Christmas in Sweden − Living in a snowball: Do not shake It, please

It usually starts every 13th of December after I ‘release’ myself from the library where I was studying for my final exams. It is time for Saint Lucia’s Day, or Santa Lucia as we call it in Sweden, and with a lussebullar in my hand I join the Lucia celebration in Stora Torget, Uppsala’s main square, by singing Christmas Carols around the town.

Georgios Tsarsitalidistsarsitalidis@hotmail.com

After a melancholic and chilly November, when everyone is almost fed up with the long and dark nights which you have to become familiar with around 15:30 every day when most people go home from work, you end up around 22:00 in a nice room with good friends. There, you can talk and drink a glass of white wine while watching the flickering of the candles in contrast to the dark abyss of the gloomy November, which becomes even more apparent to you every time you stare out the window. A feeling of isolation conquers your thoughts instantly, a feeling that makes you feel so small and weak. You keep watching the flickering candles and listening to your friends talking about trivial matters while in the background you hear the music by Coldplay, Paradise. Lost in thought, your eye is caught by a white ‘thing’ outside the window. The ‘thing’ that will break the monotone of this dark November night and make you feel closer to the best celebration ever: CHRISTMAS. I break my silence at last.

George: Hey guys, it’s snowing outside… it’s Christmas time!
(Silence in the room)
A friend: Ah, it’s not there yet!
George: I know but it’s snowing! I am always impatient at this time of year!

Let me explain why I get so impatient for Christmas in Sweden. Speaking of Swedish Christmas, I consider it to be very representative as it includes a Christmas tree, snow, cold, candy, good food, meetings with friends and, finally, good white wine.

lussebullar
Lussebullar

It usually starts every 13th of December after I ‘release’ myself from the library where I was studying for my final exams. It is time for Saint Lucia’s Day/Evening, or Santa Lucia as we call it in Sweden, and with a lussebullar in my hand I join the Lucia celebration in Stora Torget (Uppsala’s main square) by singing Christmas Carols around the town. A parentheses, this celebration evolved from an old Swedish tradition, and now an angel dressed in white (mostly played by girls) with candles in her hair, accompanied by many people, sings Christmas Carols around town. I have to mention that ‘Saint Lucia Day’ is celebrated differently in many countries around Europe. Once Santa Lucia’s evening has passed, you start to feel that Christmas is nearby. Usually a feeling of stress envelopes me at this point, since I have so many things to do. Time for shopping is needed, of course not for yourself but for your family and friends since it is high time to dedicate some time only to them, while you are trying to figure out things that they possibly want or things that they have told you that they want.

Shopping – check… So, what else? I think I’m missing something!
Wait a minute, I should organise the Christmas dinner and since I am half-Greek and half-Swedish, there should be a lot of good Greek-Swedish food on the table. I can’t forget to buy a lot of ingredients since many people are coming for dinner. The tzatziki and bougourdi (feta cheese with chopped pieces of tomato and green peppers with olive oil roasted in the oven) are ready, melitzanosalata (oven cooked aubergine with parsley, garlic, a lot of salt and plain vinegar) – check. Time for the Swedish plates: kannelbullar, lussebullar and skinka accompanied by glögg (boiled wine with raisins and almonds). Christmas food checked from my to do list. Happy again!

Skinka and glögg
Skinka and glögg

The day before Christmas: waking up around 10am, you realise that this is the most relaxing day, started by listening to good music, such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, while drinking coffee and watching the snow falling outside, thinking “I better stay put and enjoy my coffee”. Some friends come by early in the morning to join you for coffee or a meals at your place and you get engaged in a long discussion with them about Christmas Eve dinner and other plans while you enjoy a kannelbullar with your warm hazelnut-flavoured coffee. With friends already in your house, relatives come around 16:00. It is time for the “Christmas Lunch and Dinner” as I call it since we start at 16:00 and keep going until 01:00 on Christmas Day. The discussions and laughter are long and loud, and the food and white wine are consumed endlessly until the end of the night. But the night is not over yet since it is time for the younger generation to go out and PARTY! You had already started texting your friends around 00:00 to arrange where and when to meet. Being ‘happy’ or ‘tipsy’, and not able to feel your feet after six hours of non-stop dancing, it is time to return home. The first thing to do is to wish ‘Merry Christmas’ to your parents early in the morning before falling into your bed. A new and amazing day is waiting for you and you have to charge your battery in order to be ready to go through again exactly what you did last night.

‘Merry Christmas’ from Sweden to all the Euroculturers!

George Kantorsgatan
Snow in Kantorsgatan, Uppsala

Georgios Tsarsgeorgeitalidis, Contributing writer

George was born in Stockholm but was raised in Greece. Since 2008, he has lived again in Sweden. He has a Bachelor (Hons) in English Language and Philology from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. He completed a two-year MA in American Literature and Culture at Uppsala University has studied MA Euroculture in Uppsala, Bilbao and Indianapolis. He speaks five languages (Swedish, Greek, Italian, Greek Sign Language, English) and is currently studying Spanish and Arabic. He has presented his work at more than seven international conferences and has received more than five scholarships. He has published his work in the Athens Institute of Education and Research. He loves swimming, painting, and writing and he enjoys living ‘in-between’ Greece and Sweden.

