Expat Life: Baby Steps in a New Country

by missfootloose on May 21, 2011 · 19 comments

in Expat life, Moldova, Trials and tribulations

Park in Chisinau. She can count better than I can.

Do you ever wonder what it feels like to be a baby?  Would you like to find out?  All you have to do is move to a foreign country where the local language is not one you have any knowledge of. You wake up and you can’t even ask for a bottle of milk vodka.  You can’t say hello or goodbye or where do I find a good shrink. You don’t know how to dress yourself properly and when you venture outside you don’t know where you are and you can’t read the signs.

So here I am, in Moldova, and I’m learning to count.  Trust me, there is no better way to make you feel like a toddler all over again than to learn to count in a foreign language.  Here we go:  unu, doi, trei, patru, cinci, sase, sapte, opt, noua, zece,  (altogether now).  If you have any knowledge of Spanish, French or Italian, you will recognize these as being not totally unfamiliar, and yes, Romanian is a Latin language, and it’s the language spoken in Moldova, along with Russian.

And if not speaking the language doesn’t destroy your confidence, the local fashion scene will.  Women take their appearance seriously here.  Slobs are not to be seen in the streets of Chisinau, and I must say I appreciate that.

While I lived in the US the last few years I was reasonably well dressed when going to the supermarket or dentist or anywhere in public.  I admit to struggling mightily to not succumb to the temptation to join the slob parade, but fortunately my European genes saved me:  No old sweats for me, and no baggy shorts or T-shirts proclaiming  I’m still hot. It just comes in flashes now. Although no fashionista, I was, so to speak, well turned out, comparatively speaking.  Comparatively being the operative word.

Then one spring day I got on a plane to Moldova and was instantly metamorphosed into a frumpy hausfrau just by getting off the plane.  It makes me want to weep.  My jeans aren’t tight enough, my heels not high enough, my clothes not trendy enough, my lips not plump enough, my hands not manicured enough, my . . . do I need to go on?  I think you get the picture.

Chisinau Billboard. Okay not all women here look like this.

Sad to say, I will have to accept this state of affairs because trying to jazz up my appearance would require too much witchcraft and besides – you’ll be happy to know — my shallowness does have limits.  Maybe I should rethink my stand on T-shirts with slogans and get this one:  I Took the Road Less Traveled, and Now Where the Heck Am I?

So, to escape babyhood and fashion funk what is a girl to do?  She puts on her big girl panties and deals with it:

Symposium Restaurant. Grownup food for big girls.

Off to an upscale restaurant with my prince.  A place where they speak English, oh joy.  A place where I can soothe my suffering self-confidence with good food and lovely Moldovan wine.  Especially the wine helps.

NOTE: I am starting Romanian language lessons next week, so not to worry.

* * *

Have you ever felt like a baby?  Had your confidence shaken, felt your self-respect shriveling?  How did you deal?  Come on, ‘fess up!

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

guyana gyal May 21, 2011 at 7:27 pm

In the Caribbean, womanly curves are very important. I have none, being skinny. Then I got jobs where I could be as creative as I wanted, and looks no longer mattered. I was just so happy! Now, as long as I can be creative, and have my head up in the clouds, writing, I don’t care whose wearing what, and anyway, women who go on about what ‘designer’ they’re wearing are silly. Imagine advertising for someone for free!


missfootloose May 23, 2011 at 2:35 pm

About expensive fashion brands and advertising for free: I bought a handbag in Armenia once. It had two logos on it: CK and Christian Dior. I love that bag. For 5 dollars I had two brands for one price. How cool is that? 😉


maria altobelli May 22, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Oh, yes, Miss Footloose, I know exactly how it feels to be a baby. The trouble is, the older I become, I end up being the baby more and more as we trundle off to Latvia again and again. Latvian is one language I have not mastered. I can hold my own in Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese but I suppose that’s cheating, since they’re all romance languages.

Latvian, like the Farmer in the Dell, stands alone. It has been said that its closest equivalent is Sanskrit. Jolly fun, what?

On the matter of frumpiness, Latvia (especially the capital Riga) is a showplace for fashion. But we go to Skujas, population nine, so fashion is not a problem.

