Tag Archives: international

YESTERDAY AND THE EXPAT F0RUM………

Yesterday, I got to be a grown up and go into Washington, DC for a meeting. For those of you who do this every day – I am soooo, sooo sorry. Augh.

My day started out all loverly – hubby got the kids ready for school so I could leave on-time half an hour late. (I left late because I stink at waking up and overslept. Hubby really was very helpful.) I went into my closet to find something to wear – yes, I should have done that a month ago when I would have still had time to lose a little weight – only to discover that I actually do believe in magic. I tried on pants that had no chance of fitting and even tried to zip them and what I discovered was that  A) I need to stop wearing pants with elastic in the waist so that I can feel when my clothes are getting tighter and B) too tight dress pants don’t look any better than too tight jeans. Sigh.

But there were some pants that fit and looked decent. So on they went and I even had a top that didn’t have grape jelly or ketchup stains on it. Yeah for me.

Then I set out in to the big bad world of DC traffic. I did my homework and found out that there was an accident on the road I wanted to take, so I turned right instead of left. I also found out that the Transformers is filming part of their latest movie in DC – this week. Oh goody. So, basically, there was no great route to take. And, yes, I could have taken the metro – but I h.a.t.e. the metro. Hate it. HHHH.AAAAA.TTTTT.EEEEEE.   IIII.TTTT. So, that wasn’t really an option. I just can’t start my day with all of the following smells combined into one – smoker’s breath, coffee breath, perfume, sweat, hairspray, gas passing in one form or another, and inevitably someone has gas on their hands from filling up their car….augh. Metros really should be smell-free zones. Seriously, you should have to pass through an odor detector – if the smelldar goes off – you go directly to the showers or the deodorizing tank. Off with your smells. And, by the way, good smells in combination with bad smells in confined spaces still equal really bad smells.

Anysmell, o-n-e h-o-u-r and f-0-r-t-y-f-i-v-e minutes later, I was able to park and find the building. But I am not bitter at all about how long it took to get there and this is why – first of all – I was by myself  in the car for one hour and forty five minutes – no one asking me questions or asking me to do this or do that – but more importantly, the last two times I parked in DC parking garages, it took forever to find a spot – then the one I finally found was really too small – which is why no one (with pants that weren’t too tight thus reducing blood circulation to her brain) parked there. But not me, remember, I believe in magic – zippers that zip and cars that fit in too small parking spots. Both times – yes, both times – I side swiped the entire driver’s side of my van on a cement post. But yesterday, I quickly found myself a big wide open spot (right next to the exit, mind you) with no cement posts nearby. Yippee Skippee.

Are you wondering what the point of this post is – sorry. I finally sat down at the Expat F0rum, only to find out that Andrea Martins was one of the panelists. That’s pretty cool because she is one of the co-founders of the website Expat Women – which is listed on my blogroll – and I am listed on theirs (under the blogs about Asia section – and because my blog starts with an “A”, I am even near the top of the list). Expat Women is extremely helpful for any women who do not live in their own country – lots of info, lots of stories. Andrea is enthusiastic and knowledgeable and it was a treat to meet her.

Of course, I just had to introduce myself to her. Didn’t you see that coming? You must know by now that I did. I told her about my blog being listed on her site and she tilted her head a little and went ohh and then ummm. Okay, I was a little disappointed that she didn’t screech that she was so lucky to meet me and that she reads my blog religiously but at least she didn’t tell me my pants were too tight. Anyway, she did ask if I had plans to turn my blog into a book and she wants to give me the contact information for someone who might be able to help me. Yes, tres coolio!

Alan Paul was also there as a panelist. He wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal about being an expat in China and now he is turning that column into book. Do I see a growing trend? Turning a blog into a book – sounds like a great idea, right? Anybook, he was funny and just encouraged everyone to think about what you gain from an expat experience and not focus on what you are losing. It’s easy to get frustrated about how hard life can be away from your home country but if you look out your window, you just might see the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal. That can’t be all bad.

At the end of the panel discussion there was some time for questions. One of the themes throughout the f0rum was the difficulties spouses have with finding employment overseas. I was never someone interested in working (oh sure the paycheck part was appealing but not the working part so it never really worked out for me) – there were days I felt like I could barely tie my own shoes – much less be responsible to a boss – but lots of people do want to work and it ain’t easy finding a paying gig. Oddly enough, Susan Musich was there. She is the Managing Director for Passport Career.

I will let their website description explain what they do: “Passport CareerTM is the first-ever, comprehensive, online global job search support system for international professionals moving to or living in unique and challenging destinations around the world. Whether they are moving to the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, or Latin America, Passport CareerTM provides detailed insight and knowledge on the business customs, strategies, and resources related to the job search for each country and destination covered.” Good to know, right?

The Department of State also has a similar program for embassy family members called the Global Employment Initiative.

