Saunas, That’s Hot!

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Scandinavia is known for its saunas.  While we were there, we indulged and I developed a new addiction.   They are amazing.  I want one,  maybe we should build a home sauna in our basement bomb shelter

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Traditionally, Saunas are wood paneled rooms (sometimes in cabins like the one below) with wooden benches that are heated with wood fired stoves topped with rocks.  Today, many of the stoves are electric (for the heating unit).  Infrared saunas exist, but the steam is part of what makes it so good.

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You ladle water onto the rocks/stove to create steam.   We saw shops selling fancy buckets and ladles all over Scandinavia.  Since warm air rises, the higher the bench, the hotter the temperature.  It gets really hot and you sweat out all sorts of toxins.

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Locals claim that slapping the skin with birch branches enhances circulation.  They also believe that the chlorophyll releases opens your sinuses.   Being American, we didn’t beat each other with branches or didn’t go in the buff  (although locals do both).

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We did, however repeatedly cool off.  Many take a cold shower.  If there is snow, people will go roll around in it.

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Our favorite way of cooling off spot was on the island of Grinda in Stockholm’s archipelago.  We started by walking tentatively into the Baltic Sea and ended by taking giant leaps into it.  Even though I hate Polar Bear swims, I’d jump in from the sauna every day if I could.

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Kiss And Tell – How To Do La Bise

While the above greeting was fun, when you meet someone you know in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, you kiss them…three times!  It’s called “la bise.”*

Kissing Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (Cynomys lud...

Here’s how you do it:

1. Touch your right cheek to the other person’s right cheek.

2. Pucker your lips and make a kissing noise at the same time.

3. Switch to the left cheek and repeat.

4. Switch to the right cheek and repeat.

5. Say “Bonjour,” it’s nice to see you, ask how they are doing, etc..

Perhaps it will catch on in the States. I highly recommend everyone go into work today and practice this one.   Start with your boss.  Or not.

How do you know who to kiss? It depends on how close the people are and their gender.  I kissed our realtor.  He did too. She was nice.  If he had made her uncomfortable, she could have chosen not to and would probably have held out her hand to shake instead.  Two guys are less likely to do “La Bise.”  When we met a nice Swiss couple, he shook hands with the husband shook hands with the husband.  He likes the KISS below better.

KISS Concert in Montreal - Kiss Alive 35 Tour

KISS Concert in Montreal – Kiss Alive 35 Tour (Photo credit: Anirudh Koul)

*Different countries kiss different numbers of times. In Belgium, they kiss only once.  In Nantes (France), they kiss four times!

The Shock Of Your Life – Culture Shock

Moving to a new country with different customs, values and language, will cause you to experience culture shock.  We went through it.  Our friends went through it.  It’s normal, so try not to freak out too much (even though meltdowns are inevitable) and don’t worry, it will get better.   The crazy part is that once you’ve successfully adapted, the odds are that you will return to your native culture and experience the same thing (known as reverse culture shock).

Dictionary.com defines it as “a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange or foreign social and cultural environment.”  Everyone’s different and everyone’s experiences are different, but there is a common pattern.  People experiencing culture shock generally go through these stages.   It starts with the ‘Honeymoon Phase.’  This is the “oh, how charming” stage. You will find everything is an exciting and interesting.   It seems like you are on vacation.  Who ever vacations someplace long enough to get sick of it (‘Paris Syndrome,’ ‘Jerusalem Syndrome‘ and ‘Stendhal Syndrome‘ excluded)?

How much you put yourself out into the other culture, how insulated you are from it and the pressures you experience will help determine its length, but generally it this phases lasts a few days to a few weeks.  Obviously, the more you mix it up with the local culture, the quicker it will end.  Don’t worry though, the loss of this euphoria should ultimately lead you to better understanding of the culture and adaptation.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this, what happens next distressing, you will probably drop an expletive (in your native language since you probably don’t understand too much of the local one) and realize you have changed almost everything in your daily life.  While this may arrive in a time of peace (and induce panic), it is much more likely that you have just locked yourself out or had some other bad experience.  This is called the ‘Negotiation Phase.’

