L’hypocrisie et L’ignorance

The other day, I went to a French meet-up group that consisted of native French speakers, native English speakers who spoke fluent French, and students of the language like myself. It was so fun and exhilarating. It’s very empowering for me to be able to express myself in a foreign language- even if I have to find another way of saying something that I don’t know the word for- and to be able to understand most of what someone else is saying. It’s also just a really fun practice that makes me feel more comfortable with speaking and listening. However, after three hours, my brain was starting to hurt. I found comfort in the fact that, not only could I leave at any time and return to speaking/thinking in English, but I could even speak in English with any of the group members if I really needed to. Speaking in French was more of a self-imposed restraint than a necessity, because even the native French speakers of the group spoke English.

I realized how lucky that makes me.

As is commonly known, English is widely spoken all over the world. Thanks to our good friend imperialism- in particular British colonization of a good chunk of the world as well as our own country’s political and cultural imperialism, you’d be hard-pressed to travel to a country that has no English speakers. (One time I included the aforementioned statement in a French composition, and my professor was like, “I completely disagree with your opinion.” And I was like, “Gurl, that’s not an opinion.”) It’s for this reason that many English-speaking Americans choose not to learn a second language- and even those who want to have a hard time finding a way to do so. The best time to learn a new language is when one is a child- basically at the same time that one is learning English- because the language is acquired more subconsciously. Thus, if I had learned French when I was a child, I would be able to speak it as effortlessly as English; instead, I have to think about how to say something in French before I say it out loud. Anyhow, less than one-third of U.S. elementary schools offer foreign language courses . In California, at least in my school district, foreign language classes weren’t even offered until high school; at that point, one was required to take two years of a foreign language. That’s it. At my school, the smart kids and the not-so-smart kids were all lumped in the same language classes, making it so that the classes moved really slowly and the teacher had to focus more on disciplining the students than actually teaching.

In Europe, 90% of children begin learning English in elementary school, and the European Union set a goal in 2002 that students should learn two foreign languages in addition to their native tongue.

The European Union thus teaches children foreign languages at the appropriate age to do so, continues that education throughout their whole academic career, and understands the importance of multilingualism. In the United States, somehow we think that two years of subpar language classes 10 years too late for the student is sufficient. How many people have you talked to who said, “Oh, I took two years of Spanish in high school, but I forgot it all?”

What does it matter though? The rest of the world speaks English.

While factually true, this statement embodies the cultural superiority and ignorance that befalls on too many Americans. We think that we are the only culture and language that matters, and everyone else should try to be more like us. When non-English speaking immigrants and refugees come to America, we bitch, “Why can’t they just learn English?” yet we travel to other countries without making an ounce of an effort to learn the language spoken there. There was an article in the Long Beach Post today discussing the need to further language access in Long Beach, in particular to the city’s large Spanish-, Khmer-, and Tagalog-speaking communities. Every single comment on the article was basically someone saying, “Why are we enabling these people, they’re so ignorant, they just need to learn English.”

Um, you try fleeing your home country because it is run by a dictator who is committing genocide against his own citizens. You thus didn’t have access to an English education, and you are now past the age in which it is easiest to learn a foreign language. Then you arrive in a strange land in which everyone around you questions why you’re not fluent in English. And then try teaching English to your kids.

You try fleeing your home country because you are impoverished and your country offers no economic opportunities and/or there are drug wars or terrorism . You were also deprived of an English education, and now you are past the age at which it is easiest to learn a foreign language. There’s this country called America whose citizens boast that it is the best and richest in the whole world; you also know that the country was founded by immigrants who came from all over the world. So you go, and everyone around you questions why you’re not fluent in English. And then try teaching English to your kids.

We ourselves know how hard it is to learn a foreign language (especially all of you who “Took two years of Spanish in high school but forgot it all!”), yet we’re so insensitive and hard on those who cannot speak English. We’re totally hypocritical.

