31 January 2011

The Good Guest Guide

We had guests this past weekend. They are dear friends, old friends, and all the M’s were anticipating their visit with the greatest pleasure.  They did not disappoint. We were at our home in Switzerland; the weather was spectacular and the snow fantastic. It was a perfect weekend, because our friends happen to be the perfect houseguests.

Having the good fortune to have lived in nice places, most of them popular tourist destinations, I know a thing or two about houseguests. I’ve had my fair share of wonderful ones (the great majority) and a few, well, shall we say, less delightful. I therefore consider myself fully qualified to write the complete guide for houseguests – and in fact, it is on my list of writing-projects-for-someday. For now, I’ll settle for offering a few tips.

Come fully prepared for the type of visit you will be enjoying.  Do not arrive and expect that your host is going to have extras on hand for all the ski equipment you might have forgotten to bring or been unable to find and pack. Ditto for toiletries. While I am more than happy to share my home, food, wine and washing machine, I am extremely reluctant to part with even a single one of my U.S. imported Q-tips.

Be prepared to help out.  Sounds like a no brainer, right? You’d be surprised! If everyone is lazing around after a long day skiing, and only one person, i.e. yours truly, is running around picking up ski socks, cooking dinner, adding another log to the fire, well, then there is something wrong with the picture. Yes, you were invited to relax and have a good time. No, the invitation does not turn you into royalty to be waited on hand and foot. At least, not while all six members of my household staff are out on holiday (ahem, I wish, but I jest.)

Be self-sufficient.  I once read that the ideal houseguest entertains themselves by day and their hosts by night. If you want to do something other than the party plan, that is fine. Make your own arrangements and knock yourself out, but don’t expect your host to serve as your personal concierge.

Abstain from any bizarre rituals.  Once while living in the Bahamas, a friend came with a friend to stay a few days. While our friend falls into the perfect guest category – her friend was severely challenged.  Apparently he felt the need to ward off the evil spirits in our home, because the first day of his visit he consumed a full clove of raw garlic, two cloves the second day, three the third, until the entire household reeked to the outer islands and back.  Now hospitality always was and remains sacred to the Greeks, and my very hospitable Greek mother raised me well. I didn’t say a word to Garlic Guest and managed to restrain my husband as well. But just don’t do stuff like this.

Be enthusiastic about everything.  This last came from my boys when I asked them what makes a good guest. They pointed out how nice it is when guests are eager to try everything and really show they are having a good time.

Our friends who came this weekend have visited before. They have an open invitation being the fun, enthusiastic, entertaining, helpful, perfect guests that they are. No sooner did they come through the door than they unpacked and put away their few pieces of luggage. Then, immediately one popped into the kitchen to prepare the yummy little hors d’oeuvres she had brought along, while her husband opened a delicious bottle of red wine. Ahh, delight! Now that’s how to do it – Cheers!

27 January 2011

Superiority (naa nana, naa, na, na!)

We all like to feel superior sometimes. You have to admit, we just do. It feels good. And even those of you who won’t admit it must concede that it’s a hell of a lot better than feeling inferior. See, it’s feeling SUPER-ior – even the name tells you it’s a great feeling!

Of course, it’s what you do with your feelings of superiority that count.  My mother used to say ‘it’s easy to get up there by putting others down, it’s much tougher to raise yourself.’ So as long as you’re not nasty and as long as you don’t flaunt it in my face, then as far as I’m concerned you can have all the super feelings you want.  After all, they’re your feelings.  And if people feel good, feeling superior, who am I to stop them?

In my household, there are a couple areas in which I consider myself superior (yes, even immensely superior) to the four beloved men that surround me. Being that I’m the only female in the household– I must admit there are actually several, many, countless areas, but One Must Not Flaunt.

So, for the purpose of argument, I’ll pick the category ‘Neatness and Organization.’ (It’s almost too easy.) When it comes to neatness and organization, I am the Queen Bee of the M-Hive. Actually, this analogy doesn’t really work because in order to maintain Queen Bee status, I also constitute the entire hive of worker bees. A proper Queen Bee analogy would imply my four men were the worker bees – which they clearly are not. They are all four so challenged in this category that it would be damn nigh impossible for me to help feeling superior. Which leads me to my clear superiority when it comes to multi tasking, but, no – I digress - I’ll stick with the first one for now.

On the other hand, when it comes to financial, technical or mechanical matters, I concede my husband’s superiority. I wouldn’t dream of challenging him in these areas, nor does he flaunt his know-how over me in anyway (except of course, when he is explaining the mechanics of a technical, financial transaction – but it doesn’t bother me because I am really not that interested.) So anyway, it makes him feel good to be superior here, and I pride myself on other things. We both have areas where we feel superior and that makes us both feel good.

