Sunday, April 21, 2019

Blog of the Month!!!!




Wooohooooo! I'm super excited to announce that my blog "Kata Writes" is Expat.com's blog of the month 😃! If you're interested in knowing more about my background and how this blog came to be, you can read my interview here!

If you're an expat but not familiar with Expat.com yet, I warmly recommend that you check it out (FYI, nobody told me or paid me to say this - I just happen to like the site). Expat.com is great for finding practical information (tips, blogs, discussions, etc.) about your new country and possibly bonding with other people in the same situation as you. As far as I can tell, most countries in the world are included, so chances are you'll find yours on the site as well!

As for me and my blog, new posts are in the works and will be published shortly! Until then, friends, hasta luego 😊!


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Kata Writes Turns One!!




Oh, what a proud mama I am! Today is the day my little Kata Writes blog graduates from an infant to a toddler 😍! Just one short year ago, I started my blogging journey, and in these past twelve months, my little blog baby has gone from cute to petulant, made some moderate-sized waves (in the kiddie pool, that is), won a few battles with HTML, lost a few others, and changed its country of residence from Belgium to Mexico! What a year!

Now, to celebrate my one-year-old Kata Writes, I would like to present my TOP 5 most read posts of the past twelve months (starting from the fifth)! I also talk a little bit about the writing process of these blog posts, the inspiration behind them, and how they were received by you the readers. Regrettably, not all my personal favorites made it to the list (a few of them did, however), but I'm happy that several different topics are represented in this TOP 5.

So, now, without further ado, let's get to it. I hope you enjoy 😊!


5. Lazy Tourist





Lazy Tourist is a blog post I wrote last summer that recounts the story of that one time I went to Bonn, Germany, miraculously managed to avoid all the major to-do's there, took a picture of the wrong Beethoven statue (a.k.a not-a-Beethoven statue), and ate and ate and ate until I could eat no more. It's also the post where I make my big confession: I'm a despicably lazy tourist who'd rather lie on the beach and do nothing than have my itinerary full of various dynamic activities (yes, I'm that person).

To be honest, I expected outraged crowds from left and right to be reaching for their proverbial and not-so-proverbial stones after this shameful confession, but lo and behold, turns out I'm not quite the rare little butterfly I thought I was. Surprisingly many people have come to me after the publication of this post and expressed that they, too, are lazy tourists 😲. Oh, it's always nice to know you're not alone in this world 💖!

So, if you'd like to learn more about my lazy tourist tendencies, you can read my blog post here.



4. Random Things to Know about Liège, Belgium





This blog post was inspired by one sad (but true) story about the city where I was residing at the time - Liège, Belgium. The story goes something like this:

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a young bright-eyed and bushy-tailed girl went to a tourist information center in Liège to ask about the best things to do in the city:

Her: So, what is a girl to do in this charming little town?
Person Who Worked There: You could go dancing at a night club.
Her: Err...well, I'm not much of a party girl, really.
Person Who Worked There: Oh. Well, then I'm out of ideas.

THE END.

Knowing this was not an urban legend (it happened to a friend #NoI'mNotThatFriend #HonestlyI'mNot), the bleakness of this horrific tale haunted me for so long that, eventually, I set out to prove this tourist information center assistant wrong and wrote a blog post about random facts to know about Liège. And I'm glad I did because it turns out there's plenty to do in Liège! Like... ummm... well... I mean... for example...err... well, there's... ummm...

Just kidding.

Have you ever visited a town where you can attend a fake-burial of a bone (literally, no innuendo here), try some dangerously innocent-looking peket shots, attend festivals left and right, have to use an accent to order churros, and actually acknowledge the existence of strangers by saying 'hello' to them 😲 (true story)? Well, I, for one, hadn't before moving to Liège, and I loved writing this post because reflecting on the fun things about my then-city made me appreciate it in a new way. And there's certainly a lot to appreciate!




3. The Anatomy of A Cheek Kiss - The Subjective and Incomplete Guide to Kissing Air






Despite its name (which is quite a mouthful, I know), this post was an unexpected hit! Out of all my posts, I think this is the one I've gotten the most feedback on, as a lot of people have been eager to share their own experiences with the subject matter.

As the title suggests, this blog post sheds some light on different aspects of the feared and revered practice of cheek kissing - How many? Which side? What is the most optimal technique? Things to avoid? - you know, all of the things that a non-native cheek-kisser living in a cheek-kissing country has undoubtedly had to ponder on once or twice. In this post, I also share my personal biggest cheek-kissing mishap - a memory that still today (many years later) occasionally sends me looking for a suitable rock to crawl under and stay forevermore.

It should be stated, however, that even though aspects of this post could be seen as informative, this is, as the titles states, a subjective and incomplete guide, so taking any of its suggestions as gospel might prove a bad idea!




2. The Art of Taco Diapering (a.k.a How to Annoy a Mexican Fiancé)





I love all my blog babies, but I have to admit that this one is my personal favorite! I originally wrote it from the safe haven of my then-home in Belgium, naively thinking I could mess with the Mexican national treasure - the tacos - and suggest some tweaks to the taco-eating practice without ever having to face the wrath of Mexicans for the simple fact that geographically speaking it was very unlikely. But then, as it happens, karma got me, and we actually ended up moving to Mexico (oops) where I'm now suffering the consequences of this post as everyone who's read it is watching my taco-diapering like a hawk. Now, if you're interested to know what this post is all about, you can read it here, but please be aware that this amazing (and, in my opinion, the best ever) taco-eating technique does not get the Mexican stamp of approval 😜!


1. The Chocolate Showdown




This post is important to me for various reasons, and not least because it was my very first blog post ever (posted exactly one year ago)! Being the first might also explain why it's my most read post (in fact, it has double the views compared to my fifth place runner-up Lazy Tourist), but as it's also my most shared post, I feel that I must have done something right with this one!

