Is it really like this?

As christmas draws closer I find myself getting more and more homesick. I eat more milo, usually in a muddy consistency rather than the packet directions of “recommended milky”. And due to missing my family I have dedicated my christmas, and it’s decorations to my maniac christmas heritage.

My family are those embarrassing Christmas maniacs. You know the ones. They win the christmas outdoor lights AND decoration competition. My mother who is totally petrified of any height above the knee will brave a ladder on our second story veranda (with 35 degrees Celsius heat) in the name of hanging the christmas lights properly. All the while screaming at me to make sure I have an “iron hard hold on that ladder”.

She was also the one that brought lollies for all the kids that walked by the house. Everyone in our little town knew her as the christmas lady. I have, over the years, harboured a secret pride in it all: my mum rocked at christmas. She made it special in ways I can’t explain. There were traditions that I am only starting to realise I follow more religiously than christianity (sorry guys)

Things like the countdown to Christmas. Or our tradition of putting the decorations up on the 1st of December and removing them all on the 1st of January (hangover included). There was also the lolly wreath, candy canes. And my favourite: who would put the star on the Christmas tree this year. It was a rotating basis.
Then there is always the christmas swim. Grandparents and anyone present must swim after Christmas lunch. Plaster casts, wheelchairs, pregnancies and sickness are no excuses. We live in Australia so the heat was a problem, not the cold.

But something I took for granted slipped out of my hands faster than snowflakes melting on my hands. Celebrating Christmas. My husbands family are not Christmassy. In fact, I find them pretty GRINCHY. Last year there was not a single decoration in their house, not even a lost bit of tinsel. And this year when I asked about it, they explained they didn’t have the time. They then continued the conversation saying that Christmas wasn’t really their thing. Wasn’t their thing? WHAT BLOODY FAMILY HAD I MARRIED INTO?

It then came to logger heads a few days afterwards. I had been bugging Seb to buy me a Christmas tree. We were already 3 days past the tradition of decorating. It was bugging me and grating against me mentally in a very horrible way.

So off we go to the supermarket. On a saturday afternoon. He was, We were insane. The crowd in the supermarket was so off putting that I started growling at ladies in the chocolate section looking for an advent calander. Seb had promised to buy me one, so I had held out. Waiting for the purchase. With him there I searched in vain, there wasn’t any left. They had sold out. My mood plummeted….

Then I asked to look at the Christmas trees.
“But I thought we were coming here to buy some food?” Seb asks.
“No I wanted to buy a Christmas tree.” I reply trying to keep my voice steady
“But look at the crowd Nik, we can get a tree on Monday.” He says trying to reason with his homesick expatriate wife. Not an intelligent idea.
I was silent as I worked out that would make it 5 days past my tradition, and the terror was starting to mount. I hate missing a deadline.
“No we need to get one today.” Is all I can manage to say as loud as a mouse.

Back stiff, a sign of frustration, he starts walking away. He ignores my quiet answer and walks out of the store empty handed. As I catch up to him silent tears are trailing down my cheeks. I had already been secretly stockpiling all my christmas decorations. Mum had even sent me some from Australia to start a few of the other traditions. (personallised names on christmas baubles was one of them)

I try one last time to make him understand. Because I cannot understand how you cannot care about Christmas.
“It’s tradition Seb and it’s already past the date. I asked you ages ago, and I’ve asked again. I hate to keep on asking. I just want a christmas tree.”
He looks at me with a great big smile,walks outside and the chill air hits me. With a quick start I realise he is taking me to the real christmas trees, the ones that smell so nice.  AND…
I burst into tears and say “NO” quite loudly. He looks at me like I grew an alien head*.

We turn around and go back to the car. And he is silent as we drive home. My sobs punctuating the french radio commentarie. He finally breaks the silence.
“Nik you wanted a christmas tree, and I was going to buy you a real one”
“But real christmas trees die in Australia.” I wail
“But we live in France Nikki, we can have a real christmas tree, isn’t that better for tradition?”
“No” I growl, “Mum doesn’t have a real christmas tree, in Australia we have fake ones, I want a fake Christmas tree*.”
We continue to head home. Seb shocked into silence.

When we arrive home I go back to my desk. I have a maths unit to complete and it’s bugging me. Seb ducks out for a beer with mates…..
And arrives home with a 2 meter tall christmas tree.
An appropriate response would be thanks. But I burst into tears again. At least this time it’s in gratitude!

But yes, I just want to say I am calmly now following my own christmas celebrations. For the 2nd time ever I have a real white christmas. I am trying to make the most of it. It’s hard the culture shock. The differences of it all. We may see your white christmas in every marketable way but we have had to adapt that to a hot Australian summer in every explainable way. Kids ask a lot of questions!

I continually have to explain that raindeers get a rest in Australia, “Six, snow white boomers” (huge big kangaroos) help Santa. He arrives via the drain pipes not the chimney and he gets beer rather than milk and grass clippings for the Kangaroos. Our stockings filled with lollies and chocolates are found in the fridge because Santa is smart enough to know they will melt!

So maybe I may get a little slice of Christmas. I hope that everyone out there finds a little piece themselves. You just have to remember to hold onto your traditions tight because sometimes that’s what makes it all special!

*Please note here I am aware I sound like a spoilt brat. I just wanted a piece of my home country with me. It was doing weird things to my brain.

Health… Again!

Just to make you all aware I am sick…again.

This time my skin has turned yellow in the process so off to my french doctor I go for a serious look into why I am not well. Maybe it’s time to do that Australian/American thing and get a what do they call it…
A SECOND OPINION!

“OMD/OMG! A second opinion! What for?” his family says as shock sets in.
“Cos doctors are human, not superheros. My skin is yellow now, I dont think it counts as vague sickness any more??” I reply waspishly.

