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Category: Culture Clashes

* Eurovision Special *

Most Americans have never heard of Eurovision, and those who have, think of it as some sort of gay Super Bowl. I understand why this event might be puzzling for the American folks, but WE love it – of course we do, it has the word “euro” in it.
Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Eurovision for Americans

My American sweetie pie witnessed his first Eurovision Song Contest back in 2016. He was skeptical at first, but halfway through the show he gave in. Pretty much like most things in Europe, the event just sucks you in. And it’s easy to see why it is such a blast:

~ The sense of togetherness

Historically speaking, Europeans haven’t always been nice to each other. However, at least once a year we put aside our differences and celebrate our kinship through music, our common language.

~ The vibrant mixture of cultures, languages and traditions

Despite the fact that Eurovision performances have become more and more mainstream and most artists choose English for their lyrics, deep down each song displays the identity of its country. Like attending a party, everyone brings a different flavor to the table, and the result is a very colorful portrait of one big European family.

~ The historical value

The first Eurovision Song Contest was hosted in Switzerland in 1956, which makes the show an event with a long-standing tradition. It’s genuinely interesting to watch former editions and see how music and values have evolved over the decades.

~ The authenticity

Whether you are a conventional, professional musician or use a watering can as a trumpet; whether you pull off a traditional opera show or a seizure-inducing pyrotechnic spectacle, no one is going to judge your craziness. Sing, dance, bounce around, just get on stage and have fun doing whatever it is that makes you happy. Zero fucks given, just be yourself!

Not convinced yet? Try it yourself! Happy Eurovision! : )

Finns & Interpersonal Interactions

With only 16 people per square kilometer, Finland is the least populated country in Europe. If you leave the Helsinki area, chances are that your nearest neighbor lives one forest and a couple of lakes away – or maybe half a poronkusema away. Having grown up with such distances between one another, it’s not surprising that Finns take their personal space very seriously.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal InteractionsWe all have a proxemic bubble that represents our personal, three-dimensional space. We let friends get closer, but when strangers enter our imaginary bubble, we feel threatened and attempt to flee. In Southern Europe, the acceptable interpersonal distance between acquaintances and strangers is diminutive, and the further north you go, the more the bubble expands.

In Scandinavian countries, one meter might be pushing the limit of comfortable space between strangers, which – from our foreign perspective – may lead to some funny interactions in populated urban areas. It starts with public transportation: Finns would rather stand for the whole length of their trip than to sit next to a stranger on a bus. If you happen to sit in a seat adjacently occupied by a fellow Finn, they will readily vacate theirs whenever another row of seats becomes available. At first it may leave you wondering if something is wrong with you. If you are standing around – say, waiting for the bus – and come too close to a fellow Finn, they will promptly move a few steps away. Worry not, dear foreigner, they are just safeguarding their bubble.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal InteractionsMoving on to kinesics, you may notice that gestures and eye contact in Suomi are rare. Gesticulating too much might make you come off as a frantic, eccentric weirdo. Keep your extremities paced. On the same note, eye contact is one of the ways in which we regulate communication: it signals that we are listening to our conversational partner or that we are ready to respond. Whereas staring into each other is customary in many cultures, maintaining eye contact in Finland qualifies as uncomfortable and even threatening. Glancing away is the norm – regardless of how interesting your topic might be – but they will always come back to you to acknowledge that they are following the conversation.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal Interactions

And what about the human touch? Picture the following scenario: you are at the workplace and your colleague Matti Meikäläinen just got promoted. Congratulations, Matti! If you think a pat in the back is in order, don’t. Finns are quite reserved in their haptics and they don’t like being touched unless you have an intimate connection with them. Now picture a social gathering or juhla where you are introduced to someone. Going all southern on them with two pecks on the cheek upon introduction will immediately make you the creepy nutcase of the party (I learnt this the hard way). Refrain yourself, a brief handshake will suffice.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal InteractionsDespite the apparent cold demeanor, Finland does have one thing going for it. This seemingly emotionless, reserved behavior derives from a highly practical mindset: Finns don’t like wasting their time with small talk or faking social interactions. It might take a while to tear down all the icy layers, but once you do, Finns can be the most straightforward and reliable friends you’ll ever find.

Recycling in Switzerland

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, recycling, Switzerland, Swiss, gold

One would think that recycling doesn’t really differ much from one country to another. Glass, paper, plastic and regular garbage: that’s what I knew from Germany, quite the environmentally friendly country. But the Swiss go the extra mile – at times I feel like they are just Germans on steroids.

When I moved to Zürich back in 2008, it took a while to get used to their recycling. For starters, they have a different container for every type of glass and plastic. Even mineral and cooking oil go in separate bins. Old appliances and electronic devices also have their special place, but remember to take out the batteries first: they are excruciatingly contaminating! Did you just eat a banana? The peel goes into the compost, so organic matter can make its way back to nature again. Did you just drink a beverage? PET bottles are returnable: if you take them back to a store, you can get some money back. Did your cat just die? I’m so sorry for your loss. In order to avoid potential illnesses, dispose of the dead body in the proper container.

I know what you are thinking: this is way too complicated. Do the Swiss really go to these lengths to save nature? It’s partly their love of nature and – for the most part – their love of money: in Switzerland you have to pay for every bag you throw into the trash, and you know how the Swiss like to keep their finances going…

What do you think about their recycling system? How does it work in your country? Let me know in the comments!

The Last Name Standing

Two issues at hand. First, coming from a Spanish-speaking country I have always thought the notion of dropping your name upon marriage is barbaric. Second, here’s the problem I have with incongruous feminists in this country:

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, last names, surnames, marriage, maiden name

In Spanish-speaking countries, women keep their last names (yes, we have two) from the cradle to the grave. However, many countries are still under the spell of the 9th-century English Doctrine of Coverture. According to this law, women lacked an independent legal identity, they received their father’s last name at birth and automatically took their husband’s upon marriage.

I get it, societies were quite different back then, and women were mere property passed on from fathers to husbands like a football. But what about now? One would think that the world would have moved into a new direction by now, but here we are, in the 21st century, and the norm of married women taking their husband’s name remains ubiquitous.

We continue fighting for rights and claiming women’s visibility in society, without realizing that this is one of the many profoundly patriarchal and heterosexist traditions being perpetuated out of inertia, even by highly successful, educated, independent women. Ladies, it’s time to embrace our own identity and never it let go – unless your name is horrific 1, in which case, f*ck that shit.

The Workplace Etiquette: German Edition

I have never been great at etiquette to begin with, whether it is social gatherings, dress code or celebratory events. The excruciating sea of unwritten norms and protocols becomes even more confusing when you have to factor in culture-specific practices.

The secret to blending in perfectly in the German workplace is addressing people in an utterly polite,  highly apologetic, purely factual, emotionless manner. Too much trouble, you say? I agree. You can always opt for being your-expat-self ;D

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Arbeitsplatz, work space, manners, etiquette

The Weißwurstäquator

A new fun word I learnt this week! The Weißwurstäquator refers to the supposed cultural divide separating Southern Germany from the rest of the country. I believe it’s named after the white sausage, which is traditional in Bavaria, along with its lovely castles, medieval towns and tasty food. Road trip time, gell?

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Weißwurstäquator, Bavaria