A World of Jerks!

I can’t believe that I just figured out that being a jerk is a unique cultural expression.

A shop found in Valencia, folks from San Francisco will understand

Seriously, the way that you are a jerk to people shows your unique heritage better than the clothes you wear, the way you pronounce words, or whether you prefer Pepsi to Coke. There is surely an anthropologist out there who has catalogued all of this in dry, academic language. Be that as it may, I’ll add my own trivial observations to the corpus.

To me, jerkiness is the thing where a person wants to be mean, and the methods they use to get it done. It’s distinct from rudeness, which is usually more about the receiver than the giver. This is being a jerk: do they tell you off to your face, do they ignore you, do they start deliberately mumbling, do they complain loudly to a 3rd party?

It’s gonna be my next app

Because I’m an idiot, I walk around offending people most of the day. Mostly it’s due to my own ignorance, misunderstanding, or laziness.  I’m the guy that’s walking in the bicycle lane or trying to talk to the employee who has a queue of people waiting. Sorry! Lo siento! Do people even say that here? Ay, perdon! It’s clear I have a certain talent and all that’s left is for me to monetize it.

Brujeria in Mex City near where we lived

Sometimes I’m less forgiven than other times. When I really piss someone off, that’s when their inner jerk comes out. While they do their thing, in my head I’m trying to figure out how old they are and where they were born. In Hawaii, I once got the most silent silent-treatment ever. Super creepy, like the eyes don’t focus when I’m right in front of them. In this part of Spain, offended people are direct and loud. Joder, ten paciencia! In Mexico, I assume they cast an evil spell on me after I was gone, because I never caught an inkling of offense in person (and because there are a lot of brujerias around).

Sorry world, the cultural ineptitude will probably never end. I’ve really got no idea what I’m doing. For our many well traveled friends – what do you know of offending other cultures?



A brief moment of sunshine in London. Quick! Get a picture!

Update on us: Allison and I are settled in Spain now for 2 1/2 months, currently focused on getting our long-term visas (still) and trying to figure out how to speak the language (still). The Spanish are really good at not hurrying, so we’re trying to learn that while we are here. But we still even walk way too fast. We’ve made a couple of friends and done a few trips within Spain and as far as London. Much more to do and see (slowly, somehow). Our next trip will likely to be to walk the last part of the Camino del Santiago. Then maybe to find out how the Portuguese or Moroccan folks get offended. 🙂


A World of Jerks!

The Cat Gauntlet

You know we love our cats and we would never do anything to harm them. It actually turns out that we would put them into a box, hand them to complete strangers and let them stay in their little prison for over 30 hours. It’s not that we didn’t try to spring them, it’s that we really have no idea what we’re doing.

This wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t been bad.

The problem is airline cost. For us to bring the cats to Spain on the same flights as us was prohibitively expensive. This is because budget airlines don’t offer pet cargo, so the airlines that do are “the nice ones”. It made a difference of a couple of thousand dollars to ship the pets on different flights than us. But this also meant that Allison and I had to fly separately as well, in order for one of us to drop them off at our origin and the other to be at the destination to pick them up. We settled on TAP Portugal for the humans and American Airlines Live Cargo for the cats.

It would happen like this: I would fly on Wed and arrive in Madrid on Thursday. Allison would wake up at 3AM on Thursday and prepare the cats, load them, and load her own stuff. Then she would drop the cats, the rental car and finally get herself to the airport. All before her 7:30AM flight. I was to wait in Madrid until they landed Friday morning with another car (and cat litter) to pick them up, let them poo, and then drive to Valencia where a cozy Airbnb was waiting to have us all. Allison would join in a few days after visiting family on the east coast. That was the plan, and we felt good about it.

The jars of sangria keep get bigger each night somehow.

The actuality matched the plan pretty well until Allison is at the airport getting ready for her flight and the live cargo people call. They say that our cat carriers are not allowed because they don’t have a solid top. They could try to zip tie the top exit and hope the European carriers don’t reject it. A sleep deprived Allison tells them she’s about to get on the flight and so the cats aren’t getting new carriers. They ask if it’s ok to drill holes in the top of the carrier so that they can do the zip tie thing. Yes, but please try to avoid the flesh of the cats. This is the last we hear from them in our native tongue.

