torstai 28. joulukuuta 2017

Photo Diary // The Castle of Lourmarin

The Holidays mean lots and lots of socializing with family and friends which can be really quite exhausting to just about anybody. By consequence, Q and I decided to arrange some much needed couple time and headed to visit the château de Lourmarin. We also love the village so it made a perfect little getaway!

Ps. If you are curious to see what the village of Lourmarin looks like, head to this post !

perjantai 22. joulukuuta 2017

5 Differences Between Finnish & French Christmas


I'm happy to announce that I have successfully finished my semester of French studies and now it's time for a well deserved holiday. I don't know why exactly, but I have been really into the Christmas spirit this year. Ever since the beginning of november I have felt the excitement grow and now, a few days before the D-day, I'm almost sorry that it will soon be over! Got to just try to hold my horses and enjoy the moment. It will be my second Christmas spent in France and Q's third one in the last seven years. We will be celebrating with his family which means that some things will be a bit different from the Finnish traditions. Here's my list of five main differences between the Finnish and French Christmas!

1. When does Santa come?

In Finland all kids wait impatiently the evening of the 24th december: that's when Santa knocks at the door! As he enters the house, everyone must sing the song "Joulupukki valkoparta" as he makes his way to the living room. On his shoulder he carries a big bag full of gifts. As soon as he has found a comfortable chair to sit on, he chats with all the children to find out if they have been nice or naughty during the year. If he is assured of their niceness, he will one by one share the gifts. My family likes the tradition so much that even though we are all adults now, every year Santa still comes!

The French children traditionally get their gifts the morning of the Christmas day and Santa Claus enters the house during the night. There's a whole lot more of mystery involved as he leaves the gifts under the Christmas tree and carries on. The French children try to stay up late to catch a glimpse of Santa, but so far none has succeeded! This Christmas a Santa will visit the house and personally hand out the gifts to everyone ;)

2. Weather

Well, in the South of France the Christmas weather is drastically different from the Finnish one: no snow, no minus degrees. The last time I spent Christmas in France, the Finns would have said that it's summer outside. It was a somewhat bizarre experience to wear a fuzzy Santa's elf hat in t-shirt weather. When I was a kid, a white Christmas was basically guaranteed in Finland which sadly is no longer the case: the global warming has done it's work. In any case, this doesn't diminish my childhood memories of Santa Claus arriving with his boots covered in snow!

3. Turkey vs Ham

The Finns love their Christmas ham that's been cooked with care in the oven the whole night before Christmas Eve. I remember from my childhood how nice it was to wake up to the smell of the freshly cooked ham and to have the first tasters at breakfast. The first ham that I cooked by myself was three years ago in France as Q's family wanted to include also some Finnish traditional dishes to make me feel more at home. My parents did the same for Q last year by preparing him a whole turkey even though they had no idea how to cook one. We are very lucky that both of our families are so open-minded to include some foreign traditions during important celebrations. This year Q's family is skipping the turkey as we make way to the traditions of the family of our sister-in-law.  

4. Christmas Eve Dinner

As already a casual French dinner can numb the butt of a Finn, it's no surprise that the French dine looong on Christmas Eve! The Finnish tradition is to prepare several sorts of dishes and they are usually served all at the same time (apart from the dessert) whereas the French like to organize a full out banquet. The Finns charge their plates with a bit of everything and in a couple of hours they are ready to have a siesta on the couch before continuing the festivities. The French succeed in not stuffing themselves by having several small courses and by taking a small "break" in the middle. The break usually means a bit of fruit sorbet with champagne or some liqueur which helps to make it through the second part of the fiesta. The menu of the Christmas Eve dinner is an important matter and it's been honed to perfection at least a month before the D-day.

 Our this year's Christmas Eve dinner menu

little jars of apéro

oysters & shrimps

toasted brioche with foie gras

trou normand: pear liqueur with pear sorbet

duck with puree of carrots & forest mushrooms

selection of cheeses

bûche de noël/Christmas log

champagne & chocolates

5. Atmosphere

My first ever Christmas in France was quite a different experience atmosphere-wise compared to what I had been used to! When I think of Finnish Christmas, I think of calmness and moments of silence eating chocolates while watching the flickering candellight. The Finnish Christmas eve progresses slowly but surely without fuss. There are no boisterous games or energetic party music. The key word of Finnish Christmas is cozy. Well, I have found out that the French have a slightly different approach than us! For them Christmas is a true party with games and dancing. According to Q this difference is explained by the fact that most parts of France don't have snow during the whole winter which makes it hard to feel the Christmas spirit. This is why they have invented their own, more energetic, version of the holiday mood!

