Expat Existence: Sizing Up

There is this perception in America that if something exists here, then it exists everywhere else too. There is a almost always a look of disappointment of their faces when they discover I grew up with biscuits (or “cookies”) that weren’t Oreos (and were IMHO better than Oreos), without Target or Walmart (ASDA was the closest thing?), and most of our kids TV shows were completely different.

But I’m not here to knock on the “if it’s in America, it’s everywhere in the world because America IS THE WORLD!” mentally that is hopefully waning due to the Internet informing them Hershey’s is shite, and WTF is an Olive Garden.

I’m here to explain shopping is tricky when you move here, not just because all the stores are different, but because the US uses an entirely different sizing structure. Hopefully, my explanation and conversions can help anyone else new to the country or even any American heading off to Europe themselves.

First, the shoe sizes are totally different and annoying not consistent. I made a little chart based on my experiences, but there are a few caveats.

shoe sizes(women)

So, I was a size 7 in the UK which always translated nicely to a Euro 40. This meant that I was a size 9 in the US in “mall brands” like Nine West, Steve Madden or Jeffrey Campbell. However, some department stores translated a Euro 40 to a US size 10 (so adjust everything up one notch) which meant shopping online could be a bit of a crapshoot when they just listed the US size.

Sites like Zappos have ‘sizing converters’ like the graphic I made, but it doesn’t take into account that some of the brands they stock do the wacky size down move. The best advice is to get familiar with the brands IRL so you can shop online more easily. Note to the ladies: if you are buying shoes from the mens department then the Euro sizes are the same and the US mens size will correspond to your UK size. So I’m a US 7 when shopping in the mens section (a good place for sneakers!).

Where the shoe sizes wanted to sound bigger in the US compared to the UK, the opposite is true for the clothing. I can not even attempt a size chart for this since no store is consistent (true in both the UK and US!) and even jeans sized with numbers like 25 to denote a measurement aren’t always reliable either. Is it also my imagination, but are more clothes sized using XS, S, M, L these days?

General tips:
1. UK people, size ‘up’ for shoes and size ‘down’ for clothes.
2. Sales tax is added AT THE TILL (cash register) so remember that little addition to the total.
3. Sales associates are way friendlier in the US. I know this feels like they’re getting up in your business, but just tell them you’re browsing if you want to be left alone.
4. As always, if someone was helping you do mention their name to give them the commission. It’s just common courtesy.
5. High end department stores are usually the best for consistent shoe size calculators.
6. Yes, even your bra size is different. I’ve not purchased a bra in the UK for many years so I’m not a good authority. Just try a bunch on, ok?

 

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Style Mood: Glitter Trash

glitter trash

Some people have a style uniform, an iconic style that they hone over many years. I am… not one of those people. I am a messy closet owner who just goes with the mood they’re in that day, or hour. Those of us who are stylistically phrenetic life are a Marie Kondo nightmare, with bulging racks of clothes that are all necessary but match nothing. However, despite embracing many aesthetics, we likely have a few different styles we group our outfits in to match our moods.

Glitter trash is one of mine. This look doesn’t necessarily require an outfit to have glitter, but rather the outfit not look out of place if you were pulled into a retro coke-fuelled fashion photoshoot at a motel in America. It’s the equivalent of the smeared lipstick at the end of the night that still looks cool, it’s unique, and it’s “totally from some awesome little vintage store you’ve not heard of” but the glitter trash girl will absolutely share the name of it, and invite you to go shopping next week. She’s not a manic pixie dream girl, but this is not an outfit for your office day job.

Chunky high heels, show off those stems, too many accessories, yesterdays wavy hair, sunglasses inside, brightly colored bra straps, lots of eyeliner. It’s boho, it’s punk, it’s a clutch purse you keep losing. Paint each nail a different color, dye your hair in a avocado green bathtub, swap bracelets with your friends, dance all night. She’s a modern day Studio 54, she is an Andy Warhol fever dream.

I don’t get the chance to rock the glitter trash look as much now that I’m older, but it certainly holds a very fond place in my heart and in my closet.

