Category Archives: America

Attitude of Grattitude — Day 4 : Putting Down Roots

Bearers of the astrological sun sign, Cancer, such as myself, are known to be very domestic beings. They like their house, and the comforts of their possessions gathered in closely around them. I have felt the urge for years to own a bookcase, my own queen-sized bed, and to hang pictures of my friends and family on my walls. But since I left “the nest” 7-years ago, I’ve hardly had the time to lay some roots. I’ve lived in college dormitories and a smattering of foreign counties, and have never lived close enough to home to warrant more than two 50-pound suitcases full of possessions.

Whilst living abroad, my cancer crab self hoarded little nick knacks with the hope of some day placing them neatly on an alter in my very own sacred space. I’ve collected tapestries, rugs, soap dishes, hand towels, place mats, etc… and have finally (FINALLY!) gathered all of my belongings in around me into my little shell, and have started the process of growing my roots.

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Today, for the first time ever, I have begun to weave my nest in a location that has the potential life span of 2+ years. The feeling has been mildly overwhelming, as roots are the antithesis of my nomadic lifestyle, but I am excited to embrace the transition from drifter to bed owner, and sigh knowing that from here on out (unless I join an order of monks) I will be hiring a U-haul truck to move me from one shell to the next.

But the feeling of change and rootedness are the things I am grateful for today. Not to mention my stellar family and friends who helped me transport and carry my entire life into my new apartments.

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So much gratitude! Let the nesting begin!

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Quelle heure est-il au paradis? Musings on time

Pass time. Spend time. Waste time. Kill time. Lunch time. Me time. On time. Find time. Good times. Tea time. Daylight savings time.

Our reality leads us to believe that everything is quantified in terms of time… even the quarter life crisis that prompted this post. But really, how (!?) does time bend and change? Why does it seem to speed up and slow down as you age, as you travel, whilst in love? How do we perceive time, and in what circumstances do we interact with time differently? What are the relatives? The constants?

These are all questions I’m not sure I’m fully capable of answering, perhaps for fear that my head might explode, but I would like to find a way of expressing how I’ve experienced a change in my concept of time during this past year in Morocco.

untitled (126 of 127)Punctuality, a cultural non-constant, can be viewed on two different scales–mono and polychronic. In a monochronic society, such as the U.S., time is rigid and task-oriented. You’re late if your not 5 minutes early. Having been socialized in this type of society, the adaptation process to Morocco’s polychronic concept of time took, well, time… Here, time is more flexible and agendas are far from strict.

The term “Inshallah,” which means God willing, is not just religious, it is also a deeply engrained  concept of cultural time. And to those of us raised in a monchronic community, even the very hint of being made to wait (or worse, being stood up) for a rendez-vous, cuts to the very core of our values and beliefs.

“See you tonight at that really important thing we have been planning.”

“Inshallah.”

*GRIMACE* “No, but seriously. See you tonight?”

I’ve frequently begun to ask myself why such a beautiful phrase can render me so uncomfortable. Don’t I  constantly talk about living in the present moment and trusting in the infinite and great plan of the Universe…shouldn’t God’s willingness to let me partake in social gatherings make me feel elated and grateful? So yeah, I sure do feel like a big ol’ hypocrite when my muscles tense at the sound of a non-committal “Inshallah.” But then again, it’s my upbringing. I am a result of all my previous experiences and growing up in a place where time is directly related to money, and money directly related to happiness, has apparently been imprinted on my psyche more than I’m proud to admit.

The beauty of this cross-cultural experience for me, however, has been that whilst living here, I have  begun to loosen my suffocating concept of time. And I’ve come to realize that  I deeply admire  how much polychronic societies value interpersonal relationships. Because, what is time really worth if it isn’t passed with those whom we love? If everything is fleeting, then we must ask ourselves what we value most of all. To me, family and friends hold their weight in gold, and everything else is but a means to the end.

So, what time is it in paradise? You decide.

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Strangely familiar, yet oh so foreign; on learning English and hanging out with Anglophones

I am two weeks into my new job as an “English Associate” with AMIDEAST here in Rabat, and things are going as well as could be expected. This month has been all about making friendly relationships with my roommates, my new co-workers, my students, and most surprisingly, the English language.

