reality

Spring cleaning and a couple of expat pills

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It’s been weeks since I last posted. And I am not proud of it. I’d like to have extravagant and adventurous reasons to tell you about but the truth is that I got caught in a little bit of traveling, a huge deal of spring cleaning, a new job assignment and a crashed computer. Reality has been taking its toll and as I haven’t been able to read anything longer than 2,000 words in this past month, I also haven’t been in condition to write anything meaningful. It’s a vicious circle: the more you write, the more you can keep doing it and viceversa. If you don’t take it out of your thoughts and put it on a keyboard straight away, it will just fade. While I keep emptying my cupboards and dreaming of a life not burdened by objects and clothes and stuff, I’ll simply try and put my thoughts into pills. Short posts. Till I have emptied a third of the house, wallpapered a room, weeded the garden and finished my new content provider job assignment (this one is a  real challenge. And another story. Deadline is in a month).

 

1. Airports and designer coffee.

 

My leave of absence started with a little trip to visit a close friend I might not be able to see again in the coming year. I was away for a mere 36 hours but getting up early, going to the airport and wandering the endless duty free shops felt exciting as the first time. I rarely travel alone since I had kids and as I might have mentioned somewhere in this blog, for most of my (previous) life airports were my favorite place in the world. Being in one, alone, still makes me happy. Airports are the no man’s land of life and time. Suspended between a before and after, a departure and an arrival, an origin and a destination, I always felt they sum up much of the human condition. Everything feels possible in an airport and even if one might never do it, buying a ticket for a random destination and starting over again seems real for a moment. Coming back to duty free shops and endless hallways, I became a victim of my usual weakness. Designer coffee. 

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I tried to find a rational reason to justify my spending 5 bucks for a very average latte in a paper cup with my name scribbled on it but I couldn’t find one. Nevertheless when I spot a Starbucks (and there are a few in Brussels only since a couple of years) I can’t resist. Good marketing, I guess. I suddenly need to get that fat, velvety, brown armchair and disappear in it with an unfair amount of dairy in my hands. I succumbed, as usual. Not without a pinch of uneasiness. I. am. a. victim. of. big. brands.

2. Uprooting, Selfishness and other expats’ misdemeanours.

 

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So I visited a very close friend. A former expat who is now very much rooted and settled in her reality. We had lunch with some of her own friends, all single-countried. I see single-countried people all the time in Brussels but I always attribute the sides of them I can’t really relate to to some sort of cultural crash. It’s when I deal with my own people that I realise many misunderstandings are actually related to the expat vs. single-countried reality. I am questioned. On matters I rarely think about. How often I go home and see my family. Why don’t I always spend Christmas with them. Who will take care of them if at some point they can’t look after themselves anymore? Don’t I ever feel guilty about living abroad? Do I envision the possibility of going back home to live there at some point? Shock ensued when I candidly said that Belgium isn’t my final destination and that I have been plotting to migrate in some other continent in the coming years. How could I be so selfish, never thinking of my ageing parents when planning my whereabouts? The truth is, I rarely do. I tend to live in the present (and sometimes in the past) but, no, I never plan about an uncertain future. So, yes, as a die-hard expat I might be the most selfish person alive. Aren’t we all?

According to well settled people, we expat are:

1. Uprooted. And we tend to impose the same destiny to our innocent children, who will never feel like they belong to something. (A country, a culture, a people). True, they won’t belong. But to a family. Doesn’t that count more than a pre-set package of single-countriedness?

2. Selfish. We keep hopping the world with little regard for those we left behind. Also true. But when we go back home, we’re really there. We could argue what makes more in terms of human proximity between a 5 minutes encounter every day or a 7-days, 24h/24 stay once a year.

3. Anti-social or anti-community. Normal, single-countried people grow attachments to a certain community and they involve themselves in its development. We tend to hang out with similarly uprooted individuals, privilege cynicism and a life made of ever changing alliances and passions. That’s because we can’t vote. Really.

