Expat Tribulations: Of Yogurt, IKEA, and Dandelion Fluff

by missfootloose on May 14, 2011 · 29 comments

in expat housing, Expat life, Moldova, Trials and tribulations

It's all we shipped.

People ask me sometimes how I go about getting organized in a new foreign country. Having recently arrived in the Republic of Moldova, I can tell you what not to do: Twist your foot. Don’t ask me how I did it, as I am not prone to twisting ankles, feet or other body parts, not even on bad pavement. (When I do trip and fall, I do it well: I once broke a leg that way in the rain forest in Ghana, West Africa. Yes, I should write a post about that some time; it was hilarious. Not.)

So, for several  beautiful sunshiny spring days I’ve been sitting – foot on a pillow — in this mustard-brown (temporary) apartment, staring at the computer, the TV or the boxes of our shipment decorating the living room. Drinking tea, and eating a lot of yummy yogurt (read on).

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was so proud of having discovered plain, unadulterated, unflavored yogurt in the dairy section of the No. 1 Supermarket on my second day in the country. Yes, the cheery cups of Activia, and other varieties of chemically fortified probiotic enriched stuff for the digestively impaired have conquered the world and are everywhere, internationally recognizable without benefit of language. This is wonderful of course, because not only in America do people suffer from the heartbreak of slow intestinal transits. But I simply want the plain stuff.  However, as I am an illiterate in Moldova, it was a bit of a challenge, but I  found it. So I thought.

Not Yogurt

Truth is, I’ve been consuming, by the cupful, a soft, spoonable cream cheese. No wonder it was so creamy and delicious. Back to square one regarding plain, unadulterated yogurt. Stay tuned.

Note: Since Activia and its fruity competitors have colonized major acreage in supermarket dairy departments the world over, you might be entertained by this funny video.

My foot is on the mend, possibly because of mentioned cream cheese consumption.  So today, another sunshiny spring day, I venture out to do some shopping and find myself hobbling through a snowdrift of fluff. I’ve innocently stumbled into an orgy of procreating dandelions. The puffy things are  everywhere, blowing around and collecting in pillowy heaps in the cracks and crevices of the uneven pavement. The dandelions, blooming profusely in every nook and cranny of this city, have expired en masse, joyously spreading their seeds to impregnate new seasons with their yellow cheer. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth: Moldovan dandelions do it with Old Testament fervor. The fuzz loves my face, my hair, my nose and I am not amused.

Neither was I amused several days ago when my man and I went in search of a couch and chairs for our future dwelling place. Despair settled over me as I limped through some of the furniture shops. It was like going back in time with styles that went out with the hand-crank telephone.

Actually, this one has a certain je ne sais quoi

Also on offer were artsy imitations of massive creations of the sort you might find in castles and mansions. Very pompous aristocratic stuff, carved and gilded, with lots of curlicues and velvet-like upholstery, grandeur of which I, a simple plebian, am not worthy. I really try not to rise above my station even when I get the chance. I’m basically an IKEA groupie. Sadly, the closest IKEA is 500 km away, across the border, in Bucharest, Romania.

But praise be, I was led to another store, cleverly painted blue and yellow, that offers contemporary styles and makes things to order. Hallelujah.  And, wouldn’t you know, the universe is with me. It so happened that I met a lady living in the serviced apartment next to ours. And she’s Swedish!  And  guess what! The Swedish embassy has some pieces of used IKEA furniture for sale!

I tell you, life is good.

And even my foot is better.

* * *

What about you?  What tribulations did you encounter during the first few weeks in a new country?  How did you deal with furniture, yogurt, and dandelion fluff? Or possibly monkeys on your roof and snakes in your bed.

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Mara May 14, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I’ve never had to deal with snakes or monkeys in my bed and every country I have ever visited had ‘yoghurt’ stamped on its packaging. I did have to deal with dead frogs (brought in by one of my cats) and slugs, but that was all over here. At home. Where there are no monkeys. At least, not as far as I’m aware of. Although I do wonder what that yellow looking cat-sized elephant is doing up my tree….


missfootloose May 14, 2011 at 1:51 pm

A cat-sized elephant in your tree? Do elaborate!


Sarah Has Moxie May 14, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Great post today! Very sorry to hear about your foot, and I hope you’re on the mend soon! What I loved about the picture of what you packed was that you have two of the absolute essentials: Cuisenart and yoga mat. My dear, I know for sure, now, that you can and will get through anything, anywhere, with poise and panache as you do! Good luck with the faux IKEA, too. Can’t wait until we hear about the dandelion greens salad you may be enjoying soon!
Sarah in Brussels


missfootloose May 14, 2011 at 1:49 pm

I expect yoga mats are for sale here, but hey, it didn’t weigh much! I wouldn’t mind a dandelion salad, but picking the leaves here from the side of the street might get me put in the loony bin. Besides, they’re probably toxic from car pollution and doggie watering. Have not seen them for sale, like in the US. Sigh.