I would love to hear some of the Christmas traditions of your country.

In any case, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

Ps. The lovely animated illustrations are by Maori Sakai.

torstai 14. joulukuuta 2017

Christmas Package From Finland!

Oh, the joy of receiving a package from home! A package, full of my favorite things, carefully assembled by my family far away in Finland. All the little snacks and candies bring Q and I so much joy and we will do our best to make them last as long as possible...a veery difficult task to be honest. One thing is sure though: guests will not get any tasters! I'm normally a generous soul, but I doubt that anybody could ever appreciate these things as much as I do. They are my precious little pieces of home. We will be visiting Finland next summer by car and as I'll be coming back with loads of candies, everybody can then have all the tasters they want! Voilà.

We got also some secret little gifts which will wait under the christmas tree until it's time to unwrap them. Especially the Pentik-one is tickling my curiosity ;)

tiistai 21. marraskuuta 2017

The Taste Of Life

It's about time I gave you guys some news about what I have been up to during this last month. I'm glad to say that I have been absent from here but actually present in my life which hasn't been the case in many many months. Not long ago I told Q that I have lost the light heartedness and joy of life that used to be such a big part of me.  I used to laugh all the time so hard that tears would actually run down my cheeks and always end up ruining my make-up. One month ago I couldn't remember the last time I had laughed like that. But if I have learnt something about life in my short 26 years on this ball, it's that things have a tendency to work out for the time.

I have finally been able to establish a satifying social life in France which has made all the difference! In the past few weeks Q and I have been able to share so much with likeminded, interesting people. We have been exhausted and hungover after long evenings filled with good food, deep conversations, cats and lots of laughing with tears in the eyes. In other words: Some of the best simple pleasures life has to offer. It's been quite a balancing act though between work and pleasure, but I haven't felt more alive and happy since we moved here (which makes about 1 year and a half..)

 It all seems to finally be coming together as even my French is improving so much thanks to the course. Le français can honestly still be quite a pain in the ass, but every once in a while I catch myself thinking: "This isn't such a bad language after all, I'm starting to get it." Even the teachers that used to make me crinch because of their high demands are now actually almost my favorites. There's a certain sort of pleasure we can obtain from being graded by someone who aims for perfection.

It hasn't always been easy to enjoy the French classes though as we are just five women with completely different cultural backgrounds. It's only recently that I have been able to keep my zen during some quite contradictory political speeches or such cases where people actually giggled when they learned that their country is actually in the process of committing a genocide. I can tell you that witnessing such reaction from people who seem rather nice is really a quite mind bending experience.

 In order to protect myself from too much stress and anger, I have learnt to take things liiightly even if there's nothing light about them. When I manage to focus on my own business and learning French, the course is actually very enjoyable and I'm even a bit sad that the first semester will soon end and there's no guarantee that the second semester (level C1) will happen as we are so few. I will hopefully soon have a confirmation on the matter as one thing is sure: one way or another I need to continue and conquer the next level.

PS. The pictures are from the charming village of Lourmarin where we ate delicious desserts and drank amazing local wine!

tiistai 24. lokakuuta 2017

Photo Diary // On The Streets of Vaison-la-Romaine


I have not been posting in a long while since Noki decided to munch on my computer's charger. The good thing though is that Noki is fine and didn't get electrocuted! We have been waiting for a new charger to arrive from China for weeks now, but tonight I decided to snatch Q's laptop to show you what we did last weekend: we went to Vaison-la-Romaine! I still can't believe sometimes that I get to live just one hour drive away from places like this. 

The town lies between the alps and the Mediterranean and it truly has the charm of a genuine Provençal village. Its antique ruins, medieval and modern town allow to observe 2000 years of local history!


