Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Deja Vu, Dublin Bus Style

Do you remember the Pretenders’ song that goes like this:

I went back to Ohio,
but my city was gone.
There was no train station.
There was no downtown.

The Monday after we got back from Paris, I could have written a similar song. When I got back to Ireland, my city was still there, but my bus stop was gone.

Just like last time – the pole was gone and the hole was cemented over. Unlike last time, the stop wasn’t just down the road. It was well and truly disappeared.

I wasn’t too stressed out about this. After all, I’m an old veteran at bus stop disappearance. I was fairly confident if I stood there and stuck my arm out, just like the kind driver said last time, that the bus would stop. A woman came up and deposited an elderly lady with me and I assured them both that this was a bus stop. Perhaps it had a nasty habit of moving around but the driver would stop.

After about five minutes of waiting, the bus arrived. The driver looked at me and my arm and the little old lady and her arm and shook his head, then looked away. He was not going to stop. I stepped out into the road, edging my hip and arm into his path and stared at him. He kept rolling the bus and was showing no intention of stopping. I had to content myself with pounding on the door as the bus rolled past.

I might have been able to leg it to the next stop, but I felt a little responsible for making sure the elderly lady made it to the next stop. After all, I’d assured her the bus would stop. As we walked the nearly quarter-mile to our next stop, I used my cell phone to engage in a great American tradition – registering complaints. I left a message in the complaint mailbox for Dublin Bus.

To my surprise, Dublin Bus has been incredibly communicative and responsive. The complaints man rang me back within 3 hours of my message to explain the situation to the best of his knowledge. (Let me tell you, I would not want his job if it were the last job on earth and came with the use of a country estate, an expense account and fancy car.) He also rang back this morning to let me know that the garage manager would come out to the road to see if there was a suitable spot on the road where they could put the bus stop.

The Dublin Bus guy told me that the first move was due to safety concerns – the police essentially said the stop had to be moved. The recent closure of the stop was done because it was blocking a resident’s driveway. I don’t entirely buy Dublin Bus’s argument for why no notice was given about the bus stop closure. They claim that they had to remove the stop that day, so they had no way to post a sign because they had to take the pole away. It seems to me like they could decommission the stop and use the pole to post a notice, perhaps conveniently over the schedule. Something simple like “This stop is closed. The bus won’t stop here. Start walking.”

This morning, I also sent e-mails to local city councilors and the TDs for the area. I’ve had a good response rate and feel like something is being done about it. (The best response was from a cit councilor who has that he’s a bus customer too and that a similar thing happened to him last year – his bus stop also went missing.) So far, a possibly annoying and upsetting situation has been manageable. Of course, I’m not going to be thrilled tomorrow morning when I’m hoofing it to the next stop because I have to be at work on time and can’t leave myself at the mercy of the bus driver. Maybe as I walk, I’ll work on the lyrics to my new song.

I went back to Dublin, but my bus stop was gone. There was no blue pole. There was no schedule…

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Not the Girl-y-est, but Still a Girl

I’m not now, nor have I ever been, the girl-y-est of girls. When I was born, my mother envisioned swathing me in beautifully ruffled dresses and cute little outfits. I’d wail until she relented and shoved me into a t-shirt and a pair of jeans.

I don’t wear make-up now, except for weddings and sometimes for job interviews. When I say wear make-up, I mean lipstick or gloss and mascara. The exceptions to this definition of make-up were my own wedding and a friend’s wedding in which I was a bridesmaid. In these cases, I hired trained professionals to do their thing, with the simple admonition “don’t let me look like a whore.”

On the rare occasions that I buy a skirt, I always ask the sales clerk what sort of shoes or boots I should buy to go with it. I usually append this question with “I’m hopeless at this sort of thing,” because I am. I’ve called friends on more than one occasion to cite a fashion emergency and have even called in one of these emergencies from inside a dressing room.

Despite my deficiencies as a girly-girl, I am still, at root, a girl. Peter knows I’m a girl (since you know, he married me, he’s seen the goods at it were and has empirical evidence) but is still sometimes amused to see me acting like a girl.

Recently, we were going to the cinema to see “Jarhead” when we passed a shoe store. I was drawn to the window, where I was forced by nature to ooh and ahh and hem and haw over the objects of my desire – cute little boots. So lovely. So cute. But alas, in my current status, they would see very little wear. So I was forced to back away from the window in abject disappointment. Although it wasn’t as bad as all that because they didn’t have the exact colours that I’d want.

