What’s Your “Fancy Like . . .”?

If I were to say that I was “fancy like Applebee’s” you might make some assumptions about me. For instance, I might be an American, not the richest guy in the world, and someone who listens to country music in his pickup truck.

And if you don’t fit into all those categories, you might wonder what “fancy like Applebee’s” even means. If that’s the case, two step over to YouTube to hear Walker Hayes’ top-ten country-western song from last year. In “Fancy Like,” Hayes sings that his “low maintenance” lady is usually content with eating at Wendy’s, 

But every now and then when I get paidI gotta spoil my baby with an upgrade
Yeah, we fancy like Applebee’s on a date nightGot that Bourbon Street steak with the Oreo shakeGet some whipped cream on the top tooTwo straws, one check, girl, I got you

Similes (those “like” and “as” phrases) show what we know. They reveal what we identify with and how we use that to describe the things around us, things that are new, or old things that we want to help others see in a new way. Sometimes they get it. Sometimes they don’t. That’s the way it is for country-music stars, and for cross-cultural workers, too.

So if you’re fancy like Applebee’s, it might be because that’s where you go for a a Bourbon Street Steak during your once-a-year trip to the city to get your documents approved or to make a supply run. Or you could be fancy like Swedish meatballs in the IKEA cafeteria. Or fancy like a hotdog combo, with extra sauerkraut, at the Costco snack bar. Or fancy like a Caffè Mocha at the window table in Starburks, (yes, I do mean Starburks).

That’s how we do, how we do, fancy like . . .

In that spirit, here are a few similes I’ve come up with. Some are based on my own experiences overseas, and some I just imagine might be true for others. I hope they make sense to you, but more than that, I hope they inspire you to come up with your own. Give it a try:

As cute as the senior citizens ballroom dancing in the park every Saturday morning

Pristine like the sky the day before a typhoon

As silent as an empty night-market alley after the exterminators have passed through

As welcome as an English-speaking taxi driver without strong political views

As improbable as a mom and a dad and three kids on one scooter

Smooth like bubble milk tea on a muggy afternoon

As awkward as an angry foreigner yelling, “This would never happen where I’m from!”

Terrified like the young workers at McDonald’s seeing a foreigner approach the counter

Bittersweet like hearing church members say, “We’ll miss you, but we’ll take it from here”

Nervous like power lines during an aftershock

As unexpected as a free cup of Häagen-Dazs on a 13-hour flight

Hopeful like not hitting water all week but drilling one more time

Rotund like the koi fish in the pond next to the national art museum

Noisy like upstairs neighbors pouring their marble collection on the tile floor at 2:00 every morning

As gorgeous as a new visa stamp in a passport

Glorious like a family showing up to a worship service for the first time because they’ve heard that they could learn about the creator there

and . . .

As incredible as finding a frozen turkey and a can of cranberry sauce seven days before Thanksgiving

[photo: “Applebee’s,” by Mike Mozart, used under a Creative Commons license]

Can You Talk the Talk? Swimming in the Alphabet Soup of CCW-ese

How are your language skills as a cross-cultural worker? No, I’m not talking about the language(s) you’ve learned for living and working in your new home. I’m referring to your fluency in CCW-ese, or the jargon that cross-cultural workers often find themselves swimming in. Immersion is the best way to learn, right?

I’ve put together a collection of vocabulary below to help you see just how fluent you are. Does it all make sense to you?

The next time you’re on home service and someone asks you to say something in your new language, call this up and start reading. (By the way, some of this may not apply to you, as it’s slanted toward the experience of someone with a US passport. In other words, your dialect may vary.)

Hello, I’m a CCW living overseas. I’m part of a larger group of expats that includes such people as EAWs working with NGOs to help IDPs in low GDP countries and FSOs serving with the DoS. My journey abroad started with PFO, where the MBTI and the RHETI showed me I’m an ENTP and an Enneagram Type 2, respectively. Then my spouse and I, along with several others, were briefed on CPM, DMM, M2M/M2DMM, T4T, BAM, and DBS strategies and were shown how to write an MOU. After that, it wasn’t long before all of us were following directions from the TSA and walking through the AIT scanner at places like ORD, LAX, and ATL, headed for other places such as BKK, NBO, and PTY and parts beyond. It was hard for my MKs to leave our POMs behind, but they were looking forward to their new lives as TCKs, growing up with other GNs and CCKs, on their way to becoming ATCKs.

One of our first steps upon arriving at our new home—which is among a UUPG in the Two-Thirds World, just outside the 10/40 window—was language learning. We started out using LAMP and GPA with some TPR mixed in, as well. Someday, I think I might try my hand (so to speak) at ISL.

We’ve also had to make cultural adjustments, for instance switching from letter-sized paper to A4, switching from the NFL to FIFA, and learning how to switch out RO filters for our water. And when we take trips to other locales, we’re sure to bring along a voltage converter and adapters to knock the power down from 220/240 to 110/120 and to use C, D, E/F, G, H, I, J, L, M, and N plugins when necessary.

Then, before long, we were hosting STMs and engaging with the locals by using our TEFL certifications to teach ESOL. A few of our students are hoping to take the TOEFL or IELTS and get I-20s and F-1 visas.