When I lived in France, I spoke some French, and I was taking a French class. However, I was not fluent and thus very thankful that a lot of signs on the street and government and healthcare documents were also printed in English. Yes, I wanted to learn French and work towards fluency, but if I had had to go to the hospital or something, I would be really scared taking chances with my health in a language that I don’t yet speak fluently. And I hadn’t even come to France basically involuntarily as a refugee or an immigrant fleeing poverty in my home country- I was there as a student/tourist!

Thus, it is not ignorant for someone living in the U.S. to not speak English- we are the ignorant hypocrites who don’t understand why they don’t. We think that it would be best if everyone else just assimilated to be more like ourselves. Finally, our government would rather spend money on bombing other countries instead of funding foreign language education for children who could grow up to be diplomats.

How to Save Money on Clothes

Disclaimer: Saving money on clothes might cost you more money at the beginning. 

Disclaimer #2: I am not very good at saving money, so you might want to disregard this advice entirely.

Hi friends, here are my suggestions on which articles of clothing/accessories are worth spending a l’il extra on and which are not. I’ve been cleaning out my closet recently, and some rather unfortunate events have been taking place: some of my favorite clothes and accessories are not looking so hot because I bought them too cheaply. Or, items that aren’t my style anymore but would still be trendy enough to be sold at Buffalo Exchange have wears, tears, or holes- thus rendering them unsellable (they are too picky at Buffalo). While I might have been happy at the time of purchase spending little money, in the long run it was a poor choice. So, without further ado, here is my advice for when to spend and when to buy cheaply:

1. Spend More Money on Souvenirs

My favorite types of souvenirs to buy whilst traveling are clothes and jewelry. Instead of buying random trinkets that will only end up collecting dust in your house, why not have items that you actually can put on your body regularly to remind you of your trip? It will also help to lend you that “global bohemian” look if that’s what you’re into. However, don’t do what I have done too many times and buy super cheap clothes abroad. I just had to get rid of a pair of red and gold studded flat sandals from India that were extremely uncomfortable and had a bunch of missing studs, and a huge pair of earrings that has black thread woven through them from Spain are unraveling. I didn’t spend much money on either of those items. On the contrary, a scarf from India that I spent about $20 on (expensive compared to the $4 scarves in all the street markets) is gorgeous, cozy, and has taken me through every single day of fall and winter for the past few years. Additionally, my favorite pair of earrings are from a Navajo market in Arizona. I was nervous to drop $20 on them (being used to less than $10 earrings at Forever 21), but they’re still beautiful and survived being on my garage floor for a couple of days. 

Having to get rid of clothes that you like sucks. Having to get rid of clothes from a foreign country that are irreplaceable sucks… a lot. 

2. Don’t Spend Money on Super Trendy Items

I once spent $70 on a pair of green, silky, flowy pants from Anthropologie. My girl friends loved them, my guy friends hated them, and I wanted nothing to do with them 6 months later. 

3. Splurge on Something You’ll Wear All the Time

Jeans, coats, leather jackets, or basically any item that goes with everything and is a staple in your closet is worth dropping dollars on. Or, try to find the nice brands at secondhand stores ;).

4. Splurge on Shoes

Nothing is worse than uncomfortable shoes, or actually finding a comfortable pair of cheap shoes but then the paint/color/whatever chips off a few months after you buy them… I even think that really trendy heels that you don’t wear often are worth spending more money on; even in the more rare occasion that you find yourself wearing the fun/non-neutral shoe, you’ll be glad that they’re comfortable and not chipping. If you can’t walk in your own shoes, it is noticeable- and you will look less confident. 

5. Save on Purses

Okay, this is probably just me, but I have one tan purse that I’ve been using every single day for the past two years. It costed only $40, and it took me through all of Europe. Okay, maybe the long strap broke and some of the stitching is unraveling… but I’m not much of a purse person, and it has multiple pockets, goes with everything (both casual and dressy), and holds all my shit. 

Other useful tips:

Wash Your Clothes Properly.

