My expat life is full of fun trivia that never makes it into my stories, so here’s a post quilted together with a few unrelated bits and pieces from various places. Let’s start in Costa Rica, where my mate and I enjoyed a vacation away from our expat life. It had escaped our attention that it was Semana Santa, Holy Week, when we arrived in the town of San Ramon.
On Sunday we took a walk through the town and found ourselves in the middle of a fascinating procession, floats carrying statues of Jesus on a cross, the Virgin Mary, and more, followed by happy dancers. We looked at each other, realizing it was Easter Sunday, and how it was possible that we had missed it. It was a wonderful show, and we stood there with all the other onlookers watching the various floats and statues move by, and coming from sober Holland, I was entertained by the color and joy of it all.
Ghana, West Africa, is a fun country, but when I lived there some years ago, the paper money was not the freshest in the world. You could see it being counted by fish mongers who’d just been scaling your fish and then tuck it into their bras or money pouches. The paper was often cloth-soft and worn, and although the numbers on them were big, the value was not. I’d go to the bank with a plastic shopping bag, get a few hundred dollars equivalent and ended up with a kilo or so of pre-counted bundles of cedis, each tied with a piece of string or strip of paper. I would put these in a plastic shopping bag and haul the load home. There was no way I was going to stand there, take the bundles apart and count every filthy bank note to make sure the amount was right (which it almost never was).
At home I would sit on the floor, empty the plastic bag on the floor in front of me. The bundles of filthy lucre stank to high heaven. I took them apart to divide into more manageable amounts to tuck into a baggy to go in my purse (never in an actual wallet). Let me assure you this was not a fragrant job, but so it goes sometimes in the life of an expat. I would count the money in the process, and the bundles often were a note short. This would mean I’d been cheated out of a dollar here and there. Then again, maybe the person who had done this was saving up for his daughter’s school fees, or maybe an operation for his wife, or an iPod.
The good news? I just heard from a friend that the situation has improved and the money is in better shape these days.
My prince and I domiciled in Armenia, a small country in the Caucasus Mountains, for several years and one of the fun gifts we would buy to take home to friends and family was hand soap or dish soap. Yes, I know, they sell that in the supermarkets in the US and Europe, but not this special brand known as Barf, imported from Iran, Armenia’s southern neighbor.
Barf makes all sorts of cleaning products, and the word barf, I understand, means “snow” in Farsi. It means altogether something different and less clean in English and with a Barf product in your bathroom or kitchen you have an interesting conversation piece.
International marketing is a tricky thing and at times products inadvertently end up with names that don’t do so well across various borders. Here’s an interesting article with a few more choice examples.
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Have you ever had an unexpected surprise in a foreign country? Or what kind of strange gifts did you buy to give to friends and family at home? Or do you have a money story, clean or dirty?
I just finished a tube of kosher toothpaste here in Israel. I’m not Jewish, but I bought it because it was only 10 Shekels after Passover, while all the other toothpastes in the store cost more. I think this must be for very religious Jews, not the primarily secular people who are the majority in Israel. Most people here don’t even eat kosher much less brush their teeth kosher.
Oh, I MUST have some Barf for my bathroom!
the Barf products makes me think of a store here in Chicago. Its name is Fion and they sell wines, especially french ones. Well, in French, “fion” is very offensive and means “asshole”. I wonder sometimes what people are doing? Before picking a name, maybe they could do their homework. Each time, I see the store I can’t resist : I laugh!
Well, it was just my little expat story of the day!
Thank you for your blog!
Hi dear Love the colourful clothes I think Coata Rica is a great place to go. Seeing all that money makes me think you robbed a bank lol
I took a new volunteer on board this week Guess where he is from…..Moldava! He is very nice
Costa Rica sounds like a fun place to go. Indded bright anc colourful dressed. Seeing all that money is like you robbed a bank lol.
Have to tell you that I took on a new volunteer at work Guess from which country…..Moldava! He is very nice .
I’m sure you’ll have seen this in Moldova but finding posters advertising ‘crap’ to eat in Romania looked really appetizing.
I always love the connotations that spring up in your mind with something that is completely innocent in the native language. While travelling through Denmark and Sweden this summer, we came across a köttbutik (Swedish) and a kødsnor (Danish), which of course had us in stitches, but meant nothing more than a meat boutique (fancy name for a butcher I guess) and a tie rib for meat. And non-Dutch won’t see the funny of this at all I guess!
Ha ha, love the Barf powder. Great set of stories. Our friends always want us to take home a Turkish door bell for them. It’s not so much a bell as a long bird tweet. We once called round to welcome some friends who were renting an apartment for the week. We rang the bell – no answer. So we didn’t see them till the day after. When we told them we’d been round, they said, ‘Oh was that the bell? We wondered what it was so we just ignored it!’
OK, so I’m looking at the Barf picture and I see an X on the washing machine on the right. My question is do washing machines not like Barf, and dishwashers do, or is there an extra strong Barf for dishwashers?
Barf washing powder has made my day, but I’d definitely have wanted to launder my money in Ghana.
In Japan, I could never bring myself to drink Pocari Sweat, which didn’t sound refreshing to me. And ‘Creep’ (powdered milk to put in your coffee) always made me smile.
Well, I’ve had the Semana Santa surprise; although I knew that it was Easter week, I just didn’t know that they go all out for it outside of Caracas. I recently found myself butchering a recently killed and plucked chicken. I even found an egg in it’s belly 🙂 I have never been a big fan of meat and now I know why. Good times!
Barf… what a brand name! But makes a good story! Don’t you love being an expat and experience all these sometimes ordinary stories but fun in so many ways!!
Hi! I’ve been catching up – love your expat stories, and those notes remind me a lot of Zimbabwe in the old days, when they still had a currency! Bricks and bags of the stuff…
The Ghanaian fashions are absolutely beautiful, and I loved your descriptions. Always so interesting to read your descriptions, as ever!
*I had on had*? What on earth did I mean? I sure needed some Barf to wash the sleep out of my head when I wrote that, haha.
Barf goes crunch-crunch when you walk on it, when it’s really cold, I’ve heard.
We loved the knock-off toothpaste called “Crust.” 😉
That’s a good one!
One night, when I was living in the Caribbean, I decided to wash some of the notes I had on had. It was so filthy [ewww ewww I hate dirty money]. I couldn’t buh-leeeave how grimy the water got! I’ve never seen money so filthy since.
Haha! Loved your post – particularly the money part!! I remember going to Bali many years ago – and suddenly becoming a millionaire!! The exchange rate was in our favour, of course, but it was a weird feeling to see so many zeroes on our transaction slips!!!
I loved the title—-I started laughing even before I started reading the post, that title was so funny to me! You have a real gift at telling stories my dear! 🙂
Hugs from Brussels!
I too almost didn’t read this post because of the title. So great and funny!
Hi Miss Footloose —
I almost stayed away from reading this blog entry — the thought of washing one’s hands with Barf sounded oh so horrible indeed. But curiosity got the better of me… and I really am relieved to find that it’s a funny tale rather than a tribute to what humans are capable of doing! 😉
I remember Barf from our days in Baku! I never bought any though… Tide brings me out in a rash, so I dread to think what barf might do.
As for dirty money, we saw plenty of that in Baku too. It was also falling apart, usually torn and often patched with bits of tape, even bandaids. The irony was that although US dollars were highly prized no one would accept one that had even the slightest nick or flaw in it.