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Göttingen – Christmas in Grimms’ town

Christmas market is situated in the small square in front of the Altes Rathaus, where the famous Gänseliesel stands, giving thousands of people the chance to walk through the narrow streets of the market and buy souvenirs and gifts. The visitors try Gluhwein, a warmed wine which constitutes the traditional German winter drink, and taste wurst bursts, curry wurst, crepes and noodles.

Ioannis Ntountoumis │ ioannis_doudou@hotmail.com

To me, Christmas means cold weather, snow, friends, parties, traditions and family time. This year finds me in Istanbul where I am doing my internship, away from home, in very odd and different circumstances. We are already in the middle of December, but still I have not yet realized that the Christmas period has already started in countries where the celebration constitutes one of the main events of the year. In Turkey, unfortunately, the only places that remind me of Christmas are the Starbucks, where one can listen to some Christmas songs, or on Facebook, where people upload Christmas wishes, songs and photos. Apart from that though, nothing prepares us for the upcoming celebrations.

Occasions like this make me recall memories from the past; in particular this year, the Christmas time I spent in Goettingen, Germany last year where I spent the first semester of my MA Euroculture studies.

Goettingen is an original fairy tale place, not a village but a small city in the middle of Germany. Its centre is filled with traditional old German-type buildings.goettingen christmasmarket It has an ideal cold climate in December which, in comparison to other German cities, is not too cold and the weather does not prevent people from walking around the city centre decorated with Christmas lights. However, what makes the Christmas period in Goettingen so special is the pretty and small Christmas market, the so-called Weihnachtsmarkt.

The Christmas market last year opened its ‘gates’ on 28 November and offered a perfect transition into the Christmas celebration. Its shops are situated in the most unique place of Goettingen for occasions like this: the small square in front of the Altes Rathaus, where the famous Gänseliesel stands, giving thousands of people the chance to walk through the narrow streets of the market and buy souvenirs and gifts. The visitors have the chance to try Gluhwein, a warmed wine which constitutes the traditional German winter drink, and taste wurst bursts, curry wurst, crepes and noodles.

The first time I found myself at the Christmas market was after a tiring but always fruitful Euroculture day. It was a nice night and my classmates and I walked around the market and the narrow streets with well-decorated, small shops. We tried Gluhwein and followed tempting smells to taste some food.

I was lucky enough to visit other cities and their Christmas markets as well. During a visit to the European House in Hannover with my Euroculture class, we visited the local Christmas market and the really nice Weihnachtsmarkt in Braunschweig. Lying under the city’s cathedrals the Christmas markets welcome people of all ages to enjoy this special celebration and prepare themselves for the upcoming Christmas.

The Euroculture Programme offered us a Christmas note as well. Also, some fellow classmates took the initiative and organised a “Secret Santa”. It took place after class one day in conjunction with a “Mediterranean night” where we had the opportunity to taste dishes made by our Mediterranean classmates. It was also a farewell party before the break.

goettingen christmasmarket2Goettingen’s Christmas market closed some days before Christmas, and the celebrations were moved to student dormitories and houses. However, the streets of the city, especially during Christmas and New Year’s Eve, remained crowded and fireworks contributed to an ideal celebratory occasion.

Even though Christmas markets and celebrations like the one described above exist in many European cities and countries, Christmas in Goettingen and its market next to Gänseliesel has been my favourite. Now that I am in Istanbul, I really miss the feeling of Christmas. I miss the songs, houses decorated with lights and Christmas trees, Gluhwein, the walks around the market, the Euroculture “Secret Santa”, and the atmosphere full of joy.

Christmas in Goettingen was an experience unlike any I have ever had: an original, fairy tale experience. And now that I do not have the chance to celebrate it like I did last year, I realise how much it has changed my ideas about how I want to spend my Christmas time from now on.

Frohe Weihnachten!

If you liked Ioannis’s article, also read The Nobel Peace Prize as a Reminder of Peace for the European Union

yannisIoannis Ntountoumis, Contributing writer
Ioannis was born in Athens and studied Political Science and History at Panteion University. He is studying MA Euroculture at the University of Goettingen in Germany and Uppsala University in Sweden, andis currently doing an internship at the Greek Consulate in Istanbul. He is interested in International Relations, European Affairs, the History of Politics and Peace and Conflict Resolution. He loves sports, travelling and does not believe strictly in one dogma or ideology in order to leave space in his mind for new ideas and thoughts.

Christmas in Vienna

Christmas is the best time to discover Vienna and the magic of its feast. For Christmas, Viennese streets are dressed up in their best garments and adornments. Joy and the feeling of an approaching miracle in the air makes you think that you are in a beautiful dream.

Suzanna Fatyansusanna202001@yahoo.com

The splendid Christmas feast is approaching! If you plan a trip for the Christmas holidays, you should visit a city where you will feel the true magic of this moment, and such a city is Vienna!

Vienna is the place associated with Habsburg’s palaces, amazing balls, the aroma from splendid coffee houses, sophisticated desserts, and a feeling of everlasting feast. In Vienna you discover Schiele, Kokoschka, Klimt – artists that completely change your perception and vision of art. You listen to the music of Mozart, Haydn, Strauss, Beethoven… and suddenly find yourself in another, absolutely magnificent world. You get lost in the Viennese streets and understand that only the special spirit of this city could give birth to so many genius people, philosophical ideas, and charming melodies. Only in Vienna could it be possible to accumulate and create an incredible number of masterpieces in all of the existing arts.

