Experiencing new customs, traditions and holidays are one of the many first-hand experiences, expatriates learn from their host country.
Following the same format as The Unwritten Rules from Around the World. I reached out to another group of expats on Instagram. Again, I introduced myself and inquired if they would be interested in contributing their experience, about their host country’s customs, traditions, and or holidays.
Just like the last time, the responses were all very positive and I’m very thankful and grateful to all the contributors.
Meet Round 2’s #ExpatDreamTeam
Learn customs, traditions and holidays from the USA, Ireland, Sweden, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, India, Taiwan, Denmark, Japan and Italy.
In no particular order…….
Holidays in USA with Camilla.
CamillainConnecticut a.k.a. Camilla, the real Danish housewife living in Connecticut, USA. She recently married her love, Dennis, moved from Denmark and is now enjoying the seasons in lovely, New England, USA.
Camilla writes, “Hi Sarah, Here are my thoughts on some of the traditions and customs that are very different from Denmark:
First of all we are looking forward to celebrating our first Thanksgiving. I think that’s a very American holiday that seems to be bigger than Christmas here.
We also just experienced our first American Halloween. During the last decade in Denmark, Halloween has started to become more and more popular, but it’s still nothing like over here. And I was so surprised and a little amused to see parents driving their kids from house to house instead of walking.
In general, (the) Fall (season) seems to be a very big thing here in New England. People are so excited for it – even putting up specific fall decorations in their homes! And I get why, cause it does get really beautiful here in the Fall.“
If you have any recommendations for Camilla, of what to do and where to go. Send her a DM CamillainConnecticut.
Holidays in Ireland with Katrina.
K_Treen – is Katrina Mathews. An American expat, attending graduate school in Dublin, Ireland. When she isn’t working on her dissertation, she’s enjoying a pint of beer and exploring Europe.
Katrina talks about the holiday season in Ireland. “Christmas season in Dublin starts the day after Halloween, which was a surprise for me because in the States we have Thanksgiving to break it up a little.
There’s no fall foliage to adorn shop windows, no turkeys and no cranberry sauce, just Christmas decorations and, strangely enough, Black Friday.“
Connect with Katrina and follow her journey on Instagram, K_Treen.
Customs in Sweden with Héloïse & Erikas.
The Northern Itinerary – Héloïse & Erikas are expats living in Stockholm. Héloïse is from St. Malo France, and Erikas is from Vilnius, Lithuania. These two met in Helsingborg, Sweden and now live in the Sweden’s capital, Stockholm.
Héloïse & Erikas provide their insights of personal space in Sweden.
“We are living in Sweden for over 3 years now and there is one custom that we got introduced to, pretty quickly. Personal space! It applies to everything and everywhere in Sweden. So, if you are coming to Sweden, here are a few things you will notice in no-time!
1) Waiting at the bus stop, at least, 1 meter away from other people
As weird as it can sound, the less interaction the better. In Sweden, people don’t want to touch each other or be too close from one another. If you are waiting for the bus, there is usually quite a lot of space on the sidewalk, so people stand about a meter away from each other.
2) Do not sit next to someone in public transport
This applies to all kind of public transportation – bus, metro, tram, ferries… When in metro, and especially when it is not peak hours, you can notice one person sitting in a 4 seats compartment, with no one else sitting there. If there are no other compartments free, then the rule is to sit on the opposite side, leaving one seat free in front of you and next to you. This logic applies for all transport modes 😉
3) Looking inside the door hole to see if people passed
Here, people don’t want to meet or talk to their neighbors. It is very common to hear your neighbor’s door opening after you are down a few steps.“
Learn more about Héloïse & Erikas on The Northern Itinerary
Holidays in Denmark by Franziska.
Be_Happy_Abroad is Franziska Luxhøj, an Austrian living in Denmark with her family. Franziska and her family, love to travel and try new foods. When she isn’t touring around, she’s a happiness coach, whose mission is to support other expats in creating a happy life.
Franziska talks about Christmas in Denmark, “My name is Franziska, I’m Austrian and have lived in Denmark and the Netherlands for the past 12+ years. As my husband is Danish, Denmark does feel like home now.
Compared to other moves, the differences I experienced in culture and traditions are probably more subtle – which doesn’t mean they can’t be challenging at times.
Both countries are soon celebrating Christmas, and the traditions around that are quite similar too. The thing that strikes me most around Christmas in Denmark is that there is a very uniform way to celebrate Christmas time.