Atá. Maria


missfootloose May 23, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Skujas, population 9. No fashion problems. Thanks for the laugh!


julochka May 22, 2011 at 11:45 pm

oh, i do know exactly how you feel, tho’ having recently seen moldova on the eurovision song contest (i voted for them, in fact), i’m not sure i’d be doing anything to try to “keep up” with the fashion there. 🙂

you can always do that hair color that we affectionately called “balkan red,” tho’ you’re arguably not really in the balkans…just call it slavic red – you’ve already got red hair, you just need to go for that more burgundy, purple version. 😉

enjoy the wine! and do keep telling us about your adventures!!


missfootloose May 23, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Oh, that Balkan red hair color! It was all over Armenia. No thanks 😉 I’ll see what adventures I come up with this week.


edj May 23, 2011 at 1:16 am

Oh yes! I can really relate to this! In fact, when we were first in Mauritania, a family invited us for dinner and my hostess insisted on actually feeding me! She would make fat little balls of rice and liver with her hand and pop them into my mouth! She stopped this once I actually gagged–the bites were too big and I can’t stomach liver and had been planning to tactfully ignore the pieces in my section! 😉
And I know all about how slovenly we are as Americans. To make matters worse, here I am on the West Coast, where even opera evenings or weddings are not occasions to which one should not wear jeans. Sigh… I’m doing my best to buck the trend.


missfootloose May 23, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Being hand-fed by your hostess, now that is one thing, but liver balls, yikes! However, now that it’s safely in the past, you have a story to entertain your Western friends with 😉 And about clothes: I always find it strange to go to a fancy function of some sort, or even just an upscale restaurant in the US and see people dressed in old jeans and T-shirts. I suppose if this is what the culture is, then that’s what it is.


Natalie May 24, 2011 at 4:57 am

Love your blog!! Thanks so much for visiting mine… and oh yes, living in Hong Kong and trying to cope with minor Cantonese is making me feel like a toddler again, which also compels me to throw the odd tantrum at home when I’m not getting what I want… yes? Yes. 🙂 Nat xx


missfootloose May 24, 2011 at 9:05 am

Cantonese, now there is a challenge! Not just the language itself but the writing! Romanian is easy compared to that. I remember trying to learn Arabic and Armenian, both with their own alphabet. It adds a whole new dimension to learning a language! You’re earning the right to have a tantrum now and then!


GutsyWriter May 24, 2011 at 3:42 pm

I have to ask if women over 50 also dress in tight jeans and have great bodies, or are we talking about the 20-40 year-olds?
I would love to go to a country where I was forced to awaken my brain to learn a new language. Spanish would be my first choice though as I already have three years, but no practice.
How was the restaurant? I’m surprised the wine tastes delicious.


Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane May 24, 2011 at 8:34 pm

True, it’s mostly the younger women who are dressed to kill. The over 50s are often dressed in a more old-fashioned way, due to their Soviet history I suppose. Moldova has quite a wine-making history and some of the wine is getting quite a lot of praise in the wine world. If you are interested, go to your local wine store and see if you can find a Purcari cabernet sauvignon and let me know what you think.


Walter Knight May 25, 2011 at 1:46 am

Does anyone remember the hippie days of the sixties? Or did that just happen in America? A hot woman looks good no matter what she wears. A hot woman looks good even wearing a potato sack.

Of course, you still need to be allowed out in public in your potato sack. Good luck with the fashion police.


Sine May 25, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Hi – couldn’t agree with you more, and you don’t even have to be an expat for the wardrobe uncertainty! I moved to Wisconsin and felt extremely well-dressed and presentable most times compared to every other mother in baggy sweaters and boots. Then on to Overland Park, Kansas, the poster child for keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, and all of a sudden I was the frumpy hausfrau you described in your blog. Which is why now in South Africa I don’t give a hoot about proper attire, a good thing because I don’t even know where to go clothes shopping. It’s too much bother really, and you have no time for it if you’re trying to write a blog!


missfootloose May 26, 2011 at 8:53 am

I sure understand how you feel. Life is busy enough without having to stress over looking like a mannequin every day. I don’t like clothes shopping and do it only a few times a year and just make a day of it and get it out of the way.


MaryWitzl May 28, 2011 at 2:06 am

I’m going to be teaching again soon, starting next week. One of the things I’ll regret the most is not being able to roll out of bed into the same old jeans and sweatshirt I’ve been slobbing around in — and not having to wear high heels. When I go out in public, I make a half-hearted effort by putting on proper trousers, a clean top and a sweater, but I’m still way behind the norm.

When we went to Turkey, I felt so frustrated not being able to speak the going foreign language there. In Japan, everybody depended on my Japanese; I was almost always the designated speaker, reader, etc. In Turkey, suddenly I was right back at square one and I felt like an idiot.

I had a Moldovan student in Cyprus. She was an incredibly snazzy dresser, and a lovely girl.


bestiutza May 29, 2011 at 9:31 pm

why do you need to learn romanian? 🙂

I’am an expat coming from ROmania if you need my help pls write me 🙂


missfootloose May 29, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Romanian is what they speak in Moldova 😉 and I want to learn (some) Romanian so I’ll be able to tell a taxi driver where I want to go so he doesn’t take me to Ukraine by mistake 😉 Where are you?


bestiutza May 30, 2011 at 11:57 pm

I am an expat in Netherlands, Amsterdam

Yeah, I didn’t link that about romanian and Moldova 🙂


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