Saturday, August 15, 2009

It's never enough is it?

When I lived in Canada, I would have given anything to live somewhere beautiful, warm and sunny with very little care in the world. Taadaa, we moved to Montenegro.

Work ebbed and flowed, I had a full-time nanny/housekeeper and many days were spent enjoying the beach, good food/drink and great friends. We flew home to family twice a year and lived a comfortable life.

Then I would have given anything to be in a more stable country, in a mouldfree apartment, in a city with a nonstop water and power supply and to be surrounded by more "civilized people". We moved to Sweden.

Here I sit in Sweden. The power hasn't been switched off since we moved here (because I guess noone owes money to Croatia), the water isn't rationed during the summer (because I guess noone owes money to Croatia) and heaven forbid anyone gets sick, we have one of the best healthcare systems in the world at our disposal. We work constantly, the weather for the most part sucks, we miss our extended family deeply and we wonder everyday if we're doing the right thing.

Now I would give anything in the world (or almost anything) for:
- either one of my child's three Grandmothers (or his former nanny) to be sitting on the couch with him reading "I was so Mad" by Mercer Mayer.
- a drink at a fancy restaurant with my hubby. Make that a Caesar waiter!
- a 3 minute stroll down to clean Adriatic waters with my son.
- the sight of my Dad taking my son into the woods behind my childhood home in search of wildlife.
- a cup of coffee with my mother-in-law
- a fit of giggles with my best friend
- my son to know and adore his aunts and uncles
and let's add...
- a stress-free life
- a cure for cancer
- an end to world hunger

Why is it that in the words of Mick Jagger, "I can't get no satisfaction?" Why are we always hungering for what we don't have? And then when we get it, we want more, or worse, we want back what we had before? I don't know the answers to these questions. But I would rather not have to ask them at all.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Waiting for the invasion

I am currently bracing myself for a sleepover with four preteen girls.
- Teeniebopper flick: check
- Hordes of junk food: check
- Gluten and lactose free menu: check
- A huge mess to clean-up after I spent the whole day scrubbing: check
- PS3: check

Any minute now, it'll be hormone central! And guess what? Really looking forward to it all!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

From Famous to FU

I miss being famous. Not the autograph, sex tape, Oprah Winfrey, serial killer kind of famous. But the notoriety that came from being one of the first North American immigrant families in a small seaside town called Herceg Novi in Montenegro. I think we were numbers 6,7 and 8 for Canadians in the entire country.

When we landed, the fame was instant. Though I didn't quite realize it at the time largely due to the fact that I couldn't speak or understand the language and thus, failed to notice the grumblings in the community.

But when, after 4 months or so in the country, we magically hooked up with another family of quasi-Canadian immigrants (fled for Canada during the Balkan Wars and returned) who became the dearest of friends, I found out just how much we were the talk of the town.

Here's the story: While I was back home in Canada recovering with my newborn, hubby and his son flew back early to set up our new apartment. Hubby was bent on having a jacuzzi tub. There was nowhere to put it so he opted for our bedroom. Having it installed was a nightmare as at this point the Russian invasion hadn't hit with its full magnitude (meaning wealth) and noone in the town seemed to know how to install the bloody thing.

Our new friends eventually told us that word on the street was we had a hot tub smack dab in our living room. What?! The first evening we invited them over for drinks, they were anxious and excited to see this living room spa we apparently had going on. They also spilled some additional gossip. We were rich, very rich, evidenced by the fact that we had a nanny for our son. Ok, by Montenegrin standards, I guess you could say we were well-off.

We were a mystery. Noone could understand why sane people would leave the comforts of the Western world for the rough of a country picking itself up after a decade-long war. One of the most exquisitely beautiful countries in the world.

But the people embraced us. They took us under their wing. From boutique and local produce market workers to artists and lawyers and other prominent citizens, not to mention fellow expats from other countries, primarily the UK. They were helpful and kind and generous. They invited us over to their tiny apartments for lavish meals. They treated us like family. They included us in the most sacred family celebrations. We were humbled and grateful and honoured by each and every gesture, no matter how small.

They knew our son. They watched him grow. They loved him as one of their own.

