Category Archives: Culture Shock

Let’s prep for Prep, ’cause that makes sense!

Errone needs to chill out.

The lovely College Board has now come out with ReadiStep, a test designed for 8th Graders so that they can be more prepared to take the PSAT in high school (which, FYI, is a PREPARATORY TEST ITSELF). Giving 13 year olds a number that represents their ability to make it on the Standardized Test that will Determine Their Future does nothing except convince them early on that they won’t be able to do better than that. STOP TELLING PEOPLE HOW GOOD THEY ARE AND LET THEM BE BEES.

Full disclosure: I rocked my SATs. But if I had taken a similar test in 8th grade, I probably would have gotten comments like “she’s just not a test taker.” Why not focus on giving 8th graders the basic education they need so that they can then go on and hone their skillz without worrying about the fact that they have no idea what the periodic table is? Seriously guys, it’s hard to defend having an ace test taker if they can’t even define an adjective.

And how far is this going to go, anyway? In five years there will be a scholarship linked to ReadiStep, and so then there will be a Prep Test (FlashCardDance! RunningStart! BabiGenius!) for 5th graders, then 1st graders, and then moms at preschool will be all, “Well my Brooklyn didn’t need an instructor to get her 98% on the BabiGeniuses last year. She drew that straight line all on her own. We fully expect Harvard or at least a New Ivy in her future. What about your Arryn?” (Does anyone feel like as child/school culture becomes more ridiculous, parents are naming their babies to match?)

Also, why do the People Who Name Everything In The World insist that replacing “Y” with “I” will make a brand more appealing? Why would people preparing an academic test feel the need to spell “ready” wrong? Who wants to bet that on the spelling section, 37.43% more 8th graders will choose B) readi instead of A) ready?

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Strangers making me feel better is my happy thought

So today started out at a stink level. From the moment it was 11:59 yesterday and it turned into 12am today, my day was not fun. I’ll just say I was on duty, meaning I was the First Responder to all things going on in UHall, and even though there was NOTHING going on in UHall that required my attention, I was still called several times in the middle of the night. And no, I don’t mean at like one in the morning middle of the night, I mean like 3:30am, then 4am, kind of middle of the night. The kind you don’t recover from, and when you do, you’re called again, an hour later.

Did I mention the subway was about this crowded when I was running through?

 

BUT THEN I was going down the stairs in the subway to go pick my babysitting kids up from school and the 6 train was THERE ready to leave, so I started running because the next one wouldn’t be for another good 10 minutes, and everyone on the stairs parted for me and several people started yelling “Go go go go go!” and when I made it, people cheered.

I made it on the subway, and people cheered for me. Thanks, New York.

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Hannibal Lecter is never a happy thought, but…

…watching Silence of the Lambs with some of my fav RAs is!

He’s freaky. Thanks for the great procrastination excuse! Nothing better than a villain who doesn’t keep trophies from his murders because he eats his victims. Gross.

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Greece is the word: Paros

On Tuesday we embarked to Paros on a four hour ferry. I love boats! (For Beth: BOATS! I hadn’t thought of that in so long!) So fun. We slept through most of it though, as we had to leave from the port at 7:25 AM, meaning we had to wake up at 4:30. Four. Thirty.

But then we were here:

…and it was all good.

We spent a day exploring the port village of Parikia:

…before lounging around in our apartment. We had expected to stay in a room with a shared bathroom, but since it’s low season the owner of the hotel gave us an apartment with a terrace for the same price! Lisa went for a walk while Hayley and I caught up on the balcony, watching the ocean over the maybe ten or so buildings that separated us from the sea. Beautiful.

The next day we took the bus to the fishing village of Naoussa, that we had heard we couldn’t miss. When we got there though, we realized all we knew is that there were things to see in Naoussa, but we didn’t know what any of them were. No guide book, no map, nothing. And the bus had just left. We walked toward the ocean, pondering, and it started to rain. Awesome. We ducked into a little cafe that had a few people in it and happened to meet a German woman who was just on her way out. She invited us back to have lunch with her the next day and disappeared! After she left, the four Coast Guard men sitting behind us started asking us where we’re from and why we were on Paros. Valid question, as we literally saw under ten other tourists the entire three days that we were there. When they say low season, they mean low. Most of the restaurants, cafes, and bars aren’t even open right now!

