Expat Life: What’s a Nice Protestant Girl Doing in this Place?

by Miss Footloose

Has the expat life ever given you surprises you most likely wouldn’t have had if you’d stayed home? Of course you have. I had plenty, like almost ending up in a bush jail in Africa. Here’s a tale of how I found myself surprised again, but fortunately in a more congenial setting with no threat to my physical being, but possibly to my spiritual convictions.

Neamt Monastery, Romania

Now, I grew up in Holland in the sober Protestant tradition. So to find myself dining and drinking holy wine at an Orthodox Catholic monastery probably wasn’t on the books had I stayed in Holland.

This happened while on a freebie cultural, food and wine tour through Romania and Moldova (where I was an expat at the time). Perhaps after visiting Dracula’s birth town in Transylvania and eating and dancing at the home of a Gypsy family, something of a more spiritual nature was in order. Such as dinner at the 15th Century Neamt Monastery, prepared by the monks from organic food and accompanied by mentioned holy wine, which had been blessed by . . . I’m not sure who had blessed it.

Golden holy wine

The dinner was delicious. The holy wine not so much. Apparently the blessing had not transformed it into divine elixir, but you can’t have everything. The menu included meat and vegetables, artfully presented. Accompanying them was a luscious and potent garlic sauce that was enjoyed in copious amounts by all ten of us and was sure to stay with us for a day or two. We hoped that when we arrived at the Moldovan border in a cloud of garlic fumes, they’d let us into the country.

While we enjoyed our food, we were serenaded by a group of young talented students from the Music Conservatory in the town of Lasi which added to the spiritual ambiance. We spent the night at a hostel belonging to the monastery. It was a modest place with non-posturepedic mattresses, which was good to keep us humble after having spent several nights in 4 and 5 star hotels. Some of us (I, Miss Footloose included) were also humbled by not having hot water coming out of the taps. This resulted in my not taking a shower, but resorting to more modest ablutions, for which I hoped I’d be forgiven by God and tour mates.

Next morning after a healthy organic breakfast, we had a tour of the monastery. It is an impressive place with an impressive history, but I shall not elaborate here. You can find it all on the Internet if you are interested.

Neamt Monastery church

Along with a lot of art, gold and glitter, the Neamt Monastery also contains a large ossuary displaying the bones and skulls of countless numbers of monks. Strolling around in this place was not a spiritual experience for me.

Some of the skulls are engraved with names and dates. I must admit to finding this a tad creepy, as well as not very polite toward the people who had once walked the earth with the bones and skulls now on display for all and sundry to gawk at. But then I’m a lapsed Protestant, so I probably don’t get it.

There’s a lot I don’t get in this life, but I’ll keep working at it.

* * *

Now it’s your turn: Tell me about a surprising experience you had, possibly involving holy wine, skulls or things religious.

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Balanced Melting Pot

The more I learn about other religions/cultures, the more I find similarities, as well as some bizarre rituals. When you grow up with certain norms you never question them until other cultures make you. It’s good emotional exercise 🙂

Gosh, that was creepy!

Travel takes us to the most unfamiliar places sometimes, yes? My surprising travel experience happened on my first trip abroad. I had left for a teaching assignment in Cairo where our planners had tempted us with visions of living in an exotic resort. It was exotic all right. When we arrived late that first night, we were taken to our dormitory where we discovered our bathroom had no hot water, our toilets had no seats and there was no toilet paper. Not exactly what we were expecting, but our hosts were warm and hospitable – and we were in the… Read more »

Yes that golden wine does not look much like a Merlot or a Cabernet, I must say. I can imagine it was very sweet. Am I right? Also how sad to make the skulls look like the remains of a pirate ship, not a monastery.

Anja Sonnenberg

Really love the “so probably don’t get it” part. Hope you really mean the “but keep working on it”. Not that I am orthodox, catholic or protestant, but isn’t it all a matter of perspective? If it’s in the name of unconditional love, who cares about weird customs? I say freedom of choice plus don’t hurt anyone. Pray whatever you want to, to whoever you want to. Just don’t demand anyone to do the same.

I found your blog through your comments on Annabelle Candy’s

There was the time in Thailand where I found myself on some sort of “tour” (I use that word loosely, b/c I am pretty sure we fell prey to a street scammer!). Anyway, on said tour, we were led to numerous sites and shops. At one site in particular, I believe it was a reclining Buddha, we were requested to pray to Buddha. I giggled and then realized the man was serious. Seeing as how I didn’t what would happen if I didn’t, this nice Christian girl elected to pray to Buddha.

Anja Sonnenberg

Strange request. You know that Buddha never wanted to have any followers?

I have liked almost everyplace I have been when I have been abroad, and often wondered if I would enjoy living there, though I wonder how much of my pleasant assessment of a place comes from the realization that I don’t really have to live there. Were I to put down roots, what surprises might I find under the soil? Apropos your visit with the Brothers, I was writing a few days ago about an incident in a church in Mexico where I had noticed some visiting Americans who seemed ill at ease and thought it odd that they should… Read more »

My point was not that it was strange — as it was surely not — but that seeing it in a foreign context that I should realize that it seemed odd that it should be so. In other words, the foreign context enabled me to see something familiar — the response of these American tourists to Catholic images — as something odd. Not unlike when I noticed an Indian from the cold Altiplano pour hot milk on his cornflakes, something that had never occurred to me, though there I realized his odd behavior was in fact quite reasonable. If a… Read more »

This is great. I always love your stories. Posted it to Facebook to share with my friends.


I grew up Protestant too, and while those skulls absolutely creep me out, if I’m ever bothered by Catholic or Orthodox excesses, I just whisper ‘Oliver Cromwell’ to myself and I’m all over it. When we lived in North Cyprus, electricity was so expensive we couldn’t afford to run it throughout winter (what with three teenage girls whose need for hot water was like Dracula’s for fresh blood). It was surprisingly cold in the winter, and for the first time in my life I learned how to go without my nightly shower. During February, I managed a whole week once… Read more »

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