Monday, January 31, 2011

It's Been a While

I think settling into a new culture and the posting lifestyle makes time speed up and slow down in a random way. In some ways I'm surprised that I've been here for almost 6 months, in other ways it feels like I've lived here for two years.  I guess I can recap about some of the things I've noticed recently about myself and this post.

First of all I've become very adept at setting up drink and coffee events at our house.  We have more people over than we ever did in Ottawa and I'm getting very good at setting up for house guests.  I'm starting to see why many Foreign Service spouses write books about hospitality and cooking.

I've started to miss my old house, but I'm pretty sure I don't miss the real house, only the one in my head.  I'm sure many people miss home when they move to another place, the difference is when you go out on post you know that you'll probably go back.  This is very true for those that own property back home that they rent out until they return.  On that respect, I'm sure I've said this before, but property managers are a spectacular idea.  I have whole weeks that I don't even think about the house, and that's because I don't have to.

So with the economy in Greece being in slight shambles I don't really have a job.  I rectify this issue I decided to volunteer at a few places to keep me in my grove, gain some experience, and keep myself from loafing too much.  The work is great, and I'm learning a whole lot.  I recommend that any spouse on post that doesn't have kids to deal with, try volunteering.

Finally I've discovered something that I've never felt before, since I've never really lived out of country this long.  I've discovered the want to visit other places.  It's not that I'm bored with Greece, I just need a break from it.  We've booked our first vacation and it's proven to be a little difficult.  I mean where does one go when you live in a vacation hot spot.  Most travel agents and vacation website, when I look up "vacation in Europe" suggest Greece.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shopping Before You Go

Before one moves to a foreign country one often makes a list of things they might need. Clothing is the first, closely followed by toiletries, then maybe a few house items, and finally food that might be missed. This is pretty much a good order of importance, depending on where you go. This is also a good order of importance of information you will need before you go as to whether or not you'll need it.

The first three items are really personal and often each person may have a completely difference idea as to what to bring. The fourth (food) is really a question mark for me. With all of the research I did before leaving for Greece I had the hardest time finding out if I should bring anything edible with me. If you ask people who've visited, in my case Greece, you'll find that you get many comments about restaurants and nothing about groceries. You'd think Greek Canadians would be the best help, but frankly I got mixed messaged from them.

So here's why I think Greek Canadians couldn't help me. In Canada we have a huge selection of foods to choose from, the US is pretty much the only place I've ever been with a larger variety. I'm not saying our food is better, there's just a gigantic variety. So people that move from one country, say Greece, will often find all of the foods that they enjoyed at home in the stores and some. However the opposite is not always true. In Greece for example maple syrup is pretty much an unknown item, olive oil is everywhere, however sesame oil is scarce. Many spices are also hard to find, even though saffron is sold by the kilo, and cheap.

I'm not putting the food selection of Greece down by any respect at all, I'm just saying that getting a comparative list of foods that are available all over the world would be great, however I think it might also be impossible.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Culture Shock or Foreign Service Shock

I'm living week three right now and I'm having a tough time deciding if my frustration and mood swings are from culture shock or from Foreign Service shock? See I know that culture shock comes from being in an environment where people don't understand you, and you often miss things from home. From what I've been told it can lead to some pretty rough emotional and physical problems. The thing is I think I might be suffering from something else.

My problems right now are more about dealing with issues that the average ex-pat would not have to deal with. Things like not doing any real shopping until my tax exemption card comes through, dealing with a spouse with a very hectic schedule that I'm often involved with, and waiting for long periods to get answers about things that I would normally handle myself. Worst of all, I've met a few other ex-pats from all over the world (including Canada) and they can't relate to my problems at all. They're all going through the normal culture shock issues and that makes me feel even more alienated. Many of my new ex-pat friends feel that my life is rather easy since I'm getting help from the embassy.

I know I said I wouldn't complain on this blog, and I'm not really. I'm just warning you that living abroad with the government appears to have very different problems then going abroad in the private sector.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Pack Up Kit

One of the great mysteries about moving overseas is "the pack up kit". This is a selection of items that you can borrow before your sea shipment comes with your real stuff. Little is described about the pack up kit before you show up except the rumors you here. Most people describe the kit as a selection of dull knives and mismatched plates.

The pack up kit we received had a few mismatched plates and the knives weren't stellar (but I'm a bit of a knife snob). For the most part our kit was perfectly fine and it'll suit our needs until our stuff gets here. My concern is that I'm a little confused at this point as to what portion of our apartment is pack up kit, and what part is the furnishings (SQ's are generally furnished). So when our stuff gets here I'm sure there'll be a few shockers as to things that are staying and going.

My other concern deals with when we leave back to Canada. Are there pack up kits in Canada? What about furniture? I mean we leave and it takes us about 2 days to get back, our stuff takes about 3 to 4 weeks.

Monday, September 6, 2010


This is something we all think about but I for one didn't really understand. First of all there's the diplomatic passport. In the identification world it's got to be one of the coolest things one can have. I can't be modest about it at all, it's pretty neat. I am aware of the implications and responsibilities that go with it, but as an object it's just so cool. There are however many more things that require photos of me, since when I took my passport photo I needed 12 copies.

I understand that I'm also going to be getting some kind of Greek ID card that apparently offers free entrance into some museums and my tax free status. It kind of reminds me of an all day pass at a theme park. I'll be honest as far as ID goes all day passes at theme parks where pretty much the highest honor I'd been bestowed to this point. The other 10 photos I took for the passport folks are pretty much a mystery to me at this point. I'm sure records somewhere use them for some reason to keep track of me, but I'll never know for sure.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Spousal Employment

This can easily be one of the most contentious issues when it comes to moving abroad. In fact I've heard (rumor with no hard numbers) that the main reason people return early is because the spouse is unhappy, and that's often because they have no job.

Heading out on post right now I have decided to take the advice of the spousal employment officer Brad (a great guy). He himself is a spouse and has been on post many times. In some cases he worked on other occasions he didn't. His advice to me, "prepare for everything, expect nothing". By this he means, take advantage of all the training, and opportunities available, but don't freak out if you get to post and you end up not working (particularly at first).

My added advice to you before you go on post is explore the wonderful world of hobbies. Long before you go on post take up a hobby that you can do yourself. Go to an art store, buy a camera, get a musical instrument, anything that you can find mentally gratifying. Do this before you get on post because it may take a few tries to find something you like and it would be horrible to find out on post that you just don't have the fingers to play the violin.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Movers

Movers and packers are frankly the only silver lining I've discovered in this whole posting ordeal. When your movers come the first tip I'd give you is be prepared. Prepared means have things organized is order of how you want them shipped. Have piles for sea, storage, and for the love of god hide everything you don't want moved. We had but one ordeal and we now have a telephone in storage that we wanted to take.

The other strange thing about movers is one I didn't expect. If you're not used to other people packing your stuff you may get a strange sense when they show up. I think the sensation comes from feeling useless (since you really don't do much while they're packing) and a sense of violation (because a bunch of strangers are touching your stuff). From what my movers told me:

A. Being around is good, but staying out of the way is also good. It may be boring for you, but at least your not packing and lifting.

B. They don't care about your stuff, it's just stuff and it means nothing to them except a weight and a shape.

C. You're leaving the country, they will never see you again, no matter how many strange toys they pack they're not going to send a letter to folks wherever you're moving to just to make you look like a weirdo.