Another country, another home?

Some of us like to travel more than others. New places, the sound of other languages, the smell of exotic food, the colors of other skies may have an intense attraction on our senses. But it is another thing to leave the country you were born or the place you grew up, pack your things and move to a foreign country.



Maybe many of you have had the opportunity of studying abroad and have experienced what it is to be confronted everyday with another culture, another way of life. The shock is even bigger, if you move to a country where you first have to learn to speak the language or where you know that you’ll never learn it.


What could be the reasons for such a big step?

The one I mentioned above is a very common one, though studying abroad is not really emigrating. Most of the students living somewhere else have the idea of going back to their countries when they finish their studies. I’m sure that we all know somebody who stayed abroad and without planning it from the beginning, they ended up moving to a third country.

The film “L’auberge espagnol”, a French comedy on the life of an Erasmus student living in Barcelona for a year is worth watching.

A very frequent and romantic reason to emigrate is: love. You move to another country because your sweetheart (… maybe not always that sweet ;-)) is a “foreigner”. Are you willing to become a “foreigner” because of love? In my case, you may know the answer: yes, I was. Although I was already very familiar with the German culture, I experienced some cultural shocks, some bigger some smaller, but read the word again: …shock…    I think one of the things I disliked the most were the opening hours. Everything, from a big supermarket to the small stationary store around the corner closed weekdays at six o’clock and on Saturdays at 12:00 o’clock! Coming from a big city such as Mexico City and being used to the USA, where you could find everything anytime, I was shocked and had to plan ahead what I could need past six o’clock or at the weekend. Staying with the topic of “opening hours” the funniest and weirdest thing I found was the newspaper stand at the U-Bahn station (underground train) that closed from 12 – 13:30 for lunch. The funny thing is that they also had sandwiches and beverages, but not at noon. We have now everything open till eight o’clock.

Another shocking, really shocking thing was the first time I went to a lake in Summer. In the smaller ones there were no changing cabins. Most of the people used to change into their bathing suits using a towel to cover their bodies. However, others were not that shy and changed their bathing trunks (mostly men) just in front of you, which left you just… speechless!  Even during a nice walk through the English Garden, the biggest park in the middle of Munich, you could find some sunbathers who weren’t shy… Some couples were like Adam and Eve without the leaf… or many of the female sunbathers were topless. If you come from a culture, where nakedness is not for all audiences, well, then you really have to get used to it. Nowadays, there aren’t as many “FKK” or “Freie Körper Kultur” = nudist fans as there were then, and “sadly” the ones left are not the youngest…

As you may imagine, I could go on and on telling you about my experiences here, but that is not my intention, don’t worry.

Let me get back on track…

Emigrating to another country looking for a better job and consequently a better life is a reason that has motivated millions of people to move or emigrate all along history. If we think of our ancestors, in the very early history, they firstly migrated from the African continent to spread almost all over the world. We also know that there were others later on in time with that special restless gene who crossed the icy and frozen Bering Sea to conquer an empty continent.

All along history there have been many many groups who have conquered their neighbors and have got very far away from their original homes. I can think of the Mongols, the Romans, the Arabic-speaking peoples, the Vikings…    And as one of my favorite teachers of Spanish Literature and Language used to say: “ where the sword goes, goes the tongue” (en español with a nice Castilian accent, because she was from Spain,“a donde va la espada, va la lengua”) .  This phenomenon is of interest because of the influence of one language to the other, for example in vocabulary and phonetics.

Mentioning all of the huge human movements in history would be an impossible task. If you’re interested in taking a look at the first raids of the vikings in Britain you can watch “Vikings” a very well documented and realistic TV show on the beginnings of their expansion.


Hägar the Horrible


Coming back to our era, some people decide to emigrate hoping for a better future.

Some may have to move because of their companies. Their positions have been moved to another subsidiary and, in this case either you move or you lose your job.

This makes me think of the film, “Outsourced” about an American salesman moving to India to train the customer service department. It’s a hilarious movie with a little bit of a love story.

Other employees move to work in another country for a limited period of time, let’s say for two or three years. They are considered expats. Some are expats their whole life not having really accepted the culture of the country they moved to.

I experienced what it is to live as an expat somewhere else. For me it was a different feeling, than when I moved to Germany, because I knew it was for a certain amount of time. It was a highly interesting experience and I learned not only about a different culture and another language. I had the opportunity to get to know very nice people in Sāo Paulo. I really like Brazil and love their people!

In our modern world, lots of people move some where else for economic or life threatening reasons. Most of them do not move with comfort and welfare. They leave their precarious lives with the little possessions they have and hope to get financial help in the countries they move to. Sometimes they are war refugees and sometimes they have to enter the target country illegally.

About this topics you may have watched a lot of films or read books that deal with this topic. I remember one that is in a sense cruel, but one that tells the story of a Mexican wetback couple with irony and humor. If you’re interested, it’s “The Tortilla Curtain” a novel by T.C. Boyle.

As I prefer to point out the humorous side of life I’ll finish this post with the film I watched last weekend. It’s called “Casse-Tête chinois” or Chinese puzzle and it’s about the the French student Xavier, the one in L’Auberge espagnol, who 20 years later decides to move to New York to follow his children.  The film shows in a very naive way this guy emigrating to the US and his French view of life in Manhattan. I didn’t find it as good as the first one, but I laughed a couple of times 🙂

Till next week from abroad!






Woman or human being?