I used to be one of those lazy girls who would just throw all of her laundry together into the same washer and dryer. Yep, I’d wash colors with whites, bras with coats, and towels with dry-clean only dresses. I have now since permanently stained some of my lighter-colored clothes with darker dies, and a lot of my clothes have shrunk. I also stretched out some bras. Nuh-uh, I do not do this anymore. It is a waste of money to buy clothes that you love and then ruin them by not washing and drying them properly.

Buy Clothes That Fit You.

This seems like a no-brainer, but there have been numerous times where I bought clothes that were not my size because I thought that they were cute anyway- and I figured that I would just make it work somehow. It doesn’t work. I just got rid of a really cute top that was too small, because at the time of purchase, I didn’t think that long sleeves that were an inch too short would bother me. They did. 

Don’t Feel Like You Need a Ton of Clothes.

It’s better to have fewer items that you love and will last longer than a ton of cheap clothes. No one really cares if you wear the same clothes all the time. (Not to mention the fact that you should be dressing for yourself and not other people- that is, wearing what you like and what makes you comfortable and not using your clothing to impress other people). 

Meow. 

Scatterbrained

Sometimes, I think that I have too many interests in life. I love writing, as is probably evident by this blog, but I don’t just like essay writing- I also like poetry and spoken word. I also love listening to rap music, so then I think to myself that I should translate my spoken word poetry into rap. Musicians and rappers dedicate their whole selves to their craft, so I decide to commit to that. 

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(Doing the spoken word thang)

Oh, but boy do I love traveling! Nothing thrills me more than thinking about a trip, planning a trip, and arriving at the airport about to embark on a new adventure. Reading travel blogs inspires me so much, so I think to myself that I should be a travel blogger “when I grow up.” I’ll be a hippie backpacker who still tries to smell nice, and I will encourage my peers that they, too, can do the same. Yeah, that’s the best way to combine my two interests of writing and traveling.

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(Frolicking at the Black Sea in Turkey. P.S. it’s actually blue.)

However, some friends will invite me to go out swing dancing, and it’s so fun- yet being a beginner at it can be slightly frustrating. Whilst dancing with someone who tries to do a move that I can’t recognize, I decide that I need to spend more time in swing dance classes. (I’m too new at swing to have pictures of myself doing it…)

Then, my old salsa teacher will announce a new class series that he is starting. Man, I realize, it has been a few weeks too long since I have done any salsa dancing! I want to be the queen of the salsa dance floor. Sign me up, and perhaps I should finally invest in a new pair of dancing shoes. 

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(Rooftop salsa)

You know what I haven’t done in months and months, yet might ultimately might be my favorite form of dance? Hip-hop. I started doing hip-hop at age 9, and every single time that I go to class, I feel alive. I feel like I was born to do it. It’s just so much fun and also a really cool expression of my appreciation for hip-hop music. 

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(Um… here’s me dancing on a bus in India)

Maybe I could be a rapper who dances hip-hop at her concerts. As Beyoncé once said, “When I shake my butt, I feel it in my soul.” As Pinterest once said, “You have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé.” 

Yet, being a dancer, a writer, a rapper, a travel blogger- these careers are all just pipe dreams, right? Very few people actually achieve success in those fields. And people might look at me funny when I tell them that those are my aspirations. Maybe I should pursue a career in a different interest of mine- nonprofit work. I really love helping people, and I’m particularly interested in preventing domestic violence and helping abused women. That’s a career that would be rewarding and, though it might not pay a ton, still be more stable than that of an artist. Maybe I have more of a social science brain than an artistic brain. I do love volunteering, reading the newspaper, and learning about sociological/cultural issues. 

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(Volunteering in India)

I could travel to a developing country and work with oppressed women there.

And write about it. And learn their culture’s dances. 

As I stretch out across my bed whilst writing this, I think to myself that going to yoga class today sure would be nice. Oh that’s right, I love yoga, too. I’ve always wanted to do yoga teacher training as well. 

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(Tree pose! This is quickly turning into a nostalgic India photo album)

Speaking of yoga, I’m very interested in deepening my spirituality and learning about the world’s religious beliefs. Maybe I should go back to school and become a Religious Studies major. 

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(Sleeping is meditative, right?)

