Had it not been for the coronavirus, St Patrick’s Day celebrations around the globe would have taken place on March 17, marking the passing of the patron saint of Ireland in the 5th century and rendering half our cities green for the day.
While February saw the Danish celebration of Fastelavn, which is better known for cake, fancy dress and barrel-bashing. However, originally it stems from the 1800s: a day to mark the start of a 40-day fast.
Roam, but in Rome
My calendar used to have a ‘British celebrations’ option that I could select, but after a quick review, I’ve noticed a new pattern emerging: a hybrid of celebrations from around the world.
Norwegian & American Independence Days, Thanksgiving, julegudstjeneste, Christmas, Fastelavn, Pancake Day, St Patrick’s Day, kobberbryllup, Midsummer – the list goes on.
As expats, we expect to be introduced to a new culture, cuisine and traditions – “When in Rome” as the saying goes – but when was the last time you reviewed your present identity?
Speaking at an International Women’s Day event recently, I noticed that a uniting factor was a yearning to be culturally tolerant, but at what cost? How far can you go before you forget your own cultural background?
Just when did I realise that I could never return to live in the UK?: that I wasn’t a Dane, but certainly had no desire to return (other than for fine Northern cuisine aka fish ‘n’ chips and chicken tikka masala).
I’ve been in Denmark for 17 years now and my identity review started many years ago. It involved cultural awareness and assimilation, but also a strong sense of realisation and acceptance of who I am, what I like, and how far I am willing to go towards accommodating others.
Theorists say that cultural intelligence is the ability to understand people and to be interested enough in people to want to learn to understand them. I agree in part, but would add that cultural intelligence is also knowing about your own culture and having the willingness to share it with others.
Where you come from – the traits, culture and celebrations of where you were raised – are a part of who you are. You do not need to forget your cultural background to accommodate the new. There is room for both.
So, in with the old and in with the new, and let’s embrace full-hybrid expat status whilst remembering that cultural intelligence starts at home!