Vienna in Christmas adornments
Vienna in Christmas adornments

Vienna might be visited four seasons of the year; however, Christmas is the best time to discover this magnificent city and magic of its feast. For Christmas, Viennese streets are dressed up in their best garments and adornments. Joy and the feeling of an approaching miracle in the air makes you think that you are in a beautiful dream.

Christmas markets invite you to try flavoured mulled wine, punch, traditional sausages, colourful ginger bread, sugar glazed nuts, sweet pancakes… They also attract your attention with beautiful stained glass candleholders, Christmas tree decorations, cute angels and other attributes of Christmas. When you look at this splendour you realise that everything Viennese people create and touch is marked with the love, care and warmth of their hands and hearts, that traditions were grown and preserved here for centuries.

Viennese museums and palaces require several visits to absorb their numerous treasures. The Belvedere will impress you with the unforgettable and passionate “Kiss” by Gustav Klimt and other major works of the great artist. The Leopold Museum will amaze you with most famous works by Egon Schiele, Koloman Moser, Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka. The Kunsthistorisches Museum will introduce you to masterpieces of Veronese, Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens. Moreover, the Museum has one the world’s major collection of Egyptian artefacts and an interesting collection of Greek and Roman antiquities. In the Hofburg Palace you can learn about Empress Sisi, visit the Imperial Apartments and learn about the amazing Imperial receptions. The Schönbrunn Palace will attract you not only with its rich ornamentation but also with its master class in baking the fabulous apple strudel, and the Christmas Market in its surroundings. Gifted architects with amazing projects were always welcomed in Vienna, the house of Hundertwasser is an example of Viennese openness to innovative ideas.

Viennese Opera
Viennese Opera

Names of genius musicians are synonymous with Vienna. Mozart is the greatest among them. Hermann Hesse even wrote that with the name of Mozart it is possible to replace the sun in the sky. Mozart is a symbol of absolute beauty and spirituality. We are used to hearing him in concert halls, but in Vienna he is everywhere, even in the most modest of places. This does not make him simple and casual, rather it raises everything in Vienna to a height set by the composer. Visiting Viennese Opera and famous Viennese balls is affordable for everyone! However, the last are usually held in February. At Christmas, enjoying music of the great composers, you experience emotions that completely change your inside world and make you more sensitive and delicate to everything happening around you.On Christmas Eve, an unforgettable impression leaves Stephansdom (St.Stephen’s Cathedral). Christmas Mass and classical music in the monumental gothic Cathedral inspire people to visit Vienna every winter.Coffee houses have a special role in the atmosphere of splendid Vienna. Writers, philosophers, artists never left them without attention. They visited coffee

Coffee house window
Coffee house window

houses to meet people, debate, discuss events of the artistic world like, for example, in the legendary Café Central. At Christmas, Viennese coffee houses become even more attractive. They display unbelievable desserts in their windows in a way that never leaves you indifferent.Sachertorte, apple strudel, hazelnut torte, marzipan are only few among well-known specialties of Vienna. Viennese chocolatiers and confectioners are so skilful that even if you visit coffee house every day, you can still find something special and unknown.

The coffees you discover in Vienna transform you into the greatest admirer of the fragrant drink. Already after a few hours spent in this city you realise that there is a true cult of coffee in Viennese culture!

Famous Aida, Café Central, Café Sacher, Café Havelka and even the modest bakeries and coffee spots in subways will make your ‘coffee ceremony’ memorable.

Viennese dessert & A Coffee&Sachertorte ceremony in Hotel Sacher
Viennese dessert & A Coffee&Sachertorte ceremony in Hotel Sacher

I could describe the delights and highlights of Vienna for hours. But I am sure that if you visit this exquisite city, you can try, hear and discover everything for yourself. I imagine your excitement at Christmas Eve, from the brilliance above your heads, crowds rushing to Stephansdom and eternal music.

Thank you, Vienna! I will dream about you!

suzannaSuzanna Fatyan, Contributing writer

Suzanna is from a city of Oriental fairy tales – Samarkand in Uzbekistan. She studied English language and literature in Samarkand State Institute of Foreign Languages for BA. In 2008, Suzanna graduated MA Euroculture from Jagiellonian University in Krakow and Deusto University, San Sebastian. Suzanna works as tour guide in Samarkand, writes blog for Uzbek Journeys in Australia and travels as much as possible.

Cologne – The gateway of Europe to the German Christmas market experience

Cologne Christmas markets have became hotspots for tourist from all around the world during the pre-Christmas period and are especially famous for visitors from neighbouring countries. There are several high-speed train connections via Thalys or ICE to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. Furthermore, Cologne airport hosts different low cost airlines for visitors travelling by plane. These connections make it very easy for people to reach Cologne.

Tim Ostrowskitim-ostrowski@web.de 

Cologne, the 4th biggest city in Germany, located in middle of Europe, is well known as a hot spot for Christmas market fans. Every year between 26 November and 23December you will find more than 10 different Christmas markets in the city centre which attract tourists from all over the world.