Okay. I could travel to a developing country and teach yoga to oppressed women there. And write about it. And learn their culture’s dances. 

Back to traveling- I enjoy learning other languages and feel, honestly, morally obligated to do so. I love speaking French and just started learning Spanish. 

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(Um, here’s a crêpe that I ate once…)

Okay, I can travel to a French- or Spanish- speaking country and teach yoga to oppressed women there. And write about it. And learn their culture’s dances.

Why can’t I just like one thing. 

I Love Tacos

I left behind Seattle for good. I just watched the sunset 30,000 feet in the air- pale yellow fading into orange, fading into a thin gray cloud, and finally pink as bright as lava descending into a flat plane of white, puffy clouds. Once we dip below the clouds, nighttime falls. The airplane then begins its descent along the coastline. A grid of orange lights and lines dots every speck of land to the east; the wide Pacific Ocean ebbs and flows on the west. As we descend further, I can make out the 405 by its signature unmoving lines of red lights on the right and white lights on the left. 

I love it.

I love the 405. I love the (over)population. I love the shitty suburban cities that sprawled away from Los Angeles. I love the lack of trees and abundance of electricity- palm trees are good enough for me. I love the dirt, the grit. 

I love the streets in Long Beach that are “nuts and fruits” (the ones to avoid, according to some guy). I love when the storefronts aren’t in English. I love being surrounded by people who come from all over the world and/or whose families might look and act quite different from mine- yet in Long Beach we find commonality. It is a city in which cultures mishmash. 

I don’t love poverty, but I love having grown up somewhere unsheltered. 

I love tacos.

I don’t care that Seattle tops lists of best places to live, or that it’s so clean or environmental or whatever. Lists and methodical studies don’t capture a city’s heart, or my own, and Southern Californians are environmental in our own way.  

The plane lands smoothly into the Long Beach airport- my favorite airport, well, ever. I’m home. 

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(Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach)

Aside

Self-Referral

I recently read Deepak Chopra’s short but powerful book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. It outlines how one can achieve one’s dreams by becoming in tune with the workings of the universe and one’s own spiritual nature- as opposed to traditional Western methods of hard work and conquering others. I, however, have been fixated on one tenant of the first law (“The Law of Pure Potentiality”) outlined in the book. This tenant doesn’t completely have to do with achieving success, but it is something that has basically become my daily mantra: self-referral. Chopra states:

“The experience of the Self, or ‘self-referral,’ means that our internal reference point is our own spirit, and not the objects of our experience. The opposite of self-referral is object-referral. In object-referral we are always influenced by objects outside the Self, which include situations, circumstances, people, and things… in object-referral, your internal reference point is your ego” (10).

In differentiating between our ego and our Self, he says, “The ego is not who you really are. The ego is your self-image; it is your social mask; it is the role you are playing” (11). On the other hand, the true Self is the spirit or soul. The Self is connected to the greater “pure potentiality” or “pure consciousness” (basically, God/God-like energy/higher power).

See how dense this book is? Now I must elaborate further on “pure consciousness.” Chopra states:

“Pure consciousness is pure potentiality; it is the field of all possibilities and infinite creativity. Pure consciousness is our spiritual essence. Being infinite and unbounded, it is also pure joy. Other attributes of consciousness are pure knowledge, infinite silence, perfect balance, invincibility, simplicity and bliss” (9).

Okay, are you following me still? Our Self/spirit is connected to the greater consciousness, just like one grain of sand is connected to the whole beach. Our ego, on the other hand, is our outward self, but it is not our true being.

SO! Here is my point: we must base our self-worth on our own self and not on anything external. We are not powerful because of our titles or possessions; rather, we are powerful because we are spiritual beings, and that is it. Titles and possessions fade and are unreliable, whereas or own self is eternal and stable. As Chopra explains, “Ego-based power only lasts as long as the object of reference is there… self-power, on the other hand, is permanent, because it is based on the knowledge of the Self” (12).

