The Expat Goes to the Gym

by Miss Footloose

Armenian teenagers in tradtional clothes at a wine festival

Expat life can be boring at times. You live in an exotic country in Africa or maybe Asia where they’ve got scrumptious food, interesting customs and fabulous festivals, and what do you do? You wake up in the morning and you eat your cornflakes, you go shopping for light bulbs, you go to the gym. Really, how exotic is that? In Armenia, a small country in the Caucasus Mountains, I spent many sweaty hours in a gym, hours that did not give me much pleasure as I’m missing the gene for enjoying exercise. However, there was one day I found myself entertained while dragging myself through my routine.


In a rickety elevator, up to the gym we go for another hour of exercise. As usual, my enthusiasm is lacking, but I know I’ve got to do it, my body being a temple and all. The gym is in a tall building, on the fifth floor. Unfortunately the machines suffer from lack of maintenance and are in varying stages of deterioration, but we make do. We arrive at the same time as two young Armenian women who are dressed up as if going to a glitzy party in skin-tight clothes and stiletto heels, make-up and hair extensively attended to. Girls like these two are often referred to as Armenian princesses.

My mate goes off to the men’s locker room and I find myself alone with the two Armenian fashionistas in the small women’s dressing room. They ignore me completely and I change into my old shorts and baggy T-shirt and hurry out. They don’t make an appearance on the gym floor until I’ve been pumping away on the bike for ten entire whole minutes. They’re jazzed up in the sexiest of designer work-out clothes, ready to make an impression. And an impression they make. Every male and female eye is upon them. They elegantly position themselves on two adjoining bikes and begin a leisurely pedal while they discuss the latest research in biochemistry or some such thing. I must admit I am intrigued and keep watching while I steam away with sweat gushing in unladylike rivers down my face and back. Apparently our two sex kittens have no such ambitions and their slim bodies perched gracefully on the bikes do not produce any sweat whatsoever.

My twenty minutes of cycling torture over, I get a drink of water, gulp it down, then fill the cup again from the dispenser and take it to one of the mats with me. I put it on the floor right next to it and proceed with the joy of abdominals.

Photo © Vukvuk /

The fabulous femmes have finished their biking and wander out of sight. I am now heaving away doing crunches. My face feels like it’s ready to explode and my scalp is sweating and my heart is pounding and my muscles are screaming and if this is so good for me why does it feel so bad?

I collapse in a heap of trembling muscles and take a rest. Next thing I know, one of the princesses passes by my mat and steps right on my plastic cup, spilling the water. I look at her. She apologizes in Armenian, or I imagine that is what she is doing, because that is what I would be doing. She glides away elegantly, doesn’t pick up the cup, doesn’t bring me another one with water. Royalty doesn’t work, of course.

I finish with the abdominals and butt exercises. There is always hope it might do some good, but I’ll never look like those gorgeous girls. Then I get up for more water and to see if the one functioning arm-shoulder-chest machine is free. It’s not. A beefy oligarch-type with a hairy chest is panting away on it. So instead I select a heavy weight and do some side bends while watching the Barbie dolls who are now on the mats, lying next to each other, while slowly, carefully doing their abdominal exercises, making sure not to put too much effort into it, just sort of lying there looking lovely. They talk, rest, do some more, talk some more, all the while not breaking a sweat. I am so impressed. I always sweat. Very un-sexy, I’m sure. Then again, what do they need to exercise for? They’re skinny. A British friend told me that the Armenian girls in his office drink hot water all day to shrink their stomachs. I’ve also heard that skinny Armenian girls don’t drink water at all because water makes you fat. So, there you have it, straight from the southern Caucasus.

Little Armenian Princess in Training. Adorable.

I do some more side bends and look outside, where the traffic five stories down in Hyastan Circle is chaotic. Last week a nice Armenian girl came up to me and said in English that I should do my exercises in front of the mirror. I laughed and said, no, that was boring. I pointed at the street scene and said that it was more interesting there with all the traffic and people to-ing and fro-ing. More interesting than watching myself, that’s for sure. She probably didn’t get it. Doing exercises in front of the mirror has of course a useful purpose, but here it appears to be a favorite activity, especially for slinky girls and hunky men. I can’t wait to see the glamor pusses posing and admiring themselves.

