The universal art of Fake Working

this-is-how-I-look

So here I am, this serious and committed person that I am, sitting at the library trying to find any logic behind the declination of adjectives without articles in this oh-so-pleasant language called German and I catch myself being constantly distracted by a girl sitting in front of me, two chairs to the right.

I must have been in the library for about 3 hours now, time needed to start dipping my tippy toes into the basic concepts of the German grammar and this girl has been sitting there the whole time. Book, notebook and pen tidily placed, our friend has spent the entire 3 hours typing on her cell phone, chatting. Ok, ok, there’s a small probability that she has been reading War and Peace while writing some ground- breaking-awesome academic notes, but you and I know that she is really on Whatsapp, not to say Tinder.

Now, I don’t have any problem whatsoever with spending 3 hours chatting on Whatsapp. Just yesterday I watched 4 episodes of The Office in a row, so I’m not really in a position to be judging other people’s time management skills. But what I’m not capable of understanding is why this person would change out of her pyjamas, leaver her house, catch a bus, arrive at the library, pick a book, open her notebook and take her Bic 4 colour pen out of her backpack when all she wanted to do was chat with her friends and re-read the #HappyBirthdayJustinBieber tweets.

Why would she do that?

I guess I got this sense of justice combined with an extreme nerdiness and I get really mad with the fact that this person will meet her friend for lunch in a few moments and will complain on how she was busting her ass off working at the library, followed by an obviously fail on her test, her friend will find this whole thing unfair, mean even, and will key their teacher’s car making yet another innocent victim of the syndrome of “procrastination disguised as work”, also known as Fake Working.

Fake Working is an old phenomenon, and it’s estimated that 100% of the population will suffer from a Fake Working attack at some point in their lives. Maybe it will hit you on a Friday, 6:30PM, when you’re waiting for your boss to ask you for the last couple of changes (will never be) on that power point presentation; maybe on a Thursday at the office after lunch, when the hangover of that last beer kicks in or maybe even on that group work with that perfectionist colleague that you know is going to re-do the whole thing on his own. Sooner or later, it will happen to you.

But the thing is that with the arrival of the smart phone, Fake Working has become mundane. It has spread to never before imagined aspects of our society, like gyms and bars, just to name a couple.

I’m talking about that guy that gets to the gym, does a couple of abs, 15 minutes of Facebook. Lifts some weight here and there, checks out Snapchat. And in the end, that person spends 2 hours at the gym and leaves with the idea of “oh my god, just did a major work out” which leads him to post #nopainnogain #mondayworkout #gratitude on Instagram and feel great about it.

That’s called the Fake Working Out

And you can tell me that 5 push-ups or 15 minutes of slow texting/walking on the treadmill is better than nothing. Yep. But the tricky thing about Fake Working Out is that many times it manages to convince the “worker” himself that he actually did something. So this guy will leave the gym and go for a whopper with large fries because he really believes he worked out like a pro.

Just like that girl who will meet with some friends for a beer and will spend half of the time half listening to the conversation and half of the time checking out Whatsapp, Facebook, Tinder, Cara Delevinge’s Instagram and looking for a 3-day-old Leo-Oscar meme to retweet.

Let me tell you, this is not spending time with friends. Do not fool yourself thinking that you’re super enjoying yourself with your girls; that you’re investing on high school friendships, that’s not what you’re doing. That’s just Fake Socializing.

And the great irony behind all this is that you can start a routine of constant Faking, because you’ll be Faking Working at the office while talking to your friends, Faking Socializing with your friends while you’re answering an email from your dad, Faking Being An Awesome Son with your dad while liking your girlfriend’s photo on Instagram and… to infinity and beyond.

Oh, those good old days when Fake Working meant leaving the excel open on a 2003 spreadsheet while we daydreamed about our next weekend’s date. Faking went from being a harmless work distraction to becoming a life style.

And the deal is: Fake Working is not cool for anyone. Ok, maybe for Mark Zuckerberg. Definitely for Mark Zuckerberg. But besides him, it just leaves innocent victims along the way, it’s just sad. It’s sad for the person who thinks he/she is doing something when they actually aren’t, they are just patronizing themselves only to feel frustrated further down the road because the results of “such hard work” didn’t come along. It’s also sad for the people who don’t want to fake, who actually want to have a nice conversation or study peacefully. Because they end up loosing their time talking to someone who only replies with “Yeah. Totally” or distracted from something serious and cool like studying the German declination of adjectives without articles and start writing posts like this one.

So here’s what I ask of you: if you know that you have a tendency to Fake Working and you’re going through a Fake Working phase in your life, do us all a favour and stay home. Please, keep this foolish-procrastination-disguised-as-interest-and-proactivity to yourself. Tell your boss you’ll finish the power point over the weekend, it will be better for everyone.

And there’s no need to feel guilty about it. Procrastination is normal, it’s a part of our lives. It’s only dangerous when we think that tagging it with #workhardplayhard is actually going to change something.

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I shop, therefore I exist

A few months ago I realized how the US are especially competent when it comes to enjoying a holiday. They do it better than anyone else. Be it X-mas, Thanksgiving, Halloween or whatever Coca-Cola decides to come up with next; these guys really go for it. And you can tell which holiday is coming next by the new flavour of Starbucks’ limited edition latte, the décor at the Korean supermarket around the corner and by the amount of random themed products that you’ll find at CVS.

So I thought that yep, sure this could all get sort of out of control and get us stocking dusty papier-maché turkeys, plastic pumpkin lanterns and neon Rudolphs. But I also thought that we could just enjoy the super excited approach to holidays without necessarily having to buy into the consumerism behind it and get a loan just to take our significant others to that fancy French bistro on Valentine’s Day.

But I guess I have to admit that the idea behind this overdosed celebration is, indeed, to fuel consumerism. The goal is to think of all the possible products and services that could remotely relate to the holiday in question, wrap it into a nice package, get Kendall Jenner to share it on her Instagram and… bang! Almost impossible not to want two of it.