4. Ungrateful towards our birth country which provided healthcare and education for us and just got harsh criticism in exchange. There is a lot of truth in this and some Freudian aspects. Pure expats (not simple tourists, abroad for a very limited time and homesick for the whole length of their stay) can be merciless when analysing their birth country failures. I am one of them. But making a life abroad is not different from leaving your home as a teenager: it takes time to deprogram yourself of all the notions and values your parents inculcated you with as a child. It’s a long and painful process, to judge with your own eyes and heart, letting go of cultural prejudices. As adults, we are tough critics of our own parents before “forgiving” them for not being perfect and loving them for what they are. In the same way, expats are profoundly irritated by everything their birth country is not, before letting all go and liking it again with all of its shortcomings.

Have you ever been criticised in your expatitude?

 

 

I am 35 and stuck between Carrie Bradshaw and Hannah Horvath

Everyone has his coming-of-age story. Mine was Sex and The City. I bumped into it on TV in 1998, while visiting a friend in NYC and it was love at first sight. To my 20 years old self – who had only watched and enjoyed Friends before without being able to actually relate to that – those girls seemed to have it all. They incarnated the dreams of my generation: they were pretty, educated, successful, financially independent (most of the time), wonderfully dressed and were able to live and talk about sex as guys. That is what I saw in them, at least.

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Season by season, I watched every single episode over and over again with my girlfriends ending up to buy not one but two complete set of DVDs (one to keep in case the other became overused). In the early 2000s we were young and crazy about clothes and shoes and fashion and having a career and finding true love. We thought that we were going to live like the girls in SATC and that the way ahead of us was paved with interesting men and tons of glamorous nights out. Feminism was then an outdated word, something our mothers would talk about but that we weren’t concerned with anymore. After all, as Charlotte York puts it, feminism is about freedom of choice. Nothing more. I was a decade younger than the main characters in SATC but I grew up in the same atmosphere of economic optimism and conventional man/woman relationship. The openness about sex was already, per se, a revolutionary point in the show.

Time passed. I don’t watch SATC anymore on a boring night at home. Most episodes feel outdated as are the clothes, the values, the talks. I went from feeling like Carrie to being a Miranda to ending up a little bit like Charlotte. But then I was done. I always missed, though, watching a show I could completely relate to.

When last year I read somewhere on the web of Lena Dunham’s accomplishments and of Girls as a modern answer to SATC, I didn’t hesitate one second to order it on the amazon. Before the parcel arrived, I spent a couple of weeks in the States and had this TV in my room with that thing (I can’t remember what’s its name) that allows you to watch past episodes of current TV shows. There was Girls, of course. Season 1. It might have been the jet lag or the fact that it was like 2 PM and too hot to stay inside watching TV but I lasted less than 10 minutes. Why? I found the show ugly. It was so completely, shockingly different to what I was expecting. It was like chewing into raw beef fillet for the first time. There was no glamour, no extraordinary lives, no optimism, no prince charming and no Manhattan’s nights out. I found myself in front of 4 confused young girls, scraped walls, weak men and sick relationships. And bad clothes, of course. The SATC fan within myself switched off the telly, swearing I would never lay eyes on that again.

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Of course, once back in Europe and dealing with jet lag again, I changed my mind. I watched the entire season 1 of Girls in a night and fell in love with it. Once I cleared my mind of what I thought a show about young girls should be about, it was another world. There is no glamour and male characters are painfully deprived of a backbone as the girls seem constantly unworried about their looks and their reputation but it is so powerfully R E A L. My 20s weren’t as naked as theirs but the insecurities, the bad clothes and the messy boys were there. They always are in that decade. I can relate to Girls – after all – much more than to SATC. I lived Girls, with some sugarcoating, but I could only dream of living SATC.