And now we're here, in Sweden. Just a few more immigrants, another set of numbers. With the obvious exception of our dearest friends, we're alone. No friendly waves, smiles and jokes. No candy for my boy. No dinner or coffee invitations. Noone noticing if I've gained or lost weight. Noone overcharging us because they think we're rich.

Just a few more immigrants is all. Nothing to see here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

From East to West Part 2: On Men

We moved to Sweden in January, after a 2.5 year adventure in the Adriatic Beauty that is Montenegro. Bordering the jewel of the Adriatic, Croatia, Montenegro really is the best kept secret of the former Yugloslavia and in 2007 was named the fastest growing tourist destination in the world by the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Snow-capped mountains, blue waters and lush green vegetation abound. We packed up our life in Canada at the request of our dear Swedish property developer friend and headed to a country we knew virtually nothing about, excluding compulsory Internet searches of course. I was 7 months pregnant at the time but had sense and opportunity enough to fly back to Canada to give birth to the little guy.

I digress. I'll save the long story of our life in the Wild Beauty (cue Montenegro tourism commercial as seen on CNN) for another post. But after spending almost six months as a resident of Sweden, I thought it was about time to compare life in this Eastern European country (freshly independent from Serbia circa 2006) to life in one of the richest Western European countries. This will be a regular series I believe, because there's too much to say and I don't know when to stop typing. So here goes,

From East to West Part 2: On Men

Note: Proceed with caution and a sense of humour. These are my observations and they include some fun stereotypes. Obviously not all men are the same and there are exceptions. But here are the "rules" as I (and many others) see them.

The Modern Swedish Male- Enjoys his Government-given months-long paternity leave and excels at it! He can often be found pushing strollers and swings and trying in vain to stop a toddler meltdown in the middle of the grocery store.
- He shops for the family groceries
- Has dishpan hands
- Has dinner ready when his partner returns from a long day at the office
- Politely offers and often insists to help out in the kitchen during dinner parties
- He doesn't take a woman out on a date. He accompanies her on a mutually-enjoyable evening and pays for his half of the meal only, down to the cent. Because to pay for the entire meal would apparently be an insult to the woman AND perhaps insinuate he expects something special for dessert
- He doesn't actually hit on a woman unless he's extremely drunk. Otherwise, the woman usually leads the mating ritual
- He is an equal contributor to the household, from folding laundry to dressing the kids and scheduling their doctor's appointments
- A wedding and an actual marriage certificate are entirely optional and seen as an unecessary formality (by both sexes)

The Traditional Montenegrin Male
- His pastimes include working when he feels like it and spending endless hours sipping coffee, usually after a mandatory shot or three of brandy, in local cafes with his buddies
- He is served his meals by his doting wife. He plays host once a year, alongside his wife, during his slava / Saint's Day. Every Serbian Orthodox family has a patron Saint. The day-long event includes relatives and dear friends who come to celebrate, eat and drink amazing amounts of traditional foods and alcohol. It's the most important day of the year. Another exception to this rule, grilling food. Nothing more manly than roasting a lamb on a spit.
- He only goes into the kitchen when it's time for another beer and that's only if his wife is out
- He has no idea how his clothes are cleaned and pressed and doesn't care
- He loves his children and can now be found pushing strollers in public
- He is a master at the art of seduction
- He would spend his last 2 dollars before he let a woman pay for anything
- When his wife is in labour, he is not allowed in the room. If it's a boy, he's usually firing a gun on top of a mountain somewhere with a bottle of homemade brandy in hand surrounded by his newborn's Godfather and his "brothers", singing national songs, hugging and crying. Same for a girl, only no gunshots warranted.
- Grocery stores are usually for alcohol and cigarette purchases and on rare occasions, emergency household items
- Marriage proposals and weddings are sacred, celebratory and almost mandatory events. Societal dissaproval still runs rampant for those "living in sin" but mindset is slowly changing.

Feel free to add to these lists folks.

So which of these men would I like to date/marry if I were single (which I'm happily NOT). I'd say neither. They are both two extremes. I'd prefer a nice mix. Could I watch as my "date" for the evening breaks out his calculator to even out the bill? Not without emptying my stomach contents. But that's me...