I warmly recommend! Being face to face with such beauty and history really makes your own existence and problems feel in a very calming way insignificant.

tiistai 26. syyskuuta 2017

I Am a Highly Sensitive Person & It's Okay

Two weeks of university life have passed and the change of life has, inevitably, forced me to face myself. I am a Highly Sensitive Person and this trait (not a disorder) just simply does come with its particular set of gifts and limitations. I just tend to forget about them whenever I have managed to build my own comfortable bubble. It's meeting people, being put in new situations and just in general having a lot of things happen at once that makes me realise that I don't function like most other people. 

In short high sensitivity means that the body processes sensory data more deeply and thoroughly due to a difference in the nervous system. Elaine Aron has summarized the trait with the acronym DOES, which stands for:

Depth of Processing

We process received information naturally more thoroughly than non-HSPs due to the differences in our nervous systems. We are also more aware of the subtleties in our environment.


HSPs can get overwhelmed by both internal (such as feelings and thoughts) and external (lights, noises, people etc.) stimulation. This is the aspect of the trait that often causes most problems for HSPs as it basically makes it impossible to tolerate the hectic lifestyle that is normal for the non-HSPs. For me overstimulation feels like being "filled up" and I just urgently need some down time to even function normally. If this withdrawal to the calm isn't possible I start feeling  confused, foggy, clumsy, irritated and all kinds of emotional. 

Emotional Intensity & Empathy

HSPs have strong emotional responses and they are very empathetic due to their highly responsive mirror neurons. This also makes them skilled at reading other people's feelings, but in the other hand they get easily affected by someone else's mood (especially negative).

Sensory sensitivity

We tend to have lower tolerance for a bunch of  external stimulation: coffee, alcohol, bright lights, noisy or chaotic surroundings, uncomfortable clothes etc.

It's been about 4 years since I found out that I'm a HSP and it was an emormous relief to be able to finally name that something, that profound difference between me and most other people. However, I do still struggle with self-acceptance and the persistent need to "be normal" and fit in. For a HSP to insist living life exactly like non-HSPs is basically the same as banging one's head against a wall. It just doesn't work and this is where being highly sensitive becomes relevant as I try to explain my feelings about my first weeks back to school. So, I had this image in my head that I would be all open minded social butterfly and everything would be great, easy breezy. Mind over matter and so on. I thought that I could become friends with just anyone if I just got over my "overly high expectations".

Here's why being a HSP makes things complicated
  1. I crave for adventure, but big changes can be too tough on my body and mind.
  2. I want to make friends, but most people don't really spark my interest since I always look for "that special someone" who will understand me.
  3. I want to be social, but social settings are full of stimuli + small talk bores me (anybody wanna discuss meaning of life?)
  4. When I force myself to just do it and break the ice, people find me strange as I try to nervously imitate small talk (I can't).
  5. With non-HSPs there will always be the inevitable, distance creating dynamic of "I really don't get who you are"
  6. I am deeply interested in people and my eagerness to discuss life and feelings can be too much for most. 
  7. At the end of the school day I'm so exhausted that I have no more energy to ask people to hang out.

Voilà. I was first disappointed that I didn't live up to my expectations and be immediately at ease in my new life. I felt guilty and blamed myself for being so stupid, awkward and incapable of adaptation. Then I realised that, what the hell, this is who I am. This is not my fault and there is nothing to apologize for. The others are so at ease because that's who they are. They don't have to like or understand me and I do not have to force myself to like them. And that's okay. I am part of the 20 percent of the population that experiences life from a different angle so, naturally, a lot of people will not be for me. I have also been these past few weeks in a constant state of overwhelm as there's a lot of things (and the 7000 students...) to get used to, but I know that even socializing will become much easier when I'm not so preoccupied by everything else. It just takes a bit of time and it'll be fine (as so many times before).

Anyway, I haven't mentioned yet here on the blog (I'm more active on instagram) that I made it to the B2 language level group! I'm very proud I got this far by just mainly listening to the people around me. There's though a certain level of pressure involved in being placed on this level as I have never actually studied the French grammar. I hardly even know how many words are written...Gladly I'm not the only one in our small group with this problem so the teachers are willing to adjust the course to our needs. I have learnt already so much, but the more I learn the more I also realise how much I didn't know! 

Did you make some sort of life change this autumn? How is it going?

maanantai 4. syyskuuta 2017

The First Day Of University

I am going to study French for a full academic year and today was my first day! The schedule was very light as we just gathered to receive some informations and listened to a welcome speech from the teachers and other school staff. 