The whole f0rum was hosted by Clements International, a company offers (okay sells) international insurance policies but also does a lot in support of the expat as a person – like this f0rum and writing contests for kids. They invited me, so I thought I would mention them. Thanks Clements. And, nope they did not pay me to say that. I also have never investigated international insurance policies, so, to be fair, this is not an endorsement – but they might be one place to look if you are searching for international insurance. There. Disclaimer said.

So, even though I did not want to get out from under the warm and cozy covers only to try on big girl clothes, I am glad I went. I even won a Starbucks gift card worth $10. 😉

Karma is Haunting Me – Wrinkle One………..

A blogging friend of mine Lola blogged about her dog “helping” her sled down a hill and right onto a stick which ripped her pants – her very favorite pants. The ones that she has never been able to find another pair of. You can read her story here. She’s fine – so now her readers are left to enjoy a pretty funny rendition of events. Her dog and her butt survived but her beloved blue jeans did not. So in her comments section, I suggested that maybe she needed a furry pair of jeans to replace her ripped jeans. She is sassy – she knows I was kidding. But, I am afraid the Cosmos were left completely unaware.

So the Cosmos and Karma joined together to conspire against me. I am sure it is because I made a little joke about a friend’s dog – there is no other reason on this planet that Wrinkle Number One in our plan to move to India makes any sense at all. So, I am adding “being nicer to the animals of others” to my new years resolutions list. In fact, I am moving “being healthier” to the number two spot. PETA watch out – I am going to out-love you on all things animal.

It went a little something like this…..

Hold on one minute – I am going to get myself a glass of wine to relax as I re-learn to breath. I would invite you to grab a cup of whatever it is you fancy. This is a long one.

Okay, now I am set and I am pretty sure I am breathing again – panting maybe – I put my wine in a water bowl just in case –  I told you PETA watch out.

Number One Hubby left tonight for Delhi on a United Airlines flight. Yes, write that down – the airline not to use when flying your cats to India. United Airlines. Number One Hubby was taking two of our furry children with him. We arrived at the airport well outside of the requisite 2-hour time allowance to check in, kiss the furry ones goodbye, hug Dad – twice, and tearfully wave goodbye until we meet again in three weeks. Thank God we are timely folks because we spent well over an hour at the ticket counter. Can you guess what part of this did not happen?

And the winner loser is – the cats are not on the plane. I wish I could completely explain to you all of the pieces of the puzzle that did not fall into place but I am not absolutely clear on all of this myself. And, do not ask the first counter attendant, the second counter attendant, the counter attendant standing by watching,  the supervisor (who is not a supervisor, but a manager – so sorry), or the actual supervisor who only makes ghost appearances via the telephone (think of the banker in Deal or No Deal – only minus the shadow and minus the million dollar potential – but annoying all the same). None of them can explain it either. Some of them did not even try.

We have had these pet reservations for weeks. Oh yes, United allowed us to book these pet reservations thru Dubai and on to Delhi. We called this very morning to confirm our said pet reservations and were given the okay – your pets are booked – two thumbs up. We have the right crates (well minus the holes on all four sides – that was easily fixed), we had the right bowls, the right paperwork, we thought we had done everything, well, right. WRONG.

First, there was a lot of discussion about whether the cats would be considered cargo or freight or baggage and whole lot of other stuff whispered that we were not (supposed to be) privy to. So, I won’t go into how nerve-racking that was for my three little children who were standing there listening to whether or not their cats would actually be allowed on the plane or if they would be strapped to a wing. Hey, they have fur coats, don’t they? I completely lost my sense of humor at this point.

The first problem is that this airline does not interline pets. WTH? Interline – English please. We are still in America right? Interlining pets apparently does not mean putting little skates on them and letting them figure it out on their own – that would have been funny. Welcome back sense of humor – but, oh no, not so fast. Interlining means that they do not transfer pets from one airline to another. Okay. So, number one hubby can go pick up the cats from United in Dubai and hand carry them over to the connecting flight for Delhi. Right? Oh silly you. That’s what I thought too. Nope.

Dubai does not accept live animals. Then why were we allowed to book live animals on a flight that goes to Delhi – oh yeah, via Dubai? Good question – still no answer to that one. Why were we allowed to confirm live animals on a flight that goes to Delhi – via Dubai –  just this morning? Oh, you little pink panther you – another good question. No answer to that one either. Why do United regulations specify that each passenger can check two live pets with their ticket that goes to Delhi – say it with me – via Dubai? Oh you are really good – a criminal justice degree is certainly in your future.

Just as a side note – there was another couple standing right beside us with pet problems. Seems prevalent with United – at least tonight. And there was a United Representative going out of her way to help them. GASP. And I am not kidding when I say this – I really am not – she got written up for her (very helpful) actions. She helped the passengers – who were pleading with her for help – make their crates compliant. The couple had flown on United just a week before and several times before that with the very same crates that had passed inspection every single time. But tonight – well, they must have made fun of a friend’s dog too. Or they got caught in my wrath. So sorry.