The Chocolate Showdown is basically about my attempt to prove that Finnish chocolate is better than Belgian chocolate (yep, I just went there), by using the most cutting-edge scientific method (chocolate tasting!) and the help of a varied bunch of test subjects (36 people of 16 different nationalities).

So. Was my hypothesis right? Is Finnish chocolate actually superior to Belgian chocolate? Hm, well, obviously I can't tell you that - you'll have to read the post to find out 😏!


Closing words


That's all, folks!

If you've been with me from the get-go, thank you for sticking around! And if you are new to this blog, welcome! Lots more fun blog posts are in the works (and lots more remain to be written), so stay tuned!

So, until next time, friends! And now, once more, cheers to the one-year-old Kata Writes 🎉🎉🎉!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"Learn That Stupid Chant" and Other Lessons of Soccer



On my fourth week in Mexico City, I went to see a soccer* match at the soccer stadium.

Now, if you don't know me, this statement probably didn't seem all that remarkable, but if you do know me, well, I imagine that you might have just fallen off your chair, spit out your tea (see, in my mind, you're a sophisticated tea-drinker), or at the very least started questioning the meaning of life.

In case I wasn't clear, let's just say I'm not exactly a fan of soccer. Don't get me wrong, it's not so much that I have something against this specific sport, but rather, I have something against all sports.

With soccer, though, my biggest problem is this: the field is too damn big! Now, if you're a soccer fan, this "field is too damn big" theory probably makes no sense whatsoever, but if you are not a fan, then you know exactly what I'm talking about.

See, as a non-fan, when it comes to watching sports, I have the attention span of a squirrel. This means that if the distance between point A and point B is too long, then by the time the ball gets to its destination, I've already forgotten about everything that happened in-between - either that, or grown a mad-professor-sized beard.





So, how did I of all people end up going to a soccer game? Well, I feel that when you're in a foreign country, it's important to try to experience it the way locals do, and, as far as I can tell, Mexicans LOVE soccer. Usually, if you go out to eat, there's a soccer match on TV. One day we went to a restaurant, where they were serving a particular Belgian beer. My fiancé pointed out to the waiter that that's actually a pretty cheap beer in Belgium (at this restaurant it was not) and said that he knew this because we had lived in Belgium for three years. The waiter seemed excited about this revelation and then said, "Me gusta la seleccion belga" ("I like the Belgian selection") and my fiancé said, "Si. Los Diablos Rojos" ("Yes. The Red Devils"), and even though I don't know anything about soccer, I knew right then and there that we had now officially stopped talking about beer.

So, in the spirit of "When in Rome," when I was invited to go watch a game at the soccer stadium, I said, "Sure, why not." I know, I know. This is a classic pearls-before-swine sort of a situation (me being the non-soccer-loving swine in this scenario, obviously), and I promise I feel very badly about that, but apparently not badly enough to decline this kind invitation.



The First Half


I went to the game with this sole (non-soccer-related) goal in mind: Blend in and do NOT look like an idiot! See, as an expat, every day you face obstacles where the potential of you looking like an idiot is unusually high, so, instinctively, you start avoiding these kinds of situations. For example, whenever I'm at, say, a Starbucks and start approaching a door with the text Jale or Empuje printed on it, I hesitate as I try to recall which one means "Push" and which one means "Pull," because we all know that a person who pulls a door when it should be pushed is the kind of stuff that Internet memes are made of.

So. With the intention of keeping the idiot-o-meter as low as possible on the day of the soccer game, I made sure I was prepared. First of all, I wore black, figuring it was a pretty safe choice (turned out I was right). Second of all, as soon as we got settled in our seats, I asked my fiancé these two simple questions:
1) which color jerseys are we supporting, and
2) which one of the goals do we want the ball to go into?

I was told that 1) we are supporting white jerseys and 2) we want the ball to go into the goal on the left. LEFT, I said (this point will become important as the story advances)!




But as soon as I got these little details out of the way, I was ready to start enjoying the game. And - to my surprise - enjoy I did! It was a particularly beautiful day, not too cold or hot but pleasant, and we had a clear view of the field. My fiancé got me a torta de cochinita pibil (a type of pulled pork sandwich), the crowd was cheering (not at the sandwich, unfortunately, even though it was totally cheer-worthy), and, on the right, the opposing team was surrounded by guards, protecting them.




For appropriate fan behavior, I just followed the masses. So, the first time "our guys" scored a goal and everybody stood up, I stood up with them. When the same phenomenon repeated itself, however, I realized there was a pattern:

Me: *snaps fingers* Oh! I get it! When there's a goal, we all stand up!
Fiancé: Yes, honey. We're celebrating the goal.
Me: I see.
[a short silence]
Me: Sooooo, how long until we can sit back down?
Fiancé: *a long stare*

Despite this promising beginning, though, it didn't take long before there was trouble on the horizon: We were about half an hour into the game when, out of the blue, the people around me started - get this - chanting. And not only was the crowd chanting, but Fiancé next to me was chanting, too (J'accuse 😠)! As I felt my idiot-o-meter needle dangerously approach the red zone, I turned to Fiancé:

Me: What? There's a chant? I wasn't told about a chant! Also, how do you know this chant?
Fiancé: *shrugs* Passive knowledge.
Me: *feeling peer-pressured to chant* Quick! Teach it to me!
Fiancé: Sure! It goes, "Go ya, go ya. *Gibberish-gibberish-gibberish-gibberish-gibberish-gibberish* Universidad!"
[a stunned silence]
Me: Seriously?! Chants are supposed to be simple! That's why they are chants, for God's sake.
Fiancé: It is simple. Listen, "Go ya, go ya-
Me: Forget it.

