Friday, 30 December 2016

New Year's eve traditions from around the world

Tomorrow is New Year's eve, and for us, it's always an international celebration. This gave me the idea of looking into how other countries celebrate the passing into another year. Thanks to my friends and the Expats in Dublin Facebook group I have gathered a few New Year's eve traditions, and I have discovered some unusual ones!


At midnight, we do the countdown and pop the Champagne, then we are supposed to kiss under the mistletoe, something I have never done (Maybe my parents weren't into mistletoe, I don't know...). We also have fireworks and it is custom on New Year to give a bit of money to children (Les etrennes).


In Venezuela, they drink a bottle of Champagne on which they stick wishes on a piece of paper. Once the bottle is finished, they hide it for the year so their wishes can come true. I think that's a sweet tradition and I might want to do it this year!


An old Irish tradition is to bang pots and pans to ward off evil spirits. At midnight, everyone goes to the back door with a lump of coal, throw it out to "throw out the old year" and then go to the front door to welcome the new year. Another tradition is to just open the front door to let the New Year in. If you're in Dublin for New Year's eve, you might also want to go to Christchurch and listen to the bells ring at midnight.


In Hungary, they eat lentils on New Year's eve for good luck and wealth.


In Mauritius, they throw  firecrackers. A lot of them! I've never witnessed it because I've never been to Mauritius at that time of year, but once, my brother in law and his friends threw firecrackers after their football team won a game, and it was rather noisy!


At midnight, Danish people jump from a chair or a couch to "jump into the new year". My Danish neighbour introduced me to that tradition and now we do it every year!


Russian people usually watch the president's wishes and when the Kremlin rings the bells, they drink champagne and open the window to let the New year in (At -25 degrees, I'm not sure I would cope...)
Another tradition is to write a wish on a piece of paper at the chime of bells on a Kremlin tower, burn it and put ashes in a glass of champagne, then at midnight you should drink it, and the wish is believed to be granted.


Finnish people try to predict how the next year will turn out by melting tin and pouring it into a bucket of cold water. The tin then freezes into a shape and they try to figure out what the shape means. This unusual tradition is called "Molybdomancy".


Over there, they eat 12 grapes, eat champagne and throw fireworks, but most importantly wear yellow clothes for good luck.


Italians wear red underwear for good luck, eat cotechino (a type of pork meat), lentils for hope of wealth in the coming year, and they pop a sparkling white wine at midnight.


At midnight, everyone starts waltzing everywhere in Austria. No matter what age, no matter with whom - they just waltz. It's especially wonderful in big cities like Vienna, when there's fireworks above and thousands of people meet up in front of the cathedral and at midnight everyone starts dancing!


German people watch a Sketch at 7pm called dinner for one, then dinner and then Bleigießen , which is actually Molybdomancy, the same as in Finland!


They also eat 12 grapes, one for each month of the year making a wish for each one and they toast with Champagne or some other sparkling wine.


The Spanish also eat 12 grapes, one every time the bell rings midnight and if you manage to eat your grapes on time, it means you will have a lucky and prosperous year.


Families usually open the door to let the new year in, but the original tradition was to invite in a man with bread, salt and coal. This later changed to having a man be first back across the threshold.


In Brazil they have a huge dinner, almost like Christmas dinner, fireworks at midnight with popping a bottle of champagne or any sparkling wine, and most important, for those passing it near the beach, they jump 7 waves on the sea, and for each wave you make a wish for the next year. The majority of people wear white, but some can choose other colors based on its meaning, like yellow for money or red for love.

As you can see, there seem to be as many traditions as countries, and I'm pretty sure there are some regional variations as well. On the other hand it's interesting to see countries from different parts of the world sharing the same traditions like eating grapes or lentils, wearing a special colour or making wishes in a different way.

On that note, I would like to thank all the contributors to this post and wish you all a happy and prosperous new year, no matter how you celebrate it! As for me, I might pick a bit of every tradition to make it a truly international celebration.

Do not hesitate to share more traditions from your home country in the comments!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

My painless visit to the French Consulate

Gone are the days when I knew everyone at the French Embassy. One of my friends used to work there and we spent a good amount of time barbecuing or just chilling out at the gendarme's house on the grounds of the French residence. All the administrative duties were a bit simpler when you knew you would see a familiar face in a bit of an uninviting environment.

I'm not saying the French consulate on Aylesbury road was a horrible place, far from it, but as a French abroad, the last thing you want is to come face to face with a microcosm of French society. Let's be honest here, the French Embassy never really had a good reputation, and I have my fair share of annoying anecdotes, but trust me, they don't all come from the staff.