Peter laughed at me for being such a girl. But he had an extra chuckle because I was being my kind of girl. The boots weren’t expensive or exotic or even made of leather. I wasn’t drooling over fine Italian craftsmanship. I was lusting after a pair of cute, brightly coloured wellies. They were on the order of these, only had more of a floral theme.

Then yesterday, as I was packing for Paris, we had another exchange that confirmed my girlhood.

Me: Do you want me to pack you anything special for the trip?

Peter: No, just make sure you pack at least 3 pairs of jeans.

Me: OK. Are you sure? Because I have special outfits picked out, some that I bought special for the trip. You know, it’s Paris. How you look matters.

Peter says something noncommittal and then goes back to killing baddies in his computer game.

Me: What am I?

Peter: I don’t know, what are you?

Me: A girl! Yet more proof.

Peter: Oh, you mean you’re not joking about this special outfits thing? You’re serious then?

Me: No I’m not joking. It’s Paris.

So, since 5 am this morning, my special outfits and I have been anxiously waiting for our big trip. I am a girl and, for five days at least, I’m going to be a pretty girl. Or at least a girl in cute outfits. (Sadly sans the funky Wellington boots. Ah well, maybe next time.)

Talk at you in five days or so.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ah Gowan

One of my favourite TV shows of all time is Father Ted, a comedy featuring three priests and their housekeeper going about their daily lives on a remote Irish island. When the show first aired, I lived over here and looked forward to it every week. Part of what made the show so funny was how it exaggerated Irish and Catholic traits. I got the Catholic stuff, but it took me a bit of time to really appreciate the Irish stuff.

One of the most maddening traits of the Irish is something the Father Ted writers got a lot of mileage out of – the tendency to not say what you mean and, as a result, to believe that others are not saying what they mean. Mrs. Doyle, the housekeeper, is a great example of this. She can never believe that someone doesn’t want a cup of tea. They must want tea, but must be too polite to admit to wanting it. So she stands there saying things like “Go on, go on, go on” or “You will! You will. You will.”

To some extent, I think the Celtic Tiger generation will make this custom a dim memory. The cultural impetus to make false offers and false refusals has its roots in the deprivation. You didn’t have a lot, but you always offered to share, just to be polite. If you were offered something, you refused, just to be polite. The two parties can then enter into some sort of offer-refusal negotiation until everyone’s true intentions are made clear.

The system only works if you understand it. If, you grew up in an environment where, for the most part, you mean what say and say what you mean, this false-offer and false-refusal stuff is completely bewildering. If someone offers me a cup of tea, I figure it’s because they want to offer me a cup of tea. I don’t think that they’re just being polite. If I offer to help someone out with something and that person says no, I figure my help is not needed. It doesn’t occur to me that my help is needed but the other person feels obligated to turn me down, at least the first time I ask.

Two of our friends have tried to coach me on this custom. The tutoring always breaks down at the point that I say “But, wouldn’t it just be easier to not make the offer unless you really mean it?” They always say something like “Well, yeah, but that wouldn’t really be polite.” I’m not sure what’s polite about making an offer and then requiring the other person to gauge your sincerity. I also fail to see what’s polite about ultimately forcing your tea or assistance on someone who claims (sometimes more than once) to not want it.

Keeping this custom in mind when interacting with people helps me to some extent. We have one friend who doesn’t drive. He lives quite near to us and it’s no bother to pick him up or drop him off after parties or gatherings. I noticed that whenever I’d ask him if he wanted a lift, he’d say “Maybe.” Being a naturally paranoid person, I became concerned that he found me annoying and didn’t want to spend one second longer in my company than absolutely necessary. Then I realised he was just being Irish about it – that he wanted a lift but felt like he was putting us out. Having me (or Peter) offer a second time made him feel more secure about the offer.

So, I’d start appending my offer with something like “I’m not being polite” and I found that such directness usually allowed for a bypass of the refusal-offer dance. We were able to come to an understanding about it and make it into a bit of a joke. It’s much harder when dealing with someone like my father-in-law. I’ve told him a couple of times that I’m American and congenitally incapable of making an offer that I don’t mean but he’s been Irish way longer than I’ve been American and this false-refusal is a reflex.

Maybe I just need to take a leaf from Mrs. Doyle’s book and never take “no” for an answer.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Language Lessons

In anticipation of our upcoming trip to Paris, Peter bought a pile of audiobooks in e-format from Audible.com. Today, I started my very own language immersion program, courtesy of those audiobooks and my I-Pod Shuffle.