In Madrid, I arrive in the evening and my first challenge is kitty litter. I drive to a mall close to the airport and realize that in Europe, you are somehow supposed to know how to parallel park. And for some reason the people in the cars behind you don’t care that you haven’t tried to parallel park in 5 years or that you haven’t really slept in a while. But it did get done. And dinner was found and I was able to sleep for several hours even with the time change.

The central market in Valencia is very different than the markets of Mexico City

Friday morning, the cats were to land at 10:15. Pet cargo folks said to be there early to clear customs. So I showed up at 9:30. I was a little bit anxious because the cats had previously only been in their carriers for 6 hours and we were now approaching 20, and I had heard about the drilling. They say, the cats won’t be here until at least 11. Come back then. At 11, they say come back at 12. At 12: they’re here. Now you need to go to customs. Customs says go to Agriculture. Ag says you don’t have the right papers. “But these are the only papers I have.” “Let us think about it.” It’s now 1:30. “OK, send us the right papers when you have them.” 2 o’clock. I realize later that I actually had the correct papers, I was just too tired and stressed to remember.

I clear customs and go back to the cargo folks to finally get the cats. I give the right guy the right paper and he takes it and gets his forklift. Then he stops on his forklift and talks to his friend. I’m just standing there wondering why he needs a forklift for two cats, and why won’t he get on with it already? Eventually he does. The cat carriers come out on a pallet and they are still alive. No new holes in the carrier or cats. They solved the zip tie problem using extra zip ties. The carriers are locked down with military grade effectiveness.

See? They survived.

I get on the road to Valencia. The cats are mostly quiet, but talking to me occasionally. They have food and water in the carriers so they are ok, but probably need to use the bathroom. But I have nothing to cut the zip ties because I’ve been flying and you can’t take sharp objects. I drive for an hour and a half before I realize that truck stops sell sharp things that can be used for this purpose.

We’re all tired, but arrived at the cozy Airbnb without any accidents or injury. They spent over 30 hours in their carriers, but were extra affectionate when they got out. I shed the car and hope to not drive or park again for a really long time. Allison is now here too, so things are looking up.

The Cat Gauntlet

It’s just stuff

We’re in Las Vegas, cleaning out our storage unit. Trying to find homes for all of the things in there. Since we’ve been living without all of these things for a year, it’s perfectly reasonable to say that we don’t need them. That’s the rule, right? Live without it for a year and you’ve proven that you don’t need it.  And if we don’t need it and we’re not enjoying it, then we’re just being greedy. And that greed is a disservice to 1) the item which could be having a life where it was useful to somebody, 2) the person who may need or enjoy the thing we’re hoarding, and 3) ourselves, who have to pay to store all the things.

the stuff in question

So goes the theory anyway. When Allison and I hear from folks that they envy our lifestyle, one of the things we think but can’t articulate is that they probably wouldn’t like it. Besides the general feelings of incompetence we’ve described ad nauseum, another big problem is living in other people’s stuff. Rented stuff is actually pretty crappy. The stuff we own is awesome. The stuff in storage. The stuff we’re getting rid of.

Like our dresser. It has just the right number of little and medium sized drawers. It’s perfect for the way we like to fold our things. Our couch was super comfy and the perfect size for the two of us. We searched all over to get that couch. And it’s great. So many good clothes that would look fabulous on us…

It’s almost done. We’re keeping more than we thought we would. Things that are sentimental, things that we will need immediately when/if we settle down, other things we can’t bear to get rid of. It will be 4 boxes probably. Down from a 10×10 storage unit.

If you encounter any of our things in your own travels, please be kind to them. And tell them they are missed.

It’s just stuff

Adios, Mexico. It was a blast!

The cats give zero shits about our goals

We have only 7 days left in Mexico. We’re making sure we do all the things we love one more time before we go. We’re scheduling time with friends and have a prioritized list of restaurants to visit. Plus there’s work to do. We came to this country with two suitcases, two carry-ons and two cats. We’re determined to leave with no more.