But even though this was a setback to the plan, help was on the way as Fiancé pointed out that the lyrics to the chant were displayed on the screen, and they would appear whenever it was time to start shouting. I celebrated this good news for about ten minutes until another chant-related problem surfaced:

Our guys scored another goal and chanting ensued. I glanced at the screen but there were no lyrics. Frantically, I tapped Fiancé - who was chanting with the others (the traitor!) - on the shoulder and pointed at the blank screen:

Me: Hello? Why are you chanting? There are no lyrics! You're not supposed to chant!
Fiancé: This is spontaneous chanting, dear.

What? Spontaneous chanting? Who's the sadist who thought of that one?! Let the record show that I'm vehemently against spontaneous chanting as it makes me look like an idiot. An idiot or a supporter of the opposing team, which is not great either.

But then, before I had time to protest, it was half-time.


The Second Half


The unfortunate chanting incident aside, I thought I'd managed the first half of the game pretty well, and after the break, I was ready to start anew.

The second half didn't seem to offer too many plot twists; Grown men chasing a ball, trying to score goals. So pretty standard stuff, I thought (foolishly), until something strange happened:

The ball was kicked into the goal on the left (this is not the strange part yet). Now, proud to apply my previously acquired knowledge (i.e. a goal = standing up), I lifted my derrière a few inches up from my chair until I noticed that the rest of the crowd were still seated. Confused, I sat back down and turned to my fiancé a.k.a my best source of soccer knowledge (which is not exactly saying much - sorry, hon) :

Me: *whispering* Hey, we made a goal! Why aren't we standing?
Fiancé: *looking embarrassed* It was the other team.
Me: No. It was the goal on the left. The left-hand goal is where we want the ball to go, remember?
Fiancé: They swapped sides.

What? Swapped sides? When did that happen? I'd asked my fiancé two very simple questions: Which color are we supporting and where do we want the ball to go. And now one of the pillars of what was supposed to make me not look like an idiot was crumbling down at an alarming rate. Now, I'm not a complete dummy. I have heard that the teams swap sides at some point, but apparently, coupled with my attention span of a squirrel, I'd completely missed when this had taken place.

Luckily, it wasn't long after this incident that we decided to leave the stadium to avoid rush hour. I let out a breath of relief and patted myself on the back for having managed to keep my pride more or less intact (well, hanging by a thread).

But little did I know that it wasn't over yet.


After the game


Just a few weeks after the game, my fiancé and I attended a seminar at the university of UNAM, the biggest university in Latin America. We were sitting in the audience, listening to an excellent speaker, and after she finished, we all got up on our feet and applauded.

Everything seemed to be going swimmingly, until suddenly, something unthinkable happened.

Almost as if taken over by an evil spirit, the crowd started collectively shouting and punching their fists in the air. It only took me one second of horror to realize what was happening:

The audience was spontaneously chanting that goddamn soccer chant 😲(because the soccer team we'd been supporting had been the university team)!

I tried to look at Fiancé for help, but he was too busy chanting his heart out, too (Et tu, Fiancé?). As stated, I was on my feet and, to make matters worse, I was wearing heels (Why, God? Why?), so, feeling like half a meter taller than the people around me, there was nowhere to hide. I was too shocked to even try to lip sync, and the only thing running through my mind was my earnest wish to be swallowed by the 100-year-old academic floorboards. Also - because apparently no refusal to learn the soccer chant goes unpunished - there was a video camera in my face, filming audience reactions (lovely).

So, now, every night when I lay myself to bed, I have to fall asleep knowing that somewhere out there there's somebody with video material of me doing the very thing I've tried all this time very hard NOT to do:

looking like an idiot.

Oh well, I suppose no one can avoid their destiny, and mine seems to be becoming an Internet meme. So, if there's a moral to this story, it's this: The soccer gods are vengeful. If you're a non-fan going to a soccer match, for the love of God, learn that stupid chant!



* I know that soccer is called 'football' in this part of the world, but for the sake of my American readers, I've used the word 'soccer' throughout the post so as to avoid confusion.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Finn's First Impressions of ¡México! (PART II)





Last time I started a series about my first impression of Mexico (you can read PART I here). This is the second part of that series and, this time, I'm going to talk more about Mexican food.

So, here goes:


Observation 6: Your life has never been spicier


If you like spicy food, Mexico is the place for you! Every meal (including breakfast) is likely a spicy one, as are lots of candies, chips, and what-have-yous in the country (more about that in PART I). Basically, it seems Mexicans can't eat anything without breathing fire!

Breakfast eggs with red salsa and corn tortillas

However, it's important to remember that Mexican spicy is not global spicy. Mexican spicy is another level! If you live in, say, Northern Europe and in your local restaurant you always order that one meal that's described on the menu with three whole chili pepper icons (wow), congratulations - that's the starting level in Mexico.

Also, the spiciness scale in Mexico is not from one chili pepper to three chili peppers. It's from "Wow, this is spicy," and "Help, my mouth is on fire!" and "Water! Water! Wait...why is this getting worse?" and "Are you insane?!?" all the way to "Joven? Dónde está el baño, por favor?"

The spiciness scale at El Farolito taqueria

So. If you're planning to eat in an authentic Mexican restaurant, here are a few pro tips that might come in handy:

a) It's inadvisable to ask the waiter, "Is this meal spicy?" They'll just tell you it's not, although by your standards, it probably is. Rather, you should ask, "Tiene chile?" ("Does it have peppers?"). That way you'll have some idea whether or not you can handle it.

b) If you are served a spicy sauce, for Heaven's sake, try it a little before you drench your whole meal in it! Remember, it's always easier to add more spices than try to scrape them off of your food that's already soaked them up like a vindictive spicy sponge.

c) The so-called Moctezuma's revenge (traveler's diarrhea) is not caused by spices but rather by bacteria in the water to which the locals have developed immunity but you have not (NB! I strongly urge you to research what you should and shouldn't consume before visiting Mexico). However, before you decide to order your habanero on habanero meal, please know your stomach and how it reacts to spices. And if you have a particularly sensitive stomach, don't try to be a hero (you'll regret it later)!

d) If you fail a and/or b (do NOT fail c!) but you want to avoid being laughed at by the locals (because laugh they will), first take a deep breath because this is going to be no walk in the park (I bet you wish you were at a park right now). Then just go for it. Take teeny tiny bites of your food (don't eat too fast), have rice water (horchata) if available (if not, tortillas), and when your Mexican friend asks you with that infuriatingly knowing grin on his/her face, "Sooo... how is it?" play it cool, nod, smile (as much as you can without making a weird face that might give away your rookieness), and say, "It's delicious, thanks so much." You don't need to finish all of your food but take at least a few bites (so as not to look suspicious) before you claim to be full. You can do it, I believe in you (you can cry later).



