Questions not to ask an expat but you will anyway

What Not to Ask an Expat

BUT YOU PROBABLY WILL ANYWAY

Did you move around the world?

This list is for you. This list is also for those who know someone who moved around the world. You may not know these questions, but we do. We hear them ALL THE TIME. Ok, ok. Maybe a little dramatic. But not really an exaggeration.

These are truly the most commonly asked questions that you will constantly be asked after moving abroad. For as long as you are abroad. There is no statute of limitations for the consistency of these questions. Unless you choose to stop meeting new people altogether. And what fun is that? The more the merrier I say. You never know what spark might be alit until meeting that new person. But I warn you. Before that fire can be sparked, you will have to run the gauntlet of the following questions. It’s a ritual. A never-ending expatriate* ritual.

TOP THREE QUESTIONS YOU ASK A NEW PERSON YOU MEET IN COPENHAGEN:

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Open letter to my newly expatriated self

So You’re Moving Around the World?

Hello you doe-eyed, adventurous, naive, cute little baby expat you. Hi – how are you? Here in Denmark – we say “hej!” It sounds like Hi. Don’t worry – you’ve got that one in the bag. No accent required. Have you moved yet? No? Ok. So – you are still super excited, anxious, about ready to pop, explode inside and get this ball rolling. About as ready as you were to have your first child at 39 weeks pregnant. People just need to stop telling you how much easier it is when the baby is on the inside and how much sleep you won’t be getting. All you want is to meet this little creature kicking and prodding you and keeping you awake at night. Get out already. That is what it feels like right now before the big move abroad. I get it. You want to start the starting. Move already.

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Safety in the same, amidst the ny and different

During an expatriation – having a respite from the ny (definition and pronunciation the same as our new), a break from the different, a harbor of hospitable homogeneity is sometimes welcome, therapeutic and wholly necessary. Somewhere, where a shared language, common experiences and a duplicitous feeling of home allows one a place for letting down your guard, a determined safety, a place to exhale. In. Out. In. Out. Repeat. In. Out. In. Out. Sigh. Whether this craving for same amidst the different is positive for the procession of phases within an expatriation or not … it IS strong, powerful and real. And we accommodated it. Fed it. Stoked it. Fulfilled it. (The craving that is, people.)

And I can relate that experiencing a peer’s different and ny, with them, in their new, is a glorious thing. Suddenly, you become tourist to their guide as they share with you what they have gleaned, learned, found, cherished. And with no pressure, or judgment, or fear of alienating oneself for expressing those little annoyances, confusions, conundrums that can be caused by the differences in cultures. Because we get it. We are doing the same thing. THAT. Is a glorious thing.

Beautiful Bergen, NorwayWe recently shared all of the above and more – including but not limited to – excellent food lovingly prepared, beautiful community, boxed wine, unbridled play, sledding adventures, hearty belly laughs, impromptu dance parties in medieval fortresses, up-late sleepovers with finger nail painting, old school video-gaming, brown cheese and temporary tattoos. Traveling to Bergen, Norway for a long weekend with a family from our home-town in Oregon was gloriously bucket-filling. And whilst there, sighing and laughing and replenishing – we learned. We experienced. We grew.

NorgeNorway is not Denmark. I know. Gross over-generalization. But as aliens having landed here in Scandi-land from a galaxy far, far away, I will admit sheepishly that we (at home) not knowing any better may or may not lump all the northern European inhabitants into a characterization of similar ilk. We don’t know yet the distinguishing characteristics and differences. But I am learning. So I will share. As Copenhagen may not = all of Denmark, nor Bergen = all of Norway, my clarification rather than Norway is not Denmark… BUT Bergen is not Copenhagen. (Duh says those of you who know.) Maybe it is an unfair comparison. Oslo may be better able to hold up for direct assessment being Norway’s Capitol replete with culture, architecture and scenery not to be missed, more akin in population, attitudes and offerings to Copenhagen. But I haven’t been to Oslo yet. I’ll revisit the comparison when I do. You can hold me to it. I have been to Bergen. In the winter.

