womens restroom

Ladies, we need to talk about an important issue: our public restrooms are awful.

*Disclaimer: if you can’t handle the idea of women using the bathroom, either grow up or just stop reading right now.

First of all, they’re way too small. Clearly, whoever gets put in charge of designing public restrooms is never a woman, because otherwise the men’s room would be smaller and the women’s would be larger. I know that a bunch of men are going to say that this would be unfair and that men need to pee as much as women do, but those men are wrong. First, men’s rooms have stalls and urinals, which automatically creates more, uh, options. Sometimes there is one less stall in the men’s room to accommodate a couple more urinals, but overall if you compare the amount of stalls in the ladies’ room to the amount of stalls and urinals in the men’s room, the men have the advantage. We can’t stand up to pee, so we have to use the stalls. Unfair. Second, because we can’t stand to pee, it takes us way longer to use the bathroom. There’s also extra work involved in public restrooms, because no one wants to actually sit on the seat. Finally, women are more likely to have small children with them in the restroom. This means that one trip to the bathroom is more like two or three. Even when the kids don’t have to go, those women still have to manage small children as they try to pee. If you think that’s a quick and perfectly easy task, I dare you to try it. Anyway, considering all that, why are women’s restrooms the same size as men’s?

Second of all, women’s public restrooms are disgusting. Seriously ladies, we need to do something about this. The size thing might be more or less out of our control, but this one is on us. For the love of all that is holy, use the bins next to the toilet. Make sure all of the paper you use goes in the toilet or the bins. If it falls on the floor and you can’t stand the idea of touching it, just use some extra paper to pick it up. I know that you may feel that it’s someone’s job to clean that up, but a) you can at least do something to make that person’s job less icky, and b) some of us will have to use that stall before someone cleans it. Also, if you can’t hover without peeing all over the seat, just decorate and sit down. I’m begging you to do the rest of us a favour. If you can’t bear the idea of sitting on a public restroom toilet, even with layers of toilet paper in between, at least wipe the seat off when you’re done.

I’m not joking about this last point. People keep telling me that men’s rooms are grosser, but I have yet to see that in Germany. I’m not talking about bar bathrooms (those will be gross no matter who uses them); I’m talking about restaurants, shopping centres, etc. The men’s rooms are almost always cleaner than the women’s (or, at least the stalls are). If you’re wondering how I know this, I’ll refer you back to point number one. If there’s a line for the women’s room and I see the men’s room is totally empty, there’s no way I’m waiting in that line. I couldn’t care less whether or not the stick figure plastered on the door is wearing a skirt.

Of course, we could just do away with gendered bathrooms all together and solve at least half of this pressing issue. But, I realize that this is too radical an idea for a lot of people, so we’ll talk about that again in 10-15 years. In the meantime, someone please design bathrooms better and ladies, for the love of the seven gods, clean up after yourselves.

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As I was riding my bike earlier this afternoon, it dawned on me that I’m approaching the last weekend of my 20s. My birthday is on Tuesday – my 30th birthday. After that, I’ll never be a 20-something again. This little epiphany spawned a raging inner debate that still isn’t completely decided.

On one had, there’s the part of me that wants to hold onto my youth. “Go out,” she suggests. “Stay out all night, just because you can.”

On the other hand, there’s the part of me that’s turning 30. “Stay in and binge watch “The X-Files,” she urges. “You know you want to.” Peer pressure from yourself is the worst.

20s: You can go dancing.

30s: You can finish that hat you started knitting.

20s: There are so many great things happening in the city.

30s: True. You can catch a concert in a small bar and still binge watch your ’90s sci fi.

20s: Don’t you want to go out like you used to?

30s: Didn’t you say you were happy that those days are more or less behind you?

I have to say, I think almost 30-something me is more or less winning. As much as I feel nostalgic for the days when I used to dance the night away and as much as part of me would like to exit my 20s in a blaze of glory, I’d rather go hear some music (live music) and go home early enough to enjoy a nice breakfast the next day. Or just stay home and binge watch “The X-Files.” Whatever.

Google Glass, “smart” watches, “smart” shoes, etc…I’m not sure about this.

Today, an article about “smart shoes” popped up on my newsfeed. Apparently, an Indian company has developed a shoe enabled with Bluetooth. It syncs up with Google Maps and sends a little buzz to your foot when you’re supposed to turn. Part of me thinks this is cool, but part of me is a fan of normal shoes.

Call me a Luddite, but wearable technology devices go a bit too far for me. I really do not want to be plugged in every single second of my waking life – my smartphone is bad enough. What ever happened to getting lost? Or getting into lengthy debates without pulling out an iPhone? Or going for a run or bike ride without tracking it? I know that this stuff is all very useful and in some ways, it’s really cool to see science fiction style technology making it into the real world. Still, it’s all very distracting; it’s hard to experience the real world while you’re constantly looking at your map, tracker, or feeling buzzes in your shoes. One of my favourite things about visiting the Outer Hebrides was the fact that we rarely had mobile Internet. There were many times when we had no mobile signal at all. There was something refreshing about being unplugged.

