Happy St. Patrick’s Day from this American Mutt

I am going to go full American on you for a minute. Or two. Bear with me. But it’s Saint Patrick’s Day. And with 32.3 million¹ self-proclaimed Irish-Americans, myself included, it’s our day to do so. That’s 1 in 10 Americans people. But wait. Isn’t St. Patrick’s Day Irish? Like from IRELAND. Yes. Yes. It is. Did you see what I did there? Claimed it for my own? Pretty American eh? Hang on. Don’t be offended yet. Let me explain.

Saint Patrick’s Day is kind of a pretty big deal in the United States and my given name is Erin Kathleen. Kind of Irish. My brother is Michael Shannon and my other brother is Colin Patrick. We had an Irish Setter named “Paddy” growing up. And as cliche, groan-worthy or just downright confusing as it may sound to actual Irish people, every year on March 17th my mom made corned beef and cabbage, soda bread and a side of green jello salad. I now know how Irish-American that meal is. Especially the lime jello. There was nothing grown from the earth in that “salad,” just saying. My own children made leprechaun traps at school and my sister in law puts green food coloring in the toilet as “evidence” of their sneaky appearance overnight. Think of it like the “Elf on the Shelf” of March. Thanks Pinterest. March 17th is a big day. To us Irish-Americans. “Kiss me, I’m Irish.”

Where Irish Eyes are Smiling[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

So when my husband was recently asked to fly to Ireland for a meeting, I jumped at the chance to join. With a day in Dublin to explore by myself, I set across the Ha’Penny bridge to Trinity College and on to St. Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street. It was sunny and blue-skied with birds chirping and daffodils poking open. Brilliant. I thought I’d found my pot of gold, sans the rainbow. Lunch with an Irish friend and her mother proved just the craic I was seeking. (That’s Irish for awesome.) It was quite a quick trip and by no means a tour of essential Ireland or even Dublin for that matter, but it whet my appetite (as well as my whistle) and kick-started a desire to dive into my family’s Irish past.

Walking past the National Library of Ireland with signs asking “What Will You Find Today?” I was pulled inside to discover the most beautiful green domed reading room. AND. The genealogy room. And Christina. The most knowledged and friendly and helpful librarian in all of Ireland. Ok. I’ve only met one. But she was fabulous. And when I told her my name was Erin and what I was searching for, she smiled and understood. She knows how to find your Irish relatives. If you have them, that is.

To start the process of mining the free databases of Ireland’s National Library, you do need to come armed with a few essential facts. Like names. That’s usually a good place to start. After a few quick direct messages to family members in the States, I soon had the full names of my Grandfather’s parents. This was where I had always believed our Irish family roots had relied. Christina helped me discover that I am from… where? Uh. Missouri. Yep. Oh. Ok. I mean, I knew we were from Kansas. But I now know that we go back further to Missouri. That’s. Like. Next to Kansas. Ok. So I’m Midwestern. Got it. Thanks to Ireland did I discover exactly what I already knew. Ok. But why then was St. Patrick’s Day such a big deal in our house every year?

I thanked Christina profusely and left the library still befuddled. My confusion was salved soon enough by an excellent meal with my husband at a lovely pub in Stoneybatter. If in Dublin, don’t miss L. Mulligan Grocer – so yummy (and not actually a grocery store). We returned home to Copenhagen the next day and I was determined to discover the basis for our annual familial obsession with corned beef. I mean my mom brought corned beef in her carry on bag for a spring break vacation in the Bahamas. The Bahamas people. She didn’t think she’d be able to find it down there. Talk about a confused customs agent. What is this? Um. Corned beef. You know. For St. Patrick’s Day. Ok. Keep moving.

For about two days straight I poured through scans of United States Federal census records from the early 1900’s and late 1800’s. It’s all online. It’s remarkable. And right there in the hand-written lists from 1880, the evidence I was seeking. My grandfather’s father’s father. He wasn’t from Missouri. He. He was from Ireland. And so was his wife. Where in Ireland I can’t confirm. Yet. Time to revisit with Christina! My husband was also quite pleased to have discovered that he is actually MORE Irish than me. His Grandfather’s father emigrated from Sweden with his Irish wife. Along with the Irish and Swedish, we uncovered evidence of English, German, Scottish and Swiss emigrants in the family. So as it turns out, we’re all mutts. American. In the words of Will Farrell reenacting his George W. Bush character in an opening monologue on Saturday Night Live,

“The way I see it, unless your name is Running Bear or Chief Two Rivers, we’re all anchor babies.”