At some point, we expect to fly back for good, filling out a CBP Form 6059B for the last time, again hoping that nothing in our bags will bother DHS’s CBP agents. That will mean no more yearly IRS Form 2555 to claim the FEIE, no more scheduled chats with fellow workers around the globe using P2Pe apps (every Saturday at 13:30 GMT), and no more jumping on the HSR for a quick getaway.

It’ll be another big change—RCS can be hard. But we’ll be prepared, because we’ll have built a RAFT, which should keep us afloat through the transition.

And, of course, we’ll be sure to keep connected through ALO.

[photo: “Alphabets,” by Tomohiro Tokunaga, used under a Creative Commons license]

My CCW Top 40 “Playlist”

I’m not a very sophisticated musicophile. I like what I like without a lot of reasoning, don’t follow specific genres, can’t decipher a lot of lyrics (or don’t remember those I can), and don’t have targeted-enough tastes to pay for any online subscriptions. So I was recently listening to my free Beatles-ish Pandora station and the song “Nobody Told Me (There’d Be Days like These)” cued up. I thought to myself, “Now that would be a good descriptor for some of my time overseas.” And that got me thinking about what other titles could make up a top-40 “playlist” for when I was a cross-cultural worker (CCW).

After a little more thinking, here’s what I came up with. I can’t vouch for the lyrics to these songs (see “can’t decipher” and “don’t remember” above), so please show me some grace on that. Speaking of grace, my list doesn’t include any hymns or worship songs. If so, “Amazing Grace” would be on repeat throughout. Instead, I decided to go with church music’s secular cousins—twice removed—this time around.

Any titles you’d add? Maybe something a little more contemporary? As you can see, I’m kind of lacking in that area. Anyway, if you know these tunes, hum along with me.

  1. I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane
  2. Hello
  3. We’ve Only Just Begun
  4. Upside Down
  5. Tongue Tied
  6. Now I Know My ABCs
  7. All Shook Up
  8. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
  9. Homesick
  10. It’s Going to Take Some Time
  11. I Beg Your Pardon (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden)
  12. Don’t Stop Believin’
  13. I Will Survive
  14. With a Little Help from My Friends
  15. Stayin’ Alive
  16. Two Worlds
  17. The Same Moon
  18. On the Road Again
  19. Hello, Goodbye
  20. I’ve Been Everywhere
  21. Running on Empty
  22. Say a Little Prayer
  23. I’m a Believer
  24. Hallelujah
  25. Beautiful People
  26. Another Day in Paradise
  27. What a Wonderful World
  28. Tell It like It Is
  29. If I Were a Rich Man
  30. It’s a Small World
  31. We Don’t Need Another Hero
  32. Keeping the Faith
  33. Against All Odds
  34. Hit Me with Your Best Shot
  35. Nobody Told Me (There’d Be Days like These)
  36. I Will Survive (reprise)
  37. One Day More
  38. I’m Still Here
  39. Should I Stay or Should I go?
  40. Goodbye

[photo: “spinspinspin,” by Shannon, used under a Creative Commons license]

What Did I Do Today? I Made a Copy. Woohoo!

An imagined but quite possible day in a life overseas . . .

This morning I woke up with my to-do list waiting for me on the nightstand. Item number one was Get out of bed (I’d written that one down so I could start the day by crossing it off). Number two said Copy document. That’s because yesterday at the county government office, when I went to get my resident permit renewed, the lady behind the desk told me I needed to bring a copy of my registration letter to leave with them.

I was more than ready to get that taken care of and move on to the other, bigger, better, more important things on my list. It was an impressive list. I had quite the day planned.

After a quick shower and a slice of toast for breakfast, I grabbed my permit documents and walked to the bus stop and took the bus to the copy shop, about 15 minutes away. But when I stepped off the bus I saw that the copy shop wasn’t a copy shop anymore. Instead,  sometime over the weekend, it had been turned into a KFG Chicken restaurant. (Yes, a KFG not a KFC. This one had a green smiling rooster on its sign.) I called my teammate to get her advice, and she said I might be able to get a copy at a bank. There was a bank down the street, and after going there and standing in line, I asked the teller if she could help me make a copy. She said that was impossible.

On the way back to the bus stop, I called another teammate, and he told me to try the photo shop next to the new high school. I decided to take a taxi there to save time, but the only cash I had was a large bill and I figured the driver wouldn’t have change for it, so I walked back to the bank to withdraw some money from the ATM. But then the ATM ate my card and wouldn’t spit it out no matter how many buttons I pushed. I went back into the bank to retrieve it, but they said that was impossible—at least until after two business days.

I saw a cab outside and flagged it, and when I showed the driver my money and asked if it was OK, he said No problem. When I told him where I wanted to go he said No problem. But when he stopped next to a man on the sidewalk selling watches and spatulas and asked him how to get to the new high school, I realized that he didn’t know where it was—not the new high school I was talking about.

