I’m putting a filter on my jokes, on my likes, even on my stories about family and friends.

“Let’s watch a movie,” she’ll say.
It’s a great idea except for the fact she won’t watch movies with… violence, sex, crude jokes (and her tolerance for them is very low).
I end up searching for a family animation to watch because it’s safe.

We’ll be joking around and there will be a prime opportunity for a joke about religion. If I was with my UK friends, I’d crack the joke and we’d laugh about it. Here I have to let it slide. See, I’m wasting my talents.

Now these differences haven’t really affected anything…until recently. I figured I knew her pretty well, and things I didn’t know I kind of just assumed. I’m open to differences, I reckon I’m pretty understanding and willing to discuss and debate. However, recently she’s said a few things that have shaken the core of our friendship.

I’ll preface by saying that it wasn’t earth-shattering. She didn’t admit to being a cannibal or to secretly enjoying running over old people. Nothing that crazy…well, crazy but not that crazy.

First: she said that she’d voted for Trump.

I didn’t get involved in this. Sure, I’m concerned about him running one of the most powerful countries in the world – but it’s not my country and I’m not fully educated on his policies and everything necessary to build a convincing argument.

Next: She told me that…*big breath*… she doesn’t believe in global warming.


I knew that there were some non-believers but it’s as though my brain didn’t really believe they actually existed. My head froze, my mouth didn’t know what to say. I wanted to ask…’What’s there to believe in? It’s fact.’ This may sound harsh but…she’s able to believe in a magic man in the sky but not scientific fact about global temperatures? (Disclaimer: I am not saying that God isn’t real.) Further to this, it worried me more because she’s a teacher.

I blew it off. If there’s one thing that I’m sure of it’s that she’s not the kind to change her opinion. I won’t be working with her much longer so I figured I could let it go.

Finally: Her classroom is studying Mexico, there’s a Mexican flag one side of her class and she has her home state flag up on another side. I was a fool, I let down my guard, and made a joke about putting a wall between the two. I thought it was funny and I know my close friends and family would have laughed. I really kick myself for thinking I would have had a good response from her.
She half laughed then added, “but I support the wall.”
Oh, pants. What had I started? I hoped that would have been the end of it, but no. She continued adding terms like ‘those people’ and I could hear the glass around our convenient friendship cracking.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s been a great friend, very reliable and supportive, and we’ve definitely had some fun times. But how long can a friendship last when you’ve got a child-friendly filter on your words, your hobbies have to change, and you can’t talk about some of your friends because you don’t want to have to risk any homophobic comments?

On the flip side, she may be feeling exactly the same. Maybe she dislikes that I can’t join in with her Bible study sessions, and I know for sure she dislikes when I curse. Perhaps I’m also her convenient friend.

Do you have some convenient friendships? Have you ever wondered how much you know about them or, like me, are you avoiding finding out because it may demolish anything that’s already been built?

Awkward Encounters of the First Birthday Kind

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I’m the first to admit that I’m not really a social butterfly. I can get by. However, as I’ve grown older I’ve become so much more aware of how awkward I am and I feel like this radiates from me. I mean, I’m not Anti-social Annie, but sitting in the corner trying to look busy is my role in the party. Unless I know you, in which case I’m the over-the-top funny one.

Today, I attended a 1 year old’s birthday party. Fortunately this was not the kind that was filled with loads of other 1 year olds accompanied by constant screaming and/or crying. It was one baby and basically a room full of adults. Well, that’s a lie, there were two young girls there who both ignored me when I spoke to them twice so I guess I was ignoring them here. Yes, I’m that petty.

So my husband and I arrive just after it begins, we bring the presents we have and we choose a seat in the corner. At this point in time it’s not too awkward. We know at least 50% of the attendees, which is good seeing as there is only about 7 of us. More people arrive and we realise that we’re becoming the awkward ones. People are talking and laughing and some are even moving around the room. I’m trying my best to keep a conversation going with my husband, which is tricky because he can’t hear me at all, and trying not to look like I’m desperately seeking the room for a hero to come and make us seem happy and sociable. No one does.