– Will Farrell as George W. Bush, SNL

As an American living in Europe for the last 3.5 years, it has been made plainly clear to me that my claims of heritage are constant sources of amusement to the growing collection of International friends I spend time with. If I were to ever say I’m not just American, but “Irish-American” or that my husband is “Swedish-American,” it is cringeworthy and may even induce eye rolling. (PS – I don’t actually say that.) But I have learned, quite quickly, that where you are from in the International community is a truly complicated thing.

Where are you from? The answer, as it turns out, is relative. What are you asking me? Where was I born? What does my passport say? Where have I lived? Where did I move HERE from? What answer are you looking for? And why do you want to know?

Here is actually the crux of the question. Why do I want to know? Why do I care? Where people are “from?” I think this is the essentially American part of the question. We’re a relatively young country. And for me, as this is our first posting abroad, my answer is simple. I’m from America. Although I rarely have to tell anyone as my ubiquitous accent reveals it immediately whenever I speak. Ah. You’re American. Yep. Stamp on my forehead.

I live in Copenhagen. Denmark. Happiest country of hygge, Lego, beautiful lighting and a healthy bicycle lifestyle. But I’m not Danish. Can’t even claim the tiniest bit of Danish heritage. Because of my husband’s name, Gustafson, everyone assumes we are Swedish. We went to Stockholm, we saw Kong Gustav. It didn’t necessarily feel like home. But we do love Sweden. (And can claim a bit of heritage there per recent genealogy traces.)

Back here in Denmark, we have adopted and adapted lots of the Danish lifestyle and appreciate Danish approaches to life and living. We don’t have a car. We ride our bikes and the bus. Every day. Even on Saturday. And while we don’t speak fluent Danish (it’s really hard!) we can get around the grocery store without Google translate and always remember to put down the divider after our goods. That’s important here. We’re fitting in. Or trying to. We have an advantage we look like the locals. Until we speak, the assumption is that we’re local. I’m more than aware as a foreigner living here of the connotations that come with titles like “expat” or “immigrant” or “refugee.” They are just as pertinent and ultimately defining in Denmark as they are in the US.

Our ability to stay here in the seemingly delightful Denmark isn’t definitive. Every day, it seems, this little Scandi country is making it more difficult to gain access to all things Danish. Those specifically Scandinavian benefits of free universal healthcare and free higher education that come with residency, be it permanent or temporary – they are a challenge to secure. These are benefits that you want to hold on to when your job is based here.

We recently received a reminder that our carefree (gun-free) idyllic bicycled life here is not a given. Our residency permits are expiring. Soon. A dramatically worded letter addressed only to my youngest two children alerted us to the urgency of this fact. If we don’t apply for extensions, like yesterday, we can and will be forcibly removed from one of the happiest countries on earth. That doesn’t sound so happy. Or hyggeligt. Remind you of somewhere else you might know?

Don’t worry, we are submitting all of our paperwork and getting our Danish ducks in a row. We will be required to have our mugshots registered (again) and our fingerprints taken (again) and our signatures signed and sealed. Again. To be able to live here. It is a visceral process that enforces your NOT belonging. Not really. You are not us. It will be a very difficult process to be us. Remember that.

And maybe this is why I find the question of where you are from interesting and important. For me, it is less of an identifier or classifier or separator and more of a connector. Maybe it’s because I have moved so many times. Each time forced to make connections in the next “home.” The more we can identify with each other, the closer we can become.

So the next time you meet an American who claims Irish heritage or Dutch heritage or Scottish or Korean or Kenyan, even if they’ve never been to those places or spoken one word of the native tongue or even remember the names of those distant relatives, embrace it. You want Americans to connect outside their borders. I want Americans to connect outside our borders. I do not want walls. And I believe in bridges and love and acceptance.

Maybe give them a little gentle lesson in actual cultural heritage. Explain to them that you would never serve corned beef and cabbage at a real Irish celebration and you’ve never had green jello or colored your toilet water green. Or the milk for that matter. But you do drink Guinness. And you will wear green and possibly attend a parade today. 100,000 expected to line the streets of Dublin! And give them an opportunity to show you the diversity that makes up the melting pot called the USA.

We won’t be serving corned beef tonight in Denmark. My husband tried to find some and truly couldn’t. Darn it. But it’s ok because I will be raising a glass with women from around the world at my International Cooking Club dinner. We’re making Thai tonight. And while it may not be my traditional March 17th meal, it will be a celebration of culture and heritage and friendships. Beyond borders. With friends from Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Chile, Germany, Poland who have lived in as many more countries and have multiple answers to “where are you from?” and make my community in Denmark diverse. For them I am grateful.