We ended up sitting and talking with them for almost three hours, and during that time they had us try both a stingray fish salad (kind of tasted like tuna, but so fresh and wonderful) and souma, Paros’ own special brand of…liquor. Which they drink straight. Beautiful. It actually wasn’t that bad, since it’s made from grapes. But I definitely watered mine down on the sly (thankfully it’s clear. Like…vodka. Mmmmm. Not planning on going to Russia anytime soon if it’s a custom to buy random people random drinks). And have I mentioned that European’s don’t seem to do shots? Or at least, not in daylight. Not that Americans do either but seriously, no one but Dads and other older male people drink straight liquor. And older male people tend to drink scotch. And we had to sip it. Blerghleknghsd.

They drove us back to Parikia and we explored the coast a little bit!

Later that night we met up with some of the people we had met that day at one of (count them) two bars that are open on the island during low season. We had totally forgotten that it was St. Patrick’s day, and apparently Greeks don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s day at all, so naturally the bar got really into it and all the Greeks were being ironically St. Patricky because they couldn’t really believe people honestly actually get into a holiday that basically revolves around pinching people and getting outrageously drunk. I know it seems like our experience in Paros so far has been all about the liquor, but it’s more interesting to comment on then the parts where we slept in until noon and sat in the sun sprouting freckles.

Honestly, there is so much to see on Paros including but not limited to: The Church of a 100 Doors (99 of which have only ever been found, when the 100th door is found, Constantinople will be returned to the Greeks), the abandoned Monastary, the valley of the butterflies, the castle guarding against the pirates at Naoussa, and the Archeology Museum. None of which I saw. I was too busy meeting people, eating good food, and enjoying the sun!

Our next day we went back to Naoussa and had a long, lovely lunch with the german lady, who has been living in Greece for a year now. She had many friends with her at lunch, most of whom did not speak English but a lot of whom also spoke German, so there was a strange fusion of languages going on as people told stories and the people who understood them would explain it in the other language they knew until everyone had heard it, resulting in the wonderful effect that the funny stories got three rounds of genuine laughter.

After debating whether to walk around Naoussa or lie in the sun while waiting the hour for the bus (guess which one we chose), we stopped and had milkshakes by the shore and watched a beautiful sunset.

We ended the day by meeting up with some people we had met the night before who offered to show us the best restaurant on the island. They took us to an amazing fish restaurant where I had so much seafood that I think I’ll be ok without any sort of sea creature near my mouth for about a month. Wonderful. Next they took us to two different bars that only the local Greeks go to before driving us back to our hotel. I love Greek people! Every SINGLE person we met was nice, open, funny, and curious. Not one took advantage of us or even hinted at doing so. Better than you can get in the US in most places, that’s for sure!

We thought we were going to spend one more day in Paros (during which we were planning to take a ten minute ferry to the opposite island, cleverly named Antiparos), but  we decided we couldn’t ignore every single one of the amazing Greeks telling us to go to Santorini, and we decided to change our plans last minute! We got up for the noon ferry the next day, and were in Santorini around three.

The beautiful thing about low-season (again) is that we were able to buy our ferry tickets about an hour before we boarded, and we went to the island with a) no idea what to do once we got there, b) what the island really was at all, and c) where we would be sleeping that night.

But all the details of that are a story for another time.

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Venezia: Te Amo, even in the rain

So three weeks ago I went to Venice again for a day with my Renaissance Art class, but instead of the sun Lisa and I had while there during Carnivale, it was raining. And I’m not talking about any old rain. You know how Venice is supposedly sinking?

…yeah.

This is outside Basilica di San Marco, which if you recall, isn’t normally underwater. We had to walk on those platform as the water kept rising…and rising…and we even had to cut our visit to the church short because the platforms were about to up and float away. Not that inside was immune either.

Yes, the broom is floating. Inside.

All the rivers throughout the city were WAY high.

FYI, usually the stairs leading into the water aren’t underwater. Remember how it looked on a normal day?

We ended up having to cut one of the museums from our day because we couldn’t get to it! There aren’t platforms in any of the back streets, and every street we could use to get to the museum was flooded under several feet of water. A lot of the Venetians have thigh-high rain boots so they can wade through the city, as flooding happens over 80 times a year! Apparently all this funky stuff happens when it rains in specific regions around Venice, like in the mountains. Basically anywhere that runs off unto the Adriatic Sea, actually. Because Venice is protected in a lagoon, it’s also affected by the tides astronomically, so a couple on inches of rain can mean a few FEET of flooding in Venice. Our group leader on the trip told us if nothing is done to protect the city, Venice could be unlivable by 2050! So plan your trips now, guys.

There are several different options that the government is considering to save Venice, but they are all astronomically expensive, or might not work, or will kill the entire ecological system in the lagoon. In fact, a lot of Venetians actively protest the conservation efforts because they are all so controversial, even as their homes are underwater!