We’re going to spend a month or so in the US, then by Feb we’ll be off to Spain.

But before that, it’s time to reflect on how we did against our goals for the trip/year.

Goal #1: Learn the language. Score: C-

img_0848-1I don’t know if you know this about Spanish, but you can say literally anything in that language. Some things you can even say in multiple ways. All this to say, it was a bigger job than we scoped it out to be. But clear progress has been made, another couple or three years and we’ll probably feel a little more comfortable.

This is definitely something that will carry over into next year.  In reality, it’s been so much fun to be in language class that we hope to keep doing it forever. Meeting all the weirdo expats has been the best part.

Goal #2: Immerse ourselves in the culture. Score: C-

Day of the Dead Parade
Like everyone else, my phone had to be 2 feet above my head to get this shot

I had been looking forward to day of the dead all year. This was the weekend that formula 1 came to town, and there was going to be all this great food and art and celebrations. I was like a kid! But the reality of it was that everybody seemed to show up for both events. Major crowds made both hard to enjoy.

This has been our story with going out to the big events. We’d rather just stay home, and so we have.

the word for Buzzard is "zopilote"
the word for buzzard is “zopilote”


But we’ve excelled in the cultural activities of eating street food and sitting by pools reading books.

Giving this a grade of C- may be a little bit harsh, but I stand by it. When the grading auditors come, I stand in integrity.

Goal #3: Reduce our consumption grade: B+

nada mas
nada mas

We’re pretty proud of how much we’ve reduced our lifestyle down to the essentials. Allison and I are constantly holding back incredible tips on stuff like “why not make our own toothpaste?” and “socks are terrible inventions, do we really need them?”.

Just give us any hint that anybody cares and these tips will totally take over this blog.

The work has totally paid off. We’re spending less than we thought we would, and we see how we could have done even better without suffering. It’s really cool.

goal 4: Figure out what is next Grade: C

Timg_0795his goal was about figuring out our lives as semi-retired or perpetual sabbatical kind of people. At some point, we were supposed to have a revelation about this. We’re still waiting. In the meantime, we’ll try not to screw anything up and continue to put hours into online volunteering.
That’s it for now. We’ll probably post again in March or so. Once we’re set up in our new place. Adios Mexico! Gracias por todo!

And come see us. Visitors are fun.

Adios, Mexico. It was a blast!

Pharr Away – Q3

Roger and I have been in Mexico City for 10 months now. Seems about time for our quarterly report. Here’s what’s new:

Is this a sabbatical or what?

Now that we’re about to round out the year, the whole “we’re on sabbatical” thing is wearing a bit thin. The truth is there’s so much more adventuring to do, this whole living abroad thing is a lot more doable than we expected, and we can (since we’re US citizen, don’t need much, and have the savings).  Since we can, we’ll keep it up for as long as we can!  We might be retired or we might be retraining for another career. We’ve kinda slid off the map of normal adult milestones and there aren’t many role models for us to reference (although there are a few), so it’s kinda hard to tell. 

For now, our lives are all about learning Spanish and projects!  My newest obsession is turning used clothes and scraps into other (hopefully) useful stuff. (See a pic of my latest quilt below.) It’s made of my brothers and my childhood clothes, which Mom had been holding onto for (ahem) 30-40 years. I persuaded her to part with them if I turned them into a quilt for my nieces.  We’ll see where this goes.  I have a fantasy involving making quilts and other stuff to raise funds for nonprofits. Something like “Quilting for Good.” For now, I plan to strong-arm friends and family into releasing old clothes to me so I can make them warm, cozy, time-travel blankets.

Would we move back to Mexico City?

Here’s something Mexico City taught us. We love cities, but a city can be too BIG for us (para nosotros).  Mexico City is a city of 25 million people and 600 square miles (that’s just the city proper, not including all the suburbs). Compare that to San Francisco–under 1 million people and 49 square miles.  It takes a seriously journey to leave Condesa (where we live) in the center of Mexico City.  That means if we want to leave the city, to be in nature, for example, it’s an overnight affair.  So living in the center of Mexico City means being city-locked, which is great sometimes. But ideally, I’d like to be able to hop a train and take a hike in the same day. Enter Valencia, Spain (see below).

