Anglo Adventure

Travel with a sense of humor


Translation Thursday: What the Heck is This?

From Japan

My sister is in Japan, lucky duck. Her hotel has been leaving the above on her pillow every night.

Without being too egregious, please translate the text on the package and tell me what this thing is.

Some ideas:

a). A wasabi-scented item for use in the bedroom (wink). Now x5!

b). A magic robe that gives nerds chest hair.

c). They’re obviously chips. Musk-scented, of course.

d). A diet pill that gives people a hollowed-out chest cavity.

Add yours. I’ll reveal what the product actually is in the comments later.



Lessons in Humiliation: The Rob Schneider & Romy Mix-Up

Every week, I go to French meetups where Seattle’s francophiles meet to practice French. I speak the language and love travel, but that’s where our interests diverge. I use Quebec slang. I still really don’t know what to do with paté. (Spread it like jelly? Bite off a hunk?) And I am *really* good at getting crumbs in my scarf.

Last week, the group’s leader brought up Romy Schneider, an Austrian actress I had never heard of.

I heard “Rob Schneider.” Instantly, I perked up from my croissant coma.

“This is turning around,” I thought. “Sure, it’s a really dated reference, but I can discuss Rob Schneider. I can even discuss him in French. It isn’t a total waste of a Saturday.”

It was time to dust off the bad impersonation of Making Copies.

Oooh the French Group. Speakin’ French. Eatin’ Paté.

No, no, no. That’s all wrong. Should I mention how the Sensitive Naked Man is devastatingly underrated? Should I bring up my theory on Deuce Bigalow as an allegory about the modern male condition?

Or about my conspiracy theory about how the Hot Chick was a set up to ruin Rob Schneider’s career?

I did none of these things because the group started going on about how Romy Schneider died at the end of every movie. And I was like, wait, Rob Schneider didn’t die at the end of Waterboy. And then I realized quite suddenly just how close I came to the kind of humiliation you never recover from.

Sensitive Naked Man

Sigh. One for French-speaking, cultured Seattleites. Zero for me.

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Quebec Language War Caught on Tape

This video makes me laugh. I like that the francophone is wearing a duster and a fedora. Total villan garb.

I don’t think people should ever get in someone’s face and scream at them for not speaking their language. If that happened here to an immigrant, I would punch someone. Learning a language takes years so be patient with those who are learning.

If you’re traveling to the Belle Province, don’t worry about running into a gang of fedora-duster-clad francophones. Unless you’re hanging out in bars at 3:00 am. The most that has ever happened to me was a dismissive wave in a bar.

My husband, however, was yelled at in the street by a tough-as-nails 8-year-old girl who demanded “Pourquoi Anglais?” He laughed it off. Quebec City isn’t like Montreal in that it’s very francophone, by very I mean 98%.

Yes, language is an issue. Most Quebeckers welcomed me when they realized I was American, not Western Canadian. I had an excuse for my horrible French.

And by the way, I immediately enrolled in a language school upon my arrival. I tried and am still trying. They like it when you try, so don’t go there thinking you’re the SH$T and demanding they speak English to you. Learn a few phrases if you’re visiting, learn the language if you’re living there.

I think this could have been solved if the guy spoke a little French. Bonjour?! C’est facile. I think he tried further infuriating the francophone once he realized he was being recorded. Duster guy is kind of an asshole, but by no means represents the rest of the province.

He also has a point, however agressive it’s portrayed. You live in Montreal, you should probably learn a little bit of French.



The Lesson in Getting Lost

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I got lost in Odense, Denmark last year when trying to locate Hans Christian Anderson’s childhood home. I am not sure why I wanted to see, so badly the sloping black-and-cream cottage, the place he dreamt up the Little Mermaid and the Little Match Girl. I think I assumed sitting on its doorway and peeking in the windows would somehow mean I was a writer too.

Really, I am more of a stalker. And I should have known better than trying to find one tiny square in a sea of senseless squiggles. I have been lost so many times; anytime I head out, I add forty five minutes to my schedule.

