Why I Don’t Want Greenland On Your Bucket List (*there’s a catch)

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Yes, Bucket Lists were virtually invented for once-in-a-lifetime experiences like travelling to the Arctic, glacier walking on the only Ice Sheet outside of Antarctica, and sailing under the midnight sun. So it sounds odd to say I don’t want Greenland included in that. 

And, given that I dedicate my professional and personal life to showing anyone who will listen that Greenland is simply the best land in the world, it sounds VERY odd that I don’t want it on your list. 

But here’s why.

Greenland deserves so much more than a line on a Bucket List and a little square waiting to be filled in with a red check mark and then left in the dust.

Because that very check mark indicates completion and finality. It means you have been there, done that, and are ready to move on to the next item.

If Greenland has half the effect on you as it did on me the first time, then you don’t simply just move on after experiencing Greenland. You don’t just go back to ‘life as normal’ and forget all about the peace you had every morning waking to such beautiful views like the picture above, or the human compassion you felt when you asked a local for directions to your AirBnB flat and she ended up walking you the whole way there. For many of you, Greenland will be your transformational destination

Therefore, I ask you to let Greenland transcend the bucket list. Don’t go because it’s on the list. Just go.

Take your time to plan the trip; live in the moment every day you have your feet on the ground up here; go home and continue to let Greenland have a place in your thoughts; go forth and be changed by your experience.

Cultural perspective: Violence is a cultural norm in USA

skaermbillede-2016-11-05-kl-19-54-29 Screenshot from a True Activist online article

There’s a whole line of sociology about getting perspective on the good and bad parts of your own culture only after you have traveled elsewhere and seen a different way to approach something.

After spending the better part of the last four years outside USA, a huge takeaway for me is that violence is a deeply-engrained part of American culture, so much that it’s a part of 18 everyday phrases (see the examples below). But I’ve also learned that it’s not necessary; everywhere in the world is not this way. There is another way to live!

Violence in the media

I stopped watching the news in USA long ago because the entire broadcast comprised stories about violence – murders, school shootings, fires, fights – and finished with a sweet little 2 minute spot with a feel-good story. Not just here and there, but every single night. I was over it – completely sick and tired of having such negativity in my life by way of the television.

Violence is not necessary

Hey newsflash, America! You know what’s NOT happening on a daily basis everywhere in the world? Pointless deaths due to gun violence, gun accidents, gun miseducation, inadequate screening for weapon ownership, or whatever you want to call it. People don’t come out of the womb wanting to kill people. People aren’t born as racists. They learn it from the society they live in, and then it is fostered and supported by their society’s laws and policies.

Thankful to get out

I’m so glad I now live in a place where people literally gasp in horror when they hear stories about the depravity in USA, because it is so far from what they know about respect for life and the treatment of other human beings. 

Violence engrained in American English language

I thought I was far enough away that I didn’t really have to think about violent USA anymore, but it actually started coming back in my thoughts through language, of all things. 

When you live abroad and use a foreign language or two as your daily communication, you often find yourself searching through the Rolodex of words flying around in your head in multiple languages. Often times what comes up are sayings – phrases that actually have no (or hard-to-see) relevance when directly translated. Lately I’ve realised that WAY too many times I’m pulling forward sayings that use death and violence nonchalantly, and frankly it is embarrassing! I’m ashamed that such phrases are in my top-of-mind vocabulary.

What kind of society is USA if daily language talks about death or killing? No wonder there’s so much violence and depravity in that country – it’s completely the norm! It’s so normal it’s mainstream. 

Here are 19 American English slang sayings that normalize death, killing, and violence in general. Do you use any of these? Have you ever thought twice about what you’re actually saying?

  1. “Killer” to mean either really cool or really hard
  2. “To die for” to indicate that something is highly desired or high quality
  3.  “Start with a bang” to say something had an impressive beginning
  4. “Kill me now / Shoot me now” to express boredom or displeasure
  5.  “I wanted to die” to express boredom, displeasure, or embarrassment
  6.  “[My legs are] dead” to say you’re exhausted and totally out of energy
  7. “My parents are going to kill me” to mean you’re anticipating being in big trouble
  8. “Like I need a hole in the head” to indicate something is unnecessary or undesired
  9.  “Making a killing on” to say you earned a lot of money from something
  10.  “I would kill for” to express an extreme longing/wishing feeling for something
  11. “Don’t shoot the messenger” to ask to be excused from fault
  12.  “I’m dying” to say something is hilarious
  13. “On my deathbed” to exaggerate a feeling of illness.
  14. “Kill time” to say how to spend a certain amount of minutes or hours until something else happens.
  15. “Trigger happy” to say someone makes quick decisions or simply does things on a whim without thinking them through.
  16. “There was a gun to my head” to express being coerced into something against one’s will.
  17. “Shooting himself in the foot” to mean someone does something that is not in his best interest and ruins things for himself.
  18. “Could die a happy woman/man now” to mean something was so perfect and wonderful that they don’t need anything more in life.
  19. “Backfired”, usually with reference to a plan, to say something went completely in the opposite direction it was supposed to.