Observation 7: Tacos come in many different forms


If you are lucky enough to know Mexican people, then you know that there's one thing you can never ever ever ever do in their presence: blurt out how much you enjoy hard-shell tacos (for the record, I don't!). If you do that, well... all I can say is I hope you're a fast runner because staying where you are would be a very, very bad idea (I exaggerate only ever-so-slightly).

However, turns out there is a loophole to that rule: flautas!

You guessed it - flautas


Flautas a.k.a tacos dorados are basically filled tortillas that are fried crispy. Now, to a non-Mexican, it may seem that they meet the two main criteria of a hard-shell taco because a) they are tacos and b) they have a hard shell. And yet, Mexicans act as if flautas and hard-shell tacos were two completely different things, and, if you are smart, you'll play along.

However, everybody's allowed their occasional moments of non-smartness, aren't they? So, one day, when I was feeling particularly not smart, I decided to live on the edge and ask my fiancé this potentially fatal question, "Sooooo, honey? How are flautas different from hard-shell tacos again?"

But instead of getting defensive or upset, my fiancé just gave me a pitying glance and then looked up, as if trying to figure out how to explain bees and birds to a six-year-old. Finally, he said, "Because... they are just different."

[a moment of deafening silence]

Unsurprisingly, as charming as this response was, it did little to answer my question (like, at all). So, I kept on pestering, until finally Fiancé offered this response: "Well, it's like the difference between watching a Marvel movie in IMAX vs. watching a Spider-Man impersonator at a kids' party."

Okay. Whatever that means, I have no clue, but I'm guessing hard-shell tacos are NOT that Marvel movie in this analogy. However, I found there's another way to explain the difference between flautas and hard-shell tacos: flautas are rolled tacos, whereas hard-shell tacos are... well, I don't know what they are, but rolled they are not.




There are also other things that look like tacos but are not called tacos (such as enchiladas and quesadillas), but more about them another time.



Observation 8: Beer is not beer


Having lived in Belgium for three years, I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about beer. After all, Belgium is not only famous for its beer but also has a vast variety of options. Surely, I'd tried every type of beer worth trying by now... right?

Turns out I was wrong. Once again, Mexicans have managed to take another food (well, drink) item and spice it up (both figuratively and literally).

Let's begin with the inconvenient truth: Mexican beer by itself is nothing special (sorry, Mexicans). According to my fiancé, it's something cold you drink on a very hot day, but Belgian beer it is not.

However.

If you want to experience beer like you've never experienced it before, you should try something called a michelada. Just as a taco, a michelada can come in many different forms: at its simplest, it's just a beer with lime juice and salt, but it's not unusual to add peppers and/or some sauce - e.g. soy sauce, Worcester sauce, Clamato (clam + tomato juice), or Maggi sauce - into the mix as well.

Now, if you want to fully step into the dark side, I warmly recommend my (so far) favorite michelada place in Mexico City - Michelas (just to be clear, I'm not being paid anything to recommend their business)!

My michelada on the left, Fiancé's on the right

Michelas (situated in Condesa) is a bar where you make your own michelada (NB! The following description is based on the "full michelada experience," which is a bit more expensive than the simpler option): First you dip your cup into chili or tamarind syrup so that the rim gets sticky. Then, you dip it into one of the (Miguelito-type) candy powder options available. After that, you can pour more powder (either sweet or spicy) into your cup along with different juices such as lime juice. Then you proceed to the candy part - there's about a dozen different types to choose from, for example tamarind sticks and gummy bears as demonstrated in the picture above. Finally, your cup will be filled to the brim with the beer of your choice (I believe there are three different ones to choose from).

And there you have it! Now, I'm aware this all may sound kind of weird, but I still urge you not to knock it 'till you try it. You might be pleasantly surprised!


Observation 9: Jesus truly does appear in food (in 3D)


While Christians everywhere are waiting for Jesus Christ's second coming, Jesus himself seems to have taken a liking to appearing in various food items around the world (I'm sure we've all read the news about Jesus's face appearing in a loaf of bread, chai tea latte, mozzarella cheese, and what-have-you). However, in Mexico, Jesus's food appearances seem particularly frequent, but in a different way. It looks like Mexicans have taken it upon themselves (probably aware of Jesus's busy "food appearance" schedule) to make sure that cake-lovers everywhere in the country have an equal opportunity to find Jesus. This they've ensured by inserting a plastic baby Jesus in each rosca de reyes

If you've never heard of rosca de reyes before, suffice it to say it's a cake (or sweet bread) eaten as part of the Three Kings' Day celebration (January 6th). According to tradition, whoever finds Jesus has to throw a tamale party in February.


Where art thou, Jesus?



Intrigued by this tradition, I decided to try my hand at finding Jesus in my mother-in-law's rosca de reyesBefore I started, though, I needed to get a few facts straight:

Q: Is it possible to accidentally cut baby Jesus in half with a knife?
A: No. Baby Jesus is very resilient (plastic).

Q: Is it possible to accidentally eat baby Jesus?
A: No. Baby Jesus is actually less of a baby Jesus and more of a toddler Jesus (google images). That's why, if you eat him, you'll notice.

Q: Is it possible to choke on baby Jesus?
A: Again, the answer is no. However, I wouldn't introduce baby Jesus to children under the age of three.