It doesn’t help that the attendees of the party are a strange mix.

There is:

  • A girl named Eden who brought along her pet snails
  • Snail girl’s father. who was acting like a boomerang between the food table and his seat on the sofa
  • A married couple. One is obsessed with babies (I really am surprised she hasn’t just stolen one) and her husband who started making balloon animals.
  • Another couple who were putting on a bit too much PDA for a kid’s party. The husband was confused when asked what ‘Jer’ was short for. Apparently it’s not short for anything, but just an indication that his parents were short on time when naming him.
  • Anti-social Annie was in attendance and caused a scene about Hipster Harry’s flight being cancelled…while birthday girl is having her cake.
  • Another girl who was trying pretty hard to be the life of a party…a little unnecessary for a first birthday party

Just to name a few..

The invite had been casual, a ‘just pop by’ situation, but as the party continued we realised that we couldn’t just slip out. The first hour was socialising, as you already know we failed at that… then it was cake, which you obviously can’t leave during. It isn’t acceptable to change the words to ‘Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you, we’re going to leave now, happy birthday to you’, and then there was the compulsory let’s watch the baby try and eat cake even though she’s not interested… we thought this was where we could take our cue. We hadn’t expected to see them open the presents but then it became a show. We began to move towards our corner of the room, our little safe haven, only to find that it had been taken by someone else. Our ranks were split. My husband sat down in the middle of a group, braving the social environment. I went to put my cake wrapper in the kitchen only to find that I couldn’t leave. Someone was having a conversation standing right in front of the door and I couldn’t bring myself to ask for them to move. Finally they did and I selected a seat next to a colleague who I had the lousiest reason to make conversation with.

During the present opening I felt sorry for the poor kid. She was more interested in the packaging rather than the impressive collecting of gifts she had been given. She had a seriously good haul – matching clothes, bubble machines, dolls, toys… I was impressed. I had tried to discourage the parents from opening our gift, ‘It’s fine, really’, but to no avail. We watched as our large present was carried over to the birthday girl, causing an awkward shadow to cover all of the other gifts.

This had made it so much more awkward. We did not want to be those people who bring a gift that outshines everyone else’s. However, we did need to bring a gift that could be combined with a baby shower present. (Long story short, there was a collection for a ridiculously expensive pushchair that we did not partake in and our excuse was that we’d bought something personal…obviously we hadn’t at the time so we had to buy something that looked worth it.)

I blurted out a disclaimer – ‘It’s a combined baby shower-birthday present’
But it didn’t help. They pulled out the seemingly over-the-top gift, an elephant rocking horse chair with optional wheels, and placed the birthday girl on it. Everyone rushed to take photos while my husband and I sat there in our puddle of awkwardness. She was cute, sure, but I wasn’t really sure what I would do with photos of our kind-of-close friends’ baby.

They were the final presents. It was the last note of the celebration and it seemed to hold attention. Adults investigated its uses, they cooed over its cuteness, they questioned its origin. It was meant to be a gift that covered my back and didn’t make me seem tight, but now it was making me seem like a show off. Finally we saw that people were beginning to move and we quickly made for the exit. Slipping on our shoes as we waved goodbye to the birthday girl, feeling guilty that she would one day feel the same awkwardness at a one year old’s birthday party, but feeling jealous that it wouldn’t be for a long time yet.

 

It’s not you, it’s me…but really, it’s you…

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Today I had to break up with someone. Or at least that’s what it felt like. Our makeshift relationship was short lived, only days in length, but intense enough to feel like a fire typhoon – if there was such a thing.