So whatever your background, wherever you are from, however you celebrate, whatever you bring to the table – let’s make it a big table. In the words of my all-time favorite band, U2, who happen to be Irish, “It’s a beautiful day.” Build bridges not walls. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day. From Copenhagen.



Faraway Files #68

Travel Blog Community


Hello travel peeps! I’m just back from 48 hours in Dublin and am feeling a little luck of the Irish from soaking up the city as they set up for this weekend’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration. What a fun and friendly town, already full of festive energy. I poked into my past and tried to find a bit about family ancestors in National Library. I sat in Saint Stephan’s Green, a gorgeous park in the center of town and took in as much of the spring sunshine as I could. I raised a pint and tasted good food and toasted the time. It was a quick trip, but definitely a delight. Erin Go Bragh! Put on a little green for good luck this March 17th.

Favorites from Faraway Files #67

But before we find leprechauns, let’s celebrate the Faraway Files favorites as selected by last week’s hosts Hilary of Hilary Style and Clare of Suitcases and Sandcastles.

Hilary’s favorite posts from last week were:

Wynwood Art District in Pictures by Travel Barbie

Why there is no “Best Place” to see the Northern Lights by Snow in Tromso

Luxembourg’s “Kalktuffquelle” in winter by The adventures of Daisy the bus

And Clare’s were:

A Road Trip through North Norfolk’s Coastal Beauty Spots by My Lifelong Holiday

Where to be Inspired in Europe by Amy and the Great World

Congratulations to those writers and thank you to everyone else who linked up last week.

Now over to you. Take us somewhere! Been to a faraway place or just exploring your backyard? Share it here. Looking for the next big trip or a darling day out? Perfect time to pour yourself a cuppa, plunk down somewhere cozy and peruse through some posts for inspiration. Faraway Files contributors live and travel all over the world on every continent. That’s what I love about it. Time to explore!

This week I’m sharing an old post that should get your taste buds tantalized – it’s all about what to eat in when you get to Croatia. 



Jump in! The water is fine! Faraway Files is a creative community of travel bloggers who inspire, engage and share each other’s posts. All participating hosts will read and comment on every post that participates in the spirit of the link up. We will also share them on social media too. Each week we’ll choose our favorite posts and highlight them on our blogs and social media channels using #FarawayFiles.

  • Link up one travel-related post and add the Faraway Files badge onto the post or your blog (code below) or link back to the hosts.
  • The link-up will go live every Thursday at 8 am UK time (9 am, CET) until midnight on Friday. It will alternate between Fifi + Hop, Hilary Style, Oregon Girl Around the World, Suitcases and Sandcastles, and Untold Morsels. Check Twitter #FarawayFiles to confirm who is hosting each week.
  • Link ups work best if everyone engages so please comment on each of the hosts’ posts and at least two others that take your fancy.



(@fifiandhop@hilarystyleme, @oregongirlworld, @suitsandsand, @untoldmorsels) using the hashtag #FarawayFiles and we’ll retweet to our followers.


Tag @FarawayFiles and #FarawayFiles – and we’ll repost our favorites.


We are posting each week’s links on community Pinterest page – join in over there.


Find Faraway Files on Facebook. Like us. We’ll like your page. We’re friendly that way.

Fifi and Hop

Faraway Files #66

Travel Blog Community


While the calendar may say March today, it is most definitely still winter up here in Copenhagen. And with rare snow falling this week in places like Rome and Nice, it seems it is so there as well. The “Beast from the East” is bearing down all over Europe. Gah. Brrrrr. Here in Denmark, we say it’s “pissekoldt.” That’s really cold. And while you may be thinking of warm tropical escapes or just moving to Australia, why not embrace what winter has to offer? Continue reading “Faraway Files #66”

Responsible Husky Dog Sledding outside Riga Latvia

Wonderful Winter Fun With Rescued Huskies


Latvia is a wonderful place for a winter break. But what is there to do near the Baltic when the weather isn’t warm? How about husky dog sledding in a snowy white forest near Riga? Just outside the country’s cool capital, you can meet some of these beautiful and eager dogs for a perfect winter day out.

If you are like me, making sure that your travel experiences are sustainable, respectful and responsible is extremely important. So when my family found out that dog sledding was an option on our recent winter break to Latvia, I needed to make sure that it was an ethically sound outing. But how can you tell? What does that mean? Must love dogs for a start. And these Latvians do. So will you. Continue reading “Responsible Husky Dog Sledding outside Riga Latvia”