It definitely wasn’t the day trip I was expecting. It was a total adventure! But I still loved Venice, even through all the flooding and my squishy socks. I would love to go back before I go back home because, who knows, it might sink before I get another chance!

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La Festa di Carnivale!

The day before the last day of Carnivale, my host family threw a small party! We were informed that in order to eat, we had to wear a costume, which was totally ok because it gave Lisa and I another chance to wear our awesome Venetian masks! Behold your first glimpse of our awesome family:

From left: Annamaria (la madre), Olga, me, Lisa, Davide

We had wonderful food, met some of the Saracino’s friends, and Davide gave Lisa and I a show after dinner (he’s obsessed with the circus, and had set up a mini one in his room…awesome!). Missing from the photo is Giuseppe, the dad, who teaches us Italian every night and loves learning new English words.

Gotta love this family!

(Note: Annamaria, who is around 45 years old, said she has had that “northern Italian woman” costume since she was sixteen! New goal: fit into one of my current dresses when I’m 45 after having two kids.)

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Venezia, Te Amo

This past weekend, Lisa and I went to Venice for Carnival! Carnival is a huge deal in Italy, and though Venice has the largest and most famous festival, my Italian teacher called it calm compared to some of the less touristy celebrations. Apparently many of the other celebrations have huge parades involved floats that are similar to the Rose Parade or the Macy’s Day Parade, and everyone is drunk for about four days straight. However, since we wanted to see both Venice AND Carnivale, we decided to double up and see them both at the same time. The weekend was totally visual, so I’ll let my pictures do most of the talking.

On the train ready to go!

This is how I felt on the inside

We got to Venice are 10 Saturday morning, after getting up at 5 to get to the train station. The trip took about 3 hours, and we slept for most of the trip. When we arrived in Venice it was cold, rainy, and beautiful. It took us a while to figure out the transportation situation (there are no normal buses here, seeing as the major streets are made of water, so we had to find the right boat to take us to our hostel, which was on a different island than the main island of Venice).

We did have more blankets, but you get the gist

It wasn’t exactly luxury, but we did get huge lockers for our stuff and free breakfast. After checking in we went over to the main island! A few streets away from our waterbus stop was a little mask shop with a really nice woman inside who helped us pick out which to buy. She hand painted the masks herself, and even brought out a mask from the back that was a little different than the one I was considering to see if I liked it better. She told us not to wear the masks until dark (apparently wearing it before dark on the first day of Carnevale just proves you’re a tourist) and we set off!

We tried to find food, but ended up in a pizza place that turned out to be owned by Asians. Lisa and I haven’t gone out to eat that often, but each time we go out we’ve ended up at total non-Italian places (including a really good Turkish restaurant one time where the lady didn’t even really ask what we wanted, just heaped food on our plate and handed it to us). The pizza wasn’t really that good, but it was cheap and huge, so we were content.

The incredible canals and gondolas. And yes, the gondoliers sing.

After getting lost for a considerable amount of time, we found the Galleria del Accademia that supposedly houses The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, and we wandered inside for a couple hours before finding out that the sketch won’t be on display again for another SEVEN TO EIGHT YEARS. On the brochure and on the map I got from the train station, they advertise the museum as housing The Vitruvian Man! It’s the only reason we went to that particular one! You would think they update the brochures more often than every seven to eight YEARS. It didn’t even turn out to be a good museum. The information about the works were all on large cards by the doors of each room that you could carry around with you, and very few rooms had information in English. Frustrating.

Fortunately the general amazingness of Carnevale was free, and I got plenty of pictures of incredible costumes and people:

Some costumes were totally unreal.

Some were adorable.

But everyone was willing to pose.

Including me!

On Sunday we went inside San Marco Basilica during mass to the museum that is housed above the church. THAT museum was incredible, which really cool information on how the cathedral was built, what the different stages were, what artists and architects contributed, and the various traditions of the priests and cardinals who have been there over the years. Plus, the choir was singing while we were looking around, which was a major plus.

We watched a parade, found gelato, food, and tried Bellini, the signature cocktail of Venice. It’s made from sparkling wine and fruit juice, and is sold in beer sized bottles for a few euro in tabacchi, which are the equivalent of bodegas or delis, kind of. And just so y’all know, Venician men are not above drinking this admittedly girly drink. When a drink is good, it’s good, and they don’t care that it’s totally pink.

Venice was definitely in the top five places I’ve ever been, and thanks to amazing parents and aunties, I’ve been to some incredible places. For more pictures, there’s a whole album on facebook!

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