8 ways to have a cosy time in Greenland

Greenlanders love to cultivate cosiness – whether that’s by completely enjoying your own company by curling up with the cat, a heavy blanket, and a good book… by feng-shuiing your living room on a Saturday morning… or by inviting friends over for a dinner party. 

I think every culture can recognise the concept of a true comfort activity. Think about gathering to watch American football games on Saturday afternoons in USA with chips, dips and beer. Think about shinrin-yoku / forest bathing in Japan to destress and reconnect with nature. Think about knitting in the Faroe Islands.

Here’s how I ‘do cosy’ in Greenland!

1. Go to Kaffemik (or host your own) – Kaffemik is a get-together of one’s family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to celebrate exciting life events like a new baby, a baby’s christening, a child’s first day of school, birthdays, confirmations, weddings, a new house, etc. As host, you spend days baking and cooking in advance to fill your table with oodles of cakes, biscuits, coffee, tea, and all sorts of good things on the big day. The entire day is exciting and joyful with a constant flow of people coming and going. As guest, you bring a small gift for the honorary person. People often make Facebook groups to spread the news about kaffemik, but word of mouth is also just as effective, especially in the small settlements.

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2. Make arts & crafts – Of course, stretching your artistic legs requires that you have artistic legs to begin with, but for me, I have always loved putting energy toward drawing and painting and making beautiful things. The hours just fly by! Here is a card I made one evening for my friend out of plain old sequins, card stock, needle & thread, and a little inspiration from the Greenlandic women’s national costume, plus a few beaded necklaces I’ve made which also pay homage to the colourful patterned nuilarmiut, or pearl collar from the costume.

 

3. Make sealskin crafts – There’s no shortage of sealskin in Greenland, and using it is not only fashionable but functional. I love to make things for others, and what a luxurious gift sealskin is! I once made a vibrant red sealskin belt for my friend to wear at her wedding, and I’ve even made cell phone pouches out of the same. When the temperatures are very cold, sealskin works as a perfect insulator to keep your phone warm – and on! ‘Sewing clubs’ are a common thing in Greenland, but I’ll admit that all the ones I have experienced end up being much more about socialising than sewing – not necessarily a bad thing. Read here about my creations.

 

4. Relax with cosy candles and hot teaSelf-hygge is not always my strongest point. I admit, it can be a challenge for me to make myself stay in because I’m constantly wanting to be active, socialise, and take advantage of the fun events that happen in Nuuk. But when I do finally take that evening to relax with candlelight and a big pot of tea on a cold night, it feels oh so good!

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5. Bake delicious treats – Even if there’s no kaffemik on the immediate horizon, practice makes perfect, right? I don’t think there ever needs to be a ‘good reason’ to make something tasty!!

 

6. Make homemade soap – Okay, this one isn’t my own hobby, and I don’t think it’s that common anyway, but I have assisted my friend with soap-making twice now. It’s pretty fun! We tried a simple and gentle baby soap recipe with light lavender and bergamot scents. There’s something satisfying about seeing your hard work (1.5 hours of stirring with an electric mixer definitely counts as hard work!) come to something useful in a few weeks’ time. PS – the goggles and gloves are just a safety precaution when preparing the first step. The rest of the process is more fun and less mad-scientist! Photo credit: The Fourth Continent.

 

7. Eat meals together with others – Food is a universal language, and people bond when sitting to a shared table, no matter what. Whether it’s Friday morning breakfast at the office (a common thing in Greenland) or a burger night with friends or a little bit fancy dinner, meals are typically a super cosy time with tables full of delicious food, good conversation, and laughter.

 

8. Sunbathe on the terrace – Nearly every single town and village in Greenland is built on the coastline, so that means nearly every flat and house has some sort of fjord- or ocean-view and a terrace to take it in. Summers in Greenland can get quite warm, so shorts and t-shirts suit perfect for outdoor time. But when the view is that perfect, sometimes you also need a terrace day in the middle of winter. Here’s The Fourth Continent and I on her terrace out in Qinngorput on 14 February this year. With a thermos of good tea and some snacks, we stayed out there and chit-chatted for almost two hours!

