vendredi 26 avril 2013

Things that surprise me about Denmark - Ice cream

What comes into mind when you think about Denmark? I'm pretty sure it's not ice cream!

One thing that surprised me about Scandinavia was the ice cream culture. I never expected a cold country to like ice cream this much. Having read other Scandinavian expat blogs, I've learnt that ice cream is an even bigger deal in Iceland than in Denmark. It's even colder there!

Ice cream truck equipped with a bell on top. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I have a theory as to why that is.

In France people eat ice cream, but they are not crazy about it like the Danish people. I don't see many people eating ice cream whilst strolling along Bordeaux's quay. Why is that?

French people want to sit in cafés, preferably en terrasse, and drink together. I do sometimes see people eating ice cream, but most ice cream eaters in France are young people. And French people hate eating ice cream when it's cold outside (this means less than 25°C, haha).

French people, at least in Bordeaux, don't like to eat while walking. French people want to socialize together in cafés, often over a beer during the summer months.

Danish people don't want to spend their time sitting in cafés during the summer months. They do enough of that during the long, dark winter months. They prefer to spend sunny days outside, sitting together on the bridges, strolling around 'the Lakes' (5 man-made lakes in the centre of Copenhagen), hanging out in parks having picnics, etc. Who wants to sit in a café when the sun is shining outside? As soon as daylight savings time starts in March and the sun starts shining, the ice cream comes out. Who cares if it's only 7°C outside?

As long as there's sunshine, Danes will congregate outside! FYI, there was an ice cream stand right in front of where these Danes were sitting. Author of photo: Den Nation.

During the summer months all of the bins around the Lakes are full to the brim and overflowing with empty ice cream cups and iced drink cups. Everyone is out and about, and out and about eating ice cream.

In Canada ice cream is eaten all year round, but I think many Canadians see it as a comfort food. Just broke up with your boyfriend? Get a tub of ice cream and drown your sorrows in front of the TV. And what better food but ice cream when you are having a girls' night in watching a chic flick! Let's get out the popcorn while we're at it!

One thing that really surpised me in Denmark is that Stracciatella seems to the national flavour. If it's not the national flavour, it's one of the favourites, because Stracciatella ice cream is everywhere. Only the "Stracciatella" ice cream that they eat is not really Stracciatella at all because it's basically vanilla ice cream with thick gobs of chocolate sauce in it. I would say that at least one third of the ice cream consists of chocolate sauce. Italian Stracciatella is mostly vanilla ice cream with chocolate shavings. I'm not saying it Danish Stracciatella tastes bad, because it doesn't, I'm just wondering how the discrepancy between the two came to be.

I've asked some Danes about the whole Stracciatella phenomenon and they are blissfully unaware that they seem to like eating Stracciatella. My questions were met with shoulder shrugs.

Can someone tell me why Stracciatella is everywhere? Author of photo: Den Nation.

Another thing that surprised me was the ice cream truck. Once a month you can here distant bells ringing in the streets. Those are the trucks calling you to come buy ice cream. They drive slowly down the streets in residential areas, ringing a bell. It doesn't matter that it's minus 5 outside, they'll be there! You can buy many types of ice cream from these trucks, but you usually buy in bulk; you can't just buy an ice cream cone from the "ice cream man". What a stark contrast to Canada, where I spent my summers as a kid running after the "ice cream man", who would ride around on a bike with a refrigerated ice box attached filled with single-serve portions of ice cream. When he rang that bell, all the kids started running! In Canada the "ice cream man" sells treats to kids, not adults. And he's only there during the summer.

The ice cream truck's menu. Author of photo: Den Nation.

So what about where you live? Is there an ice cream culture?

samedi 20 avril 2013

France vs. Canada/Denmark cultural differences - going out with friends

I remember how I used to go out with my girlfriends when I still lived in Canada. Actually, whenever I am visiting Canada I still go out with them. I really miss girls' nights out.

I've slowly noticed that women in Denmark (and in the UK as well), as in Canada, have girls' nights out. I often see them enjoying a night out in a restaurant or bar drinking, just gabbing the hours away together. I've also noticed that men do this here as well.