Meeting the locals on FløyenI was told that the wintery wonderland that we landed in late Thursday night was not normal for the city streets of Bergen. The mountains that surround the fairy-tale town on all sides have frozen precipitation that paints the landscape in a broad white-stroked backdrop. Norway is the backdrop for the Disney hit Frozen you know. And Frozen’s Elsa is loosely based on (Danish) H.C. Andersen’s Snow Queen – which is chock full of trolls and magic and ICE. Norway. The sheer prevalence of references to magical creatures here makes it distinguishable from Copenhagen. Tivoli aside, they are very into fantasy here. And why not, it is fantastic here. For instance, trolls are everywhere. Peeking out windows. Hiding behind trees. Little ones in every shop for the tourists to buy. Huge ones that greet you on the mountain-top. Witches are apparently to be wary of as well. No witches hereThe myriad of signage regarding such atop Mount Fløyen, looming large above Bergen, was amusing if not confusing. Castles, tall-ships in the harbor, pointy little leaning brightly colored row houses of Bryggen, all add to the fairy-tale character of Bergen. But don’t get me wrong, don’t think that it is all sparkly rainbows and unicorns here (evidence in gallery below). The Norsk are the warriors. They are the hunters. They are the Vikings from tales of yore.

I have shared with you before how I think the Danes are hardy with their biking in the driving rain, the snain, the sleet, the snow. Naked Danish dips in the frigid Øresund only reinforce first impressions. But. Heels and furs and cocktails and Noma and the cultured cosmopolitan tendencies carried by most Copenhageners is for want here in Bergen. But, Norwegians. Wauw. Within three days my esteem for the Norsk was definitively etched. This is strong stock. Through soupy and continually precipitating ankle deep slush, troops of Norsk run in packs like wolves. They run through town and then UP mountains with skis on their backs, pulling children, carrying multiple packs or sleds. Orienteering Bergen's icy cobblestone streets

They charge full-speed down icy cobblestoned streets and passages staring at maps in a world-class orienteering challenge that was like nothing I have ever witnessed. Our hosts’ home affording a perfect vantage point for the crazy zig-zagging, looping, map-reading-while-running, barely watching where they are going, crashing down hills, nearly impaling selves on broken railings Norwegian street race. And we were able to experience it all in the safety of our own familiar. Without retribution or misunderstanding of our amusement. With a communal sense of awe at these Norwegians. Impressive. All of it.

As an Oregonian, I have often held fast to the mantra that “there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Turns out – it’s Norwegian in origin. Makes sense now. The Norsk hold true to the sentiment that there is “no problem that can not be solved by going outside.” I would conclude this is also a very Oregonian sentiment that I can whole-heartedly get behind. With a landscape and rugged sensibility that surrounds one in Bergen, there is a gravitational pull to experience outside. Thank you for sharing it with us friends. It is certifiable. And worthy. And fulfilling.

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Catching and Releasing

People have strong feelings about mobile phones – life-saver? bane of human existence? necessary evil? scourge on the emergent communication skills of the next generation? For me it is many things (not necessarily those listed above, although getting our teenager to have a conversation without thumbs connected to a small portable screen is ever increasingly difficult.) For me – my phone, especially here in Denmark, is my salvation. It is my art creator. Photos taken, edited and curated from the palm of my hand (and then mostly shared with you.) It is my personal translator. How else would I know what KANELSNEGL means? Oh. It’s a cinnamon snail. A what? Did I type it correctly? Yes? Ohhhh! A cinnamon roll. I get it, haha, that’s cute. My phone is my banker and I need her/him a lot lately as the unforeseen charges, penalties, fines, fees and average daily costs are evacuating my account at what seems a rapid pace. It is my navigator. Although she has a REALLY terrible accent when it comes to pronouncing Danish street names. You want me to turn WHERE? I swear she said giant vag. Oh… tee hee… Jagtvej, but her American navi-speak can’t compute. That is good for a laugh. My phone is my entertainment – yes, I saw that floppy ridiculous pug who can’t run in Belfast video. It WAS funny. Please don’t share your kitty videos though. Any of them.

