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Around this time last year, my boyfriend and I were getting on a plane from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires. We were staying at the house of a schoolmate of ours, whose parents world-traveling diplomats–needless to say, I was more than a little nervous.

Making matters worse, my boyfriend ever-so-gently decided that it was finally time to inform me that I had been holding my fork and knife the wrong way my entire life.

Hiding my face in shame.

As a child, I placed the knife between the rungs of my fork, and I suppose that I had just gone years without being corrected. I’ve always tried to be polite, but I’ve never had a “Finishing School” experience.

Anyway, I’ve been slowly making my way through Debrett’s Etiquette for Girls for a while now to cover any remaining social missteps that may rear their ugly head in the near future, and I can think of a few situations where a nuanced reading of the material would have seriously helped.

(For instance: about a month ago I was a guest at the house of a friend-of-a-friend-of-the-family’s house, where the only appetizer was large cuts of slippery smoked salmon on toasted crackers… delicious. Debrett’s: Never attempt to eat smoked salmon if it requires more than one bite. Heed that advice, or you might end up like me, dropping half of your salmon on your chin before being forced to cram it in your already-full mouth with a half a cracker left over. Not awesome.)

Take this self-aware tidbit about canapés, for instance:

Are canapés a conspiracy invented by resentful caterers? What other possible explanation could there be for something so eternally unmanageable? … Imagine the hilarity back in the kitchens as the hotshots and bigwigs are incapacited by gobstopping vol-au-vents or humiliated as their cherry tomato spurts into the eye of an important associate.

What I love about this book is that it casually makes fun of its uppity content at the same time that is seriously embraces it: the authors truly do appreciate etiquette but they also understand the unapproachability of the subject.

The book covers absolutely everything, from underwear to office romance.

Although… nothing says anything about how to avoid dropping not one but two wine glasses in a night at the party that your boyfriend’s family threw so that you could meet the family. Also, everything is happening in your second language.

Shudder. To be explicit, that was me.

This was the spread at the party, about T-2 hours before doomsday hit. Despite that, an awesome example of Chilean canapés.

Court Robe, late 19th Century, China. via non-westernhistoricalfashion.tumblr.com.

I am so close I can almost taste it. I am enchanted with Mandarin Chinese, Chinese folk history and song, but I still feel as if I know nothing about the country’s pop culture–I still can’t help but think of the damning word foreign when I imagine China.

In explanation: I am spending four months in Beijing, my first travel destination outside of the Americas and Europe… and my first destination where I will not be able to read the signs or barter with locals (not yet, anyway). I will participate in an intensive 3-week language training before I start my 3 class civilization sequence (in English), and I will live on the Renmin University campus with a Chinese roommate.

Rice terraces, Guangxi

To ensure that I get the most out of my experience, I have a list of personal goals to meet:
1. Engage myself with the art of Beijing and its residents.
2. Learn as much Chinese as possible–focus on your bartering tactics!
3. Take pictures every day. Even if it’s just one.
4. Update your blog daily (hi!).
5. Don’t waste time napping–get out there and live!
6. Be the 20-year-old female version of Andrew Zimmern. Eat a bug, a snake, whatever–as long as it’s edible and not poisonous, it’ll be a good story.

and the slightly less sensational:

7. Remember to go to the gym. 3 months without running is physically painful.

The Ring was recently installed in Place Vendôme in Paris–it was formed as a way to interact and distort the area around it, and as a result causes passerby to restructure their thinking about their surroundings.

I only wish that I had known about this when I was in Paris a month ago–from the pictures, it seems like something out of a dream sequence.

What I like about this statue is that the structural beauty of its surrounding architecture is what makes the statue come alive; it draws upon and interacts with history, reflecting the high art of Haussmanian buildings (literally) in a new era. The sculpture reminds me of the hall of mirrors at Versailles in both the way that it elongates the space around it as well as the sheer luxury that the flawless mirror seems to embody. The Ring is a manifested “illusion” of grandeur, its material pulling in the blue from the sky as if laying claim to everything that it reflects.

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

— Anthony Bourdain

I spend a lot of time browsing architecture websites for no good reason at all, really.

These are some of my favorites.

Junta Castillo Leon Offices, Alberto Camp Baeza, Spain

Image 1 of 2: Pael House, Chile. This is my boyfriend’s uncle’s house, and during the record-shattering earthquakes, they hardly felt a thing inside.

Image 2 of 2

“The Vertical House,” Paris, France. For more information/pictures, click through link.

TVERRFJELLHYTTA BY SNØHETTA

Maison à Vitznau, Lischer Partner Architekten