Just like that, the honeymoon/vacation is over and you have to start living your daily life someplace where you don’t know how to do it.  Between us, we felt disoriented, confused and lonely.  After trying to get the apartment set up and start work, we were exhausted.  Having been though it I fought the urge to speak in English and succeeded some of the time.  Other people, watch their American shows on sling boxes, hunger for food from the US (even if it is McDonald’s and they don’t even like fast food) or spend their time with other expats.  Essentially, you become nostalgic for your native culture (while forgetting its problems).

Instead of getting better, things only get worse (or at least they do until they get better).  Living somewhere where you don’t understand how things works is disorienting.  You get sick of feeling incompetent (see Les Incompetents posts).   You wonder how you went from someone who was competent to, well, this.  Plus, with your support systems far away and your new ones not well established, it can be even harder.  It’s easy to focus on the negative.  Even if you don’t, you’re likely experiencing many more negative emotions than usual.  Anger?  Check. Sadness?  Check.  Frustration? Impatience?  Dissatisfaction? Depression?  Aggression? Rage?  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  And, um, yep, check.

If this is you, remind yourself  that this is inevitable when adapting to a new and different culture.   It’s at this time that most people want to leave.  Others get really depressed or negative.  Try like hell to keep a positive and open attitude.  It will be hard to connect with people if you seem like a loose cannon.  I know that life is a minefield of potential problems and you will completely screw up the simplest things (that you used to do without thinking in your native country).

Trust me when I tell you people may try to help, but 99% of them don’t understand what you are going through.  Trust me also when I tell you that lots of others of them flat-out don’t care.  I know it sounds bleak and you are probably asking why would anyone ever do this.  Remind yourself that you are in the middle of the ‘Adjustment Phase.’  Trust me one more time when I tell you that it will get better and it is worth it.  I repeat.  It will get better and it is more than worth it.

If you work hard to learn the culture, accept the customs, adjust and integrate, at some point things will get better (usually from six to nine months).  You will acquire a critical mass of knowledge, reach an inflection point and things will get easier.  You will start to feel like less of an idiot all the time.  Heck, you might even feel competent.  Even if you still don’t understand everything, daily tasks won’t induce the same level of anxiety.  It makes your life a lot easier and enables you to have a more balanced view of your new culture.  You will get happier and people tend to respond positively to this.  You’ll still probably make a fool of yourself (see Les Incompetents posts), but it won’t be as often.

Finally, you will enter the ‘Mastery Phase.’  It’s enriching and rewarding.  It builds your confidence and increases your understanding of the world.  You better understand and appreciate your native culture (or aspects of it anyway).  You will grow in ways you never imagined.  You have made amazing friends.  Some continue even further break through to an even deeper and richer understanding of your new culture.

Culture shock isn’t the easiest thing in the world to deal with, but since when do you get something for nothing?   It’s the price you pay for the wonderful experiences, knowledge, growth and friends.

This post is for one special person who rocks.   Hang in there.

Mohawks Welcome But Not Required At The Groezrock Festival

We love to see live music and summer music festivals are big in Europe.  In January, we started looking at lineups and chose Groezrock Festival in Meerhout, Belgium as our first festival.  It had a fantastic lineup.  I am sure that many people don’t know these bands, but believe me when I tell you fans of punk rock are astounded by the sheer volume of great bands playing this festival.

Essentially, Groezrock is a giant music festival with four stages in the middle of fields in Flanders.  You bounce around between four stages (one of them acoustic) catching great music.  There were so many good bands that it was difficult to choose between several bands that were playing at the same time.

Arriving at the Main Stage where we saw the Menzingers. When you see the crowd surfing, you will understand why I didn’t bring my camera and only had my iPhone.

Unfortunately we arrived too late to catch Authority Zero.  The Menzingers had already taken the stage and were a great surprise.  We’d heard of them, but hadn’t seen them before.  Their music was strong and they sounded great.  We’ll definitely be buying their album now.

The Bouncing Souls on the acoustic stage

He is a huge Bouncing Souls fan.  We caught their acoustic set.  I think everyone tried to fit into the smaller acoustic tent to see them.  For good reason, they were great.

Reel Big Fish

The Bouncing Souls followed Reel Big Fish on the Main Stage.  I would have paid just to see them back to back!  They both put on great shows and had such a positive vibe. The crowd ate it up.  It was still relatively early and most people had tons of energy.

We didn’t have the best view of Reel Big Fish because we’d stopped to fortify ourselves.  Since we were in Belgium, that meant French Fries with special sauce.  So tasty.  We needed energy to keep from looking like this guy.