Now, when trying to find baby Jesus in rosca de reyes, you have to a) ask thyself, "Where would Jesus go?" b) cut the cake accordingly, and c) keep cutting and eating the cake until you find him.

Unfortunately, I only had one piece and didn't find Jesus.

Sadly, this piece was not worthy of Jesus


I was just about to accept defeat, when my fiancé shouted, "Look, you got it!" (Apparently, if Jesus sticks out of either one of the parts that you cut, you can claim to have found him.) And before I knew it, Fiancé was poking Jesus with a knife to get him out 😲! However, it soon turned out not to be Jesus after all, but a piece of walnut (I know. The two are so easily confused).

Sadly, after that one try, my mother-in-law took the cake to her office, so my chances of finding Jesus this year were lost. Oh well... something to look forward to in 2020, I guess.

Closing Words


And there you have it! I hope you enjoyed the read (you can let me know what you thought in the comments). There's more than enough material for a longer series here, so let me know if you'd like to read more about my observations on Mexico :). Until then...

Hasta luego!





Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Finn's First Impressions of ¡México!






It's the beginning of a new year and I find myself in a new country - my fiancé's native Mexico! 

Our stay here is planned to be temporary, but whether that means two months or two years remains to be seen. Things are brewing (I will keep you posted)... 


Until I know more, though, I want to see and experience as much as I can while I'm here. In this post, I'll list some of my observations about Mexico so far. As there are bound to be a lot of things to talk about, I'll make this a two-part series. 


So. Without further ado, let's get to it: 



Observation 1: Padre good, madre bad 



Whatever deep-rooted mother issues Mexicans have, they seem to be reflected in the lingo. Here's an example: one super commonly used phrase that's very specific to Mexican Spanish is "Que padre." The literal meaning of this phrase is "How father," and it basically means "How cool!" Now, the interesting part is that the opposite of que padre is que madre, which translates to "How mother" and means something like "How bad" or "Such bad luck" (I'm sure Freud would have a field day over this). 


Que madre is, however, by no means the only time "mother" makes a questionable appearance in Mexican Spanish. In fact, the word madre ("mother") can also be equivalent to 


a) crap ("Que es esta madre?" = "What is this crap?"), 


b) pain ("Me parti la madre" = "I hurt myself"), 


c) worthlessness ("Me vale madres" = "It's worth nothing to me"),

and it even works as a single curse word all by itself ("Madres!" = *expletive*)!

Seriously, Mexicans! Who hurt you?

In addition to these examples, I've noticed that the attitude towards mothers can sometimes present itself in more subtle ways: Let's say there are two brothers (who share a mother) that are having a conversation (this is a totally hypothetical situation, by the way). At some point Brother A says to Brother B: "So guess what your mother (tu madre) said to me yesterday." Brother A then proceeds to explain what his mother said, and Brother B says, with a sigh, "Well, you know how your mother (tu madre) gets sometimes."

Excuse me, but does it seem odd to anybody else that nobody wants to take ownership of poor mother here? Wouldn't you say, "our mother" or just "Mom" instead of "your mother" since you are, after all, brothers from the same mother? By saying "your mother" it almost seems like you're trying to pass the blame. To be fair to mothers, though, it appears that all mutual family members get the same treatment (e.g. "Your uncle said...," "Your sister said...," Your cousin said...," etc.). However, when you try to point out this oddity to a Mexican, s/he finds it perfectly normal and cannot fathom how you could ever see anything strange in it. 



Observation 2: It's a sweet trap!


Whatever makes Mexicans think that you cannot have the pleasure of sugar without the pain of chili pepper is one of the great mysteries of life. Everywhere you go in this country you find candy that's covered with chili powder or some other spicy surprise.

To be fair, as a Finn, I'm used to odd candy flavors, such as salmiakki (sort of like salted licorice) that the rest of the world (minus the Dutch) seems to abhor. However, Mexican candy is some serious next level stuff!!

Just one question: Why?

I repeat: Why?


Just look at these pictures above. Somewhere under that thick layer of chili powder, there is an innocent piece of mango or watermelon-flavored candy that just wants to be loved. You can't see it, though - you just have to trust that it's there.

I'll admit there's something almost symbolic (Symbolic or masochistic? Quien sabe) about having to first struggle through the chili powder before you finally get to the sweet prize. But despite this beautiful metaphor of life, personally (and as a product of the culture of instant gratification), I'd just rather get the pleasure without the pain, please. Is that really too much to ask?

A few days ago, as I was pondering on these deep deep thoughts out loud, my fiancé looked at me, shook his head, disappointed, and told me almost defensively, "Come on, not ALL the candy here is spicy."

Yes, honey, you're right. They're not all spicy. And to prove your point, in the picture below, I've circled ALL the candy options at a Mexican convenience store that are NOT spicy. See if you can find them: 


Where's non-spicy Waldo?


So, to put it in other words: While not ALL candy in Mexico is spicy, could we just agree that the vast majority is? 



Observation 3: You've been drinking tequila all wrong


Ladies and gentlemen, you've been lied to. Remember those movies where that poor unsuspecting small-town girl goes to Mexico for spring break and has her first experience with a shot of tequila, salt, and lime? Remember when you did the same in your country and were convinced this is the way Mexicans do it?

Lies, lies, all lies!

While it's possible that some touristic places in Mexico still encourage this illusion, the sad truth is that tequila is not "shot," but rather sipped slowly like, say, whiskey. Moreover, it's not uncommon to wash the drink down with something called sangrita, which is basically semi-spicy tomato juice (kind of like alcohol-free Bloody Mary) and designed to cleanse your palate. Sangre actually means blood, and its diminutive sangrita is like its cute cousin (it translates to "little blood," though the word "little" doesn't do much to make the idea of drinking blood any more appetizing to me.) 


Glass of tequila on the left, sangrita on the right. Lime optional.


