I have kind of a love-hate relationship with “Sex and the City.” I discovered the show when I was 20 and quickly picked up on its aspirational aspects, free of any critical filtering whatsoever. Like most women that age, I was pretty impressionable, and I thought Carrie was amazing. I wanted to be her; I wanted her wardrobe, job, boyfriends, and even her hair. Her New York City life seemed amazing and I secretly strove to emulate it when I actually grew up. I watched and re-watched the show throughout my early 20s, but then eventually shelved it. Last year, I gave it another run through and was much less impressed. Carrie, who seemed so glamorous when I was 20, came off as irresponsible, selfish, and flakey. Samantha, who always gave me a laugh, made me cringe. 20-year-old me found Charlotte sweet and harmless, but 28-year-old me found her annoyingly conservative. When I posted about the show last year, an analysis was posted in the comments that reviewed many of the show’s satirical qualities. Maybe it’s because I’ve read the book, which is much more satirical and better presents Carrie as an anti-hero, but I think the show lost most of that after the first season. What started off as a somewhat critical show about men and women dating in New York City quickly became aspirational fluff that seemed more like a giant advertisement for Manolo Blahnik than anything else. Anyway, I’m veering here, so I’ll get to the point.

You may have noticed that I left Miranda out of my little rant above. When women are asked which character they identify with, almost no one answers “Miranda.” I guess it’s easy to understand why; compared to the other characters, she’s a bit bland and ordinary. When contrasted with the other characters’ annoying optimism, she can also come across as sort of a bitch. 20-year-old me didn’t see much of interest in Miranda; however, 30-year-old me finds her the only tolerable character on the show. She’s the only realistic character in the whole series and the only one that presents a half-ways healthy image of a 30-something woman. She was never afraid to assert herself and call out the men she dated on behaviour that bothered her. Sometimes she was in the right and sometimes she wasn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that she wasn’t afraid to speak up. She never hesitated to tell Carrie when she was being needy and/or totally unreasonable. In one episode, she calls out the others on the fact that they always talk about men, asking why four smart women can’t talk about anything other than boyfriends. I don’t know Miranda; I don’t know. In another, she turns the tables on a construction worker who sexually harasses her on the street. Good one, Miranda.

I suppose that in a show full of idealized characters, the one who most closely resembles a real person is bound to be less popular. Still, if given the choice, I’d much rather be a “Miranda” than a “Carrie” or a “Charlotte.”

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I was never one to fear getting older. When I was growing up, I always anxiously waited for my birthday and each time, I was excited to be another year older. Throughout my 20s, I embraced growing older and approached it with pride rather than fear. I didn’t think it was something to dread; I thought that each year would bring on new experiences and knowledge. I still feel that way, but that being said, I feel kind of anxious about turning 30.

It’s not really about the number. I don’t feel any different than I did yesterday and I don’t think my entire life is about to change just because I entered a new decade of my life. That being said, my entire life is about to change, and that’s a bit scary. See, early next year, my boyfriend and I will be moving to a new city. The fact that this is happening shortly after I turn 30 is entirely coincidental, but it still sort of feels like my youth is ending. That doesn’t mean that I think that my life is over or anything ridiculous like that, but I do feel like a major change is on the horizon. I’ve spent almost my entire 20s in Berlin, so leaving sort of feels like entering an entirely new phase. I don’t yet know exactly what that means, but I do know that life will not continue on as usual. Berlin is sort of a Neverland, where no one ever really grows up. I doubt the same can be said for the small city in the Rhineland that will be my new home. Part of me is excited for all of the new things that this change will bring, but part of me is also very, very nervous.

That being said, I’m a little happy to leave my 20s behind me. I had some great times over the last decade, but also some not-so-great times. In an early episode of “Girls,” a doctor tells Hannah (Lena Dunham) that “you couldn’t pay (her) to be 24 again.” I totally understand that, because when you’re in your 20s, you’re so unsure of yourself. You’re still learning about who you are and what you want. I don’t have everything all “figured out” yet and I’m not really in the same place that my younger self thought I’d be at this point in my life. Still, I’m happy with who I am and what I’ve accomplished over the last few years, and I’m grateful for what I have (which is quite a lot!) I may be anxious about the big changes that are coming up, but I feel well equipped to face them. My 20s are over, but I have a long life ahead of me. I’m looking forward to it.

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.

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.

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