Thursday, December 29, 2011

What Does the Christmas Season Mean to You?

by Expat Focus columnist Piglet in Portugal

For me Christmas means many things; the birth of Christ and Christmas carols, quality time with family and friends, Christmassy food & decorations and of course snow on Christmas day. But as I pause to review preparations for this year’s Christmas festivities and the joy of two baby grandchildren, memories are rekindled of Christmases past and I pause to remember the loved ones who are no longer with us.

Christmas can be a lonely time for many expats or indeed anyone rich or poor, who is, for whatever reason, separated from their loved ones during this festive season.

However, it may not only be family and friends you are missing but also traditional foods and even the weather. The weather says she? Yes, unfortunately I’ve noticed we Brits do have a tendency to dwell on the weather. For instance, does Christmas day on the beach sipping champagne and eating mince pies in the sunshine while paddling in the sea with Santa resonate “Christmas” in quite the same way as a “White” Christmas back home? Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder, and a “White” Christmas is actually only an illusion promoted on Christmas cards. In truth, the chance of a white Christmas is extremely slim. The reality is probably closer to heavy rain, fog, black ice, traffic chaos and severe weather warnings kindly issued by over-anxious TV or radio presenters. “Do not travel unless absolutely necessary”, they caution. Does this sound familiar?

But we can dream.

Maybe a beach Christmas, although not traditional, is not such a bad deal after all! However, before you start yearning for a warm sunny Christmas day on the beach. it might surprise you to know that in our corner of Portugal it has rained on the last two Christmases.

What about Christmassy food? Which foods do you associate with Christmas? When I think of a traditional English Christmas dinner I always think of roast turkey served with sage and onion stuffing, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts and parsnips, followed by Christmas pudding or mince pies served with brandy butter and oodles of thick double fresh cream. Goodness, my mouth is watering already; the taste buds are jumping for joy in anticipation and the heartburn tablets are already within reach!

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Missing the Movies in Panama?

by Expat Focus Columnist Stephanie Angulo

Just because you move abroad doesn’t mean that everything in your life is suddenly 100% different. You will find yourself partaking in many of the same activities you did back home, like going to the movies. The hubs and I have always been avid movie goers and didn’t let moving to Panama, a Spanish speaking country, slow down our movie date nights. Waiting in line to see midnight showings of Lord of the Rings, all the Matrix movies, and Ironman 2 barely scrapes the tip of the iceberg. Since our big move in January of this year, we’ve learned a few tips and tricks to enjoying our movie theater experience in Panama.

If you’re considering moving to a non-English speaking culture, or have already moved to one, these suggestions will help you know what to expect before you sit in front of the big screen, otherwise you just might not want to watch another movie in a theater abroad again.

1. Go with the subtitled movie. If you’ve moved to a non-English speaking country, some of the movie listings are subtitled and some are dubbed. Although you might be proficient in your new language, movies are typically better with the original voices. We also find that the locals are more likely to choose the dubbed movies so they don’t have to read the subtitles for 2 hours and possibly miss action on the big screen. We notice that locals going to a subtitled movie tend to talk more or read out loud, so if you choose to go to a subtitled movie, follow my next suggestion.

2. Be careful which times you pick. If you have chosen to watch a subtitled movie, don’t watch it in the evenings, weekends, national holidays, or school vacations. I know it’s starting to sound like those blackout dates for credit card miles rewards, but trust me on this one! We noticed that all the locals who couldn’t get tickets for the dubbed movie times will go ahead and buy tickets for the subtitled movie times. Then they will proceed to talk through the entire movie no matter how many times you nicely ask them to stop. Sometimes I don’t think they realize that there are other people who do understand English sitting amongst them.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

The Only American in the Village

by Expat Focus Columnist Michelle Garrett

Some expats like to completely blend in and not draw attention to their differences and I have been one of those expats. However, I have learned to make the most of my American background, because I enjoy how it makes me unique amongst my friends, and sometimes I don’t want to share the uniqueness!

There is a comedy sketch show in the UK called Little Britain. Two comedians have constructed a series of sketches making fun of aspects of the British people. In many cases, the themes are not exclusive to Britain—in other words, you’ll get it even if you aren’t British.

One sketch is The Only Gay in the Village, in which a gay man, Daffyd, flaunts his homosexuality by wearing outlandish outfits and making bold statements about his lifestyle. The villagers are completely indifferent, which causes Daffyd to react with further attempts at provocation. He is also outraged when ‘other gays trespass on his patch,’ clearly relishing the self-imposed title of The Only Gay in the Village.

While living in London I had to get used to the occasional ripping apart of some aspect of American life by pop opinion writers, stand up comedians and people at dinner parties. This was all part of the skin thickening process for an expat. Here’s one thing I learned about that: The British aren’t targeting American’s specifically, they do this to everyone, even themselves. I accepted this aspect of the British sense of humour, and I didn’t stop being proud of my American background, but I was certainly a lot quieter whilst living in London. Who would want to draw attention to themselves in that environmen

After seven years of that I moved to Essex where everyone is nice and friendly and loved talking to me about the States. The woman on checkout at the local grocery store enjoyed telling me about her favourite holiday to Yellowstone, or the car mechanic spent 20 minutes, tools in hand, describing in great detail about when he did a fly drive around California. Postmen stopped to chat about the different states of origin on my parcels. Farmers paused to say ‘that doesn’t sound like a local accent!’ which launched a conversation about where I grew up. When friends of my children find out I’m American they say ‘oh cool!’

I eventually got used to being special and interesting in a positive way. I realized that...

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Sunday, December 04, 2011

Experience German Christmas Markets Like a Local

by Expat Focus Columnist Laurel Robbins

Christmas Markets in Germany are a huge hit with tourists and locals alike, but the tourist and the local experience can be quite different.

Tourists tend to flock to the larger, well known Christmas Markets while locals prefer the smaller lesser-known ones. Last weekend I attended the Nuremberg Christmas Market, the largest one in Germany that attracts over two million visitors each year. I heard just as much English being spoken as German and while it was nice, I don’t think it deserves the honor of being Germany’s most famous Christmas Market. Despite being just an hour and a half drive from Munich, many of my German friends living in Munich friends have never been and have no desire to go since they think it’s too touristy. Many of these friends also favor the smaller Christmas Markets in Munich such as the one at the Munich Residenz over the touristy one at Marienplatz. My personal favorite Christmas Market is the medieval one in Esslingen, near Stuttgart. It is not well known outside of the local area, but is very unique.

Many tourists go to Christmas Markets to shop, while locals go to socialize. If locals are going to shop at Christmas markets they try and do it during the day and during the week when the Christmas Markets are not as busy. Evenings, when Christmas Markets are at their finest with all the lights, are reserved for meeting friends over a mug of Glühwein (mulled wine) and Kinderpunch (a sweet non-alcoholic drink that tastes like hot Kool-Aid) for the kids. During the Christmas Market season it’s not uncommon for locals to have a very full social calendar of catching up with friends at the varying Christmas Markets in the area. The Christmas Market season just started last week and I’ve already met five different groups of friends.

Since locals tend to socialize at Christmas Markets they also visit more than one Christmas Market providing variety and also debates over which Christmas Market has the best Glühwein, since not all Glühwein is created equal. Each time I’ve met friends so far it’s been at a different Christmas Market. Tourists shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking every Christmas Market is just like the other. While there are similarities, each one has a different feel and sometimes even a different theme. There are medieval Christmas Markets (both in Munich and Esslingen that I’m aware of) and baroque Christmas Markets (Ludwigsburg) and even an island Christmas Market on Frauen Insel that is Germany’s only island Christmas market...

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