dimanche 30 juin 2013

Sunday ramblings

As I am writing this I am listening to the noise of people in my building moving out. It is the last day of the month, and the last day of June, so today is a typical moving-out day for students. Outside is a mix of clouds and sunshine which perfectly matches my mood. What is my mood exactly?

I knew before coming to Denmark that I risked coming to the end of my stay here and not wanting to leave. And I think that day has come. The day where my current state of mind matches the weather outside: all mixed up.

With roughly one month left in Denmark, I have mixed feelings about going back to Bordeaux and France. Of course there are some great things in France for me (just as there are some not so great things about Denmark), but I know that I have spent the past few years in Bordeaux having a great time but not really living for me. I feel like I just bobbed along on the surface, just floating down the river.

I know that my feelings today are related to losing a friendship in Bordeaux. I wish that I could give all the details out here on my blog but I cannot. Suffice to say, I really believed that we were really good friends, that we were two peas in a pod, but I guess these were just ideas.

Rocks on a beach near Bordeaux. Author of photo: Den Nation.

So how are things going to be when I get back to Bordeaux? I shudder to think. To be honest, I think I have made more "friends" here in the past 5 months than I did in all the years I spent in Bordeaux. I don't really have true friends here yet, but I get along so well with some of the people from my Danish class that I know that I could be great friends with some of them if I just stayed longer. But do I really want to risk that? Put myself out there, believe that something exists, only to discover that I have only imagined it existed in my mind, and then be disappointed again?

As I approached 30 I felt that I was becoming more and more introverted. Now I am sure that I have a bit of a problem. I am getting TOO introverted, cynical of everything and everyone and not putting myself out there more. Sure I took a chance with my Bordeaux friend, but just because I was disappointed once doesn't mean that the next friendship I seek has to turn out the same way. I am introverted, and I tell myself that I don't need friends, but I know that that is not healthy. I do need friends.

I just feel strange "begging" people for their friendship. I don't want to push people because I feel that friendships should develop naturally, but if I don't push a bit more than I have been I'll just continue floating along like I was doing in Bordeaux. I can't get over my introverted self, though, and get myself out there. I just can't "beg".

This is why my Bordeaux friendship is such a blow for me. It was a friendship that seemed to come naturally and I kind of put all of my hopes onto that friendship. And that's not healthy either.

I do have some true friends, but they are scattered around the world. Such is the life of an expat.

The failed friendship is not, however, the only reason why I am apprehensive about going back to France. I have gotten used to Copenhagen: there is an anything goes attitude here, there are so many rules in France that the easygoing way of life here has really grown on me. I like Copenhagen; it is a capital city without feeling like one, big enough to have everything you need without being overwhelming.

Who knows, maybe when I get back to Bordeaux I will get back into my old life and forget about Copenhagen. But something tells me that I won't forget...

Ebeltoft marina on a party cloudy day. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I do thank you all, my dear readers, for reading my Sunday afternoon ramblings. For anyone who is thinking about becoming an expat, this is the real expat life, not what you read on some Paris blog about picnicking beside the Seine river with all of your new-found friends.

Which leads me to telling you that...

I think that this is the perfect moment to tell you why I picked the name Den Nation.

Den is short for Denmark. As I started this blog shortly before moving to Denmark, this is no surprise. But I also choose the word because it also means a refuge or a hiding place. This blog is my den. I also have a physical den which includes my desk, my computer and my living room. I am an introvert and I hide in my dens. I work from home and sometimes spend days without seeing another person besides my husband. And I choose Nation not only because Denmark is a country but also because this is my nation, my den country. There may be only one person that is physically present at all times in my den, but you, my readers, are regular visitors to my den. And I think we, being immigrants and expats, do share a lot of things in common, one being the difficulty of making and maintaining friendships with people of cultures different for our own. So you are part of my den nation as well. One last tidbit: if you say Den Nation quickly enough you will hear... well, I think you know what word comes out. No, this blog is not an eternal punishment! It's more like my mind I can't get away from, my cynical ways, my lack of self-confidence and self-worth. This is part of my nation, my Den Nation.

Have a good Sunday!

samedi 22 juin 2013

Things that surprise me about Denmark - Where is the ketchup?

You can find ketchup in pretty much any shop in Denmark. Ketchup is certainly not hard to find. So what is this post about? 