I was naïve to think that everyone has the common sense, solid values and their priorities set straight, and could free willingly duck away from the temptation to buy an expensive teddy-bear-holding-a-heart if they’re having a hard time to get the rent in the end of the month.

But to assume that a great part of the population has had access to the solid education and upbringing that takes to build those values is ludicrous. Especially when we’re talking about a country where media has such a substantial power; a country where, in the most important sports event of the year, you get more adds than… sports. The pressure is just so vile that I understand how people give in. Give in to that offer of yet another credit card that’s mailed weekly to your front door, ending up with a crazy debt just to have that tiny moment of shopping bliss.

Every manufacturer gets that and the great challenge lays in discovering, each year, how to sell more and how to charge more for it. Here in the US, as in any other country, stagnating is not an option. But here’s what I find special about America: they are far more creative than other countries.

One example from Boston: the city where the Sons of Liberty threw tea into the sea in 1773 as a way to protest against Britain’s taxation tyranny, initiating the Boston Tea Party movement. Well, did you know that today, “for the small amount of $25” you can actually take the Boston harbour Museum tour and simulate that you’re throwing the tea into the water yourself! Now ain’t that brilliant? I mean it, really ingenious people.

But what caught my attention the most, what made me understand that there’s no limit when it comes to finding new sources of income happened on Valentine’s Day.

Now, please don’t tell me you thought a Lindt chocolate box was a good valentine’s gift. Did you fall for that teddy-bear-with-a-heart thing? Shame on you. Why buying roses when you can buy… a star!?

No, this is not metaphorical. I’m talking about an actual star, these shinning celestial bodies that have been hanging around for such a long time, just waiting to be a part of our great free economy game.

Well, with $54 dollars you can “buy” or “give the gift of” a star. Or at least that’s what the ad says. Actually what you do is you name a random star in the Universe (actually most likely the fading light of an already “dead” star) with whatever name you feel like so you can hang on your bedroom wall a certificate stating that somewhere out there, in the most profound depths of the Universe lays a star named “Bill & Susan forever”. Because isn’ t that the coolest thing ever?

Oh, by the way, this is the price for the basic deal. Why not upload to the Deluxe and get the certificate framed into a beautiful golden frame and a card to go with it, so you can take the coordination of your star’s location with you all the time? What the hell, just get a whole constellation and name all of your family members! Engrave jewellery with your star’s coordination! The possibilities are as infinite as…well as Universe itself!

All I know is that, while for some people this bizarre amount of offers feeds that crave for sliding one’s credit card, for me it has been having the opposite effect. The more I realise how banal consumption has become, the less I want to buy. I guess I’m afraid of letting myself go a little and not knowing when to stop; maybe I just don’t want to feel fooled realizing I felt into a silly “limited time only” trap. All I know is that it got me thinking if I really want to buy all that stuff or if I’m just letting myself get carried away. Most times I end up leaving everything in the dressing room and getting out empty handed. And it feels good.

So my proposal today is: shop less. Think twice if you really need another bag; didn’t you have a shirt just like that at home? Spend less time worrying about what to get for your dad for x-mas and just spend some time with him.  Spend more time enjoying all that stuff that “you wish to do, but never have the time to do it”. I reckon that this sort of bliss is a tiny bit more long lasting than getting a huge deal on that a-mazing last season’s Michael Kors.

Oh, and you might want to include appreciating a starry night once in a while on that list. Just in case, while it’s still free.

Happiness is a matter of benchmark

Last week I discovered a new fun fact that I just have to share with you guys: -40 degrees is the temperature where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet.

Now, ain’t that something?

And you can ask me “wait, but how the hell does the equation that relates Celsius to Fahrenheit work then? – that’s crazy”. I know. But actually what you should be asking me, as I would’t have a clue about how to answer that #foreversocialsciences is: “wait, but why the hell did you lose any time searching the conversion between    -40 Fahrenheit and Celsius?” And the answer is simple: Google told me that the weather in Boston last weekend would “feel like” -40 Fahrenheit and I thought, for just a innocent second, that maybe that meant +22 in Celsius. You never know, right?

Yeap, not the case.

Resigned and with cold feet, I woke up last Saturday and went to check the weather on my cell phone app to see if it was still safe to go out and get some eggs at the supermarket from the corner. It’s that old saying: “If life gives you -40 degrees, you make yourself some eggnog”.

Now, a bit of context: December last year I travelled to Colombia and, to be updated on the weather over there I added “Cartagena” to the list of cities to follow on my phone’s weather app.

Don’t try this at home. Ever.

Cartagena is a nasty little city where the weather dares to vary from 80 to 95 degrees all year long. Spoiler: if you go to Cartagena next winter it will be 80 degrees by night and 95 degrees noon. Out of shameless laziness, I ended up leaving it on my weather app. And ever since, every time I go check the weather in Boston what I find is: Cartagena: 81 degrees, Boston, 19. Cartagena: 89, Boston: 10. And every time I think that there’s someone in Cartagena dragging some flip flops around and drinking mojitos while I’m mummifying myself in scarfs to go to the supermarket around the corner I get a little bid sad. It’s not deep sadness, it’s more that tiny second when of bumping-your-little-toe against-the-coffee-table or waxing-your-calf-with-cold-wax type of thing. But still, it happens every time.

Ok, back to last Saturday morning. I decided I had had enough of this daily dose of grumpiness – specially because I knew Boston could never beat Cartagena, not even in the summer, and I decided to adopt a new tactics: I snapped “delete” onto “Cartagena: 93 degrees” and searched for a city just about in the middle of Siberia, that was reasonably populated and had a satisfying winter weather average: Novosibirsk. 1.5 million people live in this beautiful city. 1.5 million people are, as we speak, at -8 degrees. Boston: 23. Novosibirsk -7, Boston: -25, Novosibirsk: -18, Boston: 20.

Muahaha!!

I’ve been in love with Boston ever since. What a pleasant weather! Delightful afternoon winds! In Novosibirsk the sun rises at: 11AM. Sets at: 11:17AM. And Boston with this wonderful daylight until 4PM, what a luxury!

