No Morale of the Story

My Top 5 Expat Blunders (because everyone loves an embarrassing story… or five):

5) Shortly after we moved to Italy, I was trying to get to know some of the women around my age at church despite my struggles with the language. I tried breaking the ice one Sunday morning by complimenting two of them on their retro jewelry. “In fact,” I continued, “when I was young—” Immediately, they doubled over laughing. I later learned that the word “young” in Italian applies to people from ages 14 to 40, and I might as well have started the sentence, “When I was middle-aged.” Oy.

4) In the early days of life here, even simple trips to the grocery store were daunting. I had to memorize vocabulary lists just to make sure I ended up with toothpaste instead of antifungal cream, and it took me a couple of weeks before I worked up enough courage to order from the deli counter. I had taken careful mental notes when shopping with Dan though, and I knew how to specify whether I wanted mild cheese or sharp, aged or soft, sliced or in a wedge. I also knew I should ask to taste a sample before ordering, so I cleared the trepidation from my throat and ventured, “Can I taste, please?” The counter attendant raised one eyebrow and asked, “Come again?” “Um, can I please taste?” The attendant shook her head in confusion. I tried another approach: “Can I taste a piece?” Nothing. I pointed at the cheese we were discussing and enunciated carefully, “I want to taste this cheese please.” Now both her eyebrows were raising and lowering in quick succession. I finally gave up, ordered the cheese unsampled as it was, and hurried home where I discovered that I had gotten the word for “taste” confused with the similar-sounding one for “dry.” Why yes, I had just spent several minutes trying to convince the deli attendant to let me dry her cheese. On the upside, I haven’t gotten the two words confused since.

3) Once upon a time, we took a stroller, my pregnant belly, and a week’s worth of grocery purchases on a bus. You can read all the painful details here.

2) Two winters ago, we went with a large group of friends on a settimana bianca—a week in the mountains at a ski resort. The lodge we were all staying in provided meals in a giant mess hall, so I didn’t have to worry about packing anything more than my snowboarding gear. As it turns out, I should have worried about packing more than my snowboarding gear. I realized within minutes of arriving that my fleece hoodies and wool sweaters would stifle me to death in the lodge’s near-tropical heat, and that left me with only my undershirts as viable tops. And within seconds of arriving at supper that first night, sweating in my jeans, snow boots, and thermals, I realized that meals on a settimana bianca are formal affairs. Our friends were utterly elegant in their high heels and ties, and I looked like Frosty the Snowslob in the middle of a meltdown. It was a long week.

1) Today was dedicated to the girls; I took them to a special kids’ event at a local restaurant this morning, and then we had fun getting together their costumes for this evening’s school play. The theme for the play was “A world without borders,” and Natalie got to don my sparkly pink cowgirl hat to portray an “americana” while Sophie was transformed into history’s cutest wolf with furry ears, a homemade tail, and lovingly hand-drawn whiskers. Most of the children in their class were assigned the same costume—“jeans + lupetto bianco”—but I didn’t have a chance to see the other wolf costumes until Dan and I were settled in our seats and the curtains rose. There on stage was a choir of preschool angels, adorable in matching white shirts and golden halos… plus one set of shaggy lupine appendages. Sophie was the only wolf. The horrible suspicion that dawned on me was easily confirmed: “lupetto” also means turtleneck. We dashed out as soon as the play ended, but I still have to show my face at the girls’ school tomorrow. I could use a stiff shot of tequi morale right about now.

Lupetto bianco

Friends, this is your time to shine. If you value my dignity more than I do at the moment, share your own embarrassing moments and spare me the necessity of running off to ­­­Greenland and having to start this whole expat process again.

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  1. hahahah! That is TOO cute! Arroooo! 😀

  2. My MOST embarrassing moment? Involves my first time using a tampon. I can email you the details if you must know! 🙂 I can resonate with the expat confusion, we are living in Canada right now, and that first year was a huge challenge with paperwork and immigration status, I can’t even imagine having a language barrier as well! I’m starting to feel like I know more of what I am doing now, but it would have taken much longer if we didn’t know the language.