Still, Open Street Maps offline GPS maps got us out of a few snags, so I really don’t know what to think.

When it comes to travelling, I tend to love places that feel like a blend of the real world and a fairy tale world. It’s the ultimate form of escapism – you can lose yourself in the landscape and for a moment, it can feel like you are in a storybook. I grew up in such a place; when I was little, we would go for walks in the forest near my house and I would imagine that we would turn a corner and find castles and unicorns amongst the giant cedar and Douglas fir trees. I knew the difference between fantasy and reality, but I let my imagination run away with me. Even when I was older, I’d still dream that those trees could transport me to a whole other world.

So, it’s no surprise that I’m always seeking out such places as an adult. The Harz Mountains in Germany, Sardinia, and the deserts of Arizona have all felt somewhat otherworldly to me. However, of all the places that I’ve been, few have captured that feeling of being between worlds quite so well as the Scottish Highlands.

My boyfriend and I went there on a hiking trip. The original goal was to hike through the islands of Skye and Lewis and camp along the way. In reality, we ended up hitching a few rides and taking a few buses as well so that we could cover more ground. It was a fantastic place. The people are very friendly and the Hebrides islands have a very rich culture. We fell in love with the landscape and even when it was challenging and rugged, it was a rich experience.

I won’t recap the entire journey, because I’m saving that for other writing endeavors. The highlights of the trip included the fantastic train ride from Glasgow to Mallaig (supposedly one of the most spectacular stretches in the world), camping by a ruined house and waking up to an entire herd of sheep, hiking through the Cuillin Hills, getting followed by a herd of cattle, seeing the awe-inspiring standing stones in Calanais, visiting a historic “blackhouse” (a traditional style of house where many people on Lewis lived until around the turn of the century), seeing the harbour seals in Stornoway, walking through the green countryside near Loch Ness, and catching up with a friend in Glasgow (which isn’t in the Highlands, but it’s where we ended our journey).

All in all, it was one of the most interesting, most inspiring places that I’ve ever been. Here are a few photos from the trip….enjoy!

Campsite on Skye
Our campsites were not this messy. I took this while we were unpacking our gear and setting up! It’s amazing what you can fit in your backpack.

Second campsite on Skye
Camping near a ruined house in the hills.

Cuillin Hills
Coastline by the Cuillin Hills

Highland cattle
The cattle that followed us. The bushy ones with horns are Highland cattle.

Walking trail on the Isle of Harris
Taking a break near a signpost.

Stornoway
View of Stornoway through the other side of the harbour.

Woods in Stornoway
Woods in Stornoway.

Calanais standing stones
The stunning standing stones at Calanais.

Impressive standing stones at Calanais
A closer look.

Beach at Dal Mor
A beach we camped near at Dal Mor.

Outside the tent
Looking outside the tent on a rainy evening.

Blackhouse mill
A traditional “blackhouse.” This one was actually used as a mill in its day, but most people lived in these.

Ruined bus
A ruined bus in a field we hiked by. We got lost shortly after this picture was taken.

Berlin

The Short Answer
Yes, you can.

The Long Answer
The word “expatriate” (“expat” for short) describes someone living outside of his/her home country. However, people tend to use the word in different ways. Most people use “expat” to describe people from wealthy countries who move abroad for work, love, or inspiration rather than people who move to other countries to improve their lives. Back in the day, the word had certain connotations with exile (either voluntary or forced). For some people, the term “expat” conjures romantic images of artists like T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemmingway carving out new territories and finding inspiration in distant countries.

A lot of people who live abroad never stop being expats, even when they live abroad for many years. That association with exile lingers, and there’s always that nagging feeling that “home” is somewhere else.

You stop being an expat when you start to view your country of residence as your “home” country. If you no longer feel like you live “abroad,” then you aren’t really an expat, at least not in my opinion. It probably helps if you take on citizenship or have dual citizenship in your country of residence, because if you do, the state doesn’t really view you as a “foreigner.”* A resolve to stay where you are and a lack of desire to move to your birth country also helps.

Not everyone gets there, but I’ve known people who have. I’m one of them.
I saw myself as an expat for many years. Heck, I still refer to myself as one on this blog (mostly because I’m far too lazy to change it). “Home” was Canada and I always felt like I was more Canadian than German, despite the fact that I chose to live in Germany over the long term. But something has changed over the past couple of years. I’m at the point where I’ve spent almost all of my adult life in Germany. I’ve also lived here for over a third of my life in total. More often than not, Germany is my frame of reference. I might complain about things here and make comparisons to Canada, but that doesn’t change the fact that Germany is “normal” to me. When I come back to Berlin after a trip, I’m coming home, even if I left to visit family in Canada. If I refer to “we” in terms of nationality, I can mean either Germans or Canadians (this confuses a lot of people, by the way).