Long story short, my husband and I want a Mandarin tutor. I found an advert online and contacted the woman. We had a short phone call to make sure we were both on the same page. We arranged to meet at Starbucks on Monday for a demo. Let’s call her  Persistent Penny,

It would take 45 minutes, she said. 45 minutes…
Oh how I wish it had been 45 minutes.
Nearly two hours later we emerged from this meeting.

I won’t give a minute by minute account of what happened, but I shall give an overview.
She told us about her company, about how much she thinks we could achieve in the 2 months we wanted tutoring, she told us her method of teaching, and all the way through this she tried to sell the idea that having a tutor would be a good thing.
But we already knew this. She didn’t need to sell the idea of tutoring – I had been the one to contact her.
It was then that things started going downhill. She was pushing the big sell. Even throwing in free things. ‘We’ll give you the books for free as a spring deal’, ‘You won’t have to pay for the tutor’s transport’… it was starting to sound like a dodgy car salesman trying to throw in air fresheners and new alloys because he knew that you were slowly backing away from the sale.
But we hadn’t been backing away. We were really keen and we had made this clear.

Then came out the envelope. This big brown envelope. She pulled out this stack of papers and began to show us contracts that other foreigners had signed to agree to a tutoring schedule. After one or two, we had gotten the point she was trying to make. But she continued, and by contact 12 we were starting to think that maybe we didn’t get the point. Here I began to feel like I was being asked to invest in the company instead.

1. I’m pretty sure you’re not meant to show contracts to random people in Starbucks.
2. A contract? For a tutor?

We were still not entirely put off. Our need to learn Mandarin was still shadowing over the strange strategies she was using to encourage us to sign up.

Then, of course, came the figures. On the phone she had avoided money – telling me that it was very affordable, until i had pushed and she had given me a number. A very nice number.
It was not that number. Nor was it a great deal more but when this little amount was added up over all of the hours that we wanted…it started to feel like more. Then she mentioned they would need two months pay at one time.

Here is where the alarm bells went off.  It was a lot. Hundreds.
I’ve not been called tight once in my life. I’ve been called it multiple times. By multiple people. So my natural reaction was to hedge and get out of there. Which we did with the promise that we would contact her later in the day.

Right now you’re probably thinking, this is nothing. Just a normal sales pitch. Oh boy, it hasn’t even begun.

Persistent Penny began to feel like a clingy girlfriend. She’d send long messages, with encouraging tones and reasons to choose her. I would ask her short questions and I’d get an essay response, with more reasons to choose her and explanations about how reliable she is and how professional their company is. I wouldn’t reply because it was late at night, and she’d message me the next day checking I got her message.
It was starting to feel like a relationship where I was clearly not interested but she had somehow fallen in love with me and dreamt of our baby-tutor sessions. Over one day she had sent me more messages than I would send my husband in a week.

Finally, I had to break it to her. I tried to let her down gently. It was too much commitment. We weren’t ready to sign a contract. Every inch feeling like I was breaking her heart. She still didn’t give up. She tried to warn me off others. She tried to make it clear that she cared about me the most. She wanted desperately to make it work. She could change the way she did it, just for me.

Still, it was too much. I didn’t reply to the final message. I believed that I had broken it off with her. However, I must have been too British and not as direct as she needed.

Standing in class about to teach a phonics lesson, I see my phone light up. Someone was calling. I felt my stomach drop, the same feeling you get when you’re expecting it to be your crazy ex. I gave some vague instructions to the students and answered the phone (while a student in class called out ‘I still don’t know what we’re doing’).

“Hello, A—”
That was all I needed to hear. I hung up the phone in panic.
I watched as it lit up again but didn’t dare answer.
I sent a text message. Who is this?

I needed to know. I was waiting for an important call to tell me some documents were ready for collection. But I think I already knew. Those two words were enough. She hadn’t given up. I wasn’t even safe at work.

I checked the number against the number she had called me off the first time. It didn’t match. Maybe it was someone else. Maybe I was just making her out to be crazy. Maybe I was becoming the paranoid one.