So from my perspective, the recipe for Danish Christmas time would look something like that.
– In the weeks up to Christmas make sure to be very busy every single weekend, with lots of Christmas lunches in every group of people you’re part of (work, family, clubs, school,…). The Christmas lunch consists of 10+ servings of “smørrebrød” (open sandwiches, rye bread with different toppings), accompanied by beer and snaps/akvavit. SKÅÅÅÅL!!
– Exchange wish lists with different family members. Most Danish families have a more or less outspoken or silent agreement for approximately which amount they give gifts to each other, and they pick from the lists they receive. (My list is the same wish every year: surprise me! I just don’t like to tell others what to give me…)
– The main event is Christmas Eve. There are 2 options for dinner: duck or pork roast (some families serve both), with white + brown potatoes, red cabbage, pickles and brown sauce. The dessert is risalamande, a dish based on milk rice with cherry sauce, and there is hidden ONE whole almond. The one who gets that in their portion is the lucky winner. Most traditionally of a marzipan pig.
– Then you walk around the Christmas tree hand in hand, while singing Christmas carols.
– And then it’s time for the gifts.
And that’s Danish Christmas, as I know it. “
Holidays in Vietnam with Niobe.
Niobeetc is a Brit living in gorgeous Hanoi, Vietnam. Niobe’s Instagram is full of beautiful corners found in Hanoi. It’ll make you want to book a flight. Just like her name, her blog is just as unique. Find out more Niobe’s life in Vietnam on Niobeetc.com.
Niobe talks about the holidays differences between her host and home country, “The run up to Christmas was one of my favourite times of year in the UK.
Bonfire Night celebrations (5/11), with fireworks lighting up the sky as I snuggled up inside my coat, gloves and woolly hat, sparked the beginning of the festive period. I loved seeing the Christmas lights sparkle in the cities. I loved the smells at the outdoor Christmas markets.
I loved my family’s traditional drive around the neighbourhood, gazing out in awe at the homes which had just a few too many decorations. This run up to Christmas is the time of year I’m most homesick, more so even than Christmas day.
In Hanoi, there are Christmas decorations, particularly on Hàng Mã Street in the Old Quarter, where Santa outfits hang in their hundreds. But it’s not the same. Christmas isn’t really celebrated here, and many of the Vietnamese who do hang festive banners actually leave them up for the entire year.
Here, excitement builds for the Lunar New Year, or Tet Festival as it’s known in Vietnam, which takes place in late January or early February. The run up to Tet here is similar to Christmas back home, with lanterns and lights hanging around the city, children rehearsing for celebratory assemblies at school, and hectic traffic as people try to get organised.
Lucky Money is given as gifts and most people have several days off work. Just like at Christmas, the excitement is in the rush and hubbub in the days running up to the holiday. Then the streets empty, as residents retreat to their home towns and villages to celebrate with their families.
Tet is the quietest I’ve ever seen Hanoi, similar, I suppose, to the roads on Christmas day in England. Everyone at home, having fun, with not much going on for the rest of us!“
Coffee Customs in Dubai with Stash and Quintin.
Coffee_with_nomads is Stash and Quintin from South Africa who live in the United Arab Emirates. Their IG shows mouthwatering coffee delights in beautiful cafes and their world travels.
Quintin and Stash, chat about the coffee customs in Dubai. “Here are some fun facts regarding the coffee customs in the UAE.
1. Arabic coffee – made from Arabic beans and prepared with spices such as cardamom, cloves and saffron. This drink is especially popular during Ramadan and Eid and is served in a tiny cup called a Finjaan. It is a very important part of Arabic customs and is normally prepared in front of guests and served with dates.
2. Karak tea/coffee – one of the most popular drinks in the UAE that also translates to chai tea. This drink is a combination of black tea, milk, sugar and cardamom boiling on a low heat. There are many cafeterias that sell this popular drink. “
Customs in Jordan with Rachel.
Rachelshmachel is a British mum of 2 adorable little ones and living in Jordan. She’s learning Arabic and enjoying life in Amman.
Get more of Rachel on her YouTube channel. It’s full of fantastic energy and she’s a delight to watch and learn everything about the Jordanian lifestyle and culture.
Rachel writes, “Arabic hospitality etiquette has by far been my biggest stumbling block since moving to Jordan.