  3. I’ve loved reading your blog, Bethany! Looking forward to the upcoming novel. 🙂

    Your bus adventure reminded me of a mildly harrowing afternoon we experienced early on in our 2 1/2 year stint without a car. We sold our car early in my first pregnancy and I really thought we had the whole system down pat after eight months of zipping and zapping around Seattle- how much harder could it be to add a baby?

    Well, it got a lot harder, actually. Our first outing with Darren in particular was a complete disaster. We traveled a mere two miles by bus to the nearest shopping center, where we enjoyed a pretty relaxing lunch together while our angelic six week old slept peacefully in his sling. I felt good…maybe even smug. Then I noticed that the sling was a little damp. Okay, so that was gross, but we were close to home. I had several spare outfits, and tons of diapers and wipes. I could’ve handled a whole nursery full of blow-outs that day. So I marched off to a bathroom to change my little wriggling bundle of fun, where I discovered to my horror that my amazing new power of lactation had finally arrived in full force and it was ME who was leaking! My bra and shirt were wring-them-out-in-the-sink soaked, and the sling and baby clothes were thoroughly damp and starting to smell a little sour. And, of course, while I had plenty of supplies for the baby, I didn’t have a thing for myself.

    I spent the next hour sitting half naked in a bathroom stall with a wailing, distraught newborn while my husband visited every store in the area on foot, searching for clothes that I could wear home…on the hot, crowded bus, while carting bags of clothes that reeked of sour milk. Yeah, we were THOSE people. The other passengers were opening their windows and glaring.

  4. I lost my comment when I tried to submit it, so you will have to imagine my embarrassing moment.

    Have a very Merry Christmas Bethany!

    Love to you

  5. SCREAMING with laughter. Oh Bethany! This post made my night (may that be slight balm to your embarrassment!) Oh how I wish I could come visit. 😉

  6. Also, if it’s any consolation: she is an ADORABLE wolf.

    My husband doubled over on the couch laughing as I read this post aloud to him!

  7. PS: Don’t know how I put my friend’s website in as mine in my first post! Weeee three comments for me! And while I’m here, T wants to know: why didn’t the teacher say anything???

  8. really really miss you!

  9. Liz – Oh my goodness, you should have heard her practicing her wolf howls… Too bad she didn’t get to use them for the actual event!

    YM – Oh dear, I both don’t want to know and do. 🙂 I didn’t realize you were living the expat life too; even without the difference in language, I’m sure it’s quite the challenge!

    Grace – Major points to you for being the one brave soul to share your embarrassing moment here! Your story had me cracking up… I’ve had a similar soaked-outfit experience, and there’s just not much one can do about it. “Power of lactation” – ha!

    Megsie – Noooooo, I want to know! Love to you too, and I’m expecting to hear that story sometime. 🙂

    Christina – Haha, thanks. Actually, knowing that so many people have gotten a good laugh (or several) out of it has made the transition from hiding/crying to cracking up myself a lot easier. And to answer your question… The teacher just thought Sophie wanted to dress like a wolf for some reason! She turned bright red when my husband explained the miscommunication to her. That’s my one consolation — that maybe the other parents will just think it was a three-year-old whim as well.

    Rain – You too! I’ll catch up as soon, promise.

  10. The wolf story is HILARIOUS. I can so appreciate the embarrassment but ohh–does it make a great story. I told my husband too and it and we cracked up together. He’s Spanish and while we have lots of cultural goofs (especially me) they seem to be of the more subtle variety (like talking about something when I shouldn’t or in the wrong ways), since I’ve known the language for a long time. I did used to confuse “cajones” (drawers) with “cojones” (slang for balls)–that got some laughs out of people and funny looks.

    I love your blog. I found it through friends who blog too mentioning it (Christina, Liz, Meg) and keep coming back. I love your writing and stories!

  11. Thanks, Willow! I’m sure I would have made the same mistake PLENTY of times. Actually, before I finished reading your sentence, I was trying to figure out why you translated “cajones” as drawers… ::groan::

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