Current home: Lund, Sweden
Past overseas locations: Italy (Perugia) and Austria (Vienna) — both for six months
Cyberspace coordinates: transatlantic sketches (personal blog), Expat Blog (guest blog for Swedish Institute, a division of the Swedish government) and @kwise321 (Twitter handle)
Recent posts: “You’re Celebrating on the Wrong Day! — and other things you didn’t know about Christmas in Sweden” (Expat Blog: December 27, 2011); “Work makes me happy” (transatlantic sketches: December 29, 2011); “What a year!” (Expat Blog: December 31, 2011)
Where are you spending the holidays this year?
Actually, it’s my first Christmas outside the United States! I’ll be in Lund with my husband and his parents, his sister and her family, and some family friends. I’m looking forward to it.
What do you most like doing during the holidays?
In the US, I always looked forward to baking Christmas cookies and getting gifts for my family and friends. Sometimes my gifts are homemade, sometimes bought at a store, but I love brainstorming the perfect thing for someone. Here, though, the season is full of Christmassy activities: attending glögg parties, decorating the house with lights and going to Christmas markets. It’s the active part of the holiday season that I like the most in Sweden.
Will you be on or offline?
Totally online and hopefully Skyping with my family and friends on a regular basis.
Are you sending any cards?
My husband and I just got married and it was a sort of spur-of-the-moment decision, so we’re sending a combination Christmas/“Oh hey, we’re married!” card. We’ll be writing thank you’s to the people who were there and a little update to people who weren’t.
What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
Panettone. My family eats this traditional Italian holiday bread for Christmas breakfast with fruit salad, coffee, and mimosas every year. They sell it in Sweden, too, so I’ll be introducing the tradition here.
Have you read any good books this year other expats or “internationals” might enjoy?
I have really enjoyed these two essay collections (though I have to admit that I haven’t finished either of them yet):
1) The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton (Pantheon, 2002): A thoughtful contemplation on different aspects of travel. As de Botton says, “Few things are as exciting as the idea of travelling somewhere else, but the reality of travel seldom matches our daydreams.”
2) A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments, by David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown, 1997): His essay on taking a week long cruise in the Caribbean was so true and so funny that I laughed out loud at several points.
If you could travel anywhere for the holidays, where would it be?
No travel dreams for Christmas unless it were to assemble my family and my husband’s all in the same place at the same time. But for New Year’s Eve, I’d love to return to the countryside in County Cork, Ireland, where I went two years ago with a group of eight friends, one of whom has a cabin there. We would all hole up that cabin again to eat, drink lots of champagne, and welcome in the New Year.
What famous person do you think it would be fun to spend New Year’s Eve with?
Despite having attended some exciting New Year’s Eve parties in the U.S. and Europe, I’m not sure I would want to spend New Year’s Eve with a famous person I didn’t feel close to. That said, Dorothy Parker would be hilarious to sit next to at an event like New Year’s Eve — as long as she didn’t turn against me. I would just want to be a fly on the wall.
What’s been your most displaced holiday experience?
Two days come to mind — both having to do with the Fourth of July, not Christmas. The first was in 2010. I had flown back to the States for my friend’s wedding, and then on July 4th I had to fly back to Vienna to go back to work. I spent the entire day in the no man’s land of the Charlotte, JFK, Dusseldorf, and Vienna airports. (I am an extreme budget flyer.) Actually, I’m not sure whether this counts — I didn’t really experience a displaced holiday; I just missed it altogether.
The other time was July 4, 2009. I was spending the summer in Sweden with my then boyfriend (now husband) — my first extended stay in which I started to really get to know his friends and family. We tried to throw a 4th of July party, but something was off. We grilled, we had flags, we had Jell-o shots for a little novelty Americana, but there wasn’t any patriotism and there weren’t any fireworks. For me it felt like a regular barbecue party trying too hard to be something else rather than an actual holiday.
How about the least displaced experience — when you’ve felt the true joy of the season?
Again, it wasn’t Christmas but Thanksgiving, in 2010. I cooked a traditional Thanksgiving feast with all of my mom’s recipes for almost 30 Swedes. We borrowed a friend’s parents’ apartment to fit everyone in, and it was the coziest, most wonderful celebration. My husband downloaded the Macy’s Day Parade for me as a surprise and streamed it while we were cooking and eating. Best of all, one of my Swedish friends asked me halfway through the meal, “Aren’t we supposed to say what we’re thankful for?” I hadn’t wanted to force them to do that, but everyone got really excited about it, and the whole group took turns saying what they were thankful for in what turned out to be really beautiful toasts to the people in their lives. It was amazing.
How do you feel when the holidays are over?
Rested but a little bit sad. So much energy goes into enjoying the holiday season, anticipating Christmas and New Year’s, gift-giving, baking, merry making — and then suddenly it’s all over! And you’ve got all of January and February to slog through until spring is on its way again.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love said to me:
TWELVE STRANGE TRADITIONS,
ELEVEN CAMERAS CLICKING,
TEN SPROUTS A-BRUSSELING,
NINE CELLPHONES DANCING,
EIGHT WHOOPHIS WHOOPING,
SEVEN SKIERS A-PARTYING,
SIX SPOUSES TRAILING,
FIVE GOOOOOOOFY EXPATS.
FOUR ENGLISH CHEESES,
THREE DECENT WHISKIES,
TWO CANDY BOXES,
& AN IRISHMAN IN A PALM TREE!
STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, setting a new theme for the month’s posts on the connection between the displaced life and spiritual awakenings.
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