So how are things in France? Quite different, in my opinion.

There are a lot less girls' and boys' nights out. I've seen 2 women eating together in a restaurant, but I usually don't see groups of women together. I'm trying to understand why.

Everything seems to be done as a couple. If you don't have a boyfriend or husband you just tag along with friends who are couples.

This means that things can be very awkward when a couple splits up because everyone is used to hanging out all together. How does the single person or couple choose between which half of the couple to continue seeing? You can, of course, try to continue seeing both sides separately, but I find that that often doesn't work out well. You often have to choose (or sometimes the choice is made for you) which side to continue seeing.

My husband is uncomfortable going out without me. It has nothing to do with him feeling uneasy in the company of others, far from that actually, it's like he needs me to be with him, for us to do everything together as a couple. He doesn't need to go out with groups of men. I force him sometimes because I can't stand watching certain movies at the cinema, I don't like watching football in a bar, etc.

A few days ago we met up with a Danish friend in a bar. She knew that we would be there as a couple, so we figured surely she would bring her fiancé along. Nope, she came alone. She actually never seems to go out with her fiancé with other people. We've only met him once, at a wedding. Same thing with another friend; sometimes we eat together at a mutual friend's house, but she never brings her husband. I can't imagine a dinner date in France where a couple wouldn't attend together, unless they were physically separated by distance!

I originally thought that it's because of French women themselves that there are no girls' nights out. Maybe, dare I say, they are a bit clingy and expect to do everything together with their husband or boyfriend? Now I am not so sure, because, well, just look at my husband! Maybe it's because women have not traditionally been so independent in France as women in Denmark or Canada?

Of course age is a factor. I have seen plenty of women out together alone without men, but these are usually young teenage girls or young women. I'm talking about people my age. It seems like the only times I see women my age out together in France is for hen/bachelorette parties.

So, to summarise my post, these are my main observations in France:

1. Women don't go out together in groups a lot.

2. Women who are married or in a relationship don't go out independently of their partner.

What do you think? Have you had the same experiences? What are your theories to explain the differences?

lundi 15 avril 2013

My beauty confessions

I was inspired by Zhu's post over at about being "girly".  There are some things about me that might surprise you.

1. I have only been to the hair salon once in the past 12 years - for my wedding day. I didn't even want to go at first, but my mother-in-law made the appointment and pushed me to go. Normally my husband cuts my hair or I just don't cut it.

2. I have no make-up, absolutely none. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law nagged me to wear make-up for my wedding and I reluctantly let my sister-in-law put some mascara on me. I have no idea how to put on make-up. I use no styling products in my hair either. I've never dyed my hair or had a manicure done.

3. I hate, hate, hate blow-dryers. Did I already say that I hate blow-dryers? I can't stand how my hair puffs up and frizzes after blow-drying my hair. I'd rather go outside with wet hair than blow-dry it and have even fallen asleep with wet hair. This shocks the French and even more the Italians. When I tell them that I don't use a blow-dryer they start gasping for air, telling me that I'll get sick and die if I continue not to use one.

4. I still wear some clothes from high school. Finding pants that fit me is rare and when I do, I buy the same ones twice (or more!). My sister and friends give me clothes or I find them. It's not really that I hate shopping, I just hate having clothes sitting around that I don't wear (or that others are not wearing). My cousins in Italy are shocked at my ways because they noticed that I still wear the same clothes as I did during my visit in 2006. A lot of the Italian women I talk to wouldn't be caught dead wearing the same clothes for more than 2 years.

5. I am totally lost when women talk about stores and shopping. "Forever 21, what's that?" I asked tonight during the girls' banter. Silence.

6. I've worn the same earrings for the past 5 years. The only other jewellery I wear is my wedding ring.

7. I have no matching underwear. I'll wear a black bra with white underwear. As long as it's clean, I'll wear it. No one's looking anyway.