But did you read that? She got written up for helping passengers follow United Airlines guidelines. Yes, my dear, something is very wrong with that. And now future passengers who are foolish enough to book their pets on United probably won’t be helped by her either. She is surely not going to want to lose her job in customer service just because she helps people get their furry family members on the same plane.

But, back to us and hold on a second, we thought we had progress. Ticket agent number one printed stickers for the cats. He was pulling them off the printer when the phone rang. And then he ripped them up. Huh? That’s what we said.

Circles – we danced all night in circles – no answers – not even one. Number One Hubby was actually on the phone with United Airlines in Delhi and they approved the cats – they had every intention of accepting the cats and were very willing to stand by that decision – if they could just be given the opportunity to do so. And still, somehow, the cats are still at home with me. The Delhi employee asked to speak with the United employees on our end. One spoke with him. Okay. Now what – she was looking for a supervisor. And, alas, we only  had a manager who would not even answer our request to speak to him.

So the supervisor who is actually not a supervisor but a manager (I am so glad she could clear something up) was very happy to spell her first and last name for us – repeatedly – would not even come back to the counter until she thought we were gone. The first counter attendant became Houdini and disappeared completely – he could feel our pain but could apparently no longer bear to share it with us. But we fooled that manager/supervisor – we were still there – because we had a representative from United Airlines in Delhi – her sister station – asking why they wouldn’t put the cats on the plane. She would not speak to them. She had gotten an answer from another invisible banker-boss in Chicago. Oh, that makes perfect sense because no part of our journey involves Chicago. So, I could see why she would not speak to the person from Delhi – where the cats were (supposed to be) going. Nor would she even look at us. Except to spell her name for us – again. She was helping someone else now. But sweetheart, you aren’t done with us yet. You should really read my blog on Part B.

Okay – I have one (more) question. Was she (not) helping someone else get their pets on the plane? These pets are a part of our family. Period. We have children – we are not crazy pet people – I am not really going to out-love PETA. But I am standing in front of you with real children who love their animals very much and my furry children who are frankly scared out of their minds. Help me. Find a solution that works. Do not walk away as if you have no responsibility to resolve this. You work for United Airlines. Your little uniform and the whole standing behind the counter thing has completely given you away. You may call yourself a manager rather than a supervisor – but the front-line employees called you because they did not know what to do. Your banker-boss was in another building. Honestly. Do something.

I am not kidding when I say that none of the CUSTOMER SERVICE representatives we dealt with offered any solutions. They only told us what could not be done. We could not put our cats on that plane. Fine. Let’s work with that. Is there another plane we can put them on? Can we reschedule to not go through Dubai? Can you talk to India about this – WE have them on the phone for you. No need to even exhaust yourself dialing the phone. How about a little understanding? Compassion? Alternative thinking?

If I had to pick a worst moment of the night it would be when the first counter attendant tried to finally explain something to us. He actually said to us in front of our three young children that the reason they were trying to be so careful is that his computer has a note right here that says that animals arriving in Delhi might be destroyed. And he, in fact, has known this to actually happen. Yes, he did say that out loud. Angel knows what destroyed means – she’s only seven, so she doubted herself and asked me repeatedly what destroyed means, with very big tears in her eyes. I finally (thought fast) and explained they were talking about the paperwork.  Guess who I won’t be nominating for employee of the year.

Here is the best part of the story. It seems that United in Delhi is very confused and a representative from United (and I believe he is actually a manager and a supervisor who admits to being both) plans to meet Number One Hubby when his plane lands in Delhi. But he won’t get to meet our cats, so this might fall under the “too little, too late, there are no actual cats with me” category.

I am so thankful that we had this little dry run. Honestly, I do not know what we might have done if we were all leaving at this time. Maybe Karma is not exactly conspiring against me but just showing me the ropes.

So, we kiss number one hubby goodbye, because he is now in serious threat of missing his flight, and we took the cats back to the car.  The cats thanked us by pooping and passing gas all the way home. The kids were in stitches.  I heard every elementary school bathroom joke on the planet. As if the night had not been entertaining enough.

There are implications that reach well beyond the tremendous stress that all of us experienced tonight. Changing our flights means changing a lot of things – the day the utilities are switched, the day the kids leave school, the day the kids start school, the day my husband flies home to help us, the stress level of our next trip has already quadrupled, all of the travel arrangements need to be rearranged – you see there is a ripple effect.

The kids are now in bed with cats curled up beside them. There are five (temporarily) happy hearts right now in this house. My heart is (barely) beating – but that is about it. Because in three weeks we have to try this all again and there will not be an exit plan. Five people are getting on a plane – there will be no one left to take the cats home – home is now in Delhi and those cats have to come with. So we have decided to vote with our wallets and are switching to American Airlines.

Notes – I reread this when I woke up this morning and then again just now. I wanted to make sure I did not exaggarate what happened out of frustration. I did not – in fact, I was quite gracious in my depiction of events. Yes, it was that bad. And I want to be clear that Number One Hubby and I did not yell – we did not make a scene – we were certainly frustrated but we were adults about it. Paying. Customer. Adults.