Now, please observe my dear readers, how basic, naïve and bastard the human happiness can be. Observe that absolutely anything regarding the circumstances of my day has changed. It’s not a degree warmer in Boston, one should note. I’ve just changed the benchmark, my base of comparison, if you will. In the attempt to feel more at ease with Boston’s winter, I found a goddam shortcut to happiness.

“Ok, but why should I care, if I live in Miami, Santa Barbara or Singapore and I don’t have to compare myself to a habitant of Novosibirsk to feel happy about my life?”

That’s the thing. The benchmarking technique can be actually applied to the most various different aspects of life. And I tell you something: it IS already responsible for outlining our happiness without we even realizing it. I bet that most of us, facebook likers and instagram voyers suffer with the silent exposure to a “destructive benchmark” that little by little, post by post, gets us to think that our life is lees cool, our vacation less awesome and our friends less likely to be tequila shots partners.

All this filter of information that happens through the facebook-of-the-season makes it so that everyone else’s lives look a lot like Cartagena while we’re stuck in Boston in the winter. And that’s not fair because, by simple logic, if most of us feel this way, this can not possibly be true. But as nobody posts pictures while “On my boxers, farting and watching Seinfield re-runs” and we all post “awesome weekend at the Suisse alps with the best friends in the world” we end up with this bad “my life is mediocre” taste in our mouths.

I think the biggest issue with all of this is that we’re not entirely conscious about it. Up until I replaced Cartagena for Novosibirsk I hadn’t realized just how much that comparison was affecting my mood every day. And I think that those 15min of sliding our fingers through our timeline can seem harmless, but they’re actually rather perverse. Every backpacking trip around Europe, every friend that comments on an amazing new project at work every, “I’ve just ran 4,3 miles with Nike. Feeling blessed” adds up and builds a little sadness inside of us, and in my view, contributes to have a whole generation pressuring itself to “live life to the fullest”, “do what you love all the time”, “be happy today as if it were the last day of your life”. Because we do get deluded that there are a lot of people, or worse – a lot of our friends, our college classmates, the guy sitting next to us at work – that are just having a blast all the time.

Well, let me tell you something: a lot of people who live in Cartagena do get fed up with the heat from time to time. So, let’s stop fantasizing that everyone else’s lives are – just – wonderful in 3,2,1?

Oh yeah, sure, but how do I do that? Ok, can I start following a friend that has never travelled beyond Kansas so I can feel better about spending my summer at a cheap all-you-can-eat buffet hotel in Florida? Yep. Can I invite an unemployed friend to join LinkedIn so I feel better about my boring job? Sure, add me to your connection’s list, be my guest.

But while I believe this tactic is – highly – effective to calm down winter grumpiness, I do advise something a little more long-term to deal with important life issues: compare yourself a bit less with your high school mate, speculate a bit less about your neighbour’s life, delete facebook from your phone and… wait for it – become your own benchmark!

Wait, what, is that even a thing? Hell yeah!!

Are you feeling a bit “help, just woke up in Boston in the winter”? Think about how much you’ve learned at work ever since that crazy new boss arrived last year; celebrate how much your Spanish has improved ever since you’ve started watching Narcos; spend a little more time going over the photos of your last family trip and less time at Chrissy Teigen’s Instagram; compare yourself less to your professional snowboard friend and remember that, for someone that a year ago couldn’t even stand up in skis, going down the children’s slope is goddam amazing (by the way, if you do need benchmark to feel better about your ski skills, I can send some personal videos).

I know that this smells like those “before iphone everybody talked to each other at the subway” talks, but that’s not what this is about. I really don’t think that that Zuckerberg kid is to blame. This impulse of comparing oneself to ones peers is inherent to our nature. But I do think that with facebook, instagram and other networks it has become a lot easier to access other people’s “intimacy” and curate the image we project to the world, so we do need to make an extra effort so that our neighbours’ super exciting lives don’t occupy too much space in our imagination.

But anyhow, if none of this works, worry not: just get a ticket to Cartagena and you’ll be just fine.

Bread, Circus and a little bit of content

I’ve always known entertainment in America was a thing.

After all, a considerable part of my upbringing was crafted by Steve Martin’s cop movies, that film on a nasty whale seeking for revenge (which keeps me from snorkeling till this day) and Gilmore Girls.

But only now that I’m living in this wonderful place called America have I understood the real power of entertainment of these folks. The premise around here is that everything has potential to be fun – the entertainment industry is not limited to Hollywood and Netflix. Entertainment is the basis, the backdrop, the bread and butter that can be combined with any other ingredient to make everything more interesting, more appealing and, most of the times, more marketable.

Follow me, will ya.

Evidence number 1: Hockey game, Boston Bruins. TD Garden Arena. October 2015.

As I’ve been currently living by the “since we’re at it, might as well” lifestyle I had decided to go to a Boston Bruins hockey game, why not? I didn’t really know what to expect, I had never seen a hockey game in my life, I had only made it to curling. My mental image of the match was a combination of “Wednesday night regional league soccer game in Brazil + Ice”. Maybe add a bit of fried chicken to it and that’s it.

Yeah, right.

We entered a stadium that could easily have about 17 floors. Or 4. Anyhow, all marble, glass, escalators and air conditioning. At each floor, a never before seen variety of restaurants, stores and bars, the finest selection of fried chicken and burger joints you’ll ever see – we’re talking Cher’s Malibu mansion fancy, here. It was like entering a Disney themed park, The Magic Kingdom of Hockey.

From then on, you realize that hockey itself is kinda secondary. From the two hours you’ll spend in the stadium, you’ll get about 30 minutes of game. The rest is the opening show, the mid-time show, super high music playing every time they score a goal – you’re really one Chris Martin away from the Superbowl. There’s the moment when the audience shows up on the screen; there’s a short game of junior hockey talents, you name it. Everything, obviously, properly sponsored. To tell you the truth, it’s a cool experience. I mean, it has to be. The whole thing is programmed to entertain you, to keep you turned on, to seduce you. It’s the perfect metaphor for fast food: such an overwhelming amount of salt, sugar and ketchup that it simply has be tasty.