Later in the evening my phone went off again. I reluctantly answered it, hoping to be done for once and all. (Bear in mind, this was a third number that she had used to call me…)

The call lasted 12 minutes. I think I spoke for 2 minutes.
She wasn’t giving up on me. She was full of hopeful words about how we could make it work. I wasn’t ready for commitment. We could compromise, she’d say. I didn’t know if I had time for her. She believed I would make the time. I thought someone else would be more suited for me. She said others wouldn’t be good enough, wouldn’t care about me as much.
I couldn’t take it anymore.
“You’re coming on too strong.” I blurted.
It didn’t stop her.
She offered one final compromise. I didn’t agree. She implied that I would be back to her.

I have never seen someone talk their way out of a sale so much.
And I have never had a harder break up.
Suffice to say I blocked Persistent Penny.
But I’m sure she’ll find her way back to me, with her essays and her brown envelope.

 

 

 

 

 

Dear The Culturally Ignorant,

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Now I understand that this might be a touchy topic, especially with all that is going on in the world at the moment. However, after living in China for 2 years it really surprises me how culturally ignorant people can be when the tables turn and they are the foreigners.

When I first arrived in China it was a massive shock to experience a culture so different from my own. I was taken aback by the constant honking of car horns, the strong smells wafting through streets and apartment blocks, the lack of safety everywhere… I could go on and on. As time has passed, I’ve come to accept it and appreciate some of the things that initially shocked me. That’s not to say I’m completely comfortable seeing men climbing scaffolding with no safety harnesses, or that I don’t feel my anxiety build when stuck in a traffic jam that has a continuous honking soundtrack. What I mean is that I understand that it is a part of the culture and that I shouldn’t expect it to change for me.

What really surprises me is the amount of foreigners that I know who don’t share this understanding or acceptance. We have been accepted to live in a country that we are not a citizen of, yet we haven’t accepted that it is a different country from our own and therefore the rules are not the same.

Case in point: We moved to China very suddenly and did not manage to learn any of the language. However, from the moment we arrived we tried to learn phrases and words that would help us get by. We’re no where near as proficient as we would like to be, but we’re trying.
There is a lady who has lived in China for about 15 years and I honestly believe she speaks less Chinese than I do. I have been in multiple taxi or Uber journeys where she disagrees with something the taxi driver has done. Instead of just sighing and letting it go, she’ll start getting agitated and talking to them in English. What’s more, she will get clearly frustrated and angry if they don’t understand what she says in English. This isn’t a rare occurrence, she will make a scene in the car and be totally oblivious to ways in which she could have helped the situation. I sit there cringing and imagining that the driver must be on edge wondering what she is going to do and why she is so angry. I am always surprised when they don’t just pull over and ask us to get out. What baffles me more is that her American husband, who arrived in China at the same time as her, is almost fluent in Chinese, and yet she makes absolutely no effort.

Another foreigner has the cringe-worthy habit of loudly complaining about people in English. She will make comments about their behavior, and this happens almost every time that we go out with her, and she has no shame or concerns that they might understand her. Ironically, she has told tales of how rude it is when Chinese people have spoken about her in Chinese and she’s understood them. Does she not realise that many young people in China speak some English? Enough to realise that she is talking about them? Does she not see how hypocritical she is being or does she really just not care? It makes me so embarrassed when she makes these joking remarks complaining about a native’s behavior, so much so that I wish I carried a sign with an apology that I could pull out and show all those around me that I don’t want to be associated with such rudeness.

There are so many others here, who have benefited from living in China, who complain or blame the negative things on the culture. I know that this behavior extends far beyond those who live in a foreign country, but shouldn’t those living here know better? My favorite conversations are with my Chinese assistant teacher who tells me about rules about what women can and cannot eat or do while on their period, or why people behave a certain way, or what a certain phrase means. We’ll compare our cultures, we’ll disagree, we’ll laugh about it, and then we’ll just carry on. We both understand that there is no right and wrong.