I once got lost in folds of teal organza in a fitting room. I couldn’t find the neck hole and tried to put my head through the sleeve and then it got stuck over my eyes. I panicked for a few minutes and then thrashed around, trying to shake free.

Is it possible I could sufforcate like this? Surely, someone has died this way. Should I call for the dressing room attendant? What if she finds me in here, dead. She’ll be tramautized – have to quit her job, have to go on welfare at only 16. The Headline: Woman Smothered in Tacky Teal Gown

The Search for Hans Christian Anderson’s House:

hans christian andersons house odense

All that way, for this?

We set out somewhat directionless in search of The House. There’s no GPS on our phones because we’re in Europe. We use bus station street maps, the kind violated with black marker graffiti. Continue reading


Eat, Pray, Learn: Second Language Tips

eat pray love


And learn what this says. 


Before I arrived to Quebec, I didn’t learn survival French. I figured to just wing it and use a French accent with all of my English. Bad idea. Nothing enrages a group of people faster than mockery, whether it’s intended or not.

Now that I am finally approaching that point when people are starting to speak LESS English to me, I have a couple tips.

  1. Think in the language: The faster you start doing this, the easier actually speaking becomes. Do what I do and start making mean comments about people in your head in your adopted language. “Oh mon dieu! Il ponce il est la premiere person qui peux conduire la voiture.” Yeah, that’s what a really limited insult sounds like in my mind. I know – it’s probably misspelled.
  2. Master pronunciation first: Listen. Really hear the way the words glisten on the Native speaker’s tongue. Practice your phonetics. Even if you have an extensive vocabulary and can conjugate like a mo-fo, no one will understand you without correct pronunciation. I have to work at this. It’s French, a language built to sound like music and I am tone-deaf.
  3. Get over yourself: Accept the fact that you’re going to sound like a bumbling fool for some time. Stop trying to be perfect and just start talking. It is very uncomfortable but if you look and sound super confident, people will think you know what you’re talking about.
  4. Use Livemocha! You can record reading, writing, and speaking (!!) exercises and send them to native speakers for feedback. And then you get to review their stuff in English. I am in love with this living language exchange.
  5. Join a conversation group: I hate talking to strangers in general. But after I signed on for a conversation group, I found it much less intimidating. The people will keep speaking French to you, so there’s not that humiliating moment when they switch to English because your “Bonjour” sounded more like a “Womp-waa” (imagine a frowny face emoticon after this).

Make it fun and remember it’s like climbing a mountain. One day, you’ll just get there  – until then, keep going.



Why South Dakota Doesn’t Suck

I like big cities. I was born and raised in Chicago and need the noise, the arts, the feeling of vanishing in a crowd of people. I like that I can walk outside in sweats and tangled hair and no one will say anything because ‘did you see that guy with the monocle? or the parrot lady?’ Or ‘old Larry is drunk again!’

So I was surprised to find myself head-over-boots (get it?) for South Dakota.

What I pictured:

A boring prairie-scape, crooked sod houses, and giant bawls of twine.

What South Dakota Actually is: 

south dakota

Anything but boring.

A breathtaking state full of friendly people. In March, the grass was thick and heavy like an animal pelt. The sky was a vibrant cornflower blue. But it’s not a gentle place. Even the grass hisses. The bare silver branches of dead trees stick up everywhere. South Dakota would be an ideal setting for a movie set in a futuristic distopia. Continue reading


May I recommend

I hate bragging. I hate even talking about myself and I really, really mean that – I have no idea how anyone talks about their achievements without coming across as a complete a-holes. I can’t do it. When job interviewees ask about my biggest accomplishment I am likely to say, “training my dog to play dead when I shape my finger like a gun.” Or “walking two icy blocks in four-inch stilettos.”

Talking about yourself or “tootin’ your own horn,” as my grandma says was forbidden in my household. I feel a curse coming on the minute I mention anything remotely interesting about myself.