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WTF is a dime tho

I moved to America slightly before internet shopping was as ubiquitous as it is today, and therefore had to bid farewell to many of the shops I knew from back home. High street shops like Topshop and H&M had only a couple of outposts in the states, and ASOS wasn’t shipping internationally yet. Faced with shops I wasn’t familiar with, I kind of needed to learn how to shop again as an adult.

Another hurdle to this shopping challenge was that I didn’t initially move to a big city. I did end up moving to New York later, but during my on-and-off visits and initial year stateside, I was in a small city in the mid-south. That’s both a shopping and a culture shock.

This sounds dated now, but this was a time when department stores reigned supreme in the States. I was used to a high street with shops like Mango, Oasis, Coast, and Whistles on one side then Primark, Dorothy Perkins, New Look and Accessorize on the other. Department stores like Marks and Spencers, Debenhams, or Fenwicks were where your mum shopped. Harrods and Harvey Nichols were where your rich mum shopped. While there were some high street-type shops like American Apparel, Express, Madewell, bebe, or Banana Republic, and shoe shops like Nine West, so much shopping and brand knowledge came from Macy’s, Nordstrom, or Dillards.

Remember, this was a good few years ago before Madewell existed and Free People was as easy to find. Also, the location I was in also played a huge role in the new norms of how and where people shopped.

Many Americans just assumed that if it exists here, it exists everywhere. What do you mean, you’ve never been to Target before? How is Victoria’s Secret a novelty to you? No, that coin is worth 5c and that one is worth 10c, how adorable you aren’t used to the money.

I think I might have to make this a series, because the more I’m thinking about it there were many parts to this education. I want to do them justice and not end up with a long rambling post. Of course, I had to relearn everything I learned in the South when I moved to NYC, and then again when I moved to LA.

Then there’s the challenge of adjusting your shopping and fashion choices as you age. Ugh. No wonder I decided to quit buying stuff this year.

Marketing As The World Burns

User information is a hot topic of conversation today, and it’s been a long time coming. As someone who has worked in social and digital marketing, I’ve long been aware of the kind of data that has been easily availably. Acquiring audience analytics does not necessarily require complex tools, you’d be surprised at what common platforms like Facebook Business Manager or Sprout can tell you.

While somewhat disturbing, if people want to share that information online then that is their prerogative. They have free will and a social media account, so who am I to tell them what they can and cannot post? Common sense would say to not post your holiday schedule or SSN, but if you want to I won’t stand in your way. If you’re a person who needs validation from likes on your selfies, then you probably won’t be swayed by Facebook knowing your food preferences.

My issue with marketing is a bit broader and general, and probably more related to my getting older. I’m finding myself less comfortable or ambivalent to the capitalist insistence of urging people to buy things they probably don’t need.

No, this isn’t going to turn into a self-indulgent Tyler Durden speech, because if that IKEA table makes you complete then go for it, that’s not my business.

When the news shows us images of people dying and forgotten in Syria, hungry in developing nations, oppressed due to race or religion, murdered, suffering, or living in poverty; it can be difficult to care about an ad campaign for high-end alcohol or designer clothes. In addition to the immaterial worries, the material worries of manufacturing and waste impacting the environment is also an ethical worry for me.

I would rationalize it by saying to myself, oh well this is providing people an escape. Ad campaigns can be ignored, it’s their choice or not to buy! If this ad campaign didn’t exist, those problems still would, so what’s the point in making a stand? While all true, isn’t this all systemic of a larger problem where people think one person can’t make a difference so why bother? In and of itself, likely true but becomes an issue when large groups of people feel that way.