So, while we're at it, let's burst another tequila bubble, too: The tequila that you have in your hometown (unless you live in Mexico) is probably NOT tequila (PLOT TWIST!!). The real stuff could originally only come from a town called Tequila - hence the name (although later the rules have relaxed a bit).

Here's a hot tip: if your tequila bottle doesn't read "100% agave," it's not what it's claiming to be. I'm not saying that it can't be drinkable alcohol, but tequila it is not (or so I've been instructed). 



The real deal


Observation 4: Driving is like a box of chocolates


On my second week in Mexico, my sister-in-law gave me this great tip : "Only plan to do one thing a day in Mexico City. That way you won't frustrate yourself if you are not able to cross things off of your to-do list.

What she was talking about was of course the city's traffic, which is not for the faint of heart. Mexico City is famously the most traffic-congested city in the world. However, each day and each hour (and each minute) is different. Driving a short distance can either take ten minutes or two hours. You never know what kind of cards you'll be dealt on any given day, which - I suppose - keeps things interesting.

This could be your view for an undetermined time period


So, when you make plans to meet a friend at, say, your favorite café, do yourself and them a favor and leave for your destination wayyyyyyyyyy ahead of time. This way you won't be late. Of course, there's a chance your friend might not be as far-sighted as you, so one way or another, you might still end up in a holding pattern. 



Observation 5: Half of your taco is missing


If you, like me, are used to European supermarket tortillas the size of a human head, the first time you're served authentic Mexican tacos you might feel like you've been cheated (especially if you only ordered one single taco, you poor soul). That, or that you've just entered a parallel dimension where they only serve miniature food. 


Hello mini-tacos (al pastor)!

But these tacos that you see in the picture above represent, in fact, normal-sized tacos in Mexico. Because of the reduced size, you might have to adjust the way you fold them up (I've written a post about this topic, which you can read here) but regardless of the size, the taste is great and, in my opinion, real Mexican tacos are quite simply the best food in the world! 



Closing words


And that's all for now! I'll leave the rest for PART II and if there's interest, I might go for a PART III, as well. We'll see. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this post! If you have questions or comments, you can e-mail me, tweet me, or use the comment section below! 😊

Adiós!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Finnish-Mexican Chrismukkah Experiment





My fiancé got his first ever Christmas advent calendar this December.

He is 36 years of age.

He's also - as it happens - Jewish, which might be the reason he got into this advent calendar thing somewhat late in the game.

Said calendar


Clearly, as a Jewish man, my fiancé doesn't celebrate Christmas. However, he's not exactly the type to wave around a Hannukah bush either (I'm not even sure if a Hannukah bush is waveable... is it?). To put it bluntly, he doesn't much care for the whole holiday period. Don't get me wrong - he doesn't mind Christmas nor Hannukah, but he's not super excited about them either. He tolerates them, coexists with them, and if someone says, "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah," he mutters back, "Thanks, you too."

To him, the holidays are equivalent to a tired, indifferent shrug.

However, his attitude might have started to change a little bit when he met me (maybe). Not through osmosis unfortunately (even I'm not that charming), but through a conscious effort from my part. Let me explain: I happen to love Christmas, gingerbread cookies, ugly sweaters, chocolate, glögi (mulled wine), and all that jazz. I think it's mostly because I'm Finnish since - although it's true that not every Finn is keen on this specific holiday - in Finland it's just easier to get into the holiday spirit. We have actual snow (or at least we used to), and on top of that Santa Claus lives in Finland (FYI: whenever somebody claims that Santa Claus lives in the North Pole, a little piece of me dies... and if that's not bad enough, somewhere an innocent little elf dies, too, so can we all just from now on agree that Santa Claus lives in Finland? Pretty please?).

So. Since I love the holidays and my significant other thinks that this time of the year is more or less "meh," I've taken it upon myself to introduce a little bit of holiday cheer into his life. And by holiday cheer I don't just mean Christmas cheer, but Hanukkah cheer (is that a thing?) as well. That's why we celebrate Chrismukkah (the marriage between Christmas and Hanukkah, originally introduced by the TV series The O.C.)! However, unfortunately, as I'm not too familiar with Hanukkah, the "Chrism" part of Chrismukkah tends to be just a teeny tiny bit (a lot bit) more emphasized.



Project Ho-Ho-Holiday Cheer


My holiday-cheer-implementation project started off innocently enough: A few years back I simply asked my fiancé to sign some "Happy Holidays" cards to my family and friends (okay, they didn't say "Happy Holidays," they said "Merry Christmas").

The year after that, I decided to up the stakes and play Mariah Carey's All I want for Christmas in the background whenever he entered the room (unfortunately, all the Hanukkah songs I know are in Hebrew, which makes them a little tricky to sing along to.) The results started to manifest relatively quickly, as he began to hum said song as well as various other Christmassy ones to himself every now and again (every department store playing their Christmas CD's from October to January might also have played a part).

Then last year there was a giant leap in regards to our Chrismukkah tradition (but a tiny step for humankind) as I put up Chrismukkah lights in our living room window where they spread holiday cheer not only during Christmas or the eight days of Hanukkah but (wait for it) all year around! (Yep, all part of my evil holiday cheer plan and definitely NOT because I'm too scared to take them down in the fear of taking down half the wallpaper with them.) Incidentally, just like the miracle of the Hanukkah oil, our Chrismukkah lights burned brightly for eight days and eight nights until they finally ran out of battery.

Said lights (out of battery)


However, none of these subtle tactics did much to turn my fiancé into a Chrismukkah fan. But then along came this December and with it a breakthrough - the Chrismukkah calendar!



Chrismukkah Calendar


The Chrismukkah calendar my fiancé received (okay, okay, I admit - it's a plain old Christmas advent calendar) was one that my mom had bought from The Guides and Scouts of Finland a year or two ago. And this December was when it came in handy.

