Sunday, November 19, 2017

What Are You Doing for the Holidays?

It's that time of year again. For solo FSOs who do not have family at post, holidays abroad offer a few options. Spend them with your colleagues and friends at post. Pretend they are just regular days off and don't do anything special. Or take advantage of the time off to do something cool. This Thanksgiving I'm doing the latter and traveling to Luxembourg to enjoy some only-affordable-in-the-off-season luxury and do a little family history exploration.

It can be hard for some solo FSOs to answer the dreaded question, "What are you doing for the holidays?" But I got over that a long time ago. Certainly I would love to be with my family this Thanksgiving, but rather than try to recreate the perfect American Thanksgiving here (and fail miserably), I'll be having Thanksgiving dinner in a Michelin star restaurant with the ghosts of my ancestors. Not very traditional, but cool in its own way.

Whether you are surrounded by family, fortunate to have good friends nearby, or on your own, I hope everyone finds a way to enjoy the holiday season and that you do something that makes you happy.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

You Can’t Skype a Cheeseburger

I recently returned to post after an extended vacation in the States. It had been over a year since I had been home and seen my family. When people ask me what I miss about the U.S., one of the first things that comes to mind is food. What about my family and friends, you may ask. With modern communication I’m able to stay in touch with loved ones fairly easily. Between Facebook, email, Words with Friends, and Skype, I can maintain those relationships, even at a long distance. But you can’t Skype a cheeseburger. So when I arrived at the airport, as happy as I was to see my parents, I was a tiny bit happier at the thought of swallowing a double-double from In-n-Out.*

*It wasn’t until I moved from California to Washington, DC that I realized what a loaded subject this is. It is impossible for west coast Americans and east coast Americans to have a reasonable conversation about cheeseburgers. It gets real ugly real fast. As proof - anyone who attempts to post a comment suggesting Five Guys is comparable to In-n-Out will be blocked from this blog!

I honestly cannot fathom how Foreign Service Officers managed in the days before the internet. It must have felt very isolating to be so disconnected from home.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

How a California Girl Survives in the Baltics

Being a California girl, I had concerns about how I would survive in a place where the weather is often... well, not like California. Californians are spoiled. If the weather is bad (and by "bad," I mean when it rains or the temperature drops to a chilly 45 degrees Fahrenheit), we stay inside and wait it out. It won't be long before the weather is nice enough to head outside.

That doesn't work in Lithuania. I was warned before I got here that the winters and long, cold, and gray. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I did not see the sun at all from November until April. And what I thought was winter, because it resembled winter in DC, turned out to be fall. Real winter hit in late January.

What I've learned from the Lithuanians is that you cannot wait until the weather is perfect to enjoy being outdoors. When the weather is what I would consider "stay inside with hot chocolate and a book," the Lithuanians are sitting outside coffee houses, strolling at an outdoor festival (why the most important Lithuanian holidays are in prime cold weather months is the subject of another blog post), and parents are pushing strollers through several inches of freshly fallen snow.

Even for an avowed homebody such as myself, there is such as thing as too much home alone time. So I've learned to adapt. Last winter, I bought a long sheepskin coat suitable for the Baltic cold (with apologies to any vegan or anti-animal skin readers, but I haven't found a man-made material that will induce me to walk outside in the middle of a Lithuanian winter). In spring, I threw on rubber boots and a poncho when I wanted to venture outside in the rain.

After what seemed like one week of summer, fall is already in the air in Lithuania. I know it won't be long before I have to bundle up like Nanook of the North when I walk to work in the morning. But this California girl is prepared.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

My Impression of Lithuania

Whenever I meet Lithuanians who discover I have lived in Vilnius for almost a year (wow, has it really been 11 months?!), inevitably they ask how I like living here. I always reply, "I LOVE it!" And they always react with a shocked, "Really?"

I get the sense that Lithuanians don't appreciate what they have accomplished since breaking away from the Soviet Union in 1991. They have a "younger sibling" syndrome with their Baltic neighbors, seemingly living in the shadow of Latvia and Estonia.

I wish Lithuanians could see their country the way I see it. Sure there are challenges, but Lithuania has so much going for it. Vilnius is a wonderful place to live. I love the charming blend of old and new that can be seen in every inch of Old Town. There is a creative energy here you can see in the number of art galleries around town and even in the graffiti. There is an abundance of talent in the arts, sciences, and, of course, sports.

I've heard people - including Lithuanians - describe the national personality as "reserved." I haven't really noticed that. My encounters with taxi drivers, waitresses, store cashiers have all been very pleasant. People are so forgiving when I speak their language badly and so happy that I tried. Looking at Lithuania as an outsider, I would describe the national personality as "content."

So, Lithuania, you have impressed me greatly, and I am not easily impressed. I have visited and lived in nearly 40 countries and in my mind, Vilnius ranks in the top as a wonderful city to live in. Yes, you are a small country, but that can be an advantage. You have a lot to be proud of.