The Joy of Expat Exercise

by Miss Footloose

Santa Claus is exhausted and posssibly on a drinking binge until next Christmas.  The old year is dead and gone, and we’re left with the eternal New Year’s insanity of the diet and exercise hype everywhere you look and read and listen. Well, at least in the United States which is where I’m domiciling these days.

Relax, I’m not going to ask you about your New Year’s resolutions, or how much weight you’ve gained over the last year.  I’m sorry if you’re all stressed out about the issue, but perhaps the story below will offer a bit of relief.  It takes place in a far away country by the name of Armenia. You know where that is, don’t you? I recently lived in Armenia for six years, and for some of that time I slogged to a local gym a few times a week and forced myself to exercise.  I posted this story about a year and a half ago, but I thought it was worth posting again in case you missed it.

On Being Perfect

In a rickety elevator, up to the gym we go, my mate and I, 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. 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 discussing 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 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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This was hilarious! Although, all I kept imagining was the gym I used to go to here in Essex… I guess those types are everywhere! 😉


Mens locker rooms What is it about male changing rooms that I hate? Everything. I try to go to the gym when I can get time off from my man wife duties to try to relax. I pound the electric tread mill while watching Russian TV that I don’t understand, I then quickly throw on my swimming shorts on and go for a swim, steam and Jacuzzi. I find myself looking at the younger Russian women, while I sit in the jacuzzi trying not to swallow the blue toxic bubbles. These women are nice to look at, I am old… Read more »

What a great story. And reminds me why I avoid the gym at all costs.

I’ve seen their Egyptian sister, at my gym in Cairo!
And ofcourse they didn’t sweat, that would make their make up smudge.
I was on to them at first glance: real sports girls don’t bring handbags into a gym. They will make their phone calls AFTER exercising and not during. I wonder why the buff, hunky looking trainers didn’t tell them off instead of chatting them up??

maria altobelli

Fun post, once again, Miss Footloose. And I did enjoy the Mauritania post from PlanetNomad. We all need to read that to feel slim and trim again without the aerobics. I’ve always marveled at gyms since so many people drive to them. I’ve been walking past gyms in Italy where I’ve seen the same car and same person I saw earlier a few blocks away getting into the car. Here in Mexico, I try to walk two of our three dogs once a day and once in tandem. That’s pretty hilarious since they have a floating idea of what constitutes… Read more »

Think of some poor Armenian grandmother, knitting all those precious outfits for her granddaughters! And the over-worked Armenian mothers, laundering all those snow-white knitted garments! It takes a lot of work being a princess. I’m so thankful I’m not one.

That reminds me: I have to go to the gym next week and cancel my subscription. I have been paying for nearly three years now. I have visited for only two months!!!

I hope the cup of water didn’t make you look like you made your pants wet. I can imagine those sexy Armenian girls won’t be working out once they latch onto a husband and become matronly after childbirth.


In each country, there seems to be a unique set of regulations and rituals attached to the gym. In Korea, there was a big shoe rack at the entrance where everyone left their gym shoes. You had to slip off your street shoes and put on or your trainers or carry them into the gym before changing. I can think of few other countries where you could leave an expensive pair of Nikes at an open entrance and know that nobody would ever dream of stealing them. The funny thing is mine are probably still there on that shoe rack,… Read more »

I always love your stories, thanks.
I do aerobics at home with the DVD, forever we had no gym in our village now we have two. Guess fitness is taking off in Botswana!

guyana gyal

I now avoid the gym as if it had the plague! When I lived in the Caribbean, I tried it a few times [because the girls from work were doing aerobics there] and I hated it. I hated the man who tried to push us to do more, more, as if he were some flippin’ army man training soldiers. Then someone suggested I go to the YM [or W?] CA building, there’s a gym. I don’t know who suggested I lift weights. I HATED IT WITH A PASSION. All sorts of men trying to tell me what I’m doing wrong,… Read more »

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