I have been sick for five days, cramps, fever, dehydration, the whole lot. I actually whimpered in my sleep from the pain. What sleep I have got. Sometimes I wondered if I was being dramatic but no I had in fact kept Seb awake. And he had witnessed and felt my belly cramps while I slept.

Anyhow just wanted to let you all know
Love

Nxxx

Feeling funny about France

Hi Guys,
Sorry for putting it under password protection for a few days but I wanted some particular family members to read this first. It is about a few simple facts of expat life. Part of it is that Seb and I realised that I am a housewife and will probably be a housewife for the next year or so.

As a way of explaining, my culture shock has been a bit like this scene with the unfortunate crab in Disney’s Little Mermaid, The more he tries to avoid those awkward horrible situations the more they chase him around:

Part of the point of that is, that I am now a housewife. There is no jobs available for me right now. Everytime I applied for a job I got treated like a specimen to CHOP APART. I realised I don’t speak enough french and unless you have a masters people barely look at you for employment. What “chopped” me more was that to even get a cleaning job I needed to apparently be a perfect French speaker.  So here I am doing something I had refused to even think about. Let alone consider.

Another part of the puzzle is France. It is Sebs home not mine. We live in his hometown too so everyone knows him. Everything is familiar for him, everything is expected and normal. For me I am the opposite of that in every way. I am Australian. Part of me felt a little foolish for my reactions, and left me worrying that in come cases I had overreacted.

After researching it I realised that I am fact a textbook example of moving overseas:
“What they, the foreign spouse, must learn to deal with is the loss of identity and the subsequent period of reshape and remodelling that ensues in the new environment.

As the trailing spouse leaves friends, family, a career path or an impassioned endeavour, priorities begin to shape shift and reordering them can become chaotic in its own right. Co-authors of “A Portable Identity”, relocation coaches Debra Bryson and Charise Hoge explain the phenomenon as a four stage process.

“The trailing spouse goes through several alterations: first, by the decision to move; second, by the actual departure from her home country; third, by the entry into the foreign country; and, finally, by the addition of new roles and relationships in her life overseas.”

This transition can result in feelings of resentment, disorientation, depression, boredom and extreme pessimism. When coupled with the problems of career abandonment, family issues, lack of support and difficulties in maintaining meaningful work the mental landscape of the trailing spouse can become very rocky indeed. “

My attitude right now is normal, I do really resent my situation right now, and that in turn makes me feel guilty and ashamed for feeling like that and then sad that it is happening. (maybe you can see a circle here like I can?)

An expatriate in Belgium describes it perfectly below.
“My support network was far away. I knew my friends and family loved and supported me, but I also knew they didn’t really understand what was wrong. How could they when I didn’t know myself?

The only person I had to talk to was Andrew. He would come stumbling in at the end of a long difficult day at work (saddled with his own stresses revolving around a new job) and just want to crash on the couch – the couch that still had the impression of my butt from sitting there all day long. I would be raring to go somewhere or do something – anything.

And I wanted to talk – and talk and talk, because I hadn’t talked to another soul all day (unless you count the cats who were frankly bored of my nattering and aren’t the greatest conversationalists.) Andrew just wanted to unwind from work, watch a little TV; read his book. It was a recipe for arguments – lots of them”

I can add to this much more and in so many ways. What is above is merely a basic vague summary. But at least I know I am normal. I am praying for that sixth month to arrive. As much as I have read, people start to get comfortable at six months.

I am a housewife. But here is where that remodelling comes in. I have never been able to sit down and take time to work out what I like to do the most. Part of it too means that like that little crab I may get away just in the nick of time to live on the shore but still survive.

Hope it gave some of you guys hope.
Nik

xxx

Bread: The biggest culture divide.

In Australia I remember talking to Seb about bread. The conversation went something like this..
“When you get to France Nik you are going to eat bread, it’s amazing the bread, the texture and everything.” Seb was starting to rapture and I interjected here with
“But it’s just bread.”
“JUST BREAD?!?!? JUST BREAD?!?!” You could see his french side growing and taking over (think a Jekyll and Hyde transformation)
“It is not just bread, it’s never just bread. It’s our culture, identity, life! Bread is …..” and I then got lectured for over half an hour about my slight ignorance on French Bread (yes, with capitals). He still tells people about this conversation and people in France regard me as the “weird Australian girl”.

"it's just bread"

Basic comparison of Australian and French breads

Growing up in Australia my family focused on healthy living and an outdoor lifestyle, bread was never at the top of my list for something on the foodchain to worship. Choclate: Yes. Bread: Never.

I remember working in a bakery during highschool. I worked there for three years. The boss always fed us for free and I ate salad for my lunch followed by fruit that was supposed to go on top of the cakes. For 3 years.

It. Was. A. Bakery. With. Bread.

Which shows exactly the Australian attitude to bread. I regarded it as something that was as exciting as eating cardboard. A filler for more interesting things. And Australian bread is exactly that. The general character of an Australian piece of bread is boring, dry, chewy and lifeless.

But slowly over the last two years Seb has slowly changed my attitude. I still won’t eat bread in Australia. But in France? Well it’s way too easy! Everyday I buy bread. EVERYDAY. Baguettes that are usually arriving warm out of the bakers oven.

The difference, which is like explaining sex to a virgin is the bread itself. It’s in the flour that makes it. The way they cook it.The kneading of the dough.

French bread

Baguettes ripped apart!

It’s the way that when you tear it apart steam rises like an advertisment. It’s maybe the pride behind the bread too.

The crispy crunchy outer layer. I hated crusts in Australia. Now in France I search the baguette for the best bits. And the crunchiest bits still soak up juices. That crunchy robust outer layer then gives way to the inside of a baguette. The bread is never dry, more humid and soft. The texture like