My phone – like yours I’m sure – is my connection. Specifically my connection to home. (And by home I am still equating that with Oregon for the time being – when that changes do I move into another phase of Expatriation? I’m not sure. I’ll let you know.) While I am still constructing my expatriated home and self – I need that connection to remain whole. Maybe I’m connecting too much. People are concerned. Sharing the dark side of relocating abroad. But roses have thorns. They are beautiful and glorious (and if you live somewhere where deer don’t eat them to the ground) they grow each year despite the soggy, damp, frigid weather. I will too. I promise. I know it. There are just a few extra thorns on this Danish rose. (For those who don’t know – Portland, Oregon where I hail from is known as Rose City, sooo a rose by any other name, thorns or no – is still… beautiful, is all I’m saying.)

Please don’t cry for me Argentina. Or Portland, or Minnesota, or California or Denmark or New Zealand or wherever else you are reading from (which I will note that I truly appreciate that you are reading and hope that my flippancy and perceptible snark today are not a turn off.) I am ok. Seriously. Ok. I promise. We have new mobile phones – yay! I’m back to the iPhone 5, my old one which was stolen from me last summer. I know – I should have gotten the newest and the best – but phones are EXPENSIVE here! You basically buy the phone and then commit to a carrier for 6 months. Did you hear me? SIX MONTHS! Because that is the norm here and there seems to be many more options for cellular carriers, they must compete for your business to stay with them after the 6-month starter period. I have been told that people switch all the time. Our carrier has offered us some extra-specials to stay with them – one being a premium Spotify account. Another being HBO Nordic, although I’m not super psyched with the non-kid-friendly options being purveyed there and we still signed up for Netflix UK and have been binge-watching Orange is the New Black. Don’t tell me, I’m behind.

Back to Spotify. I was already a user on my desktop – but this is altogether something more awesome. The Bluetooth in the rental car picks up my playlist the moment I start the car. Why hello there bestest most favorite music. This makes me happy. I did say, incremental victories shall be exalted. One of the great things about Spotify is that you can discover new music. Today – meet Matt Simons – do you know him? He’s big in Europe REALLY big in the Netherlands apparently). I hope I am introducing you for the first time and you guys weren’t like college dance dates and he never called or something. That’s just embarrassing. For you. Haha. Anyway – this song came up randomly in whatever Spotify mix I had on shuffle – can’t do much once it’s rolling while I’m carting children to and fro. This song came up on my fro this morning. No kids in the mama-bus, so could actually could listen to the lyrics. And they were lovely. And timely. And persipicacious. And now I will share them with you.

Catch & Release’ by Matt Simons

Rose colored sky in Østerbro

There’s a place I go to
where no one knows me
It’s not lonely
It’s a necessary thing
It’s a place I made up
Find out what I’m made of
The nights are stayed up
Counting stars and fighting sleep
Let it wash over me
Ready to lose my feet
Take me on to the place where one reviews life’s mystery
Steady on down the line
Lose every sense of time
Take it all in and wake up that small part of me
Day to day I’m blind to see
And find how far to go
Everybody got their reason
Everybody got their way
We’re just catching and releasing
what builds up throughout the day
It gets into your body
And it flows right through your blood
We can tell each other secrets
and remember how to love
There’s a place I’m going
no one knows me
If I breathe real slowly
let it out and let it in
They can be terrifying
to be slowly dying
Also clarifying
the end where we begin
So let it wash over me
I’m ready to lose my feet
Take me on to the place where one reviews life’s mystery
Steady on down the line
Lose every sense of time
Take it all in and wake up that small part of me
Day to day I’m blind to see
And find how far to go
Everybody got their reason
Everybody got their way
We’re just catching and releasing
what builds up throughout the day
It gets into your body
And it flows right through your blood
We can tell each other secrets
and remember how to love
Everybody got their reason
Everybody got their way
We’re just catching and releasing
what builds up throughout the day
And it gets into your body
And it flows right through your blood

We can tell each other secrets
and remember how to love

-2014

Please enjoy the lovely song. And know that I am just catching and releasing these new experiences and places and things and times. They will flow right through my blood. And I do remember how to love. Taking it all in and waking up that small part of me. Let it wash over you. Have a wonderful weekend – we are taking in some new experiences and venturing further afield in SKANDINAVIA. Very excited. More to come. Love to all.