This immersion program is pushing the poor Shuffle to the bounds of its usefulness. Since the audiobook is just one giant file, it’s difficult to go back and relisten to portions of the dialogue. It would have been nicer to have each chapter or section as a separate track so I could move more easily between them. Even then, the lack of a display would make it a bit of pot luck.

It doesn’t matter too much to me. I’m only using this to get my ears accustomed to the language and to get my brain familiar with the most pressing phrases: excuse me; do you speak English; and where are the bathrooms? Peter studied French in school so he can do the heavy linguistic lifting on this trip. I just want to be able to not embarrass myself.

So, it’s pretty much learning by osmosis for me. I just let the words percolate along as a background process in my brain. The first book I listened to this morning - In-Flight French - began with these instructions: “Best of all, since there’s no reading or writing required, you can just sit back and learn.” Because, you know, reading and writing are SUCH an impediment to learning.

I find these books equal parts soothing and amusing. I like the idea of learning enough to get around independently. I like when I can magically come up with the right words during the reviews. I like the way the books prepare you for any situation while trying not to make you anxious about it.

“Now, you’ll never need to say any of this, but it’s good to keep the following phrases handy:”

  • I’ve been robbed!

  • I can’t find my husband.

  • I can’t find my child.

  • I feel nauseous.

  • I threw up.

  • I want a lawyer

The second book, Fodor’s French for Traveler’s, starts with Lesson One: Approaching People. That made me laugh as I imagined the reasonable-voiced instructor saying things like “Move slowly and carefully. It is important not to alarm the French. Slow, confident movements will gain their trust. Do not make eye contact unless invited to do so.”

The third book, A Spymaster’s Secrets to Learning Language, has been a disappointment so far. Now, I only just started it, but first of all, the guy who wrote the book also reads it and he doesn’t sound like he’d give James Bond much of a run for his money. He sounds like a weedy middle-manager or accountant.

The other thing that annoys me is that he’s spent a good 15 minutes telling me how great his methods are and how he’s going to help me learn languages so much more quickly by changing the way I think about them. Um, great, so teach me already. Less marketing more teaching, buddy. I’ve already bought the damn book, you don’t have to sell it to me again.

I think I might skip the spymaster and just go back to the actual French books. I don’t really know if I’m learning anything, but when the review lady says “Where is the exit?” and I immediately think “Ou est le sortee?” it makes me pretty sure that I’m on the right path.

PS - I will send a post card from Paris to the first person not related to me who can tell me which movie the title of this post comes from. (I've give you a hint - it's a piece of dialog, a recurring joke, in an 80s movie.)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Respect and Creativity

I really am not in the habit of airing my relationship issues in public. This is partially because I am a fairly shy and private person and partially because we are lucky enough to not have that many issues.

Sure, we have the daily little things. It drives me nuts when he leaves his wet towels on the bed and it drives him nuts when I leave my dirty socks on the floor. But we mostly agree on the big issues and we’re pretty good at talking things through when we disagree or don’t understand each other.

This beard thing has been the exception to the rule and we’d reached quite a contentious stalemate. Peter was insisting that he wanted the Richard Harris beard and I was making threats like this: “When I get the menopause and grow a moustache, I’m not going to wax it or shave it or bleach it. In fact, I am going to grow the biggest she-stache you’ve ever seen and then you can see what it’s like to have someone’s gross facial pubic hair go up YOUR nose when you kiss.”

Clearly, we needed some outside intervention. So we decided to ask the Internet. We were in agreement on the post because we each wanted validation of our own positions. I don’t know if I expected to be able to just do a straight-up vote count and then proclaim a winning side or what I expected to happen from this post. What I found, though, was that it gave us both some time and space to think. It defused the beard issue a bit.

I felt pretty secure in my position that the beard was ugly and, combined with my objections to its tactile nature and intra-nose excursions, was right in insisting that it must go. I never considered that it might look good to other people. The comments helped me see that it might not be quite the landscape-marring tragedy that I was making it out to be.

Marriage is always a balancing act. You’re two separate people, after all, with different feelings and perceptions, wishes and dreams, goals and aspirations. If you’re lucky, everything you and your partner want will be close enough for easy compromise. But you’re probably not always going to be so lucky.

The way I see it, we could do this one of two ways. The bad way (and the way toward which I am naturally inclined) is to score-keep. This way goes something along the lines of “look, you won last time and it’s my turn.” This is tiresome and unproductive as it just encourages you to always keep track of who wins what. It also leads to situations where you might feel entitled to something and then get resentful when you don’t get your way. I found myself wanting to say “Look, I gave up everything that was important to me so we could move over here. Could you just shave off that damn beard and forget about it.”