 

Evidence number 2: Final match of the American college football league. Alabama vs. Clemson, January 2016. Audience: 26 million people.

Yes, you got it; college sports in the US have more audience than the birth of a new baby panda in China. Apparently, about 80 million Americans follow the college football league regularly. What!? Are you telling me that besides work, time with the family, Netflix, gym and updates on Instagram, 80 million people still have time to follow on the performance of the Nebraska University football club? You got to be kidding me. I mean, I don’t know if it was just my experience and I’m the only one that finds it all muy crazy, but for me college sports teams only exist so we can go to the “Inter-College games” once a year, sleep in crappy motels and drink cheap alcohol on beer bongs. Right?

I actually realized this game was happening because I accidentally passed by a bar and it looked like the final match of the world cup: the place was completely packed and everyone was going bananas on these two teams that – please observe – had nothing to do with Boston. Yep, turns out that the American college league is mega sponsored, stadiums are usually mega packed and it has a mega TV audience. And folks would pay up to $300 to go to one of these games (jezz, it hurts to multiply it by 4 and get the price in Brazilian currency). Once again, the US taking something that’s considered lame in any other part of the world and turning into a mega cool event in its fantastic entertainment factory.

 

Evidence number 3: Republican Party debate. August, 2015.

Oh-em-ge. I really needed to create blog specifically dedicated to cover the elections and all the shenanigans related to it. Maybe I’ll do it.

So this was the first debate of the campaign and there was this huge fuss before it. It stirred up so much expectation on me that it made me watch it on a big screen, drinking beer, eating popcorn and flipping out on the amount of comments/gifs/memes around Donald Trump’s orange face coming up on real time on social media.

Let me tell you, the elections here have more glamour than an Oscar after-party. A huge show of cameras, lights, music – on every break you get live Google statistics on how people are searching about the topics the candidates are talking about. Popular vloggers interacting with questions. A crowd that goes wild at every controversial statement made by Trump (meaning: every statement made by Trump) and a whole country barging in with all sorts of comments on Twitter. And, if you missed a debate: worry not. You can later check out on Youtube and you’ll find videos with titles like “Hillary’s most embarrassing moments” or “The speech that made Obama win the elections”. Everything finely packaged, just how consumers like it.

 

Now, I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and about what it represents and a huge part of me thinks this is all a bit weird, it’s a bit freakish how everything ends up being industrialized, commoditized, how everything has to be awesome/ fantastic/ amazing or the-most-shameful – as if life was only cool when lived in the superlative. This is for me, something necessarily bad.

But then again I also started observing my own behavior towards it: I did end up being attracted to watch a college football game, even if it was just to see what all the fuss was about. I did end up clicking through the “coolest debate ever”, because with a title like that… right? And in the end, I did become informed about politics and it got me interested to a point that I wanted to know more about it, and discuss it. In the end, the fact that college leagues are super cool does make people be interested in sports from an early age.

Anyway, I’m trying to play a bit of devils’ advocate here, because criticizing a system of “need of ongoing awesomeness” is easy and I woke up wanting to look at the glass half full today. And I know that there are a million negative things that can come from all this, but it got me thinking: isn’t there also just a tiny bit of a positive side to it? Isn’t it a way to give sugar to a child in order for her to take in the medicine? Maybe?

Is it too optimistic of me to think that behind all this there’s something good, some cooler purpose, some actual benefit to society? Something beyond “Take a bit of bread and circus for now, because gun control, social equality and public health might take a bit longer to come out”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A serious, urgent and relevant issue

I find it curious how we’re capable of using so much of our creativity and our time to do stuff that don’t have a real purpose behind them. They can be kinda funny, briefly entertaining, they make you go “hen” and faintly smile while you’re browsing through the deep dark road of your timeline, but they don’t actually change your life.

Like Lady Gaga Superbowl memes or Confused-Steve-Harvey gifs. Now, does that have any impact in our lives? Nope. And still, someone spent a decent amount of time in a basement making it, a time that could have been spent in reading a good book, learning how to play ukulele or creating a tutorial on how to clean bathrooms with no drain. How many trees could have been planted in that time, I wonder?! But then I also think that we do need these funny senseless stuff, we do need some gifs stored in our whatsapp chats to help us go through boring sales meetings or -daily – subway delays. Maybe they are not made created for a noble aspiration, but there’s still purpose to their existence.

But then there are a few things that we can try and look at with the best of intentions, but we just can’t find a meaning for why someone ever spent time making them. Some things to which we just have to say: enough, humanity. Stop spending time being re-creating or things that have absolutely no use. Stop redesigning things that are already pretty well designed. Just stop it

Well, ever since I’ve arrived in the US, I’ve been noticing the overwhelming wave of creativity and technology surrounding all things public toilets. From the sign of Men/Women at the door, to state of the art methods of flushing, unthinkable ways of opening up a tap and a wide variety of hand drying solutions. And I can’t help but wonder why have toilets been attracting so much creative capital? And what’s with the design people expressing their deepest inspirations and creative essence in the realm of public toilets? What the hell?
Ok, so let’s look into it and start establishing some ground rules here, because things are beginning to get out of control and someone has to do something about it.

First. The male/female sign at the door. Once and for all people: just write “men” or “women”. Or boys/girls. At the most ladies/gentlemen, because from here we already start going down a rabbit hole, I mean, when was the last time you said “That gentleman over there just stole my spot in the line”, who are we kidding? So please don’t give me sistahs/brothas, pointers/setters, drawing of a broccoli/artichoke. There’s no point in that. We’ve established the rules and they do not need improvement. Everyone gets it and frankly no one wants to be faced with a drawing of a flamingo in the sunset and try and make out if they’re going through the right door. Period. Art directors, please: just type MEN in Times New Roman 36 and let go.

But that’s actually nothing. Because virtually every time you go into a public bathroom, you’ll most likely find a new technology, something that was supposed to be cool, practical and hygienic but that’s actually just stopping you from peeing in peace.