Luckily for us, it does eventually get warm enough to sit outside without the winter jacket 🙂

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Why I eat Greenlandic Food

In autumn I started a little unofficial ‘Portrait of a Greenlander’ series to highlight Anne Nivíka Grødem, the Greenlandic Foodlover. Now we’re cooperating in a new way. Here in February, I’m so proud to be a weekly guest blogger on her website, www.greenlandicfoodlover.com. Everything on the website relates in some way to food and health and Greenland – whether it’s delicious new recipes to try out or tips for keeping healthy skin in winter.

My posts on Greenlandic Foodlover are written in Danish, but I’m reproducing them here in English.

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ON APPRECIATING ANOTHER CULTURE

By: Sarah Woodall

When I came up here for the first time, I knew nothing about the Greenlandic food environment, and I knew nothing about the rules for importing and exporting food, for example. I had no idea how much vegetables cost, and I had absolutely never heard of seal- and whale-hunting.

Yes, I was completely new and unknowledgeable, but it also meant I had no preconceptions or prejudices against Greenland or the Greenlandic people. Everything I know about Greenland now, I learned here. With respect to food, I was totally open to eat anything that was served. One must try everything at least once, is what I learned as a child, and such a saying goes a long way here in the Arctic.

In the beginning, I ate Greenlandic food to show my respect and appreciation for the country’s culture. I thought to myself, When I am in your land, it should be me who adapts myself to your ways. Not the other way around.

I can remember the very first time I tried fried whale meat at a birthday lunch. Everyone at the table looked at me and waited to see my reaction (which was that I thought it tasted very good). And I can remember a time my friend came home with fresh raw seal liver. I ate that without a second thought, although maybe with just a small hesitation before the first bite. They were all completely taken aback that I could imagine trying such a thing!

P1000638 Whale on the barbie! Fantastic summer day on the terrace with short sleeves, sunglasses, and Greenlandic specialties! And with two (live) whales in the bay, too.

Now I eat Greenlandic food because I want to. It’s not every day, but, for example, I do buy whale meat and mattak (whale skin & fat), and I ask for Greenlandic food whenever there’s a choice. I have experienced overall that Greenlanders are surprised by my openness, my willingness, and even my desire to eat the Greenlandic specialties. One of my best friends always says that it is truly amazing I like the taste of ‘Arctic blood’. It makes me proud.

Top left: Boiled seal meat for suaasat soup. Top right: South Greenlandic lamb leg. Bottom: Mattak (whale skin & fat), served with aromat seasoning and strips of dark rye bread.

IMG_5051 An interesting find at the grocery store! Greenlandic Trio Pack of 1) ground Minke whale meat 2) ground muskox meat and 3) fish mashed with cream, vegetables, etc.

I think it is important as a foreigner to be open for the different food cultures you meet. It is also just as important for the culture one comes into to feel that it is valuable itself. The simple fact that a foreigner is open to take on new food habits and adopt them as their own is certainly a success, isn’t it?

I don’t mean that the value of a culture should be decided by the outside world. On the contrary! But when a foreigner wishes to immerse herself in the Greenlandic lifestyle and food culture, it’s a proof that such a lifestyle is unique and very special.

Therefore I eat Greenlandic food. Because it supports the Greenlandic culture, because I can, and because I want to.

Follow @Polarphile on Instagram!

Follow me on Instagram at @Polarphile to see what my daily life in Nuuk, Greenland looks like!

Here’s a few snapshots from the last week:

Kaffemik Culture in Greenland

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Photo taken 6 April 2015 at the kaffemik celebrating my friend’s daughter’s confirmation.

Kaffemik in Greenland is the ultimate in social gatherings. “Come glad and eat cake” the invitation says, but it is what the invitation does not say which makes kaffemik more of a social staple than just a fun get-together. 

Good things to eat and drink are the common ground that brings community members together under the same roof and to the same table, but the root of kaffemik is a solidification of one’s bond to the celebrated one.

Kaffemik happens all year round to celebrate birthdays, graduations, marriages, holidays, and more. Here is an example of a beautiful kaffemik invitation to celebrate Confirmation. Written in Danish, translated to English below.

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“Dear [Names],

It would be my great pleasure that you all come and celebrate my confirmation with me and my family.

I am holding my own open house on my Confirmation Day. 

Come and enjoy good food such as reindeer that I have shot myself and lovely accompaniments.