The project started off a little shaky: As Fiancé opened his first ever Chrismukkah calendar door, his reaction was not one of wonderment or Chrismukkah awe. Instead, as the door opened to reveal a picture of a candle, he announced, disappointed, "Oh. No chocolate?"

Seriously? Do you see how thin this thing is?

THIS thin!!


There's no way this calendar could have had chocolate inside. Unless, of course, there was chocolate inside but then, for whatever reason, the insides got flattened by a steamroller. But as the chances of that are pretty slim, I think this one is just a simple picture calendar.

Anyway. The next day after that anticlimactic start, Fiancé seemed to discover the joy of opening the advent calendar doors. In the following few days, whenever he opened a door, he would let out an awe-stricken gasp (which might or might not have had a little bit of a mocking tone to it, but hey, a gasp is a gasp).

Here are some of his reactions:

Door 14: *gasp* "Look! It's a straw dog!"






Ed. Note: That is, in fact, not a "straw dog" (which, according to Wikipedia, is the title of "a song by the Meads of Asphodel from Life is Shit"). Instead, it's a Yule Goat - a Scandinavian symbol of Christmas, and, as it happens, of Chrismukkah.


Door 19: *gasp* "Look! It's a plant!"



Ed. Note: Well, yeah, by a very (very) broad definition, I guess it kind of is a plant. It's also (and more commonly) known as a wreath.


Door 18: *gasp* "Look! It's a sock!"



Ed. Note: A sock, a stocking. Same thing.


Door 5: *gasp* "Look, it's a...a... dead fish?"



Ed. Note: Yep, that's a dead fish, all right. Because nothing says Christmas like a dead fish (I'm kidding - I don't really get this picture either).

To sum up, so far, the introduction of the Chrismukkah Calendar has been a success. There are still two doors left to be opened, however, so I can't say anything definite yet, but it sure looks promising. But that's this year, and we've yet to see what next year will bring. Maybe in 2019 he'll be wearing a Christmas hat while holding a cup of glögi in one hand and a menorah in the other - who knows!

Chrismukkah 2018


As I'm writing this, it's the 22nd of December. In Finland, the 24th is the big one. For the past couple of years, my fiancé and I have spent the 24th in Mexico. This year, however, our Chrismukkah will not look like this:



Nor will it look like the Finnish Christmas:




This year we'll be spending the 24th of December on a couple of different trains and a plane, just traveling. I would normally feel a little weird about that, but this year is different because... we are moving!

And not just moving house but moving to a different country altogether. The feeling is bittersweet because on one hand, we're sad to leave our group of great friends in Liège, but on the other hand, turning a new leaf in our crazy life is kind of exciting. Stay tuned for updates ;).

This is also my last blog post in 2018, and I'd like to thank everybody for the love and support you've given me throughout my blogging adventure! It means a lot!

With this picture of vin chaud (hot wine) in Liège, I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Chrismukkah, Happy Holidays, and - of course - a Happy New Year!

Cheers! L'chaim!





Friday, November 30, 2018

One Hero's Writing Journey (NaNoWriMo)





Hey, guys!

This time I wanted to talk about something very important to me - writing, and, more specifically, my own writing journey with my most recent writing project. Because of the subject matter, I thought it only fitting to present it in the 12-stage Hero's Journey structure (adapted from the work of Joseph Campbell by Christopher Vogler) from "Ordinary Life" all the way to "Return with the Elixir."

So, without further ado, here we go:


Ordinary Life & Call to Adventure



For many novelists and novelist wannabes alike November is the month of no other than (drum roll, please) NaNoWriMo! If you're wondering what the heck NaNoWriMo is, suffice it to say that it stands for National Novel Writing Month and the idea is quite simply to write a novel (50,000 words) in the month of November.

Simple, right? Yeah, not so much.

Now, as somebody who would count herself as part of the aforementioned "novelist wannabes" tribe, I've known of NaNoWriMo for years and even attempted to write several novels, but to little success. My most recent project began in 2016 when I got a great idea for a story, wrote around 40,000 words, scrapped 20,000 of them, then wrote another 20,000, tripped over some gaping plot holes, banged my head against the wall (well, the desk, actually) both figuratively and literally, and then - tired of the fight - put the manuscript away for many moons. It wasn't until not too long ago when I experienced one of those "moments of clarity while showering" (not sure if that's a thing but it sure should be) and suddenly knew exactly what to do to fix the book: I needed to add a second POV (point of view) to the story! Which was a great idea in theory, but in practice meant that I had to write about another 40,000 words from scratch. And if I were so crazy as to put myself through that process again, I knew I needed a good kick in the pants to start writing.

And then along came NaNoWriMo.



Refusal of the Call


Now, while writing a novel in a month might sound like a completely crazy idea, believe you me there are lots of people who have actually managed it - some with a full-time job, family, and all that jazz! Granted, the work doesn't probably always turn out a masterpiece in just 30 days, but it can very well have all the potential to be one after some polishing.

However, even though I knew that writing a novel in a month could be done, I wasn't at all convinced that I could do it. Here's why: In addition to being the slowest writer in the world (why do you think I only publish 1-2 blog posts a month?), I regularly commit all the cardinal writerly sins that people much wiser than me will tell you to avoid at all cost: a) I don't write chronologically, b) I don't outline, and, the worst of all, c) I edit as I write (I know, I know... the flames of Writerly Hell await). All of these factors together slow my writing way down, and, as NaNoWriMo is more or less about speed, the sane thing for me to do was clearly NOT to participate in NaNoWriMo.

However.

I've never claimed to be a particularly sane person. So, after the three mandatory (and oddly biblical) denials, I finally said yes to the stress (see what I did there?).




Meeting the Mentor



As a modern woman, I looked no further than online for NaNoWriMo-related writing advice. The official NaNoWriMo website (with which I'm in no way affiliated) has tons of resources, but you can also find good advice elsewhere online, not only for conquering NaNoWriMo but also for planning your novel the month before (this is called Prep_tober, a term coined by Rachael Stephen).