For instance, I believe my American friends will agree with me that we are definitely going through the age of automatic flushing. Sensor flushes popping out like mushrooms. Yep, I got it, great idea. I can actually picture the meeting that took place somewhere in the Silicon Valley, with all those engineers presenting that breakthrough idea to the marketing director. Standing ovation. Tears of joy. I’m pretty sure the sensor flush made someone become a CEO. But in reality, when facing an automatic flush one of the two scenarios will happen: either the flush will be activated 8 times during your 45sec pee, splashing water all over or you’ll gonna have to moonwalk repeatedly in front of the toilet until you finally manage to activate the sensor.

Okey. Let’s just wash our hands and get outta here.

Not so fast.

Because let me tell you, dear friends, that the major focus of innovation, the culmination of engineering creativity of the 21st century does not lye on the self-driving-car. It’s not Google glass. It’s public toilets’ tap systems.

Jeez.

I’ve started counting (doing some serious research to bring you the most accurate data, dear readers) and since last week I’ve seen 17 different tap systems in public toilets around Cambridge.

There’s the sensor, yep, also in the tap, the toilet-designer’s’ sweetheart technology at the moment. There’s the one that you press and then either it starts spilling out water like crazy and there’s no way to stop it and you’re promptly embarrassed on the ridiculous amount of water you’re wasting; or just a very thin stream of water comes out only to activate the sticky properties of the soap and make your hand feel dry and gluey for the rest of the day. There’s the one that you have to pull a pin. There’s the old school that you turn to open. The one activated by foot – most certainly a hit at the 2009 toilet-designer convention.

But the problem isn’t so much that these “technologies” don’t work. It’s more the fact that you never now at first the type of technology you’re facing, so you’re always swaying your hands all over, kinda pressing around the tap, trying some voice control until you end up giving up and leaving. See how serious this is? A matter of hygiene and public health.

So, my dear designers. Lovable engineers. Please stop. Be the voice of change in your community and say: enough! Let’s stop innovating on purposeless things; so much talent is being wasted! Let’s apply it to popularize solar energy to add a search function to the whatsapp chat.

Please, let’s stop wasting our time and let’s use our lives to contribute with something serious, important and urgent in our society.

Take this blog post, for instance.

 

Revising some concepts – or “and you thought you knew what a resume was”

So, let’s revise some concepts today folks, because there are some stuff we believe to have a universal meaning but in reality they don’t. At all. So it’s good to clarify that some things might exist in different countries around the world, but their purpose might actually differ quite a lot from one country to the other.

Let’s take the example of a resume.

Back to basics: what IS a resume? One could think that it is a document in which one sums up one’s professional experience and academic background in a way to try and convince those nice people from HR that you’re the best person for a job open they’ve posted. Are we confortable with that? Great. So that means that a resume is a fundamental tool for someone who’s looking for a job. Hell, I’d say THE most important tool.

But that’s not really what a resume is in the US.

Oh my dear American friends, once again you surprise us all by picking something that was perfectly functional and practical in the rest of the world and ta-da! Play a bit with the purpose of it. Kinda in the way you do it with the metric systems. Really funny, you guys!

Ok, so here’s the deal: it’s not like people don’t ‘know’ resumes in the US. They do and they know it’s something you use when you’re looking for a job. But its purpose here is not to help you find a job. Rumor has it that actually no one, in the entire history of America has ever landed a job just through sending a Word document to the HR department. Ever. The purpose of the resume around here is to make it so the person who’s looking for a job feels productive and materializes his/her job search.

It’s an instrument to pacify unemployed folks. That’s all.

And it’s not just that, because you don’t have to only send the resume, which would take you 15secs between writing an email and attaching a doc to it. Na-an.

“They” want to guarantee that the unemployed occupies a large slice of his/her time in this task. Maybe they think that the more time you spend on the process of sending out a resume, the soother you’ll be, happy to be actively doing your job search.

So not only do you have to prepare and send your resume, but you also have to write a personalized cover letter, explaining why you specifically have an interest and would be “a great fit” for that company.

And you add to that a questionnaire that was carefully crafted by smart, but sadist psychologists, aimed at leaving the applicant in a complete state of agony and despair. An average questionnaire of this type will not only frequently ask you completely irrelevant questions (sign? Summer or winter? Allergic to nuts? Favorite Harry Potter book?) but it will also make you fill out, by ‘hand’ all the information that is already stated on your resume.

WHAT?

“Yep, you got it right, dear applicant: please type in your entire CV again in this lovely 12 step registration program we’ve created. And don’t worry. We’ve made sure that it’s done in a format that will make it really annoying for you to copy-paste. Thank you so much for the interest in our company and good luck!”

And in the end, the question that is just impossible to be answered correctly by 90% of Brazilians: “Do you consider yourself Latin American, African descendent or European descendent”? Uhmmm… Is there an “All the above” option?

So you’ve learned through any LinkedIn group chat or blog entitled “7 ways to land a job in the US – guaranteed” that the chances you’ll get a job through that process is about the same as bumping into Beyoncé in the subway, but that’s one of the few things you have in hands, so you still do it.

At this point you might ask me: so HOW does one get a job in the US then?! Ahh, my dear friends, the word is networking. You have to go to every kind of event remotely related to your field of work, stick a name tag on your chest that sadly brands you as “Camila – unemployed” (which you will always forget to take it off and will only hours later understand the sad looks people were throwing at you at Starbucks) and chat around as if you were the LeBron James of social skills.

My goodness, is there anything less pleasant than this situation? It’s like a job fair meets speed date, in which you have to keep thinking on what to say next, how to impress everyone with your memorized elevator pitch and still sound amazing and cool.

Why would they make people go through that? I say let’s go back to the old good resume, great professional background sum up, objective way to see if someone will fit a job or not. Sounds pretty effective to me!

Anyway, gotta go know, just bumped into Beyoncé at the subway and she’s come over to help me send some resumes. Wish me luck.

 

 

So what are we doing today?

Having people visit you is the best when you’re living abroad. It’s a way to have a tiny peace of your hometown, of your memories, your history, back into your life, even if just briefly.