There is a strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Cologne’s history. Since 313 AD, Cologne has been an archbishopric and one of the most important places in Germany for the Roman Catholic community. Today, about 40% of Cologne’s inhabitants are Catholics. The most visible indicator of the importance of the church for Cologne’s history is Cologne Cathedral. More than 20,000 people visit the Cathedral a day, and it is one of the most well known cathedrals in Germany and is the host of the Shrine of the Three Kings. In summer 2005, Cologne hosted World Youth Day with Pope Benedict XVI and received more than 1,000,000 visitors.

Tim Cologne
source: http://www.koelnerweihnachtsmarkt.com

The first Christmas markets go back to medieval times. The early Christmas markets were more like winter markets where people could buy all the necessary things for the winter period. This was complemented in the 14th century by salesmen who sold goods for Christmas, especially presents for children. Since the 20th century Christmas markets have become fixed elements in the pre-Christmas tradition in Germany.The Christmas markets in Cologne are the most visited in Germany. The most famous one in Cologne is the Christmas market next to Cologne Cathedral, and this one alone receives more than 5,000,000 visitors within the 5 weeks. It includes more than 160 pavilions which offer goods, hand crafted art, and regional as well as international gastronomic specialities. Nearby, there are several other Christmas markets in the city; the most famous at Alter Markt and Neumarkt. However, there are also smaller Christmas markets which are maybe not as famous but perhaps a bit more gemütlich and less crowded. The “Mediaeval Christmas market” next to the Museum of Chocolate and the one in Stadtgarten are definitely worth visiting and provide visitors with a great atmosphere including bonfires and hot wine punch.

Cologne Christmas markets have became hotspots for tourist from all around the world during the pre-Christmas period and are especially famous for visitors from Great Britain as well as the Benelux countries due to its close location to the Dutch and Belgium border; Cologne is easy to reach by bus for all visitors, especially those from neighbouring countries. In addition, there are several high-speed train connections via Thalys or ICE to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. Furthermore, Cologne airport hosts different low cost airlines for visitors travelling by plane. These connections make it very easy for people to reach Cologne and invite people to visit the Cologne Christmas markets for a traditional pre Christmas weekend.

TimTim Ostrowski, Contributing writer

Tim is from Cologne, Germany and completed his undergraduate degree in political science at the University of Marburg and Science Po Bordeaux before studying MA Euroculture at the University of Göttingen and Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. He is currently completing a research track in Göttingen. His research interests include political processes within the EU, especially EU decision-making procedures. Tim is addicted to table-football and attempts to find a proper football table in every place he lives.

In a Relationship with… Patti Smith

ATKA ATUN │atka_brozek@yahoo.com

An androgynous woman, an embryo in a jar, a boyish adult, Andy Warhol, Allan Ginsberg, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, LSD, STDs, AIDS, art for art’s sake, Chelsea Hotel, hunger, lice but then – love, friendship, respect, almost divine devotion – innocence. “Just Kids” is a story of an extraordinary couple in the thick of New York City’s glory of the late sixties. Just that and only that.

Patti Smith’s memoir200px-Just_Kids_(Patti_Smith_memoir)_cover_art, winner of a National Book Award as well as one of the New York Times’ bestsellers for thirty-six weeks, commemorates her life-long friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. The book is about seeing the world in black and white. It is a book of opposites and edges. It glorifies a notion that, for an artist, there is no place in the middle, neither in his mind nor in society. The title “Just Kids” says it all and does not say anything. On one hand, no matter if they are twenty or forty, Smith and Mapplethorpe remain childish creators. Naïve faith in the importance of their art remains the same, even though time goes by. On the other hand, the maturity they gained through hardships they experienced make them older than expected – poverty, giving up a child, prostitution and bodies full of scars cannot stay unspoken, so they write, paint and scream.

He grabbed my hand. ‘‘Come with me. There’s freedom there. I have to find out who I am.”
(…) ‘’I am already free”, I said.
He stared me with a desperate intensity. “If you don’t come, I’ll be with a guy. I’ll turn homosexual,” he threatened.

But they never really parted. She got married and he found a partner for life., nevertheless, they were never so close to anyone than they were to each other.

Robert died on March 9, 1989. When his brother called me in the morning, I was calm, for I knew it was coming, almost to the hour. I sat and listened to the aria from Tosca with an open book on my knees. Suddenly I realized I was shuddering. I was overwhelmed by the sense of excitement, acceleration, as if, because of the closeness I experienced with Robert, I was to be privy to his new adventure, the miracle of his death.

Smith’s words flow slowly but sharply. She describes the world as if it was a clear poem. The feeling remains the same when I listen to her songs. Her stories about Mapplethorpe resemble the ones from “Angels in America” – homosexual men living like omnipotent cherubs and dying in pain, with an angel-like grace.

In all that, Smith remains unnaturally ordinary and innocent. She never judges but always worries. She never takes but keenly observes. She is always present even if far away.

I close the book and smile. In my mind Cohen’s song plays: “I need you, I don’t need you, and all of that jiving around…”.

If you liked Atka’s article, also read In a Relationship with…Stefan Zweig

AAtka(Beata)TKA ATUN, Literature Editor
Atka is from Poland and completed her studies in linguistics with a specialization in intercultural communication. She has studied in Krakow, Paris, and Strasbourg, and is currently doing a research track in Japan. Atka has been researching Japanese literature and the influence of minority cuisines on those of ‘host’ countries. She carries her dog around wherever she goes, and eats way too much weird food.