There will, of course, also be a lot of coffee & tea and tons of cakes.

19 April 2015 from 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM.

[Address]

Kind regards,

Manu”

Read more about Kaffemik in Greenland in this article in the Visit Greenland June newsletter.

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Handmade Sealskin Crafts in Greenland, Part 2

Never Too Much of a Good Thing

After writing Part 1 about handmade sealskin crafts this morning (a short How-To on making a decorative sash out of sealskin, with a sweet personal story behind it) I inspired myself so much that I used a few more hours today to play around with the material and see what I could come up with!

My pride and joy was this beauty – a mobile phone pouch 🙂 It is obviously fashionable as it is made of 100% fantastic red sustainable Greenlandic sealskin, and I embellished it with a cut-out of an Ulo (a woman’s knife / a classic Greenlandic symbol).

What’s more is, this phone pouch is actually a highly functional piece! In winter, the temperatures in Greenland can reach -30*C / -22*F. Such extreme temperatures have strong effects on technology like mobile phones, cameras, etc., and more than once my iPhone has shut off due to cold temperatures, even with a full battery! So this phone pouch serves to insulate a phone and protect it from extreme temperatures.

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Other Loot

The Ulo cut-out negatives from my phone pouch gave me a pair of small Ulos that I could well imagine turning into a pair of dangling earrings.

I also tried creating a bracelet. What started as an idea for a solid Cuff turned into this whimsical buckle-design bracelet. The fur on the strap faces a different direction than the fur on the square piece, creating a bit of texture with the opposing fur grains.

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With a creative mind, the possibilities are endless. What will you create today?

Greenland-isms: Life in Greenland through American Eyes

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Photo credit: Kunuk Abelsen via Visit Greenland Flickr account

Geologically, Greenland is part of North America, but subterranean tectonic plates know nothing about cultural similarities and differences! If you only visit Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, you would conclude that Greenland is more European than North American. (You can thank the Danes for that.) If you visit smaller towns and villages along the coast, particularly in North and East Greenland, you would probably say that Greenland is like no other place you have seen before, and that it has an identity all its own.

This piece focuses on the differences between Greenland and the United States because they are what I love about the country. Why travel to a foreign land just to get more of the same thing you know from back home? These differences are what hooked me from the very start, and they are what bring me back to Greenland again and again. Some are just facts of life, some are fun and silly, and some are monumental. If I had to boil it all down into a nutshell, I would say this: Greenlanders take time to enjoy life and their loved ones; they don’t let life pass them by.

You can be the judge when you visit, but here’s a list of Greenland-isms I noticed after only a short time in Greenland (in no particular order).

FACTS OF LIFE

  1. Use of the Metric System (and Celsius). This came as no surprise to me since 98.5% of the world’s countries use these systems. But the United States of America is not one of them, so Americans better study up on their metric-to-imperial and Celsius-to-Fahrenheit conversions or else download a nifty conversion app, otherwise you might find yourself at a loss ordering a cold one or checking the weather!
  2. Localvore = Carnivore. A localvore is someone who wants everything they eat to be fresh, organic, and wholesome and to come from an 80 km / 50 mi radius, give or take. It’s a ‘new’ craze that started on the west coast and is slowly creeping into mainstream America. Greenlanders are the original localvores, but only because they are also carnivores. Farming is simply not possible because a permafrost Ice Sheet covers 80% of Greenland, and the terrain that is exposed is primarily rock. Meat and fish are the only local items here, save a few small farms in South Greenland experimenting with crops like potatoes, strawberries, and even beekeeping. (Just so you know, every fruit and vegetable and dry good you would ever want IS available in Greenland, but it is imported.)
  3. Use of chip-and-pin cards. All of Greenland’s credit card machines are set primarily for chip-and-pin cards. Most of them are able to accept American cards without pin codes, but some vendors and cashier clerks are more knowledgable about the process than others. To be safest, only use cards with pin codes – i.e. debit cards. If you must use credit cards, be sure to call your bank well in advance of your trip and set up a pin code for the card. Otherwise, exchange cash for Danish Kroner before your trip or visit an ATM once you arrive.