A part of me will always be a little bit “foreign.” I have a noticeable accent in German. I’ll never think dubbed movies are quite as good as the real thing.** I will never like bread without some kind of butter or sauce to accompany it. At the same time, I think I’ll always feel a little bit foreign in Canada, and not just because I throw German words into conversations on a whim. I may not have spent my childhood in Germany, but I’ve been here for a long time and it’s part of who I am. It’s my home.

I guess that you stop being an expat when you truly build a life somewhere else and settle into it comfortably. Your “home” country isn’t really where you grew up – it’s where your life is.

*Other people often do, but that’s a different matter.
**I’m not sure this makes me “foreign,” though. Quite a few of my German friends feel the same way.

When Kickstarter first came out, I was pretty excited. A whole platform dedicated to helping artists and entrepreneurs fund their dreams? What’s not to like? A lot, as it turns out, because like everything good on the Internet, there are people who seem hell-bent on ruining it.

Today, a story on Jezebel popped up on my newsfeed. Apparently, some guy in Seattle is trying to raise money to create the world’s largest dick drawing. As of right now, he has achieved almost half of his $100 goal.

I get that for every hack trying to raise money to draw dicks or make potato salad, there are countless artists and entrepreneurs trying to raise money for their next professional endeavour. Still, these stories bother me. There seems to be more of them popping up. I also think some of these Kickstarter pages will spawn more ridiculous Kickstarter pages in the wake of their success. Part of me hopes that the novelty of practically burning money on potato salad and the like will die down, but another part of me doesn’t trust people all that much.

Why do these offend me so much? Because it’s hard being in an artistic profession and it’s rough starting your own business. People who strike out into that world need all the help they can get. Every dollar spent on that dick picture is a dollar that isn’t going to someone’s album or clothing label. That’s what offends me. Hell, even funding a genuine, yet slightly ridiculous product like the Grilled Cheesus Sandwich Press is a huge step up.

I realize that most of these “projects” start off with modest goals, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t throwing ridiculous amounts of money at them. The Potato Salad Kickstarter aimed to raise a measly $10, but ended up raising over $50,000 (to date…the project is still going on).

Look, Kickstarter is not a place to raise money for your party, your vacation, or your ridiculous doodles; at least, it shouldn’t be. I also judge you if you burn your money on these projects in an aim to be a lemming or draw attention to yourself. If you want something to follow, take part in a social cause or Twitter hashtag movement or something. If you want to draw attention to yourself, start a blog *wink, wink*.

Just stop it, ok?

You’ve probably seen these pictures circulating on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the like. They’ve been circulating for a few years, so you’d have to be living under a rock not to. If you do reside in rock territory, here are a couple of examples:

Real men go for curves
Unfortunately, this is not “body positive”.

When did this become hotter than this
I really do hate this meme.*

Anyway, the basic messages are that “real women have curves”, “men prefer curves”, and that hourglass figures are hotter than waifish figures. These posts are supposed to be empowering, and I’m sure that they are for many women out there. The problem is that they are definitely not empowering for everyone. If “real women have curves”, what message does that send to a woman with a petite figure? A boyish figure? A lithe figure?

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important that we keep talking about how the media represents weight. The average fashion model weighs 23 percent less than the average woman, as opposed to 8 percent less in 1975. Models are still going to extremes to keep their weights down. Tabloids love to talk about which celebrities have cellulite one week and which look like they have eating disorders the next. Eating disorders and body image struggles are very real issues for teens and young women and a lot of that has to do with the unrealistic ideals that are perpetuated in the media. By all means, we should be representing a broader range of body types and we definitely should stop having such a narrow definition of beauty. I just don’t think putting other women down is the way to do that.

Anyone who has ever been to high school (so, everyone) knows that put-downs are a classic “mean girl” technique. A girl bully tries to feel better about herself by making another girl feel bad about herself. The problem is that it doesn’t really work. Making someone feel bad about herself might bring about a moment of satisfaction, but it can’t really change how you feel about yourself. It’s sort of what “Mean Girls” was all about (I love “Mean Girls”).

Now, I don’t think that the women who create and share these images are intentionally attempting to make other women feel bad about themselves. I think they are genuinely trying to spread positive attitudes about body types that are not widely represented in the mainstream media, albeit in a misguided way. The problem here is that you can’t really spread a “body positive” message whilst simultaneously spreading a negative message about someone else. If “curvy” becomes the new ideal, what happens to all of the women who are naturally thin? Are they supposed to feel ugly because of their natural figures?

“Real” women come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Changing our definition of “beauty” is not going to change that. There will always be curvy women and there will always be skinny women, just like there will always be short, tall, younger, and older women, and everything in between. Creating a new ideal is still promoting one body type over others and still excludes anyone who doesn’t fit into that ideal. How about we embrace a wider variety of bodies as “beautiful”? How about we take a cue from Naomi Wolf and stop perpetuating “The Beauty Myth” all together?

*I’m not sure of the original sources of these images. They’re widely circulated memes.

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