Darcy vs. the modern girl

Penelope Vaxevanes │ prosiliomani@hotmail.com

The train goes fast into the night. Soon it will cross the border. I should be using the distraction-free time for work but instead I keep thinking about the therapeutic weekend I just had. A weekend that was filled with three things: food, sleep and endless discussions about guys.

It would seem that if you talk about the same guy for the better part of a year, you must have said everything there is to say about them… right? I mean, how much more can you analyse them? How much can their reactions change? But, in the world of girls, there will always be more angles, more signs, more arguments, more details that back up the one and only female truth or illusion… That there is a guy that deserves all the attention and brain power, the tears and pain and, more often than not, the heartache.

Why, you would ask? What drives girls to behave like this? What is it that makes them so stubborn, so blind? How can they afford to consume so much energy on one guy? I could be wrong, but my answer is: Fitzwilliam Darcy, literature’s most imperfectly perfect man and the dream of most girls and women around the world since Pride and Prejudiced was published in 1813.

Darcy1995Darcy is a tricky one. He is first introduced in Pride and Prejudice as a sort of anti-hero. He is so hard to like. You have a suspicion that he might be a good guy, but only because it is evident that he is the protagonist. He is so proud and arrogant that you, literally, want to slap him. And then he goes and does what is possibly the most obnoxious marriage proposal in the history of literature: your family sucks, your sister is a social-climbing whore, you are a barely acceptable choice, but I want to marry you. He is naturally turned down by the prejudiced Lizzie Bennet, and this is where the story starts, only to end with her falling in love with him (duh) and them getting married (double duh) after he saves her younger sister from social Siberia, saves her father from financial ruin and makes sure her older sister is happily married to his own best friend. Not bad, huh? A tough act to follow.

So this is a classic story from darcy 2the 19th century. Then why is the hero so popular today? Darcy often tops the polls as the favourite male literary character, followed almost always by the cosmopolitan James Bond. His name is always the answer to the question: Which literary hero would you want to marry? What is it that makes him so loved? What is it that makes women overlook all his faults: the arrogance, the pride, the disregard for people who do not come from his social background, and his abrupt and rude manners? Is it only that this is essentially a story about the ‘poor’ girl marrying the sought after rich bachelor? On the surface, yes it is. But there are millions of stories like that in literature, whose heroes are not as memorable or as influential.

Pride and Prejudice is a timeless love story set in the Georgian era. The main story is simple: Boy meets girl. Girl dislikes boy. Boy proves to girl that he is more than meets the eye. Girl realises boy is secretly awesome. They fall in love. The end. The set is a perfect add-on to the main story, with the colourful British countryside of the 19th century serving as the perfect background for social satire of the era.

Darcy2001But again, why do we care today? Why is Darcy universal even though he comes from a 19th century British masterpiece? And why is it that we can fit him into any culture and make him speak any language, and still we fall in love with him all over again? He must be literature’s embodiment of the male archetype. He is the Alpha-male who takes matters into his own hands, who takes care of women and family, who is a leader in society. He is the guy that all girls needed in the 19th century, but also the guy that 21st century emancipated girls claim they do not need but dream of every night.

And every time the 21st century, emancipated, modern girl obsesses over a guy that has shown no promise of being better than what he seems on the surface, she thinks that maybe, just maybe, if she waits, if she looks harder, if she forgives the little details she doesn’t like (or even the huge flaws), he might turn out to be another Darcy. Probably not the one that will put her in a carriage and take her to Pemberley, but maybe one that will try his best to make her happy.Or not. Jane Austen, the writer of Pride and Prejudice, never married. She was rumoured to have been in love with a poor fellow, who could not marry her because she did not have a dowry. Like her protagonist, Lizzie Bennet, she could not afford to marry for love. She had to marry for money. Lizzie was lucky. Jane was not. She later became engaged to a rich guy, but she broke the engagement off Darcy2005two days later because she could not marry someone she was not in love with. She convinced me and millions of other girls over the last 200 years that we should go for the one, for Mr. Darcy, but she never did. The guy she fell in love with eventually married the rich girl his uncle chose for him and Jane died a respected famous spinster.

If you liked Penelope’s article, also read Feature Story − The Home I Left, the Home I Found : A Vacation in Greece in the Middle of the Crisis

Penelope Vaxevanes, News Editor

penelope

Penelope is from Greece and has studied French Language and Literature in the Philosophic School of the University of Athens. She spent the first two Euroculture semesters in Goettingen and Krakow. She wants to make a career in Cultural diplomancy but so far, she enjoys avoiding writing an MA thesis while testing her alcohol consumption limits in Hamburg.

Miss Help… Long-distance relationships!

miss help

Dear Miss Help,

Everyone knows that one of the greatest things about MA Euroculture is that I get to live in at least two different places during my studies. But, at the same time, I am heartbroken! I am in a relationship and it is really difficult with all this moving around. It’s like my sweetheart sees me less often than my programme coordinator does! My study group has more dates with me than my partner!

I am dying of longing and am so worried if it will all work out. My friends have similar problems: they were wise enough to start Euroculture as single people, but then they met the best person on earth in the first semester and now they’ve got the same problem.