I have noticed over the past few months that whenever I order fries/chips, they are served with a remoulade sauce.  Now, remoulade sauce exists in France, but I have only really seen people eat it with a beef fondu. The only remoulade sauce I have seen in France comes in a small glass jar. I tried it once but didn't like it so I never ate it again. Here in Denmark it's everywhere; it seems that some Danes will eat it with anything. The colour of Danish remoulade is lighter than its French counterpart, which tends to be more yellow in colour. The Danish remoulade often tastes like pickles, and they pride themselves in serving you their own homemade remoulade in a glass bowl. 

Fish and chips in Denmark. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I'm not a big mayonnaise fan so I am really hesitant to eat remoulade. I am always eating tomatoes so it's no surprise that I love my ketchup! I don't refuse remoulade when I am served it, but I always ask for ketchup. Imagine my surprise when they tell me that they don't have any ketchup, that they only have remoulade. The first time, I was in such shock that I repeated the question when I was told no because I thought the person helping me didn't understand my question. 

I realise that Danes love eating this sauce with fish. I usually order fries/chips from a place that sells fish and chips. I just can't let go of my North American ideas, though, how can a place that sells fries/chips not have ketchup?! Come to think of it, I don't think I have ever seen a chippy (place where you can buy fish and chips) in the UK that didn't have any ketchup. Even France has always had ketchup for me, haha. 

So no, it doesn't happen very often that there is no ketchup, but whenever it does happen I am surprised because ketchup seems to be so readily available here and fast food is everywhere. I have eaten fries/chips in many European countries and have never been to a European country that physically didn't have ketchup in their café, not in my experience at least!

Danish remoulade. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I'm not shooting down Danish remoulade, though. I had my doubts about it, but actually, much to my surprise I like the stuff. Fries/chips do taste good with remoulade. I like its sweet and sour taste.

For those of you who live in France, do you eat remoulade sauce? Is it more popular in a certain region? Do you like it? And for anyone in Denmark, do you like the Danish remoulade?

samedi 15 juin 2013

Do you need a reason to visit Sicily?

French people like to visit Italy. They also like to eat.

I've had quite a few conversations with French people that go like this:

French person: I went to Italy during the month of August and it was wonderful!

Me: Oh yeah, where did you go?

FP: I rented out a gîte (house in the countryside) in Tuscany. We rented a car and took a few trips around the countryside and also saw Florence and Siena.

Me: So tell me what you liked in particular.

FP: Well, the Italians are so gregarious and sociable. I have a few Italian friends that showed me around a bit.

Inevitably the conversation turns to food...

FP: We ate really well and enjoyed the classic dishes as well as trying the regional specialities. But I have to say, the desserts were terrible!

Me: Really? Why?

FP: They were so dry and tasteless. Our friend's mother made a cake and it was horrible. Everything else she made was delicious, though! The Italians just don't know how to make desserts. They really need some pointers from us. How can a country that prides itself on its great cuisine have such bad desserts?

Well... if this doesn't blow you away, I don't know what will.

I'm here to say that, on the contrary, there are some very good desserts in Italy besides tiramisù and panna cotta (which are ubiquitous in Italian restaurants throughout France).

Sometimes all you have to do it get away and go south...

To Sicily!

(I'm not saying that there are no good desserts in the north because there are, of course!)

Of course the following desserts are found all over Italy as well, but anytime I have tried them outside of Sicily, they haven't tasted as good (I'm not a snob, I promise!).

Sicilian cookies. Author of photo: Den Nation.
There are 2 types of cookies here: those that contain almond paste (some also contain pistachio) and those that are made from nuts and eggs. The first type just melts in your mouth. I like the nut cookies as well, but they are a bit too hard.

Pistacchio di Bronte bars. Author of photo: Den Nation.

The round balls were filled with cream and peaches if I remember correctly. They were good, but the real star of the show are the pistachio bars made from Pistacchio di Bronte. The area around Etna, Europe's largest active volcano, is very fertile and this is where some of Italy's best pistachios are grown. They also produce Pistacchio di Bronte pesto - you'll never forget your first time eating this stuff!

A Sicilian croissant. Author of photo: Den Nation.
Before visiting Sicily, my French husband thought that there could be no croissant on earth that could be as good as the French croissant. Well, really he thought that no croissant outside of France could measure up. Until he went to Sicily! Before I took him to Sicily, I always talked (raved) about how good these croissants are. He would just feign interest in what I was saying, nodding his head up and down saying, "Huh, huh."

This particular croissant is not like the French croissant. It is filled with crema pasticera. Crema pasticera is kind of like custard, but the taste is really so different that you can't compare. Again, I've tried croissants in other parts of Italy, but they just don't compare to these ones. The cream is just that good. So good, that I've convinced my Frenchie that this "foreign" croissant is worthy of his attention. Ha!

Cannoli. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Growing up in Canada, cannoli were a treat for special occasions. I absolutely loved eating these as a child and thought that nothing could ever top these.

Until I tried them in Sicily.

Close-up shot of cannoli. Author of photo: Den Nation.

The taste was much more pronounced - it's all in the cheese I'm afraid. The texture is different, it's more paste-like and the cheese, dare I say, tastes more "animal" and milky and is less sweet than the cheese in the ones I ate in Canada.

I tried one in Canada a few years ago after having lived in Europe a few years. I was so shocked, I couldn't believe that I once thought they were the best cannoli on earth.

I did eat one in London (England), however, that came pretty close to the real thing.

This is only scratching the surface. There is also granita, which I think deserves its own post.

I think I need to go back to Sicily...

dimanche 9 juin 2013

On being ginger in England and Wales

I never imagined that there would be such a stigma attached to being ginger in England and Wales. Life can be really difficult for ginger people living in England and Wales.

Sure, redheads are teased in Canada too. But it's nothing like what I've seen in England and Wales.

When I lived in Wales I had a part-time job to put me through university. There was a ginger man working there and he was everyone's scapegoat and the butt of all the jokes. If something went wrong at work, he was often blamed for the problem. 

My supervisor annonced one day that her daughter was pregnant. I'll never forget what she said.

"If he comes out ginger, I don't know what we'll do. There's no one in my family who is ginger, but I think the father's grandmother is ginger. Here, have a look at his picture." I stare at his picture. "Do you see any ginger in him?" she asks in desperation. "We're all praying that he won't come out ginger." 

This conversation was repeated over the next following months. I was really susprised with how she spoke about being ginger, with such scorn in her voice.

One day I went to work and she exclaimed in front of everybody, "My daughter had her baby and he's not ginger!" she exclaimed. I think she was more happy about her grandson not being ginger than the fact that she had a grandson. And all this was within earshot of our ginger colleague. "He's lucky to have a girlfriend," a lot of my colleagues said whenever they spoke about our ginger colleague.

Rhossili, Wales. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I remember watching a programme on the BBC about what life was like for ginger people. They interviewed a few gingers and two interviews stuck out in my mind in particular. These two ginger men talked about how much they wanted to get married and have children. Despite having excellent jobs and being highly-educated, they were unable to find partners. And they weren't bad looking either. So what did they do? One moved to France and the other to the United States where they found partners. Can you believe it? How drastic is that?

In the second part of the programme, the BBC decided to place a couple of dating ads on the internet. Some of the ads specified that the person seeking a partner was ginger while others said nothing. All the people involved in the test were ginger. For the men whose ads stipulated that they were ginger, almost all of the responses were from ginger women. And for the others... 

The men would not reveal that they were ginger. A lot of them really hit it off with the respondents; some of them even shared personal details with each other. When the respondents asked for pictures the ginger men would dye their hair before taking the picture to be sent. When it came time to meet each other...


I can't believe how hard it is to be a ginger man in England and Wales. Nobody wants to date you. A lot of people think you're daft. I wonder if gingers are discriminated against in the workplace. Well, in my workplace the answer to that was kind of obvious.

Look at this site to learn more. http://beingginger.co.uk/

If you want to be shocked, watch the second video. Don't say I didn't warn you. This girl is serious. "Just try and limit the ginger," she says to the ginger man. And that's not the worst of it. I just can't believe it! 

I don't understand where this scorn comes from. Can somebody explain it?

Edit: Now that I've read the comments, I'm beginning to realise that maybe this scorn is a form of discrimination against Celtic people. Let's face it, when the Irish immigrated to England, there was a lot of discrimination. And since a lot of Irish people have red hair, well, it's not hard to put two and two together.