Lady Fi May 14, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Glad to hear your foot is better. Hope you get settled in well… And hurray for Swedish furniture coming to the rescue!


YTSL May 14, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Hi Miss Footloose —

Before I moved to Hong Kong, my then boss told me that he wanted me to start work pretty much immediately after arriving in the territory (i.e., the day after my arrival). To help ease my transition to the new land, he said he had found me a good place to stay — with a friend of his in an apartment in a nice, trendy central area of Hong Kong.

Too good to be true? No kidding. The friend was more like an acquaintance — drinking acquaintance, to be exact. She would get drunk every night and, more often than I liked, throw up upon getting home and *not* clean up afterwards. Once, I ended up accidentally stepping into a puddle of her vomit when going to the bathroom early in the morning. (I have a habit of not putting on my glasses until after I’ve had my morning shower.)

To make things worse, she had a pet dog… and guess what I stepped into another morning? At which point, I decided enough was enough and decided to move out. Upon informing my boss, he apologized profusely and said he’d get back the rent I had paid his “friend” to compensate for my problems.

Alas, he never did. Though, at least, he did immediately up my salary when I told him that since I was going to move into my own apartment (as opposed to a shared one since I didn’t want to risk another apartment mate from hell)!


missfootloose May 15, 2011 at 10:52 am

What a story! Not fun to go through such ordeals, but now you have something to tell 😉 That’s how I look at some of my unsavory adventures (almost ending up in jail in Uganda, or a rat crawling over your legs at night, that sort of thing). Fortunately you got out of the apartment and have a better place now. No more vomit on the floor, I trust.


guyana gyal May 14, 2011 at 8:45 pm

So that cursed fruit-flavoured yoghurt is everywhere? No wonder we can’t find plain white, unflavoured [kosher] yoghurt in supermarkets here.

I should try making my own again.

I’m in the middle of scribbling a short monkey tale.

When I lived away from home, I only had to contend with home-sickness.


missfootloose May 15, 2011 at 10:45 am

It looks like I’m going to be making my own yogurt again too. Having lived in so many places, I don’t have a real “home” anymore, so fortunately no homesickness for me. Don’t know where I’ll end up in my dotage 😉 Will check out your monkey tale — on your blog?


Rose Beale May 15, 2011 at 12:30 am

Hi Karen,

I think that’s cottage cheese, not cream cheese – although it’s strange it’s so creamy. I see that it’s non fat. Definitely not yoghurt, though!

Glad you’re able to move again


missfootloose May 15, 2011 at 10:40 am

Hi Rose, it’s cream cheese, not cottage cheese, which there is a lot of along with massive amounts of sour cream. The supermarkets are very good here, apart from fresh leafy greens and herbs. Not much of those.


Bob May 15, 2011 at 3:56 am

Dear Miss Footloose, I envy you. In all, I have spent a bit more than two years in Moldova, first a month in 2001, then a year in 2003-2004 and finally a year and a half in 2005-2007. I have been fortunate enough to visit several times since. You have already discovered that it is not suburban NY or Washington, DC. While there are several supermarkets now (No 1, Greenhills, Fedesco, Macro), the majority of folks still do some, if not a large part of their shopping at the bazaars. If you haven’t been yet, have a Russian or Romanian friend take you.

I see you have found Tvorog (the creamy cheese shown in the photo of your last post). You can get it in several different levels of fat content, clearly marked on the side of the container. Enjoy it. It is delicious and good for you, even better than the pharmaceutically enhanced Activia.

With all of the talk about “natural foods” here in the US, you won’t find better or fresher than in Chisinau unless you lived on the farm. Again, enjoy.

I have many comments I could add, including names of contacts and folks who might be able to help you get settled, but I won’t post that to your blog. Send me an email if interested.



missfootloose May 15, 2011 at 6:20 pm

The supermarkets here are very good compared to the ones in some countries where I have lived. The No. 1 Hypermarket is excellent — cheese, meat, dairy, all very good. Except — yes — the produce. Onions, potatoes have not been stored well over the winter and are soft. There’s lots fruit, imported from Turkey, not always great quality, but then I’m spoiled. Found the same at the big central market. Most striking is the lack of fresh leafy green vegetables. A few heads of green lettuce, often not crispy, and on occasion a box of imported arugula. I’ve seen spinach once and no kale, mustard greens, beet greens, chard, escarole, water cress or any kind of a local variety. I’m hoping something will show up in the next few months, for my health’s sake 😉 and because I love leafy greens. But hey, we can’t have everything. I’ve lived in an African village and didn’t die of malnutrition.