Women make the refreshments and serve them to the guests in a particular way. Coffee is first served in tiny cups and is known as the ‘welcoming coffee’, followed by juice, then fizzy drinks, a dessert or cake, Arabic sweet tea, and finally ‘good bye coffee’ which is also served in tiny cups and marks the end of the visit, usually after an hour and a half.
When delivering the refreshments, there is a priority of who to serve first. It should be the most senior male guest, followed by the next most senior male figure etc. I found working out who to serve nerve wracking and would resort to the default of serving guests from right-to-left, which would sometimes garner awkward glances when small children happened to be on the immediate right.
Now I just give the tray to my husband and pull the foreign card.”
Holidays in Japan with Maddie.
The MamaBaird is Maddie Baird. An American living in Japan with her family. Check out TheMamaBaird IG stories. Maddie opens up her home and shares Japanese life (she’s also hilarious). Plus their little man, Everett makes an appearance and is super adorable.
Maddie chats about the holidays. “In Japan, the first week of May is known as Golden Week. There are four different holidays that take place during Golden Week so most people have the entire week off of school and work to enjoy the holiday week.
One of the holidays celebrated during the week is Children’s Day- it takes place on May 5th. On Children’s day, children and their uniqueness and personalities are celebrated. The day is often spent doing something enjoyable for children. The other holidays celebrated during Golden Week are Showa Day, Constitution Day, and Greenery Day.“
Celebrations in Taiwan with Jacqueline.
Jaxxiep is Jacqueline, a South African living in Taiwan. When Jacqueline isn’t doing epic hikes or exploring Taiwan. She’s touring around South East Asia.
Jacqueline talks about a few celebrations, “Taiwan is a magical place…
Steeped in ancient history with plenty of relics to showcase this. It’s a beautiful island with so much to offer. Taiwanese people are incredibly hospitable and friendly, they are a people who love sharing their traditions & way of life with you.
There are a variety of celebrations in Taiwan: on the daily you will see various temple parades, some people disguised as a Taoist deity, either with dramatic makeup or in character costumes, while other musical groups perform with Eastern musical instruments. They will parade through the streets until they reach the temple and along the route let off fireworks. All the while music is playing and a very important traditional procession is taking place.
Taiwan is incredibly beautiful, with plenty of hiking trails, mountains and gorgeous tropical beaches. It’s impossible to describe Taiwan in words, as it needs to be felt and seen.“
I can’t agree anymore with Jacqueline. I’ve done a few hikes in Taiwan and they were incredible. I can’t wait to go back, and next time, I look forward to witness a celebration.
Customs in Denmark with Catriona.
TheFrustratedNester is Catriona. A writer and blogger currently living in Esbjerg, Denmark. In the decade since leaving Scotland, she’s also lived in France, Uganda and the Republic of Congo.
Catriona talks about birthday customs in Denmark. “There’s one custom that the Danish take more seriously than any other – refreshingly, it’s their birthday!
Danes of all ages will enthusiastically celebrate their own special day. Children’s parties are quite low-key: they might be held at home, with games or even just playing in the garden. But always with the traditional lagkage (layer cake) and singing – something completely different, though, from the ubiquitous translation of ‘Happy Birthday’ because the Danes have their own birthday song. But often children celebrate their birthday with their class at day-care or school, and the family can come along and join in.
Grown-ups will be woken early by their family with more singing and presents. At work, it’s the responsibility of the birthday boy or girl to provide cake for everyone in the office, while their colleagues gather round their desk and sing again.
Round birthdays (30, 40…) get an extra special celebration – usually a big party with friends and family. And the gift-giving will be impeccably tasteful, with guests bringing beautifully gift-wrapped Danish design classics.
The one thing that unifies all birthday celebrations though, is the Danish flag, the Dannebrog. The houses, the garden, the party table and paper plates will all be adorned with it, or the table at the restaurant, and even the desk at work will have a flag placed on it. When the flag is raised on one of our neighbours’ flagpoles, I know it’s a birthday!
It’s simply not a Danish birthday without the cheerful red and white of the Danish flag.
Already, it’s the Danish tradition I’m certain we will take with us for all our future birthday celebrations! “
At her blog, The Frustrated Nester, she writes about Danish living, travel and the expat life. She has a regular column in The International, a paper for internationals living in Denmark.