Believe me, I wanted to say that. Oh how I wanted to say that. But I didn’t and saying it here doesn’t count. Yes, I did give up everything to come here. But for a long time, Peter was the sole income producer in our little family. He went to a job he hated every day just so I could stay home and do what made me happy. He was taking one for the team. Now it’s my turn to take one for the team. That my part of taking one for the team included moving half-way around the world is irrelevant. Staying in Chicago with Peter miserable was no longer an option. Staying here and making myself miserable over a beard is also not an option.

Here’s where respect and creativity come in. We’re trying a combination of conditioner and some trimming (if I can ever find the darn US-UK electricity adapter) to see if we have make the moustache a little more me-friendly. I’m also trying to relax and accept it. I can’t lie to you – I still hate it pretty deeply. But I love Peter much more than I could ever dislike the beard. Since they’re a package deal, I have no choice but to try to live with them both.

Further reports as events warrant. Thanks for all the votes and the comments.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

At a Hairy Impasse

One of the things that’s always attracted me to Peter is his big Irish face with his ruddy apple cheeks. They give him a boyish charm that, when coupled with his mischievous eyes and half-smile, is nearly impossible to resist.

But, over the last few months, an interloper has come between me and those marvelous cheeks. The apple cheeks that I so love have been taken over by a scraggly raggedy approximation of a beard. Peter insists he wants to grow this thing out until it looks like Richard Harris’ beard in The Field.

Perhaps a better wife would be able to accept this intrusion but I have been railing against it for the last several weeks. It’s not just that I don’t like the way the beard looks – I don’t like the way it feels and I don’t like the way it goes up nose when we kiss.

In my opinion, a beard is nothing more than pubic hair on the face. It serves no purpose other than to catch food stuffs. Plus, it is apparently impossible for a guy to have a beard and not stroke it. Nearly all of our conversations now degenerated into a scolding from me requesting that Peter not make sweet love to the beard.

In short, I am sick of the beard. I have been begging and pleading for some trimming or sculpting to occur and I am repeatedly fobbed off with “I will, just not yet. It’s not ready for that yet.” The little moustache-y bit that ends up in my nose is more than certainly ready for some trimming. When I was in the States, I bought a 9-in-1 beard trimming kit and a package of razor blades but they both remain in their original packaging.

I’ve tried to accept the beard. I’ve tried to compromise and meet the beard half-way. I’ve tried to establish some guidelines that would allow the beard to integrate into our relationship more smoothly. I tried advocating proper care of the beard including regular trimming, particularly in the mousachular area. To date, no such trimming has occurred, which only fuels my frustration.

We seem to have reached a big hairy impasse. Peter says that he’s always wanted a nice big, bushy, distinguished beard. I miss the unfettered view of the apple cheeks. I miss being able to kiss him without having my nose molested. And I just plain hate the beard.

Since Peter is blinded by his love of the beard and I am blinded my hatred of the beard, we have no choice but to solicit opinions here. What say you about the beard?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

I'm Baaaack

Yes, much like those pesty ghosties in Poltergeist, I'm back. I've actually been back since Monday, but have been trying to overcome the jet lag, the Season Affective Disorder, the holiday-induced Ass Expansion Disorder, and (my least favourite) Don't-Wanna-Go-to-School-Blues. I go back to work tomorrow so at least I have a super-short week to ease back into it.

And really, I shouldn't complain. I have 2 more weeks left on my contract (after this short weirdo week) and then I'm off until I start my new job on 1 February. In between end of contract and start of new job, Peter and I will be spending 5 days in Paris. Yeah, don't hate me because I live in Europe. We did our time in the Midwest, going to places like the exotic Wisonson Dells and the alluring Goose Festival of Fennville, Michigan. Don't I deserve a little glamour?

My holidays were enjoyable and mercifully fork-stabbing-free. Among the highlights:

  • The joyfyl reunion with Kodiak the wonder dog was everything I'd dreamed of and more. It was full of leaning, whimpering, paw-smacking, and propeller-tail.

  • I had a great time with my 3 year old nephew Max, the highlight of which was making lasange together for dinner. It was yummy and he was a great helper.

  • Peter's photographs, which we've always claimed make wonderful gifts, did in fact make wonderful gifts.

  • I got three, count-em THREE, pairs of perfect cotton black pants. Whoooohoooo!

  • Coming back to Dublin felt like coming home, which seems both weird and normal.

Just a short post today to ease back into the whole blogging thing. Hopefully I'll be able to resume normal posting frequency next week.