Judy May 15, 2011 at 4:02 am

When we lived in Azerbaijan a lot of groceries were imported from Turkey and Germany. Trying to decipher what was in the packet/can was always a bit of an adventure. I remember buying what I thought was canned sweetcorn, only to discover that it was chickpeas and also struggling to undertstand the instructions on packet of German custard mix. I could figure out that I had to add milk and sugar, but were they measured in teaspoons, dessert spoons or tablespoons? This was way before the time of Google translate, or even Google for that matter. Expats have it so easy now 😉


missfootloose May 15, 2011 at 10:33 am

Yes, expat do have it a lot easier now than a few decades ago. I remember the days when I made whipping cream out of (imported) butter!

In Moldova many of the imported foods come from Turkey and Germany as well. Now, as a grownup, I am eternally grateful for growing up Dutch and learning German, English and French in school. It helps with deciphering lots of stuff, even in context in related languages, but Turkish, Russian, Arabic, no. I’m going to learn Romanian now (spoken in Moldova along with Russian) at least enough to get by in the stores.


guyana gyal May 16, 2011 at 12:14 am

Oh boy, I just read YTSL’s horror story!

I always admire people who can up and go to strange, big countries all by themselves. Better yet, people who go to places where the language is not theirs. Wow.


edj May 16, 2011 at 10:13 am

I know what you’ve been eating! I had it in France. And I don’t blame you for being confused by the container. And I kind of love that couch, although it wouldn’t go with anything else in my house.
sigh…you give me itchy feet to travel. Please write some horror stories so I can be happy to stay for a bit.
As for horror stories…hmm…when we were first in Mauritania we were looking for a bed. There was only one store with western-style mattresses. Your choices were twin or king. And there was cat poop all over the top one.
We bought a king mattress (from the middle of the stack) and took it to the carpenter, who measured it carefully. A few weeks later he had made us a frame that was too long one way and too short the other. It looked nice though!


missfootloose May 16, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Oh, yes, mattresses are a trial in many places! I’ll see what I can do about another horror story. I take it that you are getting itchy feet again. I was in the US for 3 years before coming to Moldova, and I was really itchy! Once you’ve got the travel bug, you don’t get rid of it. Any chance you’ll go expat-ing again?


Aledys Ver May 16, 2011 at 10:13 am

Hi Miss Foot…….loose? 😀 Sorry to hear about your Foot, I mean, your foot! I hope you are on the mend soon!
No wonder that plain yoghurt as so lekker! I’ve only seen Président brie and camembert, so probably the name would’ve made me suspicious but also tempted to try this “yoghurt”!


missfootloose May 16, 2011 at 4:55 pm

I figured whatever it turned out to be, it was going to be edible and it sure was!


Mara May 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Since you now live in Moldova, you must know this! Do they sell those lovely pointed hats in your local shops (as seen on the European Song Contest)? Just wondering whether it was part of the Moldovan national dress…


missfootloose May 16, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I didn’t see the Song Festival, but I also have not seen any pointed hats here in the street. Just lots of skinny girls with long hair and very high heels 😉 If I come across them, I’ll let you know.


Mireille May 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm

You travel light my dear friend!! That first picture is all you took??
Do you know what I am moving at the end of the month?? I am almost too embarrassed to tell, but it will be a hightop 40ft container PLUS a 20 ft container. About 600+ boxes…. yikes, am I glad I am sitting on a terrace in Holland when that happens 🙂


missfootloose May 16, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Yes, that’s all we shipped, just some basics and things we wanted. We’ll buy what we need locally, although we had not expected to have to buy furniture. Most expat housing here is furnished, but not the place we found and liked. Anyway, this way we can buy what we can live with. We’ll sell it when we leave.

Also, of course, we are just two people, our kids having their own roofs now. I’m in minimalist mode. Well, I try 😉


Welshcakes Limoncello May 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Glad your foot is better. Enjoy the Swedish furniture!


GutsyWriter May 16, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Glad to hear the cream cheese/yoghurt healed your foot. BTW, loved the video and laughed at the women and yoghurt stories they use to sell it.
Isn’t it fun experiencing all these new things. So much to write about.


bettyl May 17, 2011 at 11:01 am

I’m content to have moved to a country with no snakes, bears or any predatory animals larger than a possum. And I envy your gumption to move so much–I would be horrified to not know t he language of the country I’m calling home!


MaryWitzl May 21, 2011 at 12:27 am

Finding yogurt was a problem for us too, and once we finally found it, getting it in smallish containers instead of half-gallon cartons. I like plain yogurt too, slightly tangy, like the stuff you make yourself. The nonsense they call yogurt with all the fruit (or fruit derivatives) in it is NOT yogurt. It’s so much easier and better to get plain stuff, drizzle it with honey and chopped up REAL fruit — but I’m preaching to the converted here, aren’t I?

In Cyprus, it took me TWO months to find oregano. By which time, every single person I’d whined to had kindly sent me a package of it. I ended up with enough oregano to open my own pizza franchise.

Hope your ankle mends soon!


Nancy May 25, 2011 at 12:43 am

Sorry about your foot, but had to laugh at the yogurt mix-up. I’m very impressed with how little you shipped, btw.


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