And if you talk to anyone who lives abroad and who’ll tell you that they’re super missing their hometown, they’re dying to go back to their country, their culture, that they’re constantly torn apart about living so far away, I’m pretty sure this person would have no problem living wherever if he had his family and best friends with him. So if you’re Brazilian you may say that you miss spending New Years on a warm weather, having the best food on the planet and watching morning shows where a foam parrot is one of the co-hosts (true story) but these are just details, what we really miss are the people.

So when someone comes to visit you it’s heaven, because finally you go the “I’m living in a cool place that I love + I’m surrounded by the cool people that I love”. It’s all-good.

Almost.

Some visitors can be a bit of a pain. And not my visitors in partcular, or your visitors, just visitors. Conceptually. I mean you and I can potentially be the painful visitors at someone’s house at any given time. You never know.

The first indicator of the painful visitor is when he asks you how the weather is going to be like in the city when he’ll be around. In 3 months. Well, unless you’re an astronomer, weather expert or maybe some sort of Scientology master, you have no idea, obviously. So what you’ll do is what the person should have done herself, which is “Google > weather Boston April”.

You shouldn’t have done that. It’s gonna be just downhill from here.

From this moment on what follows is an unstoppable flow of questions: you’ve suddenly became a guru for all things Boston (or whatever city). Be prepared to have random, pointless questions being thrown at you during the entire visit.

A typical example: you’re going go to a restaurant that you haven’t been before and the visitor might ask you “Where’s the restroom again, dear?” or “Are the servings here too big?” Hum.

He’s also going to ask you information on buildings, monuments and construction sites in general, just any average piece of engineering, like “What’s that kinda tall beige building over there?” And you have no idea. Yes, you have been living in this city for 2 months and NO you don’t know the history and purpose of existence behind every little thing ever to be built in the city. I mean, I’m pretty sure that person wouldn’t know that kind of information about the city where he’s been living his whole life either, but still, expect a raised eyebrow and a concerned nodding reflecting your “lack of knowledge, therefore lack of minimal interest about the city you’ve decided to move to”. And yeah, they do manage make you feel a bit guilty.

A rare, but real phenomenon one can expect when receiving foreign visitors is the fact that when some people are staying at a friend’s house, instead of a hotel, they suddenly become incredibly lazy. They do not prepare themselves for the trip at all, no research (again, they didn’t even Googled the weather) – they expect you to be their private tour guide, 24/7. These visitors are the ones who just follow you around, suddenly unable to understand street signs or subway maps. Their first question when they wake up is usually “So, what are we doing today?” expecting you to present an elaborate itinerary for the day. You almost feel compelled to leave the house with one of those shiny umbrellas Chinese tour guides parade around with so you don’t lose a friend or 2 on the way.

A recurrent behavior – maybe that’s more Brazilian, though – is that the person can be staying with your for 6 months, he will inevitably remember this thing he had to bring back for his cousin say, 5 hours before he flies back. And yes, you’re going to have to rush outside, cross the entire city to find that thing, drive like crazy to the airport and bribe the airline intern at the check-in so your friend doesn’t miss his flight (cuz all you want to do at this point is to go back home and be ALONE!).

There’s also refusing to accept that some habits are different in the country they’re visiting. In case of Brazilians visiting the US is the tipping system. In Brazil we don’t usually tip – at least not so often as here – so Brazilians feel that if they round the bill up, they’re more than ok with the tipping, while they’re actually “tipping” by… 2%.

When I was living in Spain, my Brazilian visitors would usually consider Spanish the same language as Portuguese. They’re similar, but trust me, they’re not the same. So they’d just speak Portuguese, adding up a bit of an accent and throwing a “Gracias” now and then. So it would happen that they’d order wine and got a mojito, a roast chicken and got a chocolate brownie and stuff of the sort – which, however, would never convince the motivated visitor to switch to English, not even when the waiter did.

But anyhow, it’s all small stuff. Anecdotes. Good memories actually. Having someone visiting you IS actually always a good thing… always.

I’m just a grumpy foreigner missing spending New Years in a warm weather…

 

We’ll always have Ikea

So, a while ago I was introduced to this concept of a non-place. The non-place is, well, ok, any place that kind of gives you a feeling that you could be, in that moment, in any given city of the world, from Boston, to Poughkeepsie to Paris. A typical non-place could be a McDonald’s or a Starbucks – or a Brazilian barbecue restaurant chain, by the way. Anyway, any place that has been specifically designed to make you feel like “hum, have I been here before?”. It’s a place where you strangely feel at home no matter where you are in the world and you know exactly what to expect – or which flavor of over-priced coffee you’re gonna order.

Ikea is a lot like that and once you get into the dynamics of moving countries every few years, it becomes a place you get used to visit.

For those of you who don’t know Ikea (first: jeez, in which planet do you live?! and second: I envy your life a little bit), it is this huge Swedish company that makes design furniture at a very affordable price and it’s a life-saver for a whole generation of European youngsters who are in the long process of discovering what they want to do with their lives and are working as minimum-wage baristas meanwhile.

Basically, if you a) live in Europe or in some parts of the US; b) do no not intend to live in the same city for more than 5 years; and c) have a ridiculously low salary/are unemployed – in my case, check… check! – Ikea is heaven.

But – ha, there’s always a ‘but’, my friend – the whole process of going to Ikea is extremely painful, every time. My guess is that the owner of Ikea thought it was just too easy to allow you to buy Pinterest-looking furniture for a thousand times less the price you’d pay in a regular Pinterest-looking furniture shop and decided to mess up the process a little bit, just because.

So here’s the joy and pain of a typical trip to Ikea:

Uuuup and running, cowboys!! An Ikea day starts earlier than you wish. Oh, and here’s the thing: you’ll initially plan the trip to last 4, 5 hours, tops. Ha. Ha. Ha. Not really. It can be that you’re looking to redecorate your bedroom or your entire 3-story-house, a trip to Ikea will, necessarily, take you at least 9 hours. Trust me.

You’ll probably need to hire a van or ask your dodgy friend for his huge pimped SUV you’ve always made fun of. Specially if you’re buying bulky stuff and want to keep a minimum of back vision when you’re driving back home.