Please, can you give me some advice on how to make this work? I want my big fat wedding after graduation!

Sincerely,
Heartbroken Euroculture Nomad

miss help medium size

Dear Heartbroken Euroculture Nomad,

Today, more and more young people move around during their studies in order to get to know different ways of life, to learn new languages, and to experience other cultures. Couples with partners from different places are more common. Often, these circumstances entail spending some time apart, and the relationship becomes a long-distance relationship for a definite or indefinite time span.

For many people, this is a terrifying scenario. But with the right mindset to deal with it and taking some basic advice into account, you are ready for it.

First of all, you need to be clear that there is no need to change the status of the relationship just because the surrounding situation changes. Of course, some couples might prefer to loosen the cords to some extent, but this is not a must. The definition of the relationship in terms of its binding character and commitment keeps being a decision that should be actively taken, and agreed upon, by both partners.

Having said this, think that everything that it takes to maintain a ‘normal’ relationship is also (and especially) true for long-distance relationships – both of you will have to make an effort to make it work. As in every common project, all of the involved need to be committed to it – how often does the “not sure, let’s see…” attitude work out in the long run? It might sound trite, but trust and confidence are fundaments of a healthy relationship, while jealousy and possessiveness are poison. Also, relationships are (obviously) about the ‘common thing’, and this is something that needs to be built every day. If you can share the past (memories, experiences, etc.), the present (spending time together, participating in each other’s life) and the future (plans, dreams…), you can have a lot in common and a good basis for all your common endeavors.

It is a great thing that the physical distance no longer keeps you from doing all that. Although it might require some more effort, today it is possible to keep in touch at (almost) all times across (almost) all distances – you can now instantly know what your partner is thinking about, how s/he feels, or what s/he is eating for lunch (and everything else you would know if you were close). You can be on a video call for 4 hours or send 200 WhatsApp messages a day if you need to – it will be useful as long as you share that need. You can even decide to meet on Skype every morning at 7 to have breakfast together. Generally, it is a good idea to use all the possibilities to update each other regularly, because that helps to minimize that awful feeling of estrangement when you stand in front of each other again.

Sure, it will still not be quite the same. Something will always be missing, and online fights can be the worst. So it might be true that it takes that little ‘something more’: maybe extra patience, potentially that extra stubborn willpower to pull this through, and what really helps… is having a heavy crush on each other and being convinced that you are each other’s better half!

And lastly: time flies. It might seem like an eternity in the beginning, but time often moves faster than you think. Finding some regularity in seeing each other can help to break the eternity of being apart down into bearable pieces, and arranging the travel early provides extra comfort.

So keep your spirit up and cherish what you have!

Loving greetings,
Miss Help

P.S.: But it goes almost without saying that blaming each other for being apart and pressuring the other to move or visit is not very helpful at all! If both are interested, this will happen naturally.

If you think Miss Help was very helpful, also read MISS HELP… Packing!

Hoping to be proud

It is easy just to be proud when you realise how many people are willing to know about your home country. ‘Because it is France. It is ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’. An ideal that cannot ring true to everybody if one does not have the same rights.

paul-gilbert colletazpaul.colletaz@gmail.com

On the 6th of May 2012, from a little city in Italy where I was studying at the time, my English partner and I witnessed the election of a new President for my home country: France. The Socialist candidate François Hollande won over his opponent – the outgoing Nicolas Sarkozy. Amongst the voters hoping for change was a majority of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual French community.

Indeed, Mr Hollande, unlike Mr Sarkozy had promised to legalise same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. Since then, the process proved to be complicated and the past few months were rich in demonstrations, lobbying and public events supporting the President or trying to make him renounce.

Being away, it took me some time to realise the importance of the debate in France and how the question of giving homosexuals those rights was present almost everywhere: in the streets, on television, on the radio…This, however, only seemed to be a start and I imagined that, until the law was passed, the debate and involvement of people on both sides would keep on increasing. Or so I thought…

Glaring at the slow but steady process of allowing same-sex people to marry and adopt, some right-wing mayors declared that they would not marry same-sex couples and requested the right to refrain from performing ceremonial weddings between said couples, were the law to come into force. The debate would continue even after the implementation of the law: longer than I thought…

On the 10th of October, some 1248 mayors had already signed the petition.

Some of the political leaders of France, that democratic republic, were to reject the law and regulations that define a democracy. They would go against the –according to them, very French- rules of democracy because the decision to give equal rights to homosexuals did not include the French electorate directly and therefore lacked a democratic foundation. A brain teaser.

This argument falls short when one is reminded that in early November, 58% of the French population was in favour of same-sex marriage and 50%, in favour of/supported the right for same-sex couples to adopt. However, these figures have decreased since 2011 when they were 63% and 56% respectively. So what is to blame? Certainly, the overwhelming place of the debate and the constant arguments, for or against, repeated again and again. Faced with such a large spectrum of opinions, one thing is certain. Homosexuals and the rights of the homosexuals have never been of much interest for the right-wing politicians.

Another popular argument against the introduction of same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples is that it would create chaos. The Senator Serge Dassault explained this on the radio on the 7th of November: (…) “Look at history, in Greece, it is one of the reasons for its decadence. Utter decadence. It would compromise children’s development, it would mean the end of education, it would be an enormous danger for the nation as a whole. It would pose an unprecedented threat for the nation as a whole!” Total decadence, well of course. Apparently, being heterosexual helps keep the nation together.