Other than that, yeah, we’d move back to Condesa or Roma in a heartbeat.  But first, get us to the beach!…

What’s next?

  • We’ll be saying a fond “adios” to Mexico in December, and spending Christmas and New Year’s in Colorado and Nevada.
  • Heading to Valencia, Spain in late January. We fell in love with Valencia when we visited in August (see pics below). It’s a city of 1 million on the mediterranean with super picturesque narrow alleys, very cool street art, a dry river converted to a long narrow park running through the city (El Rio), a well-developed bikeshare, and a train or ferry to anywhere you’d want to go in Europe or North Africa. Come visit! We should be there most of 2017.
  • Our friend, Erin Moore, will be visiting next week for Day of the Dead.  Can’t wait to put on some sugar skull makeup and show her around! 

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Pharr Away – Q3

Six-Month Report

The park by our house with an outdoor showing of “Mamma Mia”

Today at lunch, I was telling Allison that some activity suited her well. I knew the phrase began with “that’s right up your…”, and I knew the phrase wasn’t rude. But I couldn’t find the right word.

It’s “alley”. The phrase is “up your alley”. I’ve also recently lost “pearls on swine” and several other really useful english phrases.

Small price to pay for the experience. It’s now been over six months  since we decided to leave the US for a while and so far we’re doing well.

We’ve downsized our lives dramatically. Our monthly budget is about 20% of what it was in San Francisco, even though we travel every month. If we packed up to leave tomorrow, we could still fit it all in our 2 suitcases, 2 backpacks, and 2 cat carriers. We’re making good friends and slowly learning the language.

I love that chilis were prominent at the last supper

About 25hrs/week is dedicated to language learning. It’s not nearly enough. We get jealous of our friends that are learning more quickly because they have no one here to speak to in their native tongue. Allison and I look at each other and curse our stupid love and happiness for the way it holds us back in class.

A particularly awesome meal we had in Oaxaca City, complete with mezcal de la casa.

The rest of the week is devoted to doing things slowly and poorly that would be easy for us in the US and are easy for Mexicans. Like buying lightbulbs. Had to learn how to do that all over again. These things should be standardized across the world, I think.

It feels a lot like being a teenager and away at college for the first time (we even have student IDs!). Except that we’re old and go to bed at 10PM.

That’s all. We’re still here and intact. We will probably be here through the end of the year.

Six-Month Report

Lessons from Language School


Lesson #1:  Stupidity isn’t as bad as I thought it would be

There is a beautiful level of idiocy you feel walking around a city, trying to exist without being fluent in the language. It’s like your adulthood is stripped away and you are a little kid. People give you that smile – “you’re so cute trying to talk like that.” It’s probably good for the psyche, but it does tend to slow things down.

Einstein in the park

Lesson #2: Be on your best behavior because you stand out

The city is not as diverse as I expected. There are actually very few people who look like non-Mexicans. We went to Mercado Medellin last month trying to buy stuff for the first time. We stumbled terribly with this guy who sold cheese. We finally got the cheese, but our spanish was really embarrassing. Yesterday we went back, 5 weeks after our initial visit. The guy was like: “¡welcome back! ¡buen año!” He clearly remembered us. Thankfully, we could navigate the transaction a bit better. This type of thing has happened several times to us. Everybody is so nice, but we also realize our mistakes will follow us.

our neighborhood Buddhist center

Lesson #3: Travelers are really cool people

We’ve finished our 1st week of intensive language lessons. It’s our only social outlet. Besides each other – we’re getting a lot of time together 🙂 There are about 8 folks in the class, all with great stories. One person runs three businesses and travels around in support of them. Another travels all winter because his apartment in Michigan has no heat. Another is a singer, traveling the world on tour and writing for magazines. A few rat race drop outs like us, college students on break. Really fun, and school is great because we’re all learning the language by sharing and making friends.

Lessons from Language School