Living Abroad: The Evolution of Holiday Menu Planning

Growing up in Canada, our Christmas dining festivities would start with a Christmas Eve tourtière (meat pie). For the actual day of Christmas, I’ve always thought of our dinner as fairly classic. We had the turkey, dressing/stuffing, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes etc followed by an array of desserts. For us, it was normally Nanaimo bars  and a version of trifle my mum made based on the ones she had growing up in the U.K.  When my aunt married into a Ukrainian family, we HAPPILY added his mother’s amazing cabbage rolls to the menu. Did it traditionally fit with turkey and the trimmings? Not really. Did we care? Not at all.  They were delicious and a culturally important addition to the family.

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My own version of tourtière made at high altitude one Christmas in the French Alps

Since then, I have moved around the world and experienced first hand the role food memories play in people’s lives. If I taste a Nanaimo bar, I think of Canada. Fish and chips takes me mentally to England. Paris Brest sees me walking down memory lane in France. Food is important to our memories and most importantly, it helps us feel connected to the past.

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Paris Brest, I love you!! 

Our very first Christmas in Paris saw me panic a bit at the thought of the large shellfish dinner that is traditionally held on Christmas eve. I’m allergic to shellfish so this new tradition posed a problem for me. Instead, we embraced the addition of caviar, smoked salmon, plenty of champagne and the Bûche de Noël (aka Yule Log cake).

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Fish and Chips make me long for the U.K….

When we are lucky enough to return to my husband’s native England for Christmas, a personal highlight is celebrating Danish Christmas with his brother and family! I wouldn’t dare attempt to replicate my Danish sister-in-law’s cooking but I can assure you, that Risalamande (the best rice pudding I’ve EVER had with warm cherry sauce that is actually eaten as part of a game) and the browned sugared potatoes are both part of my Christmas flavour memories now.

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Risalamande – and I won the prize. Again. Sorry!

If you’ve stuck with me this long you will start to see my Christmas flavours and ideal menu have not stopped growing!  Each taste represents happy memories in my life and makes me think of the people I’ve been lucky enough to call family and/or friends over the years. In 2015, we relocated to Switzerland and saw the heavy introduction of cheese in both raclette and fondue format at Christmas time!  In addition to cheese, we’ve embraced panettone in our household as staple during the holidays!

 

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Bûche de Noël – Yule Log

So, what is an internationally-confused menu planner supposed to do?! In a world without calories my perfect Christmas would include tourtière, panettone, turkey and all the trimmings, brown Danish sugared potatoes, fondue, Cabbage rolls, smoked salmon and caviar, Nanaimo bars, trifle, risalamande and a bûche de Noël…all washed down with a few glasses of champagne! Phew! I’m not sure I could manage that! (Don’t even get me started on the challenges presented by living internationally with trying to locate and buy 90% of the items on my Christmas menu wish list!!!) 

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we have decided when we spend Christmases here in Switzerland, we will continue with the fondue-inspired meal. It’s how we celebrate Swissmas. This doesn’t mean we don’t miss all those wonderful flavours, we just keep them as happy memories, locked in our hearts, until the years when we are able to travel for the holidays.

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Swissmas Fondue dinner – 2016

 

This year, no matter where you are in the world, if you sit down for a holiday meal of some sort, think about how your family’s menu evolved. How have you chosen certain items over others? Who do the dishes remind you of? These same thoughts can be applied to many different cultures, but I can’t speak for others…only for myself. As long as my mouth isn’t too full 😉

 

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart – StockphotoVideo – Kalim – cynoclub 

 

Living Abroad: The Problem With “Best and Worst Expat Locations” Lists

“No place is ever as bad as they tell you it’s going to be.” – Chuck Thompson

I read a post recently that was making the rounds on Facebook about how awful life is in Switzerland for foreigners. This wasn’t, sadly, a shocking post for me to read as I have come across too many of these to count over the last 5 years relating to Switzerland and internationals living/working here. Depending on your life, you may or may not be aware that international/expat-focused websites, as well as reputable news agencies, love to publish annual lists entitled something akin to ‘Best and Worst Places for Expats To Live’. These lists often accompany anecdotal ‘evidence’ positioned as truthful information to support whatever their survey monkey results found. There are some disturbingly common themes in these types of articles and I’d like to confront them head on.  I am a FIRM believer that your experiences living abroad are highly influenced by your own actions and when I come across something along these lines that continues to perpetuate the idea that one person’s take on a short-term assignment abroad will speak true for 100% of the people that move there, I get frustrated, sad and angry.