Set Your Goals

I’d heard some Set Your Goals on the Radio One Punk Show with Mike Davies.  After seeing them live, we became huge fans.  They were strong.  It was so crowded that I could only catch a glimpse of the stage by climbing the fence surrounding the sound booth.  It looked like joyful mayhem.  He saw guys in banana suits stage diving.

Yellowcard on the acoustic stage

We also caught Yellowcard‘s acoustic set.  He thought they did a good job wanted to see their live set.  It was even better.  Yellowcard was clearly motivated to put on a great show and excited to be there.  They had tons of energy and the crowd got the crowd really into it.

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We had such a great spot for Yellowcard that we decided to stay there to catch Face to Face, Lagwagon and Rancid.  It’s easy to forget how many great songs Face to Face has.  Seeing them live reminded me.  We hadn’t bought the album they released last year and will definitely be doing so.  They delivered a solid performance.  I love punk concerts for the energy.  It’s great to be someplace where you are encouraged to feel and move with the music to such an extent.  Face to Face was about our 10th consecutive hour of rocking out and we’d started flagging a bit.  By that point, I was too tired to jump around.

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Crowd surfing during Face to Face

Even though it was their second show of the day, Lagwagon had tons of energy.  People were downing energy drinks like water and it showed.  The circle pit was huge and people were definitely rocking out.

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We lost our key.  Oops  We went off in search of it and missed seeing Rancid…again.  Hopefully the third time will be the charm.  Given all the great music we saw, it is hard to be too bummed.

Here are some other acts we missed, but that got great reviews:

Traveling Through History At Skansen, The World’s First Open-Air Museum

He’s been known to think of museums as a great place to nap, but enjoys the activity inherent in open-air museums.  Founded in 1891 by Artur Hazelius, Skansen was the world’s first open-air museum.  It is a great place to visit with kids, as big kids we enjoyed it too.  It was great to be out in the sun on a nice spring day and we saw tons of cool stuff.

The golden pretzel is the sign for bakeries.

How could he nap when there were fresh baked goods?

Skansen is a time machine.  It has 150 houses that were relocated from different parts of Sweden to form a medieval city.  Most of the houses have museum staff dressed in costume ready to answer questions, tell the stories of the buildings and giving demonstrations.  There are demonstrations on glass-blowing, netting, sheep-sheering, how to make bread, how to produce various handicrafts, etc.  We even bought coffee (coffee again, quelle surprise) from a costumed lady in a 19th century house.

The staff are one of the things that make Skansen so special They are everywhere and do a lot to enrich visitors.  In addition to the standard imparting knowledge, musicians perform folk melodies.  Dancers teach people folk dances.  Staff drive visitors around the complex in a horse and carriage.  People in traditional costumes walk along the streets and do traditional everyday tasks.

Skansen has a zoological part with domestic and wild local animals.  In addition to the normal farm animals, there are Scandinavian animals such as lynxes, wolves, bears, wolverines, reindeer and seals.  We happened upon them at feeding time  (around 2:00 p.m.).

Skansen is fun for kids, big ones, like us.

 

I Apologized for Saying Merci Beaucoup (Thank You)

It is sometimes difficult to explain the relationship between the Flemish speaking and the French speaking parts of Belgium to other Americans. Heck, I’m not sure I understand it and I have been trying to for decades now.
While I was in Belgium, we went to see the ruins of an amazing castle. It was both interesting and beautiful. If you want to read more about it, here is the link: http://www.montaigle.be/  Since it is in French, here is another link to see information about the ruins (this time in English) medieval-castle-ruins-of-montaigle.

I wanted a picture of all of us with the castle behind us and asked a passer-by exiting the castle if they could please take our picture (in French). They did so and I thanked them. When they found out I spoke English they switched to it immediately and so did I.  This is because they were from the north of Belgium and Flemish is their mother tongue.* They made it clear that they preferred English to French.

When they left, I reflexively said “merci beaucoup” without thinking and then, immediately apologized for having spoken in French. To make reparations, I attempted a “dank u”.

*I have always been advised when meeting Belgians who speak Flemish to speak English not French (one of their country’s languages and mandatory in school from an early age). I was told that they could feel slighted that I had chosen to learn one of their countries other languages before Flemish. I have always done so and found their English to be excellent.