I'm sure you've all heard stories about unhelpful members of staff, and yes, there were times where I felt I was talking more to a prison officer than a consulate representative. But I have also witnessed bad behaviour from French people, who think they are entitled to everything, that they can bypass you in the queue or just be disrespectful to the staff and other users. And sometimes, it's not even the French. The icing on the cake has to come from a foreign woman who took all of her clothes off inside the consulate when she was refused her visa. I wasn't there but I've been told the story by the guy who was at the counter that day. And trust me, it wasn't pretty!

Anyway, I'm sure you can understand I try to stay away from the consulate as much as I can, unless it's for a few drinks, which sadly is not going to happen any time soon (unless I'm invited for the 14th of July or something...).

Today, however, I had a very positive experience. I was completely stressed out at the idea of going to the consulate to renew my son's passport. Firstly because I had never been to their new place on Fitzwilliam Lane and I am really bad at driving in Dublin. I always get lost and can barely follow GPS directions. The second reason was I was afraid of not having the proper documents (the proof of address only had my name on it and not my husband's), or that the pictures wouldn't be the right size (it happened  before), or that my kids would misbehave, or that I would be late etc etc.

I left very early and bribed treated the kids with a Burger King lunch. I didn't get lost and understood the GPS directions, and was half an hour early. I almost died when I found out the cost of the cark park ( 2.90 euros per hour!!!), but I didn't know how long I was going to be in there for so I forked out 6 euros just to be sure. Of course the youngest wanted to go the toilets, but luckily there was a pub only a few steps away from the consulate, so we took the opportunity to sit down and have a drink. After all, we had half an hour to spare.

At 3pm sharp we were in front of the gate. We were let in and my handbag went through a security scan. I was mortified at the idea of the man there, seeing all the crap that was inside, but he didn't say anything. The waiting area was empty and they had a good selection of toys for the kids to play with, something that was cruelly missing in the old place. I waited no more than 10 minutes before being called in and all I was hoping for at that stage was for my kids to avoid talking about poop and fart, their favourite subject of conversation at home.

The lady was very nice and the process was painless. The pictures were fine (Phew!), the proof of address as well, and the phone call she took in the middle allowed me to take my son to the toilets for the 4th time since we left the house. My son had a very insightful question for her: "Why do you speak French and work in Ireland"?. He never asked me the question! He also tried to charm her by counting to ten in French and was all-around well behaved. My eldest was oblivious to the whole thing, playing on his tablet.

20 minutes later and I was out. Painless I told you! Of course, I realised I picked the right day, between Christmas and New Year, when Dublin traffic would be light and the consulate quiet. The appointment process was probably helpful as well, because there was less waiting than before. Thankfully I'm not the one who will pick up the passport once it's ready, and the next time I will be at the consulate will be for the French elections. At least I know how to get there now!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Home for Christmas?

At this time of the year, you can see numerous videos of Irish people surprising their family with a visit home. Spending time with your family at Christmas is important in many countries, but particularly in Ireland, probably due to the emigration history of the country. So it's hard not be emotional when you see people meeting their loved ones at the airport on Christmas eve.

Even if I only spent one Christmas in France over the past 14 years, I always check the flights as early as July or August, just to see if we could make it home for Christmas. And every time, the price is extortionate. I mean, even if I had a thousand euros handy, I wouldn't spend it on a Ryanair flight. Add to that a rental car, and the holidays could cost as much as going to the other side of the world. And talking about the other side of the world, we did try to go to Mauritius for Christmas once, but at 4000 euros the ticket, we quickly forgot about it.

We did manage to go to France once, when I was on maternity leave with my second child. We had a good time, but it had been so long since I spent Christmas with my parents, that the spirit didn't feel the same. I have memories of spending Christmas eve with my parents, brother and sister, eating delicious finger food and drinking champagne, watching silly programs on TV and exchanging presents at midnight. When I was a child, we would put the Christmas tree up all together, put our slippers next to the chimney, and have an extended family lunch on Christmas day. Then we would spend days eating chocolates...Ah, memories!

But I had been in Ireland for 9 years already when I went home for Christmas for the first time. Most of my uncles and aunts that would have been present on Christmas day had passed away. My brother came for lunch, but my sister only came in the evening. I was so tired on Christmas eve (a 4 months baby didn't help) I think I went to bed before midnight. Most of my friends spent time with their own family, which is completely understandable, so I didn't really get to see them as much as I would have liked.