When I arrived at the meeting point, I found people waiting around, divided in large groups that all seemed to already know each other. I knew that in this mass of people there were both the Erasmus students and the other foreigners (like me) who were going to do only language studies and eventually obtain the French Language Diploma. We were just all put together for the Welcome Week and the rest of the year our schedules would be different. I had no idea which students were going to be in my program (much easier to break the ice and start a conversation with) so I decided to just observe and see what happens for the moment. I eyed through each group and let the visual images, different voices and perceived social connections sink in. 

Standing alone in the middle of the different groups, for a moment a flashback from my childhood took over of which followed a second of panic: what if I will not be able to talk to anybody? But the moment passed and things started rolling with their own weight: the speeches started and ended, we made our way to the refreshments, someone jumped from the crowd to chat with me, disappeared and another took over and so it continued...I even got a chance to try out my japanese skills, which always brings me such huge joy even though it gives me each time a reminder to keep practicing not to eventually forget it all.

So, how does one feel on the first day of university in a foreign country? Well...strange and surreal. What takes me apart from the others is that I have already been in the country for over a year and in a sense these foreigners are to me both familiar and more foreign than the french. I am however open to the change and curious to see where this new adventure takes me.

Tomorrow is a new day and I will be taking an exam for the first time in a looong time! This test will define my French language level and it will determine which group I will be joining for the rest of the year.

sunnuntai 20. elokuuta 2017

Times I Jumped To Conclusions Abroad

Misunderstandings abroad are inevitable and they happen for many reasons: cultural differences, prejudices, insufficient mastering of the language or simply misreading the situation. These moments can be hilarious, but also awake feelings of embarrassment, sadness and anger. I can name several situations where my misapprehension sparked negative feelings and either made the already charged circumstances worse or turned a completely harmless one into something hurtful in my mind. I have a vivid imagination which can very efficiently paint a distorted image of the reality.

Last time this morning I ruined a nice family outing for myself by stirring in my own bitter imaginations and misjudgements. We were at the flea market and I had been going through one vendor's scarf selection. The scarves were neatly folded and I had been unfolding them to get a better look at their colours and patterns. I was deeply focused when the vendor spoke to me and I heard her say, "Do you want to unfold them?" I was surprised and confused since I had been unfolding them under her nose already for a few minutes so I just replied, ", it's fine." I didn't look up, but heard a nervous burst of laughter. I associate that sound with disbelief when faced with something utterly and unexpectedly rude. Had I misunderstood the lady? She must have not said what I thought...Oh, shit. She probably told me to refold them! And I replied back like that...I was feeling confused, embarrassed and pissed off all at once. I thought she was mad at me for messing up her organization. And I was vexed because I would have folded them up nicely after I had finished and probably even bought something. Well, because of me misjudging the whole situation in the first place, I left her stand empty-handed and with mixed feelings. Only when we were finally home and I checked from dictionary the word she had used (déplier = unfold), I realised that I had made it all up in my head and the vendor had just tried to be helpful.

This little episode made me recall another time (in Japan) when my imagination magnified a totally harmless scene into a horrible betrayal. I happened to overhear my name in a conversation between my teacher and three classmates. I was about two meters away and didn't even hear anything else but my name and saw their serious faces. I thought they were all criticising me behind my back! I headed to the library to study japanese for a couple of hours, constantly wondering what I had done wrong and why they just didn't talk straight to me. Fired up, I decided to go face them and find out what they were talking about earlier. Well, it turned out that the teacher had been just trying to comfort my classmates since they were scared about their upcoming short exchange in Canada. And my teacher had used me as an example to give them more confidence! To be fair, my past encounters with the japanese behaviour of avoiding confontation had made me jumpy and paranoid about hearing my name in a conversation. 
These are just a few of the misunderstandings I have had during my time as an expat, but there are maaany more and probably some that I never even realised happened. Every once in a while there are just those situations when I reply to someone (in my opinion in a totally sensible, correct way) and I get back a blank face combined with a weak smile. There are some cases that will remain eternal mysteries...

Do you have a wild imagination like me? I would love to hear some of the times that you jumped to conclusions abroad!