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Until recently, I’ve had a one-sided relationship with the English language. Like in any ones-sided relationship, the notion of power reigns. S(he) who beholds the power, is the baller shot-caller. With English I believed that I was running the show; I thought I was able to manipulate English to my advantage in pretty much any situation. After all, I’m usually able to select the most appropriate situations to implement my words directly or discursively. I can consciously pepper my sentences with humor and sarcasm, and engage mouthfuls of beautiful American slang. Naturally, I thought I was a true master of the English language… Needless to say, my extraterrestrial ego has been shattered, and I have been brought back to planet earth as a humble servant of the English language.

This gracious humbling has come in two forms: 1) English grammar, and 2) mingling with other native English speakers from around the globe.

It wasn’t until I began teaching English that I realized how much I still had to learn. I’ve taken being a native speaker for granted my entire life, and never considered what a complete pain in the ass it would be to learn English as a foreign language. As I stood in front of my Intermediate 4 class last Tuesday, I thought I was ready. However, my concept of being prepared was   a Powerpoint full of grammar I couldn’t explain, which I wrongly assumed would be to sufficient. Not even my background with improv could have prepared me for the ensuing hour and a half class, which I filled with lots of um’s and nervous shifty body language. For some context, on that particular day I was teaching a lesson on the 1st conditional–a concept that I have a strong natural grasp of, but very little theoretical training on. How many of you know what the 1st conditional means? …Exactly. To be VERY brief, we use conditionals when we are making “If” statements. An EXAMPLE of the 3rd conditional: If I had known this grammar point before class, I could have avoided the embarrassment of standing in front of 20 students like a deer in headlights promising to find out for Thursday.

This will surely be the first of many grammar points that I won’t be able to explain off the top of my head, because I never learned them in school. I learned to speak English naturally and correctly through immersion. I understand the frustration of my students, however, because I too have studied a foreign language, and I need the rules as much as the next person. Just ask me about French prepositions or feminine/masculine articles and I’ll launch into a tirade about how absolutely non-sensical they are. If you’re telling me to memorize something just because it SOUNDS right, but can’t give me any sort of structure or rule to apply it to, you will completely lose me.

My second (less distressing) realization that I was not a true Jedi of the English language came to me while mingling in the teachers lounge. Before coming to Rabat to teach English, my sole exposure to British slang was from the Harry Potter movies. However, here, I have been exposed to native English speakers from Australia, the U.K., and Canada, and I have begun to take careful note of their different accents and words. I love these other dialects of English because there is something so familiar about them, yet at the same time they are absolutely foreign. There have been many moments where I wonder if we truly do speak the same language. As a result, I’ve found myself analyzing my own slang, my usage of the word “like,” and my pronunciation of words with double t’s or d’s.

My favorite British colloquialisms thus far are for the word awesome: ace* and brilliant. I’ve promised myself to start using them in my everyday speech. However, I end up saying them with a monstrous British accent and all my co-workers think I’m making fun of them. But I’m not. I actually think they are brilliant.

I love the irony of the English teacher learning her own language, and I am now a firm believer that in order to be a true master of English you must hold an understanding of all the ridiculously complicated grammar rules and the various dialects. So maybe I won’t come home from Morocco with a stronger grasp of French or Spanish or Darija, but I can assure you that I will be well schooled in the many facets of English.

*Ace may be the American equivalent to rad. i.e. outdated. However, like certain fashion styles, I believe words, too, should come back into style. Therefore, I have recently re-added rad, gnarly and dope back into my vocabulary… so I’m pleasantly pleased to have ace.

Small, medium, large, or American; the trials and tribulations of eating in France

Apparently being an American in France means eating until your heart’s content… and then eating some more. This was pointed out to me yesterday while I was indulging in a ginger and vanilla ice cream cone in a little  glacier in Montpellier. There, one could order a variety of ice cream flavors and the sizes were as follows: small, medium, large OR American. I had a good laugh at that, but upon reflection I’ve realized my daily intake hasn’t been exactly modest since arriving in France.

Without a strict routine in place I’ve had a lot of time to think about, search for, and devour a multitude of different French foods. Stocked in my kitchen at all times are a variety of cheeses, breads and wines. Kiddie corner from my house is a boulangerie that sells freshly baked baguettes, croissants, et du pain chocolate bien sûr. Just a few blocks further lies my favorite patisserie, L’epi d’or, which makes insanely good cookies, macarons, apple tarts, chocolate mousses, breads, sandwiches (etc etc etc…). Along the canal there are a ton restaurants and bakeries, and  there is even a whole shop devoted to the classic French fave, the madeleine, which is a small sponge cake distinctly shaped like a shell. What’s more there is café upon café where it is possible to sit and people watch for hours whilst sipping a cafe au lait. Needless to say I’ve been in fat kid heaven.

