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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Holidays, Later Days, Always

A turkey carrying a turkey...

When you're an expat, there are three, different ways you can spend a holiday:

1) You go back to your home native country.  This is, in most cases, the preferable route.  You go back to the place where you grew up, eat familiar foods, see familiar people, and pretend like everything isn't awkward.

2) You make the best of it in your current new home country.  You can scour the internets for recipes and/or beg your mom to mail you possibly customs violating goodies.  If your new land also celebrates the holiday (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa… no) you can try to incorporate their traditions into your own (If your partner is from said country, "can try to" is replaced with "will"… Compromise is the spice of life!)

3) You can pretend like it's just another day even though it's not and nothing is open.  You can't even order Chinese food here on certain days.

Anyway, I tried doing #3 during the time I was in Belgium, it's not much fun (I remember subsisting on  cheese, bread, and jam on Good Friday… Ok.  There wasn't much cheese.  Or bread).  Since that experience, I've decided to only do #1 or #2.

As funds are tight and both Thanksgiving and the Christmas were over these past, two months, I did both.


I'm not sure what's the best part of the trans-atlantic flight.  The moment the plane lifts off and the journey itself actually hits you or the moment you take your sip from the first, complimentary alcoholic beverage.  Thanks to SAS' draconian law of banning free booze on international flights (Btw, here's a list of airlines that keep their passengers lubed up… If there's not too big of a difference, definitely worth it to fly Lufthuansa), I only had the first option to choose.

Regardless, I landed home for the first time since the Ravens' won the Super Bowl (important to point out as this will be the first, post-season without play-offs in Baltimore since SRB took City Hall).

It was fun.  The food was awesome (Top, three meals I miss:  1) Wings; 2) Maryland Crabs; 3) Korean BBQ; 4) Fish Tacos… I know I said three, but I couldn't limit myself).

Though, the thing that's hardest about traveling home as an expat isn't the time away, it's what changes when you're away.

My parents had gotten older.  My siblings were becoming more like my parents.  I got to see my nephews and nieces.  They're growing up too fast.  I got to see my friends.  They're becoming the adults we thought we'd never be.  I got confused driving around the hometown I'd spent every summer in since 1986 (This was the first summer since then where I didn't spend a single day there).

The worst of all is that I felt behind in all the conversations.  Even if I'd been sitting in the room/car/bar stool for the beginning, I constantly felt myself saying "What?" and "Who?" during stories and talks with the people who'd once been so intricate in my daily life.  I couldn't pretend like it wasn't weird, because, often, the speaker was looking at me in just such a manner.

People asked me how come I hadn't been updating my blog.  I was surprised they were reading (Thanks, nation of 8,000!).  I didn't really have an answer I could tell them.  It feels weird and overdramatic to say what I really felt.  I didn't write because I didn't know what to say anymore.  I was a stranger to a life I had always lived.


I landed back in Norway in early December.  I had to turn in my paper at the dreaded UDI to renew my residence permit.  I passed the weeks in labor disputes about some work I had performed (tl;dr) and unsuccessfully hiding the Christmas gift I'd purchased for my wife.

It also gave me time to savor/miss all the things I'd experienced when I was home.  Riding the metro.  Neighborhood bars.  Brunch.  Watching sports at normal hours.  The list goes on.

Though, soon it was time for the season.  We got a Christmas tree and were soon on our way across the mountains to her hometown.

And so we spent Christmas.

I got to celebrate many of the Norwegian traditions, like dancing around the Christmas Tree and drinking a lot of champagne (the picture on the website is from my first, Norwegian Christmas) and aquavit.

I enjoyed it.  The food was good (Pinnkjøtt and Ribbe!), I already said the drinks were good, but, the most important thing was that it was a home.  My wife's family and friends made me feel like I was apart of the group and not an outsider.

Which is an important thing.  As an expat, you're constantly straddling with one foot in both your native and present worlds.  It's not so much a balancing act (I realize the term "straddle" can intimate a need for balance), but one of a willingness to adapt and amend.

I've come to learn over this journey of being an expatriate that it's not about stripping anything away, but what one can add.

The life I live may not be one I set out to lead or one I'm fully comfortable in yet, but it's one that I'm happy to own.  It's not about what I don't have or am not anymore, but the things I'm building.  Stay with me.

I'm still building.

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