My expat life is full of fun trivia that never makes it into my stories, so here’s a post quilted together with a few unrelated bits and pieces from various places. Let’s start in Costa Rica, where my mate and I enjoyed a vacation away from our expat life. It had escaped our attention that it was Semana Santa, Holy Week, when we arrived in the town of San Ramon.
On Sunday we took a walk through the town and found ourselves in the middle of a fascinating procession, floats carrying statues of Jesus on a cross, the Virgin Mary, and more, followed by happy dancers. We looked at each other, realizing it was Easter Sunday, and how it was possible that we had missed it. It was a wonderful show, and we stood there with all the other onlookers watching the various floats and statues move by, and coming from sober Holland, I was entertained by the color and joy of it all.
Ghana, West Africa, is a fun country, but when I lived there some years ago, the paper money was not the freshest in the world. You could see it being counted by fish mongers who’d just been scaling your fish and then tuck it into their bras or money pouches. The paper was often cloth-soft and worn, and although the numbers on them were big, the value was not. I’d go to the bank with a plastic shopping bag, get a few hundred dollars equivalent and ended up with a kilo or so of pre-counted bundles of cedis, each tied with a piece of string or strip of paper. I would put these in a plastic shopping bag and haul the load home. There was no way I was going to stand there, take the bundles apart and count every filthy bank note to make sure the amount was right (which it almost never was).
At home I would sit on the floor, empty the plastic bag on the floor in front of me. The bundles of filthy lucre stank to high heaven. I took them apart to divide into more manageable amounts to tuck into a baggy to go in my purse (never in an actual wallet). Let me assure you this was not a fragrant job, but so it goes sometimes in the life of an expat. I would count the money in the process, and the bundles often were a note short. This would mean I’d been cheated out of a dollar here and there. Then again, maybe the person who had done this was saving up for his daughter’s school fees, or maybe an operation for his wife, or an iPod.
The good news? I just heard from a friend that the situation has improved and the money is in better shape these days.
My prince and I domiciled in Armenia, a small country in the Caucasus Mountains, for several years and one of the fun gifts we would buy to take home to friends and family was hand soap or dish soap. Yes, I know, they sell that in the supermarkets in the US and Europe, but not this special brand known as Barf, imported from Iran, Armenia’s southern neighbor.
Barf makes all sorts of cleaning products, and the word barf, I understand, means “snow” in Farsi. It means altogether something different and less clean in English and with a Barf product in your bathroom or kitchen you have an interesting conversation piece.
International marketing is a tricky thing and at times products inadvertently end up with names that don’t do so well across various borders. Here’s an interesting article with a few more choice examples.
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Have you ever had an unexpected surprise in a foreign country? Or what kind of strange gifts did you buy to give to friends and family at home? Or do you have a money story, clean or dirty?