There are definitely cultural differences that I really don’t understand, but that’s okay because I accept them. I know that I can’t expect a country so many thousand miles away from my home one to act the same way – why is it so difficult for others? Of course there are times that I want to make a public service announcement saying ‘It would be so much easier if you just did it this way, China’ or to throw up my hands and cry ‘Wei she me?’ in the worst tones that a Chinese person may ever hear (Translation:Whyyyyyyy????) and, believe me, I’ll complain about them in future posts. But I certainly don’t expect to make any change by being a complete ignorant fool about them – actually I don’t expect to make any change at all. It’s not my job, it’s not my place, it’s not my country.

 

 

Gloryhunters

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Now I would consider myself an overachiever – I want to continuously learn and improve things, and I like, now and then, being told that I’m doing a good job. However, I would completely distance myself from being a gloryhunter. So forgive the following rant, but I have issues with gloryhunters and they need to be aired.

When I learn something, I learn it because I want to self-improve or so that I can teach others (especially as that’s my career). And, okay, I may share this information with others if I think it will benefit them.
If I take part in something, I do it because it will benefit me, or those to close to me and I might tell others that I did it.

However…

I do not take about 100 photos, including about 70 selfies, with daily updates and post them onto every social media platform possible. This may sound extreme, but I know one of these people and they make me want to murder them. At least their case will be solved quickly because people will suddenly wonder why there’s no new updates, they’ll be able to look through photos to see that person’s last location, and I’ll probably end up being in the background of a selfie holding up a knife.
Yes, I may sound crazy, and I am completely aware that it shouldn’t bother me as much as it does. But with this person, there is literally no escape from the constant ‘LOOK AT ALL THE GOOD I’M DOING!’

Let’s call them Dorian (for Dorian Grey)…

  • Dorian will go for a long run on Saturday and Sunday. There will be photos shared on at least 2 platforms, including selfies.
  • Dorian will go to a seminar or training. Dorian will post about it and take selfies.
  • Dorian will go home for vacation then put up daily updates about her jogging schedule, the presentations she has given at her old school, her family (the only thing that I am actually okay with), and all of these will have selfies and photos.
  • Dorian will help a charity and then post photos of her helping the charity, and then the photos of the charity thanking Dorian.
  • Dorian will do a class project and send at least 10 photos into our school chat (clogging up important messages).
  • Dorian will dress up for a school event (good on her) then have her assistant teacher take photos of her. If the AT is not available, then she will take…anybody? anyone know the answer?… You got it. Selfies.
  • Dorian will post about all the certificates she has for the multiple courses she has attended (not always relevant to her career, mind you).
  • Dorian will post seeking advice on very, very personal matters (including a colonoscopy), and then post about results from those matters. You know, just to keep us all updated like the news.
  • Dorian will take a little issue and blow it up into something much bigger, then attract the attention of superiors so it will look like she’s really taking care of the issue.

Basically the formula is – Dorian does good, Dorian tells everyone, Dorian gets happy because people gratify her.

I should clarify. If you want to post about how well your kid did – go ahead. You want to show that you went for a jog and did a personal best – good on you! Let me know about it! You want to show the work you’re doing to help a charity – I’m proud. But I don’t feel that a constant supply of reasons for a pat on the back is necessary.
Of course keep your friends and family updated on your life, but they don’t need to know about every breath you take. They certainly don’t need photographic evidence – I don’t imagine that people are gathering with pitchforks because they think you’re a liar. I don’t think they need to know that you, as a daily runner, are running on the weekend. There’s no surprise. There doesn’t need to be a news alert so that we can hold a day of celebration.

