Sunday, 15 August 2010

Other people's holidays

So you’re an expat. You’ve lived in your chosen country for a couple of years. You’ve learnt the language, you’ve adapted to the local customs and you can even cook a couple of favourite dishes. So what’s to stop you feeling like you completely fit in? For me, it’s festivals and holidays. There’s nothing like another’s culture’s feast days to send me straight back to outsider status.

I’m thinking about this today, August 15th, as it’s one of Italy’s favourite holidays, Ferragosto. Celebrated since Roman Times (according to Wikipedia), families get together, usually at the beach, to enjoy food, fun and fireworks. I guess it’s the Italian version of August Bank Holiday, but much more important.

But it’s on festival days like these that you often feel like an outsider again. You may be lucky enough to be invited to someone’s home to celebrate (Chinese New Year in Taipei, for example), but however much you enjoy the food and the company, it’s the true meaning of the festival that is hard to grasp. You can understand that this festival celebrates the hottest part of the year, or that festival celebrates the first new moon, but without the cultural background, the spirit of the event can be frustratingly out of reach.

My advice? Shrug your shoulders and adopt the ‘When in Rome…’ approach. You may not be able to understand exactly what it is that people are celebrating, but c’mon – good food, friends and time off – surely these are enough reasons to celebrate anything.

Buon Ferragosto.