The habitual Ikea visitor knows that it is absolutely crucial to take some cereal bars/protein shakes for the “ride”, so you won’t end up eating a foam-flavored 1$ hot dog (though a proper lunch at Ikea is quite decent and still frightfully cheap).

Now, to follow one’s route through Ikea’s different sections is to do a truly anthropological exercise, as it can bring to surface the deepest reactions ever to be experienced by the human race.

It starts as something exciting: you’re decorating your house, super happy, sharing every picture frame with your Snapshat audience (aka your best friend, your younger sister and your own dog’s profile). You grab one of those cute Ikea mini-pencils and write down every reference in a super organized way, cuz you’re willing to make this a GREAT Ikea trip. Everything is running smoothly.

After a while, frustration emerges. There are too many options, too many people, too much noise, you lost track of which sofa color you chose 4 sections ago and you don’t know which dinning chairs would go with it; the wardrobe you like is super expensive but the cheap one is super ugly; and do we even have space for that sofa?… So you just paralyze, breath into the Ikea yellow bag for a while and realize that if you’re completely incapable of making basic furniture decisions, “how the hell are you leaving home to live with your part-time barista friend”?

Then tiredness hits. It’s that moment when you realize you’ve been at Ikea for 4 hours and there’s nothing at your trolley but a bunch of mini pencils, a picture frame -highly praised on Snapshat- and a couple of vanilla scented candles. You move on to the mattress section, lie down and relax. Take a deep breath. You’re just beginning.

Feeling re-energized, you run quickly through the “planned kitchen” section, which is the boring one, and by the way if you have enough money to have a planned kitchen what the hell are you doing at Ikea anyway, and you recover the “let’s get this over with” feeling. Great! You’ve reached the cool deco section, where you’ll find everything cute and slightly unnecessary you’ll ever own, like printed paper napkins and submarine-shaped ice cube trays.

Congratulations. You’ve successfully reached the last, but definitely not least section. The warehouse.

Here’s where the real challenge lays and where I usually lose my positive-zen attitude despite all the counseling I can get from my ‘5min a day’ meditation app. It’s the moment when you combine 7 hours of walking around discussing the importance of coasters with your future room-mate with the physical distress of having to carry a wooden bed structure out of a 6 foot shelf.

It’s not easy.

It’s like that feeling of being in a plane going through rough weather and thinking “Why the hell am I here? Why? I never really even wanted to go to Puerto Rico, I was tricked by my cousin’s-ex cool Instagram photos. I am never getting in a plane again, EVER”. And then the moment goes by and before you know it, you’re back on a plane again.

As you’ll be back to Ikea.

Anyhow, there’s no turning back now. You use your last slurry of energy, pick up all the furniture, pay for it and grab a pack of cheap frozen smoked salmon at the food shop since you’re at it.

That’s it. It’s done.

No. Now THIS was actually just the beginning. See what Ikea just did?

What’s to follow is a marathon of loading your friend’s pimped SUV, bringing everything up to your apartment and making enemies on your first day ever in your new building for blocking the elevator for 40min, unpacking everything and discovering that you could actually have built a new house from the amount of carton remaining on your living room floor, assembling furniture that looks way easier to assemble than they actually are, grabbing a beer and making yourself a smoked salmon sandwich to chill, wearing your finger off to the bone from insisting on trying to screw stuff without proper tools, ignoring that you found some screws still inside the box AFTER you’ve finished assembling your dinner table and remembering 4 absolutely essential items that you somehow forgot to buy and for which you’ll have to go back to Ikea. Again.

It’s hard. It’s tiring, it’s a pain and from now on you’ll notice how 87% of every friend’s house you’ll visit will have the same Poang chair you found oh-so-creative to decorate your living room.

But then you move again.

And you need furniture and vanilla scented candles again. And you’ll go back to Ikea. Again.

Ah, this great mystery that binds us…

Imagine this: you’re walking down the street, in any given country that’s not the US (or your home country, for that matter) and there’s a group of Americans/’place-your- nationality-here’ coming towards you. Or a couple or just a guy, and old lady, any American, under any circumstance.

Here’s what’s gonna happen: you’re gonna feel this inexplicable, but deep certainty that that person is American.

Automatically, you’ll kind of lean towards that person when he or she passes by, trying to eavesdrop on what he’s saying to his friend, because you want to prove your theory. Even if it has absolutely no impact in your live. I mean, you’re not even going to talk to him, but still there’s something that moves to get weirdly close to him and say… “Yep, I knew it! He IS American”.

I know, this sort of phenomenon seems completely pointless, but you got to admit it, it’s a bit fascinating. It’s a mystery that binds us all foreigners when we’re abroad. We’ve got to look into it.

So let’s cut to the chase: first of all, you’re not the only person able to identify comrades from your home country when you’re abroad. I can do it, all your friends can do it, you’re oddball cousin can do it. Everyone does it. We’re all kind of born with it. Apparently our brain has some tiny little area, some small corner dedicated specifically to “identify-people-from-our-home-country-when-travelling-abroad”. Crazy stuff. But still, fascinating.

Second, this is not a “skill” exclusive to Americans. I understand you might have theorized about the fact that there must be something tangible that every American has common but I’d say there actually isn’t. I’ve tried to find that something about Brazilians and my conclusion is that if there is anything we share is maybe the skill of knowing how to get the most personal benefit out of a situation. And that’s not something you can see when someone’s just walking down the street.

And let me tell ya, from my own personal research just as an American can spot another from a distance, so can a Spaniard, Koreans, the British. And I’m quite sure Russians, Argentinians, and Papua-new-guineans can probably do it too.

Ok, so let’s try and understand this: why the hell has our brain decided to dedicate a couple of neurons for such a crook idea? I mean, we could be reading minds with those neurons, learning to play chess, brilliantly investing in the stock market and making tons of money, but hey, no, we’re out there identifying Americans or Brazilians tourists abroad and for what? We got to find a purpose for this.