I said that we should head in the direction of the main bus station and he did that. On the way, we chatted about presidents, his and mine, about religion, his and mine, and about families, his and mine. Our conversation ended when we got stuck at an intersection while a parade passed by. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t find a way out. He wasn’t happy at all and shared his international vocabulary by yelling the two English words he knew, each having four letters. When we finally ended up in front of the new high school, I gave him my money and he set his emergency brake and got out of the car, motioning for me to follow him into a convenience store. It turned out that his version of No problem was for me to get change there. The clerk said I had to make a purchase, so I got a pack of gum, even though I don’t usually chew gum. In return he gave me some smaller bills, and I paid the cab driver. I told him I was sorry, and he said No problem.

I made my way to the photo shop, and when the owner finished with a customer, I said I needed a copy. He said he couldn’t do it, but I should go to the bank nearby. I said another bank had told me that it was impossible. He smiled and complimented me on my language skills. Then he led me to the bank and asked the security guard if I could get a copy there. The guard took my letter and gave it to another bank worker, who left and came back with a copy. I asked how much it cost, and he said No charge. I thanked him and the photo-shop owner said, Amazing, you speak just like one of us.

With my copy in hand, I flagged another taxi and was headed back to the county office. When I got there I took a number and joined the crowd in the seats against the wall. There were three officers behind their desks, and I hoped it would work out for me to be helped by the kind-looking young man in the middle.

When my number was next, the person in front of the kind-looking young man got up, but then so did the kind-looking young man, and a not-kind-looking not-young man took his place. I sat down at his desk, presented my documents, and explained my situation. When I told him that yesterday the officer had told me to bring back a copy of my letter, he took it from me and went back to show it to some other workers sitting behind him. They looked it over somberly, pointing out some words and shaking their heads. Then the not-kind-looking not-young man came back and told me I needed an “official” copy.

I told him I’d never needed that before, but that didn’t do any good, so I asked where I could get the kind of copy he wanted. He said it would have to come from a bank. I told him that my copy was from a bank. He told me it needed to be from a government bank.

I left and realized it was past lunch time. I’d seen a lady selling some kind of meat on a stick at the corner so I walked over to her cart and placed my order. But before she could serve me, her phone and the phones of the other vendors near her started buzzing. They looked down at them and then raced frantically with their carts into the alley. A few seconds later, a policeman strolled by, content to have the food sellers—who obviously had no permits—out of sight.

That meant I needed to walk farther to get something to eat. On my way, I passed by a foreign-goods store that I’d not heard about before and saw two cans of Dr. Pepper in the window, right next to a box of Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries. Dr. Pepper is a rare sight here, and I figured it would make a good gift for my teammate’s upcoming birthday. I went inside and picked up the cans, but when I flipped them over, I saw that they were well past their expiration date. I asked the shop keeper if she had any newer ones. She exited to a back room and returned with a case of Coke Zero. I told her it wasn’t the same, but she told me that was all she had. Then she smiled and added that my language wasn’t very good. She said she had a foreign friend who had been here for only two months and he sounded way, way better than me.

I left empty handed (figuring expired Dr. Pepper isn’t worth US$3 a can) and walked around until I found another convenience store, where I spent too much time looking for things it didn’t have and ended up buying a hard-boiled egg, a half-sized can of curry-flavored Pringles, and a bottle of water.

I knew where there was a government bank on the subway line, so I asked the store clerk how to get to the closest subway station. He said it was in that direction, over there, past that but before that, then to the left and then to the right and then to the left again, or something like that. I took off and got there after asking for directions only three more times.

On the subway, I had to transfer twice. On one line a high-school-aged girl wanted to practice her English and asked me where I was from and how old I was. On another line a little boy came and stood beside me, comparing his height to mine. His mother took our picture.

I got distracted trying to decipher the advertisements in my subway car and missed the stop I was aiming for. I didn’t realize I’d gone a station too far until I’d already passed through the turnstiles, so I decided just to walk back to where the bank was. When I got there, I waited in line and then asked for an official copy. This called for another mini conference, and then they sent me to a room upstairs. The lady there took my letter, left for a few minutes, and returned with a copy stamped with the bank logo in red. This time it wasn’t free, so I paid her for it. She left again for a few more minutes and came back with a receipt.

I took the copy, along with all my other papers, and got back on the subway, heading to the county office again. When I got there, it was closed. That’s because, as the sign on the door said, it always closes early on Tuesdays, which, I guess, everyone knew about, except me. That meant another trip on the subway and then another bus ride back to my house. Before going home, though, I stopped at a cafe to sit for a while and drink some coffee.

I fished the list out of my pocket along with an ink pen and crossed off item number two. Then I glanced down at the other, bigger, better, more important things on it. They’d have to wait until tomorrow.

But today, today I made a copy. And it wasn’t just any old copy. It was an official copy.

When my coffee cup was empty, I got up to leave. I unwrapped a piece of gum and put it in my mouth.

Yes, today I made a copy. Woohoo!

[photo: “Braden’s Woohoo!,” by Laura Molnar, used under a Creative Commons license]

(Hey, Anisha—after I started writing this I saw you publish your Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day two weeks ago. I know that this isn’t exactly the same, but I seem to follow in others’ footsteps a lot when it comes to blogging. Bummer! I think I’ll move to Florida.)