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Archive for the ‘Editorials’ Category

Now that we’ve been here a few weeks, I’m going to just come out and say it.

Americans are mean.

And then, just when I’ve decided that I’ve had enough of being honked at for no good reason, yelled at for no good reason, and cussed at for no good reason, I go to my local Whole Foods, Starbucks or any other consumer-driven market place and experience the best customer service I’ve ever known…ever.

So my only conclusion is that Americans are using up all their friendly mojo at work and saving their haggard snobbishness for their day’s off.

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Operation Drivers License has been one gong show after another.

It started with my written exam. After standing in line (out the door) to get my number, I proceeded to wait…and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Four hours later, my number was called.

I’m not even being facetious. I’m serious.  Thank you California budget cuts.

Look on the bright side, while waiting four hours in line, I got to study the Driver's Handbook for valuable information like this.

And to top it off, I was definitely on the wrong side of the tracks in San Jose. I mean, every time Tim drove up in the minivan, he was half-expecting to get shot and I actually caught one (of the many) tattooed thugs taking a video of me with his camera phone. Like I was that much of an oddity?

Yes, yes I was.

At one point, I realized that I was the only white woman in a room of 200 people. Again, I am not exaggerating to make a point. I counted.

If dude can take a video of me, I can post photos of him on my blog.

When my number was finally called, I continued to wait another 20 minutes while the nice gentleman entered my info into the DMV system not once, not twice, but three times. Then he asked me to proceed to window 17 to get my picture taken, at which point, I waited for another hour, this time standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the other suckers in line.

Have I mentioned how much I love the California DMV?

After getting my (horrid) mugshot taken, I was then directed to window 27. Oh, right…because I haven’t even taken my written exam yet. And of course, another line.

By this point, it was 4pm, and I had lost five hours of my life that I would never see again. I overheard a staff member saying that you could come back the next morning and take the written before the line-ups get going so I booked it outta there feeling like I didn’t really accomplish all that much. Well, other than having some 19-year-old black kid with a big cursive script tattoo up his arm saying “Self-Made” try to hit on me. If you can really call that an accomplishment.

The next morning, we pulled up at 8:00 am, ready to hit window 27 before the already-growing line-up of people would be processed and want to write their tests, too.  Sure enough, the line-up was down the street…but the doors were closed.   I had to laugh when I walked up and saw the chicken-scratch writing on the posted Office Hours where someone had changed Wednesday’s opening time from 8 to 9 am. Yes, it was Wednesday.

Of course it was Wednesday.

And back we went to exploring the sketchy streets of East San Jose…trying not to make eye contact.

The good news is, I returned and was able to take the test quickly.  All four people testing ahead of me were here for their second or third re-test which gave me some last-minute jitters but thankfully, I passed with 29/30 and I was outta there with a learner’s permit.

Finally.

I came busting out of the office, line-ups still down the street and found Tim and the twins hanging out at the minivan out front.

I couldn’t resist.

Waving my learner’s permit in the air, I shouted, “Daddy, can I drive now?!” in a high-pitched squeeling voice with a hint of 17-year-old-girl. Tim didn’t laugh but I did.

Sadly, as I got in and inspected my new paperwork, I read that I was only permitted to drive with a California-licensed driver. Crap. Oh well, no practicing for me. It’s only been a year since I drove a vehicle…no big deal, right?

Somewhere in there we also realized that we couldn’t use the rental car for the road test so I called all the driving schools and finally found one that had an instructor available to take me to my road test the following day.  And now I know why they had someone available. For starters, he couldn’t answer any of my questions and kept responding with, “hmmm…well, that’s a good question…”. Secondly, we had just left my street when he pulled into a Taco Bell to stop and get a taco.

And he gets paid by the hour.

But really, by this point in the game, I’m not going to lose it over the guy’s poor business ethics. Just get me to my road test! This time, I made the appointment with the Los Gatos DMV…for you Victoria folks, think Oak Bay, and then some.  Needless to say, there was no gang activity or security patrols. I was in and out in five minutes and queued up for my road test. Everything was going great.

And then the examiner came out to review my paperwork and suddenly stopped to ask if I had my Social Security Number.

Uh, no.