I figure by now that it seems I just have a personal vendetta against Dorian. Surely she’s just an anomaly, and I wish I could say that was true. To prove my point, let’s meet Hipster Harry and Anti-social Annie. Hipster Harry and Anti-social Annie are both in their late thirties. No children (which is absolutely fine – you make your own life choices) but they desperately try to live like they’re still in their early twenties on a gap year that’s lasted 15 years. We’re fortunate in our career (international school teachers) that we have opportunities to travel, and our pay allows us to live a more privileged life than the locals, and even people back home. This is a fact that I am very aware of and I avoid flaunting it. So here’s where my beef with HH and AA comes in.

I’ll start with a true scenario. HH and AA decided that on a 4 day weekend they would fly to Sydney. From our location it’s over a 12 hour direct flight. HH and AA actively avoided telling everyone because they didn’t want people saying they were CRAZY.
Here are my issues with this:

  1. Even if people had said – probably jokingly – that they were crazy, so what? Did they expect that they would be detained in the airport because they had been reported as not being sound of mind? Would the whispers of craziness have spoiled the vacation?
  2. WHO CARES WHAT OTHER PEOPLE SAY? You’re going on a vacation that will be incredible. You’re going on vacation for you not for the opinions of others (at least I hope).
  3. No one cared. Seriously.

What they failed to realise was that the couple they were traveling with hadn’t kept it a secret. So information about their bonkers trip had spread far and wide. People held meetings about how to help their mental health. Interventions were planned. Family members flew from the other side of the world to attend.

NO THEY DIDN’T. NOTHING HAPPENED BECAUSE NO ONE CARED.

Surely, you’re thinking, you’re blowing this out of proportion.
I shall offer a piece of evidence as proof to show that I am not.

Before the big insane trip, Anti-social Annie had been asked by someone about their trip. AA had immediately called one of her friends.
“Did you tell someone?” She demanded.
“No.” The friend replied.
“But suchandsuch knows about it, and I haven’t told anyone.”
An interrogation all over the fact that they were taking a long weekend trip to far away.

As they were headed to the airport, they posted cryptic clues that they were ‘headed somewhere new’. During and after their trip they inundated their social medias with photos of all the things they did on their ‘crazy’ trip. They highlighted the fact that people might think they were crazy. It began to sound as though they were reveling in the fact they had taken part in a ‘crazy’ trip but had enjoyed themselves so much. They wanted people to be amazed of how much they had done in a short time.

Further to this, Hipster Harry will on a regular basis post photos of trips they had taken from years ago. He will bring these places up in conversation over and over again. It’s as though he wants it to become an urban legend that will be passed on from generation to generation. And please don’t ask Hipster Harry how he achieves so much with his bad back – he’ll bring up his ailment in conversation regularly enough for you to be able to recite the story word for word. It’s as though he wants people to be jealous of his life, and I’ll be honest and admit that they had lived a really interesting life thus far, but for some people they will never get the opportunity to do any of the things that HH and AA have. At some point I feel like it goes from I want to share my life with you to I want you to be jealous. Are you jealous yet? Are you jealous yet? Are you jealous yet?

Another example: A week ago they rescued a kitten (yes, I am happy about this) but even after they had given it to someone else to take care of, they posted photos of them having a meal (another thing that cheeses me off because they regularly eat at expensive locations and provide the photographic proof) at an alternative restaurant due to losing their reservation elsewhere because *cue the casual mentioning* they had been rescuing a kitten. Even now, they’re still sharing updates on the kitten that they are no longer looking after, just seeking further gratification.

What happened to just doing things because you wanted to do them? With no recognition, no reward, no congratulations. Is everyone else doing so little that you need to show the world that you’re actually doing enough for EVERYONE? It’s great to be a go-getter but I’m not sure it needs to be put in everyone’s face. Okay, I hear you asking why don’t I just delete them… or them… but my answer is… I have. AND I STILL CAN’T GET AWAY FROM IT.

So before I completely boil myself up and begin hyperventilating, can someone please give Dorian, Hipster Harry, Anti-social Annie, and the other gloryhunters a badge or a certificate that just says ‘We get it. You do good. You’re better than us. Congrats to you’ and can that please be enough.