So I’ll be fast: I put a lot of effort into this thing. If you’re going to Montreal or Quebec, you’ll find it useful. I am grateful for the things I have everyday and cannot believe my incredible (hopefully incurable) good luck.


quebec city guidebook

The busiest few weeks of my life but seriously, best job ever!


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New York – Fake fendis, pink cosmos & almost dying

I just got back from New York. It’s the first time I visited the city in ten years.

The energy astounds me. New York knows how to put me in my place and make me feel tiny. All of my flaws can be on display – like their garbage, on the street – and no one cares or even seems to notice. I spent half a day in Little Italy wearing these:

It was the best $6 ever spent.

No one said a thing, except one hustler, who called me Hollywood.

The search for fake fendis

Fendi_handbags.jpeg (280×280)

Fake fendi…or it is real?

Did I mention I have a crazy family? Because I do. I have a mom, sister, and male cousin who decided part of the New York experience was being led down a hidden corridor and into a room lined with counterfit handbags and filled with teenagers dressed in “I Love New York” tee-shirts.

“Purses, watches,” a squat, middle-aged Chinese man says. My cousin looks at him cooly, smoking a cigarette.

“Ok, where are they?” he asks.

The man shows a make-shift catalog and says if we buy one, he’ll pull up with the bags.

This won’t do for us. We’re native Chicagoans and not naive. Continue reading


Expating ain’t easy


Isolation. Not just for the young anymore.


Canadians and Americans share a lot of things – a continent, a border, a similar culture. So my assimilation into Quebec is about as easy as it can be. For others who come from completely different countries and continents, who don’t speak one of the two languages in Canada, it’s … indescribably painful. To pick up and move and resettle with no friends or family nearby. To adapt to an entirely new, fast-paced, and incredibly superficial world.

It’s more isolating that you can imagine: Setting up Skype dates just to talk to your family. Not being able to talk to your neighbors because you don’t speak the language. Missing movies, theatre events, and all those other things you enjoy regularly. Continue reading

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Conjugation & Caring. Or What I Learned in French Class

french quebec anglo

To learn is to dream

My new routine is both intimidating and invigorating. At 6:30 am I arise to a dark room and brumal chill. I shower, I apply make-up, and carefully select the day’s wears. I make coffee and pack my Rosie the Riveter lunch box. I walk down the big hill and around the bend to my car and then I drive to school.

I’m back in first grade.

Or full-immersion French for immigrants, held five days a week in class 302.

The students’ names are tapped to the desks: Gloria, Mimosa, Hiroma, Yuka, Amande. Wonderful names with soft rolling Rs and whispered Ms.

The days of the week and months are spelled out on construction-paper and hung to the board. Flashcards with pictures of books, cake, cats, and more trim the ceiling.

We  practice the alphabet and play Bingo and Memory. When we leave class, we put our chairs on the desks. I expect to play the French-version of “Heads Up, 7Up.”

Every day, my mind floods with memories of how I struggled cutting Christmas trees into construction paper (I’m lefty), the putrid smell of the orange powder Janitor Bob used to cover up throw-up, and the smell of new books and pencils.

I’m brought back to the adoration I had for my teachers, especially Mrs. Hubert, the one who first unlocked my language; the one who taught me to read, write, and imagine.

We're all human. We're all alike.

The most heartwarming part of this process is the camaraderie of the classmates. There are only two other Anglos in class. Some speak Spanish, some Japanese, one speaks Armenian. And yet we communicate. We help each other understand through hand motions and broken French. We share gummy bears, stories from our native countries, and our favorite sports teams and musicians.

It’s that magical time early in life when your only mission is to observe and absorb. Before everyone got mean and jaded and before all the kids started competing for grades, boyfriends, best friends. It’s sharing and caring. The good stuff. The stuff in our genetic make-up; the stuff that makes us human.

I found the fountain of youth in an immersion French class for Canadian immigrants. Who knew?