Switzerland is the fifth country I have lived in. It is not perfect but it has been my favourite place to call home.  It trumps Canada, where I was born, England where, you know, fish and chips are available ALL THE TIME, France where the Eiffel Tower makes every picture look better and the USA where I learned about deep fried cheese curds. It is better than all of that (to me) but it wasn’t Switzerland that made that so, I also had a hand in making this the best place for me.

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This is not the worst country in the world to live…

So, if everything is so great for me in Switzerland, why does it pale in comparison to somewhere like Singapore that often tops the Best lists, or at least rounds out the top 3? Well, it’s easy. Comparing a country like Switzerland where someone will relocate and live in a local community, immersed in a culture and language they don’t know, is unfair vis-a-vis countries like Singapore where people are relocated to a prefabricated community compound. You cannot, and should not, compare the two. Relocating to a compound gives you ready-made friends, already international in nature and most likely aware your arrival is imminent. These pre-fab friends come with insider knowledge that helps you to avoid the pitfalls of international relocation that befall many of us. I have seen Facebook status updates from friends that received welcome gifts from their new Irish neighbours in Malaysia and a welcome basket waiting at the home for friends relocating to Dubai. Whilst we didn’t experience any of that, we did get an offer to use pots and pans from our Swiss German neighbour in case we hadn’t unpacked them yet…same-same but different?!

Now, I’m not about to fall into the trap of saying one is harder than the other and that ALL people that relocate to Asia move to prefabs and that ALL people that relocate to Europe do it solo because it just isn’t true. Local-base relocations are not harder, they are just different and that difference is never accounted for in the Best and Worst lists. Local moves do require more effort to break into a community because you are unlikely to spend your time living on the outside of local life. At some point you must integrate and there in lies the problem with comparisons. When you move somewhere where you know you will never blend in, you give up the hopes of that and settle fully into international/expat life. Expat parties. Expat friends. Expat schools. Expat life. When you move somewhere and WANT to fit in, you are swiftly and painfully confronted with the realisation of how hard it is to make friends as an adult. I have discussed my own failings on this topic here.

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I was definitely lonely at times in Paris…having a dog helped that 🙂

So before you move abroad and before you trash another country online, take a moment to get to know yourself because you will make or break your stay in many many ways. Yes, the culture may not be ‘you’ in the end but there are always silver linings and ways to make things work. Knowing what you are willing do beforehand will help you out. I repeat: You MUST know yourself before you accept a local life assignment abroad. Are you a go-getter? Are you willing to put in hours of effort to make a social life? Are you willing to do EVERYTHING to make your new life work? Or, will you arrive and complain then send an angry article off to be published about how crappy life is abroad? Will you blame the locals for not falling at your feet to become friends with you? Will you expect them to wake up one day and think ‘omg  is that a new American neighbour I see?! We must become best friends!’ (this won’t happen). If you aren’t a go-getter, perhaps think twice before accepting a local-based assignment. Try somewhere that will put you on a compound or near one so your lifestyle won’t change much, just the scenery.

International/expat life is not easy, even though it looks quite glamorous. It has changed me in every single way and I’m forever grateful. However, that change comes from the hard times that challenge you. Expat lists mean nothing about how you will respond to a place, trust me.

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‘Hello, WISCONSIN!’ My old home where almost 20 years later, I still am in touch with most of the amazing friends I made there.

Alas, I leave you with some Forrest Gump mama-style wisdom. Life is like a box of chocolates, it is true. But are you going to be the kind of person that throws the whole box out just because the strawberry creams are hiding in there somewhere or are you going to give it another chance in the hopes that you come across a little slice of heaven? I know what I would do…

 

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia

 

 

 

 

Thank you, Women in Travel Summit 2017

Despite the jet-lag settling in, I wanted to take 2 minutes to say thank you to the wonderful creators and ladies behind the 2017 Women in Travel Summit. The summit, organised by Wanderful, ‘is the premier event for women travel influencers and industry members.’ Held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, attendees were treated to inspiring luncheon speeches, panels, presentations and heaps of fun! I truly enjoyed my experience meeting other travel influencers, writers and industry members in this female-positive environment.

I spent the days networking, learning and discussing various writing projects, including the anthology I was in Once Upon An Expat. Along the way, I made friends and discussed future writing partnerships. Thank you to the organisers, attendees and all the presenters. See you in Québec City at WITS 2018?