I decided to make a conscious effort in 2018 to consume less, going on a self-imposed shopping ban, which has probably affected my feelings to this too. I have no right to tell other people what to buy or how to live – and I won’t – but we should all really make an effort to waste less. Here are some small changes that I found useful to assuage my guilt about this, and maybe you’ll find them useful too:

  1. For every item of clothing you buy, donate or sell something you own. Same for shoes or accessories. Think of it as a club-style one in and one out rule. Maybe try to work up to a one in and two out rule.
  2. Buy less take out or coffee to go. I’m glad the plastic straw ban is growing more widespread, but there is still so much waste with plastic containers and cups. Use your tupperware, eat your leftovers, and save/donate the money saved.
  3. Instead of buying gifts, make donations in their name. Especially for corporate holidays like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. Also, very apt for holidays like Easter or Thanksgiving.
  4. Clean out your things regularly. Try to donate, sell, or recycle instead of trashing.
  5. Think “do I really need this?” before you buy something. It sounds stupid, but it can help.
  6. I also come at it from other angles with: “why do you want this?”, “do you want the product or the lifestyle it’s selling? If the latter, what is it that you want that to solve about your life?”, “can you afford this?”, and “put it in your cart, and buy it in 3 days if you still want it!”
  7. For every purchase for yourself, donate the same amount to a chosen charity. Also, take advantage of Amazon Smile, or similar charitable price matching schemes.

Our Love Affair With Murder

I don’t think podcasts were on many peoples’ radar until Serial came along. The series from NPR became a hot topic of conversation, and people eagerly awaited new installments. I remember listening to it at the gym, wondering if he was guilty, and how her parents felt having their daughters murder become part of a national obsession.

It definitely seems fitting that the first podcast to explode in popularity focused on murder, as that morbid fascination seems to unite unlikely people around the world. Now, you can choose from many murder-related podcasts that are popular enough to have spawned world-wide tours, such as My Favorite Murder and The Last Podcast On The Left. Television shows that capture the collective attention of the internet tend to be about murders (True Detective), and true crime shows, movies, and books is a powerhouse genre of consumers and creators, professional and amateur alike.

It isn’t a topic for everyone, but those that adore the topic come from such different backgrounds and have diverse other interests, to make it an interesting cross-section of society. There are probably different things that appeal to us, drawing us in, from morbid fascination to empathy, or historical curiosity or sadism.

I can only really speak for myself when I theorize why we are drawn to it as a subject, and I really don’t think it is an interest that should give cause for alarm. I mean, think about how many people would attend public executions! There is an innate draw in some people to seek such things. The main interest for me is finding out the inner workings of the ‘logic’ they use, and how human error is often at fault for why things were not stopped sooner. I think we could all benefit so much from looking at the mistakes made from victim blaming, not believing people, not being careful at crime scenes, and being more guarded against superficial charm.

It’s always disquieting when you can see the point of the killer, like revenge on an abuser, or when a pattern of behavior across many killers emerge, such as early childhood head injuries. However, what is more disquieting is when it is random, or because they believe a higher power is telling them to. Is evil behavior nature or nurture? We should study these things more closely, to help prevent future incidents.

I also enjoy the stories of people who escaped, people who overcame crazy odds to emerge on the other side. Ordinary people can harbor extraordinary stories, or unbeknownst motives, and it’s a perfect reminder to not judge a book by its cover.

List Making

I am a big fan of writing out lists old school, pen to paper. Not only is it harder to ignore than a digital list on an app in your phone, but it is much more satisfying to tick off once completed.

Some people who want their lists to be a bit extra are turning to bullet journaling techniques, but you don’t need a pretty list for it to be effective. That said, using the list as a canvas for your creativity is a great way to relax and soothe anxiety. Making a physical list is a great way to chill out your mind before you go to bed, and concentrating on an art project is a good way to decrease device-screen time too!

In the spirit of things, here is a list of tips for making lists. It’s just a little bit meta.

  1. Break out big tasks into smaller list items. For example, don’t just put ‘clean house’ but put down ‘clean bathroom’, ‘clean kitchen’, etc. This helps things feel less daunting so you’ll procrastinate less, and more manageable in a timeframe. Plus, more things to tick off!
  2. Keep the list were you can see it. This might be stuck to your fridge, on the coffee table, or by your bed.
  3. If you have a deadline for some items, put that on there too. You can order items with levels of urgency, or just create a column for inserting the date.
  4. If you need incentives, you can reward yourself when you have checked off all the tasks on your list.
  5. Some people find that using a sticker or something more fun than just a check, motivates them to complete the tasks to award themselves accordingly.
  6. It sounds like cheating, but I always put a couple of tasks that I’ve already done onto the list. That way, you can tick them off straight away. Your list looks much less daunting when there are already a few complete tasks!