Flag of France

Being French is always something that has helped me spark an interesting conversation with the different people I met as a student studying abroad. Whilst in Italy or in the United-Kingdom, people would speak about the food, the beautiful language, and the philosophers along with the clichés of the beautiful, arrogant, chauvinistic thin French man or woman who smokes too much, can be a bit dirty and who will not, under any circumstances, accept to learn a foreign language. Perhaps because I was speaking another language than French then, the discussions were always cheerful, enjoyable and showed a real interest. Further away, in India – where I am presently studying – the interest in my country is still there, and though some of the ideas about food or of what is ‘typically French’ are more vague; it is the same attraction – if not an enhanced one – that I encounter when I see people perking up at the mention of the French Revolution, Rousseau, Voltaire…

However, I knew that in the land where the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was written, the person who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen was beheaded and that Voltaire was describing homosexuality as ‘a despicable attack against nature’ whilst Rousseau saw it as ‘the odious example of a brutal depravation and of a charmless vice’.

This is what being French means. It means missing home and being proud of its ideals, its culture and of some parts of its history. It is also at times facing stubbornness, underlying racism and a somewhat quaint idea that our past and present would make the French people somewhat different. ‘Different’ often meaning ‘better’. Switching from pride to shame is a feeling most people feel when they think about their country, but because of its image and reputation, those two ends feel so far from another if you are French.

I might have chosen to study in different countries to avoid those ups and downs. It is easy, not being informed of what is happening ‘there’, to just be proud when you realise how many people know about your home country, your mother tongue and be even more proud when so many more people tell you about their will to know. ‘Because it is France.’ It is ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’, not a French motto, but a goal and an ideal shared by everybody everywhere in the world. An ideal that cannot ring true to the homosexual community as long as they do not have the same rights.

The project of allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt in France has been approved by the Council of Ministers on the 7th of November and should be discussed in Parliament in January 2013.

* The Euroculturer : F. Hollande said he would be granting what is called “liberté de conscience”, which in fact allows mayors to refuse to perform the ceremony, so they would not be breaking the law. (http://www.atlantico.fr/pepites/mariage-homosexuel-aura-liberte-conscience-pour-maires-dit-hollande-551293.html)

* However, immediately after having used the expression ‘liberté de conscience’, F. Hollande said that he regretted having said that and that mayors will not have the choice whether to marry or not. (http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/mariage-gay-lesbienne/20121122.OBS0239/liberte-de-conscience-hollande-regrette-ses-propos.html)

 

paulPaul-Gilbert Colletaz, Contributing writer

Paul is from France and graduated in British and American Literatures, Civilisations and Linguistics from the Sorbonne, Paris, spending the last year of his undergraduate diploma in Edinburgh, Scotland. He started the MA Euroculture programme in September 2011 at the University of Strasbourg before going to the University of Udine (Italy). He is presently studying at the University of Pune (India). His research interests go from gender studies to queer studies with a particular interest in body expression, masculinities, second-wave feminism and the legal status of homosexuality and its political consequences.

Dobro doshli!* To the Balkans and Enjoy Your Stay!

I have been lucky enough to travel around the Balkans a lot. It’s not just the region I come from but also a beautiful place, even if often underappreciated as a tourist destination outside of its seaside resorts. It also offers some of the best food you would ever try, and foodies from around the world are yet to discover its wonderful cuisine!

 Radostina Georgievaradgeorgieva@gmail.com

A little bit of everything!

Why do I use the term ‘Balkan cuisine’ if the region has so many countries in it? Surely, each one must have its own distinct cuisine? Yes and no. Historically, the area which we now call the Balkan Peninsula has been the path of choice for migrating peoples and expanding empires for millennia. So it’s hardly a surprise that there are so many cultural influences on the national cuisines in the region, from the Mediterranean, Northern Africa or even the Middle East. Add that to the fact that from around the thirteenth century until the second half of the 1900s most of the Balkan countries were within the bounds of the Ottoman Empire and you would understand why determining if a meal was originally Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian or Turkish is close to impossible.

Dairy Goodness

Tzatziki
Tzatziki

One such example to prove my point is tzatziki. We think of it as something traditionally Greek, but did you know that it is also considered a ‘traditional’ dish in Turkey, Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria and even the Middle East? Add water to tzatziki and you have a refreshing, cold soup popular in the Balkans, Northern Africa and the Middle East. In fact yoghurt is a very significant part of Balkan cuisine, often used as an ingredient in cooking or as a sauce for certain dishes. And it makes perfect sense once you find out that in 1905 it was none other than a Bulgarian physician who identified the bacterium used to produce yoghurt (Lactobacillus bulgaricus). Of course, Bulgarians are very proud of this fact and don’t miss an opportunity to mention it (umm… case in point, I guess…).