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Photo credit: Women in Travel Summit by Wanderful, Jennifer Hart

 

 

Friday Featurette: Top 5 Expat Locations

A couple Fridays a month I will be featuring another blogger or up-and-coming writer on my site. Stories range from expat life to travel/adventure. If you are interested in possibly being featured, please read the info hereand get in touch!  You may notice differences in terminology, vocabulary and spellings here but I think keeping it authentic to the author’s voice and background makes for a richer reading. 

 

Top 5 Expat Locations
By: Jason Mueller

Moving to a foreign location can be a frightening thought for many people thinking about making a big move that will change their life drastically but if you choose the right country this frustrating process can be very rewarding making all the hassles well worth the pain. For those looking for change, you will not find a better way to mix things up by re-locating to a strange country. There are so many great countries to ship all your goods to and call home. It is hard to narrow it down to just 5, and your perfect country is going to vary from the next persons, but here are 5 great countries for you to consider calling yourself a local expat to.

Switzerland

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There is so much that Switzerland has to offer for expats searching tirelessly for a better life abroad. For starters the food is to die for and places like Lausanne have amazing street food festivals, wash all the great food down with a delightful glass of wine or some on the cleanest drinking water on the planet.   Switzerland is very stable, in fact it has the sixth highest GDP per capita out of all the countries in the world. Great public transportation will get you around on time, if you don’t like to drive then this is a tremendous country to take advantage of and if you do enjoy to drive the roads are in good condition and fun to explore. Immaculate hospitals, brilliant doctors and great benefits make the health care top notch, in fact the Swiss are said to have among the highest quality of life on the planet. The central location will make a great home base to go out and enjoy the rest of Europe. This incredibly safe country makes the list for so many good reason.

Costa Rica

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This is also known as the land of pura vida which translates to pure life, on a typical day you will hear this saying at least 3 times a day, it can be used as hello, goodbye, thanks, have a good day, take it easy or just about anything else, but is really a way of life for the locals and expats living in the Rich Coast. The country has been toted the happiest country in the world due to high wellbeing, high life expectancy and not to mention the tranquil laid back vibe you can’t help but to enjoy when chilling on the beaches, walking in the lush rain forest vibrant with flora and fauna or enjoying the views in the pristine mountains. The locals are welcoming and you won’t have to travel far to meet up with a fellow expat. People re-locate here from all over the world opening B&B’s, hotels, restaurants, tours, vacation rental companies or anything to take advantage of the high numbers of visitors that come as tourists. Of course Costa Rica has a tropical climate keeping you nice and toasty on the beach but is also known for having some of the most moderate weather in the world up in the mountains.

Chile

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People may not know it but Chile is a rapid developing country, South Americas most prosperous and stable country. The emerging economy has the highest state of peace with great economic freedom to keep your soul happy. Chile has a low percentage of corruption and crime making the country very safe and secure so you can save money by not having to worry about security in your office or business. Also the cost of delicious food and other living expenses such as rent is lower than North America giving you a better bang for your buck. Obtaining a visa, work permit or residency is pretty hassle free compared to many other countries. Come enjoy one of the bustling cities or some views of the breath taking Andes.

Mexico

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If you are planning a move from North America this may be your best option because of the close proximity, offering cheap and fast flights back home to visit relatives. The immigration process to get accepted in the country is fairly easy with minimal money needed to get your residency. Sure Mexico has gotten a bad rap from the war on drugs and the other reported crimes but the truth is that in most locations it is very safe and there is a lot of expats to mingle with. But you won’t have a problem making friends because locals are very happy to invite you for a meal of seemingly endless food and tequilas. The cost of living is pretty low for the frugal people out there looking to make their dollar stretch a little further. Mexican food is a desired taste bursting with flavour, if you aren’t a lover of “picante” food then don’t let that detour you as there is a huge selection of restaurants from all over the world.

New Zealand

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The landscape alone is enough to make you want to move to this unique country that offers volcanic terrain on the North Island and snow-capped mountainous peaks on the South Island. Outdoor adventures will keep you active with anything from skiing to surfing, you will never get bored in this adrenaline filled country. Although the average income is a little low the high quality of life will keep you healthy and after all some people forget just how important health is in life. Approximately one fifth of the population are expats, with that being said, it’s clear that the proof is in the pudding. The state sponsored health care is some of the best around with modern health facilities. All the amenities that you are used to will keep you very comfortable, soon you may be calling yourself a Kiwi (what locals are called)

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Jason Mueller is an entrepreneur living in Costa Rica with family from Canada. Since graduating from high school and getting his pilot’s licence, he has lived to travel the world looking for adventure. You can find him onFacebook and Instagram.

 

 

 

Photo credits: Jason Mueller, Jennifer Hart, Fotolia – Vege