However, fat kid heaven turned into fat kid hell yesterday. Something sort of snapped in me after eating my umpteenth sandwich avec jambon, fromage, et beurre (ham, cheese, and butter) and I found myself on the verge of a mental break down in the local grocery store when I couldn’t find a jar of peanut butter anywhere. It may seem strange that I’ve formerly described all the amazing eats in my town and here I am complaining that I can’t find peanut butter. But upon asking a clerk at Monoprix, I was directed to a wall of different kinds of honey, Nutella, jams, and speculoos (a sort of gingery cookie spread), which were simply not going to satiate this wild American craving I was having. I struck out at the largest grocery store in town and I left empty handed. I was like the French in Dien Bien Phu–defeated.

To put things in perspective for those of you who have never shared a kitchen with me, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple meal for me…a breakfast, lunch, or dinner favorite. I really really love them. Sure I’ll cook, but when in doubt……get the PBnJ out. I can’t even really say that I subsist on this treat because that connotes eating to live. My relationship with peanut butter and jelly is so much more than that, I really thrive on them. Seriously, I do.

But fear not my friends, I am not dying of starvation here AND the universe always provides. The most exciting and uplifting part of today occurred when I tried my luck on another grocery store. Et voilà I found a few small jars of Skippy peanut butter…not the preferred crunchy-oily-natural peanut butter heaven I’m accustomed to, and it was a heart breaking 6 euros for half a container, but good lord did I do a happy dance. I may have been a bit over zealous, and freaked out the clerk who was helping me… Nonetheless, I bought two half jars (you know, two halves make a whole) just in case there is some kind of zombie apocalypse and all of the peanut butter in the south of France is high in demand… though this is not likely seeing as the French do not have a palate for peanut butter, but I’m not taking any chances.

On Blending in and Making Out

Almost two weeks have passed since I have journeyed over the pond, and though I felt at ease the moment I set foot on French soil, I have noted a couple silly cultural stereotypes that I would like to share:

First, horizontal striped shirts are everywhere. Yes, the typical blue and white sailor shirt is a fave here, and I’m thoroughly pleased that my wardrobe boasts a tank, a tee, and a dress congruent with this fashion statement. Don’t be fooled though, my attempts to disguise myself as “une vrai femme française” are kind of pitiful. Unfortunately, I give myself up the minute I open my mouth and try to gurgle out something that sounds French. But now that I have thoroughly degraded my ability to speak the French language, I would like to add that I am oh-so-effing determined to speak this language. I guess for now, though, I’ll just stay diligent about learning new vocabulary and mastering the verb tenses.


My second observation is about something we all consider French… “the kiss.” Now don’t get your hopes up mom, I’ve yet to kiss any French boys, BUT I have watched so many strangers suck face in public that I decided their liberal views towards PDA (public displays of affection) were another stereotype I had of the French. My sample population may be a bit skewed seeing as I have spent a large portion of my time in airports and train stations, but nonetheless I’ve concluded that these people have no problem playing tonsil hockey in broad daylight. What’s worse, not all of the makeout sessions I’ve witnessed however have been quite as classy as Droisneau’s famous photo.

Anyway, I’ll wrap this up because I am going to go walk around Sète to take some photos. I definitely won’t be blending in with my  comically large camera. But hey, at least I’m wearing stripes…..

Je vous embrasse forte,

Lizzie

Citizen of the Planet

Ok…so yes, I know it’s a totally cliché first post, but I really love this song.

Get a load of these lyrics:
“And so, the next few years are blurry, the next decade’s a flurry of smells and tastes unknown. Threads sewn straight through this fabric through fields of every color, one culture to another.”

Ehh so maybe it’s not lyrical genius, but geez Alanis, you get me. I mean, you REALLY get me. This song is about pushing personal boundaries, exchanging cultures, and respecting the sanctity of all beings. So of course I love it.

I am definitely adding this to my travel playlist. Stay tuned.

Xo, Liz$

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