I had a nice time and I did spend quality time with my family, but for some reasons, it wasn't as "exceptional" as some summer holidays I spent there. I guess I liked the idea of going home for Christmas, but it didn't live up to my expectations. I was hoping for a Christmas like the ones I had, back when I lived in France, and it just wasn't the same.

"Home" for Christmas? Well, it looks like "home" is in Ireland now, where I've been making new Christmas memories for the past 14 years and where my kids will make some of their own.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Irish Christmas memories

It's the 1st of December and Christmas FM is finally on air, which means it's the official start of the festive season. This is the occasion to share some of my Irish Christmas memories, and I have a few, having spent 14 of the last 15 Christmases in Ireland!

So, in true "Friends episodes titles" style, I share with you some of my best festive season stories...

The first one

The first Christmas I spent in Ireland will of course remain very special. I used to live with this Irish family and the daughter enrolled me to wrap the insane amount of presents she bought for her friends. She also had me writing the list of recipients for said presents, which led to a big laugh because I couldn't spell half of them. I was only in Ireland for a coupIe of months so I had never heard of Siobhan, Caitriona or Niamh at that stage. That first Christmas was also the start of our very own tradition of celebrating with friends who were not going home either, and we have done the same ever since.

The one where our landlord invited himself for dinner

Yes, he was the best landlord in the whole world, and tenants who are currently struggling with their rental house or apartment will definitely be jealous, so I apologise in advance. This guy showed up on Christmas Eve because he had nothing planned and ate dessert with us. He also brought us presents, wine and chocolate. Something he did every single year until we moved out.

The one where it snowed on Christmas day

I can't remember what year it was (2005 maybe?), but one thing I know is that it was completely unexpected. It wasn't that cold so never in a million year we would have thought it would be a white Christmas! Imagine our surprise when we opened the curtains in the morning. It didn't stick that much but we took time to enjoy a nice walk and built a (very small) snowman.

The one with the worst Christmas present ever

If you have a partner, I'm sure you know how difficult it can be to find a great gift. And let's face it, some people are better than others at choosing presents. And some of them are actually useless, even when you write a list. One year, my husband, despite the list I gave him, offered me a plastic shoe rack from Lidl. Apparently, it was to store my enormous shoes collection. Except I only had about 4 pairs. He must have confused me with my sister who is a total shoe addict. Let me tell you I wasn't impressed.

The one where I finished my Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve at 6pm

A few years ago, my then 4 years old decided he wanted a rocket ship from Santa. But of course, he told me that on the evening of the 23rd of December. Every normal parent would have found an excuse for the lack of rocket ship under the Christmas tree, but not me. So off I went to Smyth toys on Christmas Eve, only to discover they closed at 4pm (in fairness, they were opened almost 24 hours for 3 weeks before Christmas). So I raced to the other side of town to Argos. It was 6pm and the shop was closing. The employees were sending people out, and there I stood, almost crying. Again, completely my fault, who in their right mind would try and buy something on Christmas eve at 6pm? Luckily, a very nice employee saw me in distress and let me buy the beloved rocket ship, just in time for Christmas. It was somehow a very stressful evening, but when I saw the my son's reaction on Christmas morning, I knew it was worth it.

The one where I was sick

The first 12 years I was in Ireland, I worked over the Christmas break. As I was never going home, I didn't mind, and I could save holidays for other times during the year. But when I changed job, I discovered the company was closing for a week at Christmas so I had no choice but to be off. I was actually excited about being on holidays at home, and not having to travel anywhere for once. The excitement rapidly died off though. I had a cold for about 10 days before Christmas, then a severe stomach bug on Christmas Eve. My Christmas meal consisted of a slice of bread, three potatoes and water. I was sick all the way to New Year's eve, and on New Year's day, I finally got better so I decided to step out of the house, and you know what happened? I twisted my ankle! Of course, I was back on my feet and felt much better just in time to go back to work...But yeah, a Christmas I'd rather not remember!

The one with one too many Danish snaps

The joys of an international Christmas... A few years ago, my Danish neighbour had this great idea of bringing Snaps to our traditional Christmas meal. If you don't what it is, it's a very strong ice-cold Danish liqueur shot. The drink proved so popular on the day that all the guests were chanting "Skål!" (Cheers!) and "Glædelig jul"( Merry Christmas). Unfortunately some friends took the Danish Christmas spirit a bit too far and ended up either sleeping in the bathroom or sick in the corridor... And don't get me started on the worst hangover of all times...Having said that, it was one of the best Christmas I've had in Ireland so far, and all the friends who were there on the day agree (and they still want to drink Snaps).

What about you, any Christmas memories you want to share?