My guess is that our brain is just trying to look after us, and that this “skill” is actually useful, we just need to learn how to use it properly. So I thought about it (yep, that’s the level of free time I have) and I figured we have two ways in which we could put this less then conspicuous “skill” to use:

The first thing is in case you’re a tourist abroad and you actually want to find someone who speaks your language, gets your culture and knows where to find a burger joint within a mile (or a Brazilian barbecue place, or a Biergarten, or a pub or whatever food spot is typical for Papua-new-guineans).

In this case, you don’t need to be randomly asking for information on the streets and feel stupid because locals don’t get your – so beautifully crafted – French accent.

Use your guts! Go to a busy street and just start to observe the crowd. In a couple of minutes you’re brain will tell you “wow wow wow – here comes one” and you know can directly approach this person with a “What up, bro?” and feel at home, and get all the info you need and go together to the burger joint and bitch together about how French people have a problem understanding your beautiful accents and become BFF. Cool.

The second thing is in case you don’t want to be recognized and walk around with people from your own nationality, because you’re spending your holidays in Paris and you think that your blasé-born-and-raised-in-Montparnasse look will make you mingle with locals and that’s glamorous and awesome. (By the way, this feeling of “OMG people from my home country are soooo embarassing when travelling abroad” is also quite universal). In this case, just stare at the ground and when the sign of “yaiks – fellow countryman spotted” comes in, just say some words in a random language and walk faster. There you have it, collision avoided.

So that’s it folks, mystery solved. There’s nothing about collective sub-conscient, nothing about an American (or Brazilian, or…) feeling of belonging that surpasses any borders, it’s not a magic connection between people, Sense8 style.

It’s jus tour brain, doing what has it has to do. Reacting in a basic instinct to prevent us from embarrassing ourselves when we travel. That’s all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

American compatibility check-list

The US are a great country. Beautiful landscapes, super diverse people, awesome on turning any subject into a reality TV program and all that. But it can also be kind of, let’s say, polarizing. It’s obvious that each and every country have their own their culture, people have specific habits and behaviors, but there are some stuff about the American life that can shape your daily life in such a way, that you just have to have them in mind if you’re thinking about ever living in the US.

Because once you’re here, it’s gonna be hard to try and dodge from these stuff. And it’s not bad stuff. It’s just kind of small details.

So here it is: after 10 months of US life, my own “American life compatibility check-list”! You’ve been advised. Now act at your own risk.

  1. TV: Definitely, number 1 in my list. A tricky little object that will cross your path about 17 times a day. And how, you might ask, can that be if you wouldn’t even go to 17 different places in one day? A-ha. That’s it. You don’t have to. In an average bar/restaurant/bank/supermarket/line for any purpose you will encounter about 3 TVs turned on at the same time. The content? Random. Can be the news, can be a college basketball game, highly likely a Kardashian will pop up at some point. In US bars, TV is the new wallpaper.
  1. Baseball cap. Ok, just to be clear, you don’t have to like to wear a baseball cap. I mean, if you do, great, it will help you make friends and pass as a local, specially around the Boston area. But you actually just have to be ok with others using baseball caps. All the time. At restaurants, bars, movie theaters, class, concerts, you name it. It might sound strange that this is even listed here, I mean, who cares what people wear in their heads. But when there’s such a high density of baseball caps surrounding you and in places (and times of day) that you wouldn’t expect them to be, you’ll have to embrace that some how. So if baseball caps annoy you, maybe try Canada.
  1. Extremely social people: This is actually one of the things I love the most about the US life, but if you feel harassed when strange people try to make a conversation with you or make a comment on what you’re saying to a friend at the bar, you better not move here. If you do, you have to come prepared to listen to random comments from random people on the streets – always very nice, by the way. They’ll usually be something like “nice shoes, bro”. And warning: you will soon be making them too.
  1. Owning Car: Boston/Cambridge are one of the few urban areas that I think one can actually get around quite well without having a car. But once you’ve left the city, my dear friend, you’ll necessarily need a car. When able to chose, pick the biggest SUV available, it’s what you’ll encounter on the highways and, trust me, it’s quite intimidating when you’re in a Smart.
  1. Take 16 pay for 12 (aka: Bulk buying): Unless you have a very strong stand against stocking toilet paper for one year/ buying milk in gallons/getting tuna cans by the dozen, you’ll fall in love with this concept. From my experience here, you can either pay a lot for a tiny can of organic-bio dynamic-gluten free Nordic see tuna or next to nothing for a case of 24 family size cans of “this is probably tuna”. I usually go for the latter. You’re gonna become a master of inventory management AND learn at least 15 new ways of eating canned tuna.
  1. There’s now mild indoor temperature: I read a story here the other day about how places like shops, hotels and restaurants manage their air conditioning in the summer: apparently, the fancier the place, the chillier the air should be. Same thing with winter: the nicer the place, the more likely you’ll feel you’ve just landed in Turks and Caicos. Not actually truth though, Wholefoods is usually as chilling the dodgy Korean supermarket around the corner. Expect extreme indoor temperatures everywhere.
  1. The Kardashians. Any of them: You think you see a lot of them in your home country? Ha! That’s just the tip of the iceberg! Be prepared to see one of them in every magazine cover while you wait in line at CVS and on the – many! – TVs around the city, whenever it’s not college basketball season. They’re harmless, though.
  1. Politics: It’s basically a constant theme, since whenever a president is elected it’s virtually the time to start the campaign (and media coverage) for the next term. I do advise watching the debates, though – way more entertaining then Netflix.
  1. Liter sized cup of coffee. Please note that I don’t mean you have to like to drink liters of coffe a day. The relevance is not so much on the drink itself, but in the fact that one should have, invariably, a large disposable cup in one’s hands. Doesn’t have to be filled with coffee – or you don’t have to drink all of it. It’s more of a personal item, something you’ll wear, like a purse. To fit in from the beginning I recommend you boarding the plane already holding one of those, it will help you mingle from minute one. And once you’re at it, I not put on a baseball cap and start a conversation with the stranger sitting next to you? About… politics, maybe? Welcome to America, my friend.