Meat Lover’s Dream/Vegetarian’s Nightmare

rada_pljeskavica
Pljeskavica

To say that meat (in all its shapes and forms) plays a big role in Balkan cuisine would be the understatement of the century. For most people, it’s unconceivable to have more than a single meatless dish per day. For my mother (and she is definitely not alone in this), it would be unthinkable to host a dinner party without serving meat (even if it’s my birthday and I’m a vegetarian… That was harsh, Mom!). There is even some sort of commonly-agreed-upon-but-highly-unlikely myth that you can’t sate your appetite unless you consume massive amounts of meat and/or bread.
If you’re a meat lover, however, you would love Serbian cuisine whose barbeque is considered by many (including myself in my meat-loving days) to be a culinary revelation. If you do visit Serbi don’t miss it, and definitely try pljeskavica: the local version of a hamburger. If you ask me what makes Serbian barbeque so good, I couldn’t answer. There’s no secret sauce or other secrets as far as I know. Unless… Unless there is some sort of national conspiracy going on. Either way we might never know…

Signature Dish

rada_pastries
Pastries

 

 

The absolute must-have food, if you visit any of the Balkan countries, are the breads and savoury filo pastries on offer. In Bulgaria, the most popular one is banitsa. If you visit the beautiful Sarajevo, don’t miss their famous burek, offered with a variety of fillings: meat, cheese, spinach or even potatoes. This is fast food – Balkan style!

(Sometimes Guilty) Pleasures

rada shopska salad
Shopska salad

There is so much more I’d like to tell you. I haven’t even started talking about Turkish deserts, generously drowned in sugar syrup, or the simple but delicious salads covered in grated snow-white cheese. I guess we’ll have to leave all of that for some other time. You should definitely come to visit though. We’ll have some wine under the vines (or maybe even some rakia, if you’re the adventurous type) and talk about football and politics, since all Balkan people know everything there is to know on these topics.
No matter what you know or you think you know about Balkan people, the only way to truly understand them is by sharing their food. And don’t worry, they will invite you. They are hospitable, warm and passionate. Sometimes too passionate for their own good in fact, but it’s this passion that defines their love, their life, their music and their food!

*A ‘summarised’ spelling of the common greeting “welcome”, which in this form should be understood in all Balkan Slavic languages.

radaRadostina Georgieva, Contributing writer

Radostina is from Bulgaria and has a BA degree in English Literature. Her home university is Uppsala and she spent a semester in Strasbourg. She is interested in Minority Studies and as a self-professed nerd her absolutely favourite things in the world are Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. She is currently doing her internship at the office of the “Plovdiv 2019” foundation, working on her home town’s application for European Capital of Culture.

Juggling Culture Shock

If my experience with culture shock has taught me anything, it’s that I’ll just have to sit it out. Still, my head can’t tell my heart to be happy.

Albert Meijer | albert_meijer@hotmail.com

I take my coffee to a table that looks out over the university campus. In many ways, this square could be anywhere in the world: straight-forward brick buildings designed in the seventies, empty design chairs scattered around, patches of grass with tall trees proudly showing their autumn colours. It’s only the people that make it clear that we are, in fact, in Japan.

On the stairs of ‘Building A’, are students who are practicing their dance-moves, like they do every day. In their head, they’re in a J-pop video. Their arm movements are perfectly coordinated. They’re not practicing for a night out though: it is forbidden to dance after a certain time at night. Sometimes, policemen come into clubs to arrest all those who are dancing. I’m not kidding. True story.

In front of the dancers are the jugglers. In deep concentration, they throw their balls, cones and diabolos in the air, for hours every day. It doesn’t seem fun at all, but I find it intriguing to watch them from behind the windows of the cafeteria. Their faces when they drop a ball; their robotic arm movements; the determination to be really good at something, if only at juggling: it’s fascinating.

jugglers

Living in Osaka is not always easy. The amazement at the sight of something weird on every street corner has been replaced by a dull sense of culture shock. It’s not Japan’s fault: Japan is pretty amazing. It’s me.

I see a pattern. The feeling I have at this moment is related to emotions I’ve had in earlier periods of my life, those past semesters spent in foreign countries: the trouble I had with fitting in with the locals on a Swedish island, the frustration over the grumpiness of waiters in Vienna and the deep hatred for Scandinavian winters. ‘Culture shock’ is my middle name.

If my experience with culture shock has taught me anything, it’s that I’ll just have to sit it out: the frustrations about small things will pass, and I can go back to being grateful again of being able to live in a wonderful, new foreign country. Still, my head can’t tell my heart to be happy. Bitching about the peculiarities of a strange country won’t solve anything, but it’s good to let off steam once in a while.

I might never understand the Japanese mindset, but I do know that I won’t care as much about these differences next week. It’s not these frustrations that will stick in my memories. Thinking about Sweden and Vienna mainly brings back good memories: loving friends, sweet romances and crazy adventures. Japan won’t be much different, I think. In three years’ time, I won’t care about those incomprehensible jugglers, or the fact that I can’t shake my badonkadonk in clubs. I’ll think about the people and places I fell in love with. I love you Japan. But it’s a complicated relationship.

If you liked Albert’s article, also read Favourite European Songs : “Dickes B reminds me of my adventures in Berlin”

 

Albert pfAlbert Meijer, People’s Editor
Hailing from Osaka, Japan, Albert writes about the student body of the Euroculture programme. His academic interests lie in the fields of (sub)cultural studies, music science, sociology, and gender and queer studies. In his spare time, Albert likes writing and singing mediocre songs, walking through typhoons, making video blogs and getting stuck in difficult yoga positions.