After having familiarized myself with the material I found online, I made one big change to my writing routine. I decided I couldn't just doggedly hold onto my old habits - If I wanted to add speed to my writing, I would have to adapt, so I did what I've never done before: I created an outline. In fact, I got so excited about this idea that not only did I create an outline, I created a storyboard!

Said storyboard. You cannot read that, right? Right?



The storyboard was made of different color Post-its. Each Post-it represented a different scene in the story and each color a different POV. As I put these scenes together, I was able to see the big picture and easily switch scenes around if I so decided.


Spoiler alert

With my storyboard assembled, a notebook handy, and a cursor blinking on the blank page, I was ready to begin.


Crossing the First Threshold


My actual NaNoWriMo journey started on the first official day of Gingerbread Latte, also known as the 1st of November. However, my Gingerbread Latte (I love it, don't judge) was had in the corner of my sofa at home, in the midst of a sea of Kleenex. I was quite heavily under the weather, and yes, I do blame my weakened state for the fact that I only managed a disappointing 299 words of pointless fluff that day.

However, as any decent hero's journey, this one too is not without its teachable moments. What I learned from my first attempt at NaNoWriMo 2018 was that I needed to approach my writing more methodically, so the following day I scrapped the words I had written the day before, actually planned the scene I was going to tackle (See? It turns out you can teach an old non-outliner new tricks) and rewrote it. This time I managed 1,387 words and was pretty happy with the end result.


Test, Allies and Enemies



At the beginning of my NaNoWriMo journey, I sought the help of many a different writer (online and in person) who offered their tricks and hacks to help other writers conquer NaNoWriMo.

One thing that seemed to receive praise across the board was something called Write or Die. As mentioned before, one of my biggest writerly sins is that I edit as I go. This is bad mostly because if you get stuck polishing one scene, you usually end up writing no new scenes. Here's where Write or Die comes in (NOTE! I only tried the free trial version and am not getting paid to say anything about it). The idea of this writing software is simply to write without lifting your fingers off the keyboard because the moment you stop writing (I think my settings were set for 12 seconds), the screen turns pink and then red and finally starts gobbling up the precious words you've spilled out of your soul. But that's not even the worst part. The worst part is that godawful noise the software starts emitting, the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard (except, like, on steroids), and pretty soon you realize that you'll happily keep writing just so you can die without ever having to hear that sound again.

Write or Die in its happy state


Write or Die getting irked (notice the pink)


Write or Die in its full-on rage mode


Another thing that everybody's been raving about for ages is Scrivener. Until November, I had always resisted this writing software, first because I didn't want to just give into any passing fad, then because I had already resisted for so long that caving now would've felt like admitting defeat, and finally because I was just being an idiot. For the purpose of NaNoWriMo, however, I finally downloaded the free trial (special NaNoWriMo) version.

I'm still getting used to Scrivener, but so far I've found that for organizational purposes it's pretty great - especially for all you plotters out there - as you can, for instance, switch chapters around and write notes for yourself. If you want more information, you can visit their website (again, nobody's paying me to say anything about Scrivener, I just happened to like it :).




Approach to the Inmost Cave



So. Around mid-November I'd been NaNo-ing pretty consistently for almost two weeks, writing around 700 words every day (sometimes less, sometimes more) and making good, steady progress until...


Ordeal


... life happened. This "happening of life" occurred on the morning of the 13th of November when my fiancé and I realized that our time in Europe was coming to an inevitable end and we would now have to move to my fiancé's native Mexico, which meant preparing physically and mentally for the move.


Reward


After having come to terms with moving country and getting our stuff more or less (mostly less) in order, I finally sat down and scheduled some time for my novel.

And then I was writing again, and that was reward enough.




Road back


Before I knew it, I was on the home stretch. It was the 20th of November, I was 14,347 words into my second POV part of the manuscript, and well over half-way through November. I was doing good.

And then, on the 21st of November, I made a classic rookie mistake:

I read what I had written. DUNN DUNN DUNNN

What ensued was a crippling case of self-doubt, tears, long complainy monologues which more often than not featured the phrase, "Why am I even writing this crap?" and - as I don't write on paper, which I could have crumpled up or torn to shreds - moody clicking of the x button in the corner of my Scrivener file. Even though I knew that the first draft was most likely going to be crap, I was still shocked by the level of its crappiness.

Eventually, all of this self-doubt and self-pity translated into the ultimate NaNoWriMo sin - NOT writing.


Resurrection


After a whole five days of not writing (that's like a decade in NaNoWriMo years), I did the proverbial uncrumpling of the manuscript (I opened the Scrivener file), picked up a pen (poised my fingers over the keyboard), and started again. I looked through the scenes I had written (not too much in detail, though, so as not to create another meltdown), fully ready to fall into agony until...

CLICK.

The transitions between the first three chapters that, until then, had never quite made sense to me, now seemed clear. Suddenly, I knew exactly what to do to make these chapters fit together like Tetris blocks.

That was a big win. 




Return with the Elixir



And then came the 30th of November, the last day of NaNoWriMo (and the publication day of this blog post), and it was time to take stock of my progress.

So, what did I accomplish? Well, in addition to learning some writing hacks along the way, I managed to write a total of 20,790 new words. And even though that falls short of my original goal, it's not an altogether bad result. If there are about 200 words per page in a book written in English, then 20,790 words would translate into almost 104 pages. That's a start. Or - as in my case - that's even closer to the finish line.

But since this step is entitled Return with the elixir, I'll give you a little extract of that elixir (the first chapter of my book). Hope you enjoy, and if you don't, just remember that it's not yet finished 😜!



Closing Words


If you participated in NaNoWriMo this year, let me know how you did in the comments! Wherever in your hero's journey you are (in writing or in life in general), I wish you courage and good luck 💗!



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