Under Construction

Construction at Østerport StationEverywhere you turn in Copenhagen there is construction. Omnipresent are the giant cranes that incongruously litter the historic city skyline. The level of high green walled construction sites seems in high proportion to the lovely Danish architecture. Behind these walls echo the seemingly perpetual noise of excavators, dump trucks, jack-hammers, blow torches. Lucky for me, despite my distast for the impacted sight lines and vistas these sites create, is the fact that many of them have wonderful murals, providing many opportunities for creative and beautiful public art. Being a member of my public art council in Oregon, I can get behind this.

Construction in the Lakes near Østerbro

But, what are they constructing? I’m glad you asked. Behind all those green walls with their muraled façades, will be the new City Circle Line Metro – known as Cityringen here in Danish. Like everything that I have experienced here, there is a beautiful design and polish to the Danish intent for this Cityring. Here is the graphic presentation of the lovely Circle Line (that is already behind 7 months in construction and slated to be opened after our visas expire in the summer of 2019. Boo.)

Beautiful Danish design in theory
Beautiful Danish design in theory

Here is another – not quite as perfect representation.

Not as beautiful Danish design – but a’ight

And here is what it will actually be like traveling on the circle ring.

Danish design in reality

To be honest – when I found out that it wasn’t actually going to be a true circle – which would have been so much cleaner – my internal Spotify loop of Beyonce’s “to the left, to the left” suddenly faded out. (Record scratching silence ensued.) Suggestions for new musical representation of actual shape of the circle line solicited and encouraged. Please comment below. I digress. (I’m good at that.)

Why am I so interested in a new Metro system that I will be unable to utilize? (Unless of course, we do come back to visit lovely Copenhagen in the future. A future in which I would be pleased to partake of a ride on the ring.) Why now though? Who really cares besides all the cool art? (Don’t worry – there is lots of it shared in the gallery below.) CLICK. Here’s why. This morning, while walking to one of my favorite café’s on the lakes – Den Franske Café – that big ugly green wall that encroaches into our neighborhood’s end of the lake and sits plainly in view from the café – made me stop.

Cityringen construction IN THE LAKE
Cityringen construction IN THE LAKE

Construction. Ugh. Ugly, noisy, slow, loud. BUT. I realized. I… am also under construction. An expat under construction, if you will. The idea was couched, the plans were agreed upon, the contractors determined (maybe not fulfilling expectations yet), champagne crashing ground-breaking has occurred, construction has started and earth is being turned. But.

It’s noisy. The biker who bangs on my window and yells at me in another language what I can only assume is something akin to the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing. You’re right! I don’t! EEEK! I’m sooooo sorry!! I didn’t see you there around the CONSTRUCTION that is taking place right outside my building. Noisy. Children who don’t have the established outlets or courage yet to set out on their own and spend a wee bit more time together than they are used to – Noisy.

It’s ugly. Messy and frought with emotion. Hard to correlate the initial butterflies and anticipation with the reality of the now. There have been a myriad of scientific studies done that illuminate the phases one might proceed through during an expatriation. I will divulge that I have clearly moved past the “honeymoon” phase and am a wee bit mired in the “culture shock” phase. Being the middle of vinter does not assist said feelings of dislocation, confusion and the rapidly rotating emotions of frustration, apathy and a dash of annoyance. I know this too shall pass, but for now I will embrace the valley. From changes, challenges and seasons past – I know the peaks will be all the more worthy for having felt the low.

It’s slow. Incremental. Like grass growing. Slow. Like the few minutes a day we glean of daylight. Slow. When I think I understand something, I quickly realize that I have no idea. Aha! Oh. No? Ok. Square one. Everything takes longer. Easy tasks become challenging. There is a sense of wings being clipped at times. Expectations have been lowered, so that little triumphs and discoveries can be exalted when found, which is good. But it is slow, this construction of my expatriated self.

It’s LOUD. I will proclaim to you LOUDLY (here and on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Instagram and Pinterest – that’s pretty loud right?) that I am working on it. Have patience with my construction. Be prepared for delays and oversights and cost-inefficiencies. I’ll let you know when we’re moving into the next phase. For now – enjoy the photos. Cheers from Denmark. PS – don’t worry about me #imok.