Using myself as an example, I cannot derive power from calling myself a writer. I cannot feel like a more powerful person if I have an article published, and I cannot feel like a less powerful person if I receive a meager reception at open mic night. Another example can be with dating. I am not a more powerful person if I have a boyfriend or if I have a lot of guys interested in me, and I am not a less powerful person if I have no guy in my life. I am powerful because of my spirit, and that is it. However, spiritual power is the highest and most fulfilling power that a person can have.

Life becomes a lot less of a roller coaster when one does not depend on “situations, circumstances, people, and things” for joy, fulfillment, or worthiness (10). In realizing that our souls are made from the same stuff as “infinite creativity… pure joy… pure knowledge, infinite silence, perfect balance, invincibility, simplicity and bliss,” then we do not need anything outside of ourselves (9).

I thus highly recommend this book! At least read the first chapter, as that has clearly been the one to have stuck with me most. However, the book is only about 100 pages, and I actually read it all in one sitting (not something I typically do). We all deserve true self-love!

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Here’s a photo of me reading an entirely different book.

How My Fashion Crisis Was a Metaphor for Being a Foreigner

If it were solely up to me, I would dress like this everyday:

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However, this picture was taken on Halloween, and I wouldn’t dare wear all of these pieces at the same time in Paris. Why? Everyone here wears one of three colors: black, grey, or tan. Sometimes navy blue when they’re feeling adventurous. Don’t get me wrong, Parisians are an incredibly stylish bunch. Both men and women always look very chic yet effortless- like, “Oh, this old thing that I just threw on this morning?” However, it’s as if everyone wants to match the sky, and the autumn sky here is hovered by a constant mass of grey clouds. In that sense, Parisian fashion is not particularly concerned with individual style; there is no such thing as choosing between being punk, boho, girly, preppy, minimalist, just straight up weird, etc. There is one look that both women and men share without fail, and it tends to be: a nice peacoat, a cashmere scarf, slim fit pants or, for women, a skirt with black tights, and tan, leather boots. While this look is very stylish, there is one problem: it’s not me.

At all.

I like to match the sky on a sunny day, not a cloudy day. I like to match gardens, the ocean water in Hawaii, Bordeaux wine, Jamaican flags, Indian saris! I like vibrant prints, white eyelet, dramatic earrings, head scarves, large and unique rings that I’ve received as gifts over the years, long skirts! I like clothes that express life, love, happiness, femininity, sensuality. I want to brighten the world and express my spirit through my outfits.

But how do I do that in Paris when I so desperately want to fit in?

I live in a city that generally dislikes the country from which I come; as so many loud, obnoxious, Republican, entitled American tourists who don’t speak a word of another language besides English have filled Parisian tour buses over the years, I don’t want to be viewed in that same light. I want people to mistake me for a Parisian as opposed to being “That American.” In fact, I am flattered when, from my accent whilst speaking in French with someone, he or she asks if I am British- because, thank God, he or she does not think that I’m American!

In that regard, to what extent must I abandon my identity in order to assimilate into French culture? I would like to think that I am not loud or obnoxious, I generally do not feel entitled as a traveler, I am not a Republican, and I do speak French. However, must I go as far as to dress exactly like the general French public as well?

One night, while getting ready to go to an open mic night at a café, this inner conflict reached its climax, and I had a Fashion Crisis. It took me nearly two hours of changing my clothes to realize that, ultimately, I really wanted to wear this bright turquoise tunic of mine with orange and cork wedges. I knew that it was not a Parisian look at all, but my inner self was feeling turquoise and orange and had to express itself as such. Trying on neutral colored clothes with neutral colored boots just felt wrong; I felt off; I didn’t feel like myself. At that moment, I realized that being true to myself was more important than trying to entirely blend into another culture- for there is a difference between respecting another culture and denying one’s own identity.

Therefore, I wore the turquoise tunic with the orange and cork wedges. I added black tights and a black leather jacket because it was cold outside, and I also threw on a pile of bangles that I have collected from various friends, places in the world, and Forever 21. My life felt right again.

(This article was posted originally here: http://alisabee.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/how-my-fashion-crisis-was-a-metaphor-for-being-a-foreigner/)