Lena Dunham took feminism on centre stage again and today it doesn’t sound anymore as an obsolete word, reminding us of burned bras and 70s hairstyles. Hannah Horvath sails through her time with more confidence we could expect from young women in the past and learns what is right, and wrong or simply works for her in the oldest way: trial and error. Instead of received ideas.

I don’t think Hannah and her friends risk in any way to become Carrie and co. later on. They will be something completely different, despite – maybe – some designer clothes and better apartments. These Girls are not interested in pleasing men anymore. They prefer to please themselves and to be liked for what they are.

Looking through pink glasses

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Pink glasses have made a comeback. People seem addicted to them and refuse to take them off.

A few years ago a relatively known French spin doctor announced that “Reality doesn’t matter. Only perception counts”. I doubt he was the only one to say so, but he was the first I heard, and I was impressed. We were before Facebook era and although I knew that politics implied a great lot of “perception games”, reality was still kicking. Politicians would try to sell their stuff, the press (not in Italy, of course :-)) would question them, and research and then filter to the public an acceptably truthful version of whatever was going on.

I felt positively reassured by the mere existence of reality. You could call a friend, or a business partner, or a parent, or even a public office and you would get an idea of what was going on in their lives, venture, routine. You would hear kids screaming on the other side of the line, spouses grumbling, bosses cutting short the phone call because there was something else to do. You could get a glimpse of normality and then be recomforted about your own days: other people were tired and struggling to make it to the end of the working shift, had boring chores to perform and bossy people to deal with. Of course, it could virtually happen to call or email someone in the minute he/she won the lottery and became a billionaire but the probability was remote. You could feel a little jealous when a friend told you he was leaving for the Carabbeans in the middle of winter while you were sitting at your desk, with mittens and a cold, sneaking on online shopping sites while you were supposed to work. But that was it.

The Facebook era has pushed everything a little further. There’re no more crying kids, boring spouses or castrating bosses in other people’s lives. Not even an unbearable family Christmas lunch (that one where Aunt Cinthya asked you when were you due, and you were 3 months post-partum) or a crappy holiday to the Maldives during rainy season. Whenever you feel gloomy or (even worse!) nostalgic and you decide to go have a look at what people you know, used to know, loved or hate are up to, think twice. Eat chocolate instead, or watch Downton Abbey. Everybody else – in fact – is clubbing, sunbathing in an invisible bikini, has no wrinkles despite being older than you, has cute, perfectly combed and very clean, smiley children. Husbands seem coming out of a 50s ad: they always smile, have a clean shirt on and a sexy grin, often mixed with clearly showed parental attitude. Those husbands carry seven children on two arms on an exotic beach, never ditch you with 6 luggages and a couple of toddlers to get a work phone call and never criticize your attitude towards money.

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You’ll soon get the impression that everybody else is clubbing, while you’re sitting on your couch with a runny nose.

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Those who aren’t clubbing are probably on a different time zone, and having sex with a Ryan Gosling lookalike on a desert Carabbean beach. While you are getting up for the 5th time a in a couple of hours to change your stomach bugged child’s sheets.

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Those who actually have children, as you do, appear to have extraordinarly beautiful and wonderfully clothed brats, as in this Bonpoint ad.

Reality, as the French guy said, doesn’t matter anymore. I am still adjusting to this. I am not a self-promoting pro, never been. I actually thought till yesterday probably that only B-series players would invest huge energies in self-promoting. Big players didn’t need that. They had just to kept doing whatever put them in the A-list.

Well, that’s over, I guess. I am fascinated by how many people reinvent themselves on social networks and actually end up fooling everybody else about their actual talents, qualities and successes.

A German study showed that an increasing number of Facebook users developed depression, feelings of envy and anxiety while looking at other people’s lives on the social network.

Out of a philantropic surge, please post (at least once in a while!) a scruffy, un-filtered, un-photoshopped picture of your life! Public Health Services all around the world will be grateful to be spared some cash from happy-pills prescriptions 🙂