My friend Olivia brought me two bags of green split peas from Dubai. Green pearls! It might seem odd that while visiting the most luxurious and decadent shopping emporiums in the world, one would buy green split peas and transport them across borders and time zones to make a present of them to a friend. But boy did she make me happy!

We were both living in Armenia at the time, both of us expats—trailing spouses some would call us. Others, I know, don’t like that term.

Olivia didn’t go to Dubai just to get me the peas, of course. She went there to have a reprieve from the (perceived) deprivations of her life in poor Armenia, to enjoy some sand, sun and sloth. And to buy a new batch of jewelry, since all hers had been stolen.

This happens. Her house had been burglarized when she’d been on another Rest and Relaxation jaunt out of the country. Paris, I think. She and her husband like Paris a lot, then who doesn’t. At any rate, her computer had been purloined, along with all her jewels and gems—all the beautiful sparkling precious adornments her doting Egyptian husband had bestowed on her over the years.

So, the husband decided to take her to Dubai and buy her some replacements. What good husband wouldn’t?

My man and I were robbed three times when we lived in Ghana the first time (way back in the dark ages). A small boy would be squeezed through a small broken window while we were sleeping. He’d then go open a door for his mentors who were lurking in the bushes outside, away from the snoring watchman engulfed by hash fumes. The sneak-thieves snatched my sewing machine (twice), various kitchen stuff, and my 10-dollar K-mart diaper (nappy) bag which was irreplaceable at the time. Also stolen was my disposable razor from the edge of the tub which goes to show what kind of thieves they were and what was important to them.

Am I digressing or what?

Anyway, between shopping for gold, pearls, diamonds and other precious gems in Dubai, Olivia purchased the green split peas. Not because I had asked for them, but because she is a generous, thoughtful person and she’d remembered my jerimiahing about the lack of these pulses in Armenia. At the time only yellow ones were available, but I didn’t want yellow ones. I wanted the green ones. So I could make snert, aka erwtensoep, aka split pea soup. Dutch split pea soup.

It’s Dutch soul food, or comfort food if you’re not into things holy and soul-y.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I live in France now, and it’s getting colder. When it gets cold I start craving snert. No problem here in France where green split peas are plenteous, as well as the other necessary ingredients. They even have their own version of green split soup. However, no matter what they say about French cuisine, and about Dutch cuisine, the French version is definitely inferior. (I mean, really, it doesn’t even have celery root in it!) The Dutch one is the best in the world. That I can tell you. Believe me.

Okay, so I have a craving now for snert, and that triggered the memory of my friend Olivia tucking into her suitcase two bags of green split peas amid the stash of pearls and gold and diamonds her adoring husband had bought for her. And I still remember how happy I was with peas.

Now off to the shop to get what I need for my snert. Oh, you want the recipe? It’s here: Echte Hollandse erwtensoep.

* * *

What do you crave from your home country? What do you ask people to bring for you when they come to visit you or what do you have in your suitcase going back to your expat country?



An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.  ~Bill Vaughan

Happy New Year! I gathered up, for your enjoyment, and my own edification, several New Year’s Eve traditions from around the world (other than the partying and fireworks that abound).

Red Undies for New Year's Eve

Market Stall in Sant Cugat, Spain.  (Thank you, Jennifer!)

So what’s all this red underwear about? Well, in SPAIN you should wear new red underwear on New Year’s Eve if you want love and passion in the coming year. Very cool. As you can see on this photo I found on Orange Polka Dot, this makes for cheery displays in markets and shops. This is also a custom in other Latin countries, but it originated in Spain, where in the Middle Ages wearing bright colors was not allowed, so people wore them underneath their clothes — surely not in the form of underwear as we know it today. History suggests that in the Middle Ages women wore no undies at all. I tucked this bit of info away in my ESWK (Endless Store of Worthless Knowledge).


To bring happiness and good luck and to keep out evil spirits, people in JAPAN hang a shimekezari in front of their houses or on their doors, a rope of straw often decorated with fern leaves, oranges and so on. A lovely way to get creative and make works of art.


If you’re in the PHILIPPINES, make sure that at the stroke of midnight you have all your doors and windows open – including cabinets, closets and drawers – this so that good luck can enter for the new year. If you try that in cold climates, bad luck comes in and you’ll catch pneumonia or get frostbite.


In AUSTRIA, New Year’s Eve is called Sylvesterabend, the Eve of Saint Sylvester. A traditional punch is made of red wine and spices. Pigs are said to bring good luck and you’ll find decorative pigs everywhere, made of edible substances or not. Roast pork is eaten on New Year’s Day.

Good Luck Pig

Vienna: A shopping cart full of pigs. (Thank you, Gaby!)

I understand Vienna is one big party on New Year’s Eve (I should have gone Vienna this year. It’s one flight away. Instead, I’m sitting in my office in Chisinau, Moldova, typing away at this post.)

Good Luck Pig

This marzipan good luck pig lives in Germany, where pigs bring good luck too


Do you wish for safe travels in the new year? Do what the people in the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, CHILE and MEXICO do: Pack a suitcase and walk around the block at the stroke of midnight. Be aware that if you do that somewhere other than mentioned countries, you might get picked up and admitted to the loony bin.


In my native country, THE NETHERLANDS, we party, have lots of fireworks like most of the rest of the world, and we eat massive numbers of greasy, yummie oliebollen (oil balls). There’s also a newish tradition for New Year’s Day you might want to know about (or not): The Nieuwjaarsduik, or New Year’s Dive. A dive in freezing winter water, mind you – in the North Sea, or a lake or another body of water somewhere in the country.

New Year's Dive

Into the freezing water. This is fun?

The dive is sponsored by Unox, a company known for its soups and sausages. The brave crazy ones don an orange hat-with-logo and after they’ve made the plunge and raced back out, they get a cup of Unox soup to warm up. Not everyone thinks a free cup of soup is worth it, but in Holland (The Netherlands) you can always find people ready to do crazy things for the hell of it. And there are always plenty of spectators to watch them do it.

That’s it for this New Year’s Eve. I wish you all a Happy, Healthy, Adventurous New Year!

* * *
Please start the new year with a good deed and tell me of fun or weird New Year’s Eve traditions or superstition from your corner of the world. And if you have any pictures, I’d love to see them.

Related Posts with Thumbnails