8. I do have a purse!

9. I do sometimes use body lotion but only because I have itchy calves.

10. Even though I don't care about beauty, I always make sure I am presentable and clean.

I hope you're not too shocked!

In other news, for anybody who cares to know, I weighed in at just under 63 kg tonight. I kept weighing myself just to see that number again because it has been so long since I weighed this little. So I made my goal for today!

So onto my next goal. I'm going to Milan on the 11th of May to see an Italian friend that lives in Bordeaux. I'd love to surprise her with my new weight (nobody in France knows about my project). My goal? 60 kg, yikes! I have to be realistic, though, because I'm having a visitor at the beginning of May. So I'll realistically aim for 61.

I feel so much better now that I have finally gotten rid of this weight (and have stopped last year's downward spiral of weight gain). No, I don't need new clothes because before I started to lose weight I had convinced myself that my clothes still fit fine (I was bursting out of them). Now they fit like they should. Part of being overweight/obese is convincing yourself that your clothes fit just fine when in reality they are too small. Sometimes I really need a reality check.

I'm just happy to be at (almost, just one more kilo to go!) my wedding weight, a healthy weight. I have to reflect on what I am going to do when I go back to France and how I am going to maintain this. I can't let myself believe that this will all be over as soon as I reach my goal. I have to remind myself of how I got in this position in the first place. I have to learn better self-control so I can handle eating in France.

jeudi 11 avril 2013

Nobody's perfect

For some of you, I may have given off the idea that I am a model person.

I have never smoked, have never been drunk, I hate clubbing and dislike dancing, have never died my hair, and I don't have tattoos. I wear simple clothing. I wear what I call "hand-me ups" (clothing I get from my younger sister) and clothing that I find or that is off-loaded onto me. I am more introverted than extroverted. I don't really like shopping and I carefully control my budget. I am a really simple person living a simple life.

Remember the old adage - nobody is perfect. 

So what's my vice?


One of the richest meals I've had in Bordeaux, lamb and beans slow-cooked in an earthenware pot. Delicious, but deadly. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I have never been at the ideal weight for my height. Not since I was 6 years old. Puberty hit at age 7 (yes, I was an early bloomer) and I have been chubby every since. 

I love trying everything at least once. I eat almost anything and I cannot stand leaving great food on my plate in restaurants. I have to eat everything; it makes me uneasy to think of good food being thrown away.

When I was 22 I weighed over 80kg. For someone that is only 160cm tall, that is a lot. Last night I looked up my BMI for when I weighed 82kg and was so shocked to discover that I had been obese. 

Me obese, how could that be? I was so ashamed.

At this time I moved to a new city, started university and began a weight-loss regime. It was not a fun time, let me tell you. For six months I ate plates of boiled vegetables and fish. Nothing could be fried and the only dessert I knew was Greek yoghurt and fruit.

I succeeded - I got the weight off. Just not all of it.

I spent a few years almost happy at the upper end of a healthy weight range for my height. I did control my portions and led an active life which included a lot of walking and cycling. I ate mostly whatever I wanted. But I remained chubby.

That all changed when I got married. I can't pinpoint exactly when the turning point was, but sometime in the year after I got married I started gaining weight again. 

I have thought about it a lot recently, and I think I know what went wrong. 

A lot of our friends had babies. Instead of inviting our friends over for dinner, we would always visit them in their homes. There would always be an elaborate apéro, pre-dinner drinks and snacks. I was ravenous and there was no way to escape the apéro. Living in Bordeaux, there was no shortage of alcohol either. By the time I got to the meal, I was no longer hungry, but I would keep eating at the insistence of my hosts. "Here, have a little bit more, I noticed that you liked these potatoes," my hosts would say, reserving me a healthy portion of potatoes without even asking if I wanted more. And then there was the wine. Oh, the wine! Sometimes there was even wine during the dessert. 

Treats brought back from Italy. The tupperware is full of cookies and nuts. Author of photo: Den Nation.