What’s now funny is that the boys start developing their own respective areas of superiority. My youngest just recently began snowboarding and throws the bizarre terms out there with studied nonchalance. ‘You don’t know what a fakey, ollie, stale fish grab is, Mom?’ He feels superior. He feels good. What he doesn’t realize is how well I remember the period just a few years ago when he didn’t know how to walk. My middle son often feels superior in regard to music; ‘you mean you don’t know who sings ‘Only Girl’?’  Maybe not, but I remember when you didn’t know how to talk. My eldest is now a teenager, and with him it gets more difficult.  There are many areas in which he feels superior to me and some get under my skin.  We do the SAT question of the day together and if I occasionally get one wrong (only in math, mind you, does this ever happen - Superior Verbal Skills!) Then I ask him to explain it to me and he gives up in frustration and says: ‘how can you not know that, do you really not know that?’ – and then I get all defensive and say ‘no, but I used to!!’  And I used to change your diapers, you little show-off. And herein lies the problem with feeling superior. It is very, very difficult to do without making the other person feel inferior, and that we all know, feels bad.

25 January 2011

Smile! It Won't Kill You!

I went for a walk the other day.  Not exactly blog-worthy, you must be thinking, but nonetheless it turned out to be interesting.

Being American, female and a fairly nice person, I am naturally rather friendly.  As such, it was a bit of an adjustment for me to move to Monaco years ago.  You see, I was used to smiling at passing strangers and as long as they looked reasonably normal, even throwing out an occasional ‘hi or hello’ as we crossed paths.  That didn’t exactly fly here. Monaco is surrounded by France.  And France, one can safely say, is full of French people not particularly known for their overwhelming friendliness.  (I apologize to my many French friends who are among the nicest people I know!)  I am speaking generalities here.

Americans, one has to admit, are super friendly.  Yes, we might be able to go into our local Wal-Mart, buy a gun in a day, and carry that gun with us as we walk down the street, but you can be damn sure that we will say hello when we pass you.  And that’s nice (not the gun part, to which I am adamantly opposed.)

So, living here I had to get used to putting on a glazed demeanor as I passed people.  I consoled myself with trips home to the States, when I delighted in pointing out the general friendliness to my boys.  “Did you see, how nice he was?”  “Did you see how what a friendly smile she gave you?”  “How sweet was that that they offered you a candy!”  “And what about that guy in Customs & Immigration who said ‘Welcome Home’ when we arrived!” “Aren’t Americans just the friendliest people you ever met?!”

You see, I had always taken it for granted, but this friendliness was not to be found in most of the other places I’ve lived and traveled.  Often, even in Switzerland, we would go on hikes and pass people and smile, and they would stare back in alarm as if they were afraid we’d just been released from the local lunatic asylum.  My friendly boys and I rose to the challenge.  We would train people to smile.  Whenever we passed anyone, we would light up as if they were a long lost relative, smile ear to ear, and offer a friendly hello in the proper language.  We gave it our best shot.  And nothing.  Absolutely no response aside from the occasional tight lipped nod.  After a while we gave up, it was a stupid idea anyway.

So back to my walk.  I was in Monaco, where I’ve pretty much given up on smiling at strangers.  But this particular evening I set out along the sea.  There was a lovely breeze; the sun was just starting to set and the colors to intensify.  And being that I was in an excellent mood and lost in thought, when I passed a woman coming at me from the opposite direction, I smiled at her. (Don’t forget I’ve had years of cultural conditioning that is difficult to overcome, especially if you’re somewhat distracted.)  I did note, almost immediately after I sent my smile out there, that this woman had a miserable, sour look on her face and I thought, typical!  Just another wretched person.  But lo, and behold, no sooner had I registered that thought when the woman apparently recovered from the shock of being smiled at.  Her whole face lit up in a warm and friendly smile in response. Honestly, it transformed her.  And, I must admit, it made my day. 

23 January 2011

They Don't Want to Pay?

We recently had a bit of water damage in our apartment.  A bit is perhaps an understatement.  The neighbor above us, or rather the rooftop pool of the neighbor above us, had a problem and the pool’s water, as water tends to do, flowed downwards through the walls of the building.  Our apartment lay in that downward path.

It was annoying, yes, massively inconvenient, but these things happen.  Still, for a period of several months, mold blossomed on our walls.  Aside from the obvious ‘disgust factor’, there are health consequences with mold and we had to take all kinds of measures to dry out the effected areas, including industrial strength de-humidifiers that heated the rooms to sauna like levels.  All in all, not fun.