I may be a little late choosing this topic for my post, I know, The International Women’s Day was last week. However, I think that it is not only on one day a year that we should think about women and the roles women play in our society. 
I cite this time Simone de Beauvoir who says that
“Man is defined as a human being and woman as a female — whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male.”
The word man can be a male human being or mankind as such. In German for example, there is another word for mankind, which is Menschheit, being “Mensch” a generic word for a human being, although sticking to grammar, the gender of the word “Mensch” or human, is masculine…  “Ein Mann” is a man and “eine Frau” is a woman. In Spanish as in English we refer to both using the masculine word for man or hombre. We also have mankind, humanity, and other words, but it is significant that “man” is still a popular term.
So, how should we behave? What does being a woman mean? 
Simone de Beauvoir was and activist and a feminist who wrote about what it meant being a woman, thinking, behaving and feeling as a woman. In her book, The Second Sex, she analyzes women’s situation and her work is seen as a symbol of contemporary feminism. It was written in the late forties and at the very beginning she didn’t even liked to be called a feminist. However, in the seventies she agreed to being one.
I think that we all agree that there still exists prejudice or discrimination, the so called sexism, in many areas of our society, in many countries stronger than in others.  This attitude comes from traditional stereotypes or gender roles, as explained in the definition in Wikipedia. Extreme sexism may lead to sexual harassment, and even harsher actions such as sexual violence or even rape. There is an interesting video postulating a theory of how a man could also be the victim of harsh sexism, if society would be ruled by woman.
I don’t think we have to go to the extremes to may it clear.  Any one could belong to the oppressed majority, as the video shows us.
Let’s take a look at the way a woman managed to be taken seriously in a difficult area and in a time when men, and especially, medical doctors were considered gods.  This woman, Virginia Johnson, was one of the first ones who started questioning the sexual behavior and sexual responses of women at a time when the topic was out of any question. Moral and belief were the guidelines to judge and decide how a woman should behave.  She started assisting Dr. William Masters with his first scientific studies on human sexuality in the late fifties and early sixties in the United States. The studies were on male and female sexuality, but there were a lot of prejudices on the female role. Before these controversial research studies and their conclusions the idea of sex was very limited. These ideas culminated in the publishing of one the first sex manuals “Human Sexual Response, (1966)” ,   There had been studies on pregnancy and birth, but the way women functioned hadn’t even been questioned before. It was also a pioneer work in having a woman be part of such a study.
A good idea of how she got there and how the topic, studying human sexuality, started to be taken serious, can be watched in the TV show “Masters of Sex”. It sounds really spicy for a TV show, and it really is.  The characters in the show are very well portrayed and I found every episode very interesting. 
Going back to women, do we need to have a special day because we are women?  I’ve seen a lot of posts about the “Day of the Cat”, “Day of the book”, “Day of…”  Is it really what we want? In this case, we also need to have a Men’s day, a Dog’s day, a Turtles‘ day,  etc. 
I think we often miss the point, women’s day was introduced to think about all abused women in the world, and not to congratulate each other on being women…  It is a call to respect women’s rights in the working world, to respect their position and condition, and to remind the States all over the world to help in this undertaking.
It is of course nice to be a woman, and to be proud of being one, but remember, don’t stick to predefined roles, don’t judge yourselves and compare yourselves with ideal or superficial woman figures. Be simply yourself, every one of us is beautiful in her own personal way!

Women and Work

I was watching a sitcom from the seventies that a good friend of mine gave me, when I started thinking about work and women in the 21st century. 
The show is “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and is about Mary, a single woman, working for the WJM-TV newsroom in a men’s world. She has to deal with the mentality of her boss, Lou Grant, her colleagues Murray, the news writer and the news speaker Ted, a chauvinistic, self-loving middle aged man.  Mary finally gets to be the producer of the show having to convince her colleagues to let her take the decisions and do her job.  The other woman with a good job is a very traditional, housewife type lady, Sue Ann, who is in charge of the cooking show. She works, but would love to have a husband and a house instead of going to work.  Besides the work matters it is appealing to see the way of life and the fashion of the 70’s. I’ve had good laughs watching the spontaneous and lively dialogs.

Although I have been working for many years in many different positions in modern Germany, I sometimes wonder, if we’ve really come that long way. I used to have a boss who told us, three ladies, that we weren’t aloud to have more responsibility because we were women and young, and of course, responsibility was hand in hand with a better salary. That was in 1998!  


This past weekend I watched a movie called “Potiche” from François Ozon.

Catherine Deneuve is Suzanne Pujol, the trophy wife. She has the looks, the class, the understanding for her stressed husband and she never asks questions. However, after having to jump into the role of the CEO in the umbrella factory that used to belong to her father, she realizes that she can be an independent and successful business woman.  She decides to start living her life and after many occurrences she finally has to give up her position as a business woman, but starts a new career as a charismatic politician. She even wins the election defeating her counselor and former lover.   Once again, the movie is playing in the 70’s. The roles of wife, mother, sister or girlfriend were very traditional and woman were told to stay at home. In Germany there is a saying, the three “K”s for women “Kirche, Kinder, Küche…” (church, kids, kitchen) I hope we don’t take it that serious anymore.


Of course, things have changed. However, in many areas, especially those that were traditionally dominated by men, like engineering and IT,  it is still very difficult to be taken seriously or as equal as a man being a woman. 
In 2014 discussions are being held about introducing a “gender equality rate” in  the top positions of many big companies. There are also gender campaigns in universities and international enterprises. In politics, they also want to introduce this rate to have more women acting actively. 
Is this still a problem of the society or maybe it is still this way because women have other priorities in life?  


Speaking of my personal experience, I would say that gender matters in trying to get a good job. And to my surprise as I’m not the youngest ;-), age matters almost even more.