She then proceeded to inform me that unless I have a SSN or have otherwise been in the country for 60-90 days (so my Visa info can get caught up in the system), I’m not passable.

I think I almost started to cry.

I calmly explained to her that I have two kids to drive around and although I’m all for public transit, the San Jose system isn’t really feasible for us. I need a license!  She kindly reassured me that it was no problem, I could just use my out-of-country license.

Well, I could…but it’s expired. That’s why I’m in this mess.

So she whipped out her clipboard, scribbled some notes and dissapeared into the office. A few seconds later she returned and handed me a 90-day temporary license.

Uh? Seriously?

My eighty-dollar-taxi-driver, otherwise known as my “instructor”, came over and was a bit baffled to hear I was done and we could go.

I mean, he hadn’t even finished his taco yet.

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Let’s start with the obligatory apology for our missing Toes. Then let’s follow it up by these words: seven days of Spain; one international move; 5,000 miles; 9-hour time zone change; hello California.

In just three short days (or three very long days, depending on what ungodly hour our extremely screwed up circadian rhythms have woken us at), we’ve experienced more culture shock than so-called “foreign” Switzerland offered us in an entire week.

In one hand, we delight at things like fantastic customer service (I’m pretty sure there’s no Swiss translation for this because well, it just doesn’t seem to exist) and the amazing produce and health food that rings in cheaper than the no-name foods in CH. And hey, the same mascara that cost me $17 in Basel cost me a whopping $2.50 yesterday in Target. But then we drive down the six-lane concrete jungle (otherwise known as the 101) and I feel a little sick to my stomach. I think “what have we done!?!” and I want to fly right back to my European life of trams, trains and pedestrian districts. We stop in for a muffin and tea at a local cafe (one of the few non-franchised we could find) and laugh to each other at the sheer monstrosity that is an American bagel (I think it had the circumference of a Frisbee). We grimaced at the sight of a man zipping by us, paper coffee cup in hand, talking on his Bluetooth ear piece. We realized that in our entire year of living in Europe, we never once saw a Bluetooth ear piece. And the only people toting “to go” coffee were tourists. Because Europeans know how to stop for a few minutes to have a coffee and make a phone call. Possibly not even at the same time! {gasp!}

But I digress. The point of this post was to giggle at the fact that I’m feeling 16 again as I study for my Learner’s permit to drive a car in California. My BC license expired while in Switzerland and when your out-of-country license expires here, you have to go through the testing process to be licensed in CA. This should be fun! (not).

We all woke up at 2:30am this morning (hey body clock, you fail) and so I figured it would be a good idea to study for the written test I’m taking today. I’ve driven for 15 years and have two classes of license (regular + motorcycle) but I’m still nervous about passing the stupid thing. Unfortunately, they like to put questions about ridiculous one-off scenarios that have a 1:549130819574 chance of happening just to put you in your place. For a 16-year-old who thinks they know everything, this isn’t such a bad thing. For a non-resident soccer mom who just wants to drive her kids around in the minivan, this is a major inconvenience.

But as I read through the manual, I caught myself saying “wow, good thing I read that!” and perhaps it hasn’t been a complete waste of time. For instance, this little excerpt from the U-Turn section:

ILLEGAL U-TURNS
Never make a U-turn:
• At or on a railroad crossing.
• Where a “No U-Turn” sign is posted.
• When other vehicles may hit you.
• On a one-way street.

Wow, thank you Department of Motor Vehicles California.  That could have been embarrassing.

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Seems like the last thing for me to sell is my annual membership at the local fitness club and it will be one of the first things I find in California. Nothing beats putting the kids in a (fun) daycare for a few hours while Mommy pumps some iron and then relaxes in the Cafe with a post-workout latte.

Exercising in a European gym has definitely had it’s interesting moments.  Although my bicep curls and squat thrusts are the same no matter what part of the world I’m in, pretty much every other aspect of the gym has produced it’s own type of culture shock.