Ultimately, however, it was taken care of.  Taken care of and paid for by our insurance company.  Why it had to be our company is beyond me, since there were three insurance companies involved in this scenario: the building’s (let’s call them ‘Big Guy’) rooftop pool neighbor’s (Big Guy’s Sidekick), and ours (Little Guy).  The battles between the three made me dizzy.  Dizzy, because although we were clearly the victims, Little Guy Insurance ended up paying everything.

It was confusing, yes.  Because you see, the initial assessment of all three Guys was that we were the victims of an accident we had nothing whatsoever to do with.  Thus, Big Guy and Sidekick Insurance should have paid for the damage.  We were supposed to receive a modest amount in recompense for the areas of our apartment that were unlivable and for which we continued to pay inordinate amounts of rent.  But it was not to be.  Big Guy and Sidekick got together, found a new ‘expert’ and decided that they shouldn’t have to pay.  As I said, our company was the little guy.

So Little Guy ended up paying, although certainly not anything to us, because as my agent so succinctly explained “they don’t want to pay.” (What the ????!!!!!!)  They don’t want to pay?  Who does want to pay?  Anywhere, anytime?  I can just imagine walking into Gucci, finding a great bag – and telling them ‘oh, yes, I love it, I’ll take it, but I don’t want to pay for it!  If anyone can come up with a scenario in which this works and non-payer doesn’t get carted off in a strait jacket, I’ll buy and send them a Gucci bag myself.  (Please note: offer not valid for Insurance companies.)

But back to the Guys.  Even though Little Guy didn’t want to pay, he was forced to pay by Big Guy.  Our personal inconvenience was deemed insignificant (we were Miniscule Teensy-Weensy Guy even Little Guy gets to kick).  Still, despite being kicked repeatedly, we did our best to battle all the bad guys for more than a year.  And then, ultimately, we gave up.  It cost more in attorney fees than it was worth.  In any case, we tried to put the miserable experience behind us.

But it wasn’t the end of the story.  Recently, I received a registered letter from Little Guy Insurance Company, informing me that our policy was cancelled.  I had a moment of panic, asking if I could have forgotten to pay the bill (I’m not really the type.)  So I called and was told the policy was cancelled because Little Guy Insurance had to pay the claims from the previous year.  (And don’t forget, the poor guy didn’t want to!)

Excuse me?  Am I missing something here?  Isn’t that why people have insurance?  Why people pay fees year after year, so that if an accident happens, they are covered?  Perhaps I’m a bit na├»ve, but that’s the way I always understood it.

Shouldn’t this be illegal?  Shouldn’t I run to the Better Business Bureau and report this?  (Oh, wait, I live in Monaco and a Better Business Bureau doesn’t exist.)  But there must be some recourse?  Turns out there isn’t – ca n’exist pas en France ni a Monaco.  Zut! 

It’s not that I had any intention after this fiasco of keeping our policies with Little Guy El Cheatsole Insurance, but I wanted to have been the one to cancel them!  You know, like that great last scene in a movie, when poor insignificant little beaten up and stomped-on Miniscule Teensy-Weensy Guy finally struggles to his feet, bleeding and dazed, and beats the #$%& out of Big Guy and Sidekick!

21 January 2011

Enjoy the Trip!

Tomorrow is my birthday. I am actually celebrating it today, as today happens to be the last day, before the last year, before the last decade that I will admit to being part of, finally ends! Yes, I'm turning 29! But as with any birthday, one has mixed feelings. At least this one does. Mixed because like anyone who is a pink ribbon survivor, I am grateful for each and every day I get to watch my children grow up. And like everyone who is like everyone else: who past the age of 16 wants to admit to being another year older?

Then, this morning I received a birthday card. It wasn't from a friend, just one of those companies that keep track of your birthday so they can send you a card so that maybe you'll think they are your friend and buy things from them. And it was a horrible card!  Really and truly awful, even by my standards (and I sometimes like the cutesy stuff). This was one of those sunset-over-the-sea cards (with seagull) and inside it read 'A birthday is just the first day of another 365-day journey around the sun. Enjoy the trip!’

Enjoy the Trip! Fantastic! I loved that bit. Loved it -  in fact, I have to admit it just about killed me. 

I'm joking, but actually it reminded me of a friend of a friend I met some years ago, one day in September. He was visiting Monaco for the weekend, on his own, and I asked him how his trip came about. He told me that a few years before, he had taken another trip on this same day. It was down the stairs of the World Trade Center. He survived a journey so many others did not, and he vowed to celebrate his survival with a trip each September for the rest of his life. How awesome is that?

So I vowed to do the same, to celebrate each and every birthday I am fortunate enough to have. After all, if I want to be as schmaltzy as my card, then each and every day is the start of another 365 day journey around the sun, birthday or not. So I thought it would be a good day to begin my blog. And my wish for all of you is the same as the one I received on this pre-birthday day:  'enjoy the trip’ we are all so lucky to be taking! 
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