Task

Duck & Cover

As children, we’re told to not judge a book by its cover and this is great metaphorical advice. Not leaping to conclusions is always a good rule to stick to. However, how many of us literally judge books by their covers?

The cover of a book tells us so much, from how the publishing house wishes to market the book, to what kind of story we might find inside. I mean, that’s the point of the cover. Whether it’s an illustration, a version of the adapted movie poster, or covered in excerpts of reviews, the cover is there to tell us both what to expect from the story, who the story inside is for, and whether or not it’s in Oprah’s book club.

 

I recently saw a list of similarly comped up book covers (I will add the link when I find it!) and then made these myself based on the tropes that always jumped out to me. Is the difference between a ‘cultural dramatic fiction’ and ‘chick lit’ just having a male or female author, respectively? Who decides when the name of an author is worth outweighing the title of the book? Why have stock images on the cover to give the reader a predetermined visual instead of letting them use their imagination? Nobody likes it when the movie adaptation is used for the cover, right?

I know that in the past I’ve not read a book because I didn’t like the cover, only to really enjoy it when I begrudgingly read it. If the cover were blank, would it be better? Do we enjoy books more or less when we know the general gist or theme? There is no right answer, but I think a good answer is for the publishing houses to find some new ideas when it comes to covers.

 

Insomniac Productions

Anyone who has insomnia, knows how annoying and frustrating it is. Sometimes all you can do is stare at the ceiling, but sometimes you can get itchy to make things. Last night was a ‘make thiiiiings!’ night. I’ve found it best to just roll with it.

CatnipFeline

I can’t explain why I created cat magazines, but I did. I imagine them in one of the hipper and fancier cat cafes, where someone (cat or person) is wearing a beret. Then, because all cats aren’t necessarily cool cats, I created a gossip rag for them. Something to bring to the litter box, perhaps.
Can we collectively blame my lack of sleep for this?

Gettin' Catty IssueOctober 2019Issue 2 _ Vol 2

They aren’t perfect – the one above definitely isn’t – but running on fumes is never the best way to get good kerning. Oh well.

Who knows what tonight will bring? Hopefully sleep!

Asking For It: Help

Asking for help isn’t easy. We should get that out in the open first. Asking for help is admitting weakness, which few of us are willing to do. It has always been something I struggled with, for better or worse. It was often a curious situation of being chastised half the time for not asking for help when I needed it, or being praised for my self-reliance and figure-it-out-myself independence.

I know I could improve with this, and have been making an effort to be more willing to ask for help when I need it, but it’s also important to figure out why you were reluctant in the first place. Maybe you can empathize with some of these situations I found myself in.

As the youngest in the family, I was often held to the same standard as everyone older than me. Asking for help was publicly admitting I wasn’t at that same standard, and when things were then explained to it, it often made me feel small. Similarly, for whatever reason, there was an expectation to get things right the first attempt. If you couldn’t be perfect on your first try, you had failed. As you can imagine, asking for help was admitting your failure and it was better to keep quiet and practice until your “first” effort could be witnessed. I don’t begrudge being held to a high standard, it definitely made me work harder, but there should have been a distinction between the standard set, and the journey made to achieve it.

I thankfully now do not fall to pieces when I fail upon my first attempt. I tell myself that a high standard cannot be attained without trial and error.

Then there were the times when I did dip a toe into the asking-for-help waters, only to get bit. To reach out for help, especially in a moment of fear, to then not be heard or listened to is enough to make a person shut down. To work up the courage to speak, and for it to be ignored or twisted, would stop you asking in the future. I know that “safe spaces” are mocked in some circles, but simply letting a person know that if they speak up, they will be listened to and heard, is their greatest purpose.

Asking for help does not come naturally for everyone, and each person has their own reasons for it. If someone comes to you for help, please listen to them. Listen to what they are asking for, and hear what they need. These could be two different things.