Gym Speak Canada Switzerland
____________________ ___________________
Cost $50/month is pretty average. If you included the $6/hour it cost having my kids in the daycare, my membership soared to over $100 per month. Not cool. No monthly payment plan here! In Switzerland, they expect you to have your financial crap together so you pay for the year up front. CHF 70/month includes a better quality facility AND unlimited daycare access.
____________________ ___________________
Attire Pretty much a guarantee that when you walk into a west-coast Canadian gym, you’ll find 8 out of 10 women wearing Lulu Lemon (much to the delight of the male gym-goers). Do you know what it feels like to be the only woman in the entire building (heck, this entire city!) wearing the coveted Lulu magic?! If you’ve never seen your rear in a pair of Lulu’s, you have no idea what I’m talking about. And that’s what’s so glorious about it.
____________________ ___________________
Amenities For my aforementioned $100, I got a crappy little daycare where the chick talked on her cell phone the entire time she was with my kids (darn you stupid contract!) and some decent equipment around 5-10 years old. Let’s do it up Swiss-style. Gleaming hardwood floors, a plethora of shiny new equipment and weights, a pool and a ton of other amenities that I haven’t even bothered to use. Like, the co-ed sauna. Sorry, the mandatory nude co-ed sauna. (Because honestly, bathing suits are such a hassle). And plus, this photo on the gym’s homepage really brings out the dudes.
____________________ ___________________
Members Women Only gyms are easy to find in NA. Perhaps impossible here. My last gym had a ladies’ floor so you could do those bent-over rows without worrying about some juice monkey checking out your Lulu-Hotness (although, they were distracted by the other 20 Lulu-clad women in the place, anyway). Other than the über-hairy Eastern Europeans that keep me from ever stepping foot into the whirlpool, it’s mainly old people working out when I do. Well, them and the Spandex Guy.

Every day. Same spandex.

____________________ ___________________
Oy! In my experience, the most shocking thing you’ll find in a Canadian gym is a woman exercising sans t-shirt and just a sports bra.

That amount of skin attracts a lot of stares and most self-respecting women just don’t want to be bothered, no matter how rockin’ their six-pack is.

It’s been five months and I think I’m finally desensitized to the most shocking part of working out here. The pool is in the basement level and the change rooms are on the main floor above it. The stairs and (glass) elevator wind their way up through the middle of the main entrance and weight machine areas.

If I had a nickel for every hairy, old guy I’ve witnessed walk up in nothing but a towel casually wrapped around their waist, I’d be building my own gym.

Focusing on the last set of killer tricep extensions is hard enough without some old guys’ butt crack getting in the way.

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I hope your inoculations are up to date.

Because I am about to expose you to the fashion epidemic that is running rampant in every European clothing store. Dear God, please don’t let it be contagious.

First off, let’s just get this party started by saying that “everything old becomes new again” because you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything in our stores that doesn’t bring back vivid memories of 1988. I suddenly understand why my mother cringed when I would rock a 70’s-inspired outfit because Lord help me if I had a daughter wearing these…

(more…)

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Maybe it’s because it only happens every four years and it’s beyond my toddlers-on-the-brain memory, but I don’t recall the World Cup being such a big deal in Canada last time around.  I guess it could also be attributed to the fact that we don’t have a contending team and in fact have only graced the World Cup stage once in the history of the Cup (Mexico, 1986, left totally shame-faced).

Well that is certainly not the case here, where people are going crazy loco for everything football.  At the grocery store, you can buy hard-boiled eggs in your fave team’s national colors. At the department store, you pass mannequins in head-to-toe Italia and España velour track suit, complete with matching panties. It seems as if every merchant window has at one time, in the last few weeks, included some sort of elaborate World Cup display.

Part of me thinks it’s great, seeing everyone get so excited about something. The other part of me wonders if they take it just a bit too far.  For instance, this ad. I mean, really?!

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An Apple a Day…

We weren’t looking for this. It just…happened.

But isn’t that how the best things in life usually go?

And so tonight we celebrated Tim’s new job.


The over-sized lettering would be Liam's handiwork!

As of September 7, 2010,  my very talented husband will be working for Apple in California and our family will relocate to the Silicon Valley. We will end our adventures here in Europe a few years earlier than expected but in a lot of ways, it feels as if we accomplished just what we were suppose to.

This is the smile of one very happy boy...to him, California is nothing but Lightening McQueen, the home of Mickey Mouse, and "one plane ride from Gramma & Peapa"!

Proudly wearing our Apple swag that Daddy brought back for us from his interviews at Apple HQ!

Tim will post more details soon!

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