MONUMENTAL

  1. Hygge is religion. Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah) is best translated to “coziness” in English. It is the art of being totally happy and content and heart-warmed by your surroundings, whether it is curling up on the couch with your dearest and good wine, watching a film with lots of popcorn and candy, or sitting around a dinner table with your close friends and laughing until your cheeks hurt. Many Greenlanders will prefer weekend hygge while Americans will opt for going out to restaurants and bars for entertainment.
  2. Work/Home Balance & Sanctity of Holiday. My hunch is that this ‘phenomenon’ exists everywhere but the United States. There’s no other way to put it than when Greenlanders are at home, they are 100% focused on their loved ones. If I could make a Venn Diagram of work life and home life, it would just look like 2 circles with no overlap. Of course there are busy days, but they are more of an exception than a rule. Add to this 6 weeks of paid time off, 6 months of paid maternity leave, and even paid paternity leave, and you’ve got plenty of evidence that this a culture that values a healthy balance of professional and personal life. Juxtapose that to Americans who get a few weeks of holiday if they are lucky, feel guilty about it, and still answer work emails while sitting on a white sandy beach.
  3. There is a Circle of Trust. It is not uncommon to see children running around or to see babies asleep in prams outside, seemingly unattended. The uptight and xenophobic American might go as far as calling that child neglect, but really it is just a sign of small communities that feel comfortable around their fellow countrymen. It is downright refreshing, to be honest!
  4. There’s no such thing as bad weather. Is it pouring rain outside? Is there a meter (3 feet) of snow on the ground? Is it -25*C (-13*F) outside? Doesn’t matter. Maybe air traffic will get delayed, but life on the ground in Greenland doesn’t stop because of a little bad weather. People still walk their dogs, wait at the bus stop, go on runs, and carry on with life as usual.
  5. Office culture. There are so many points to note here about idea-sharing, respect, and productivity, but really it’s the tangible elements that are most different from the United States. 1) Floor plan: Greenland is fond of the open floor plan with many peoples’ desks in one room. Why have small, anti-social cubicles when you could see each other’s beautiful smiling faces?! 2) Lunch time: The occasional café lunch date is fun, but usually Greenlanders stay at their own offices to eat – but certainly not at their desks. Offices have their own full kitchens and dining rooms to eat in, and everyone sits down together like one big happy family. The larger offices even have their own canteens/cafeterias/chefs.
  6. Possessions are cared for with the utmost attention. Everything is expensive in Greenland. Everything. Single cucumbers are $5+, iPhones are $900, shoes and clothing are 2-3x the price as in the United States, and you don’t even want to think about the Internet prices. Not only are items expensive, but also they are not in endless supply. In smaller towns and villages, if something is out of stock on the shelves, it could be a week or more before the container ship comes with replenishment. Therefore, Greenlanders do understand how to care for their possessions and conserve a bit.

FUN & SILLY

  1. Coffee is religion. There are three rules. 1) No time is a bad time for coffee. 2) It only comes in strong, stronger, and strongest. 3) Anything other than french press is heresy. Also, coffee time here is not the quick Starbucks grab n’ go style like in the United States. For the record, Starbucks does not even exist in Greenland. Instead, it is a whole experience with espresso machines, fancy glassware, stylish french presses, and sealskin cozies – even at home!
  2. Licorice is also religion. Licorice tea, licorice hard candy, licorice ice cream, you name it! In all honesty, this one might be THE hardest for Americans to grasp. In the airport I once heard an American squeal, “What is it with you people and licorice!?” I laughed to myself as I silently chewed licorice gum. Lady, I admit that I, too, was once a licorice-hater, but that was before I tasted the good stuff. Now I’m hooked!
  3. Clothes dryers are not in fashion. Many people don’t even own a dryer, but even the one’s that do still prefer to hang clothes on a drying rack. And sometimes the drying rack goes outside on the terrace (or hung on the outside of the railing), even in cold temperatures!

And, finally, there are products and items that just look different:

  • Parents push babies/children in something that looks more like a flat-bed pram than a stroller with a seat.
  • Condiment bottles like ketchup, mustard, and pommes frites sauce (which Americans know as Ranch Dressing) don’t have screw tops but rather a tiny cap that never comes detached from the bottle.
  • Toilets have 1 large button split into 2 parts – a small side and a large side. You can take a wild guess what the difference is.
  • Sidewalks are not raised or colored differently. You just have to know that to the right of the light post is the sidewalk and to the left of the light post is the road. And that sometimes a car or bus will pull up on the sidewalk right behind you to pick up a passenger.
  • No tea kettles or pots of water on the stove here. The norm is to boil water (for hot drinks or for cooking) in an electric water boiler. It’s faster and cheaper.
  • Don’t look for street names on signposts in this country. Instead, they are affixed to the sides of nearby buildings. By the same token, don’t look for many traffic lights either!

So there you have it – 18 ways that Greenland is totally unique from the United States, and better for it, despite sharing the “North American” label 🙂