Unfortunately, we leave before we get to see that spectacle. We’ve finished gymming and must go shopping for a light bulb.

Do you have a story about unusual or funny experiences while at the gym or doing sports in a foreign country? Please tell!

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Highly entertaining. I’m glad you left the link on my blog.

Don’t worry – there is no gene for enjoying gymn exercise. And you’re right – most expat living is just as boring as life at home, only with more impenetrable bureaucracy! Great story. Very well told! Made me smile.

Great story! Reminds of some gyms in Britain… no wonder I stopped going!

In China, my main form of exercise consisted of doing exercises with thousands of students at five in the morning or swimming in the local river with the snakes for company.

Oh – those were the good old days! 😉

I love your story and surely will follow your expat adventures..

Every time I come to your blog, I end up laughing myself silly. I read this post through myself, then I read it to my kids. They loved the stuff about the fashionistas.

I DO have the exercise enjoyment gene (I know, weird, isn’t it?), but I lack the fashion accessory know-how gene and I absolutely don’t have the gene for dressing up. I look like a bum when I exercise and earn the disgust of every exercise fashionista around. I don’t sweat, but I make up for it with my nasty old tee shirts and holey socks.

As you may or may not know, I’m a gym fanatic, having exercised faithfully, with weights, for 26 years. I also used to be a personal trainer. I’ll never forget looking for a gym on Ambergris Caye, Belize. There were two. The fancy expat “tennis club” with a hotel style gym, and Oscar’s. I loved Oscar’s. No A/C, old rusty weights, Caribbean breezes coming though broken shutters. On most days, someone had urinated on the dumbbells, and I had to pinch my nose while weight training–not easy. I like the old body builder feel of this place though. Oscar’s gym… Read more »

Funny Stuff. You paint the picture well! Somehow I was sweating along with you.

Bring Back Pluto

Thanks for all your comments. I am glad I made you laugh. And if I may be so unashamedly self-promoting, please send my blog link to friends, family and whomever would enjoy my stories!

Have you ever done spinning while the instructor dances around to 50 sock hop music? But the music is in Spanish, and the instructor is a colorful, friendly, gay fellow? It was the best fun ever, sadly he was only a substitute and Attila the Hun, the regular instructor, returned the next day.

My niece took me to Curves, which (in the case of the location she belonged to anyway) is a gym where super-overweight women are the instructors, and they play bad disco music and stand in the middle of the room calling out stupid lines of encouragement while women rotate quickly thru a thirty minute workout. It didn’t work for me. I couldn’t be encouraged by a really heavy person with sweat stains telling me what to do. Call me shallow, but I want to be inspired. I joined my husband’s gym. No nonsense, down to business. I can stay as… Read more »

The ladies at the gym I used to go to in Tokyo lived for spandex. Some of them went through more outfits in one year than I’ve had in my life. In Wales, I went to a gym that was tiny, with no windows. We had a couple of body-builders come in; once they got going, the air got so thick I almost keeled right over. They were the nicest, sweetest guys, but they almost made me want room freshener. Here in Scotland, there’s an exercise class at the local town hall run by a guy who’d have been a… Read more »

A cold dingy place in Chippenham, England where bodybuilders and the like go to. I’m not a bodybuilder. I hated it. I only went three times and then just stayed away. Mind you, it might also have had to do with the fact I do NOT like to work out…

I just love all your stories! Thank you so much for sharing. And people in the US think you just go the gym, you know, Gold’s Gym, or some other place all bright and clean with walls full of flat-screen TVs so you can keep up with your soaps or the latest political crisis.

Keep coming with the stories!

I have no personal stories because I’m allergic to those kinds of places–the ones with sweat and other gross stuff!!

I think, expat life is so boring and face lot of problem like weather, culture and food related problems. what you say????

Hello “Expats”:

I think in general, life, expat or not, it what you make it. My life (like everyone else’s) has its boring moments, but I love my expat life overall. It is fascinating to get to know other people, cultures and countries, to learn new things, to discover things you would never have encountered at home.

Of course there are problems some times, but there are problems living in your home country as well.

To live a happy expat life one of the two most important prerequisites are a sense of humor and an adventurous personality.

‘nough said.

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