Her writing has also been published in the anthology Once Upon an Expat, and its follow-up Life on the Move, published in June 2019. She’s currently working on a memoir of place and home, and is also a freelance copy-editor and proofreader.
Customs in Italy by Polina.
Polique is Polina Beraia. Originally from Latvia, she now lives in Italy. On Polina’s IG, she shares her life in Italy and her travels.
I’m truly loving Polina’s insight of life in Italy.
“1. The first thing that proves your are a tourist in Italy is ordering a cappuccino or americano in the second half of the day or after lunch. Why? Italians consider milk as a breakfast thing. Full stop. When you order it, they will just exchange glances, thinking “You don’t understand a coffee culture” or “Meh, tourist”. Be tricky, order caffè macchiato. Society will approve you.
2. The second thing is pizza with pineapple. Please. Just. Don’t. Italians thoroughly follow the recipes. AND PINEAPPLE PIZZA DOES NOT EXIST. In this case I just go with the flow and think “Boooooo” when someone asks for it.
3. The blood will pour out of Italian eyes, if you dare to put ketchup on pasta. No, no and no.
4. Florence is famous for Florentine stake (Fiorentina). The true fiorentina is only rare. Not medium rare, not well done. Don’t even ask for it. Most of the restaurants will refuse to do it. And again, no ketchup. Enjoy it fresh with salt&pepper.
5. You will be often asked whether you’ve digested your food…Well. I usually face this question with a poker face, while trying to figure out which details do you really wanna know about me digesting my food. I am always saying: “If you ever hear me asking it, know that I have been italianized for 100%”
6. If you have a white carpet in the living room and you are waiting for Italian friends to come. Hide it. Since it is not common to take off your shoes.
7. From Florence to south of Italy forget about the driving rules. They do not exist. And if you want to simply follow your traffic lane – you are in trouble, since you will be the only one to do it.
8. Speaking about food and checking the weather is an important part of the conversations. I still never check the weather, but I will ask you about your lunch and what are you going to eat for dinner. My Latvian friends laugh at me when I do it, but Italianization is an irreversible process.
9. If you are going to a southern family, take one empty bag with you. Last time I left Puglia with: a homegrown melon, homemade jam, 2l of homemade amazing olive oil, homemade biscuits, homegrown peaches…
That’a Italy, baby!”
Insider knowledge in India.
BetweenDenmarkandIndia shares the culture quirks in India, “One thing which is India’s charm but also highly annoying at times is this: an agreement is never an actual deal.
If people say 5 min, it takes up to half an hour. If they say “tomorrow” they mean “maybe this week”. If they say “I’ll call you back” it means “if I find it necessary and remember it”.
This has caused a lot of discussions over misunderstanding between me and my husband and me and the Indian people in general.
In Denmark, where I come from, if you say “sure, tomorrow”, it actually means tomorrow. In DK we say “time is money.” In India they say “why do today, what you can do tomorrow?”
Also, one should not take offence, when Shop-owners try to cheat you to pay more – even when you know them and consider them as sort of friends. It is business, and what is a good deal for both at the moment is considered fair.
If I feel it’s a good deal, even I’m paying 4 times as much, there’s no reason to give me a better deal, right? This has offended many travellers, but it’s simply just business. People do not consider themselves cheaters.
Oh, and my favourite one!!
This: when discussing in India, it is considered as a good ability to be capable of confusing the other person. There’s is very little rationality. We can discuss whether the price is too high, and suddenly they’ll say “well you don’t even know how a mountain looks from upside.” As I say “ what does that have to do with anything?” People laugh and think I lost the discussion. “She can’t even come with a good comeback”.
It is matterless to explain that I am not trying with a comeback and that I find it ridiculous. They’ll look at me just the same: you didn’t have a good comeback, you lost the discussion”.
Sometimes these discussions ends the weirdest places which has absolutely nothing to do with the case. HIGHLY PROVOKING! Especially when you are used to very clear, sober discussions where a irrelevant comment is seen as unintelligent.
Suddenly, the roles are reversed, and I’m the ridiculous one.”
No matter the celebration, custom, tradition, holiday, festival or cultural quirks. May the experience bring you happiness, comfort, friends (new and old), family, connection, laughter and love.
Thank you again to all these fantastic expats from around the world. Cheers to sharing cultural experiences and bringing each of us closer together (no matter the distance).
What are your customs, festivals, holiday, traditions that are new to you? Share them in the comments.