For the two years after we got married, my husband's job involved going out to dinner at least once a week and I would accompany him. Remember how I said that I can't stand to waste food? Well, in France you can't ask for a doggy bag. Everyone would order the 3-course set meals so I would too and end up eating all of it. The meals were so rich that even my bike ride home probably didn't burn off even a tenth of the calories I consumed.

We travel a lot, mostly for my husband's work. Since we got married we travel even more. So what happens when we arrive at our destination? You guessed it, dinner with the hosts who want to impress. 

So what happened? Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess that. I gained 10kg in a year. All because I have no sense of control and because I am too gourmande.

I decided to finally do something about it. Everytime I stepped on the scales it was like somebody was stabbing me in the heart. If I didn't do something about it, I was going to end up obese again and the thought of having to lose 20+kilograms just depressed me.

I knew that the only way I could do something about it was to leave France. So Denmark has been my saving grace. I think I will just do another post on why that is as this post is getting too long. 

I decided not to get a scale here, otherwise I would be on it all the time. I just weigh myself whenever we go to our friends' houses. 

So Monday night will be weigh-in night. 

I decided to talk about my weight problems so I would be held more accountable to stick to this. I'm going to try and eat right over the weekend and I'll be telling you all how the weigh-in went. Of course I'm not going to starve myself - I'll eat when I'm hungry and yes, this includes carbs. I don't believe in cutting out a food group from your diet just in the name of losing weight. When you go back to eating that food, the weight will more than likely come back on.

What am I hoping for in Monday night's weigh-in? To just be at a normal, healthy weight again, even if it at the top-end, which for me is 63. I know that a few weeks ago I was at 65, but with travelling and eating out, I can only hope to see 63 staring back at me on Monday night.

I better get out there and get on my bike. It's pouring, but no pain, no gain, right? Or it should be in this case, no pain, no lose.

vendredi 5 avril 2013


I'll start of by saying right off the bat that I feel a bit strange talking about ageing since I am, after all, only 30 years old. But I can't help but think about it anyways. I keep telling myself that I'm just being silly, that I'm only imagining things and that I should think about how the 85-year-old woman hobbling down the street feels.

Am I the only one that wonders about these old ladies, all hunched over and taking one minute to walk 10 metres? What do they feel that they have to walk like this? Are they in horrible pain? Is it really arthritis or is the problem with their muscles? I just can't imagine a day when I would have to walk like this. But I have to.

Maybe this sounds ridiculous, but I am noticing the signs of ageing. It has nothing to do with turning 30 (although this is a blatant reminder that I am ageing) because I started to feel it 2 years ago.

So what's wrong then?

My right leg.

About 2 years ago I started to notice that it would hurt when I spent large amounts of time sitting at home working. The longer I went without exercising, the worse the pain became.

The pain is localized in my calf muscles. I have no pain in my other leg or in any other part of my right leg. So basically I feel pain in my calf muscles from the knee to the ankle of my right leg. The pain has been strong enough that it has kept my from sleeping at night.

I went to see my doctor to discuss the problem with my leg right after I came back from Canada after Christmas. The pain had been awful there as it was so cold that I never went outside walking. What did she say? That I have a circulation problem. What? How can that be already? Doesn't that happen to older women?

She prescribed compression stockings. I had to go to the pharmacy to get a fitting done for the stockings because you have to wear socks that are tight enough to stimulate circulation.

I hate wearing them. They are tight, especially just under my knees and they make me itch like crazy. I try to avoid wearing them at all costs.

So what do I do? Take my leg out for a walk. That's right, I think of my leg as a pet that needs to be walked everyday.

I almost never feel the pain when I have "walked" my leg. I need to be out there walking my leg at least 30 minutes everyday.

And then there is the walking itself. I used to be able to walk hours and hours outside without feeling tired. Now I've noticed that I sometimes feel exhausted when I am walking. I'll be charging along and all of a sudden I'll have an overwhelming urge to sit down, like I just don't have the energy and stamina to continue. This never used to happen before.

So I wonder about the old lades. If I feel like this now, how will I feel if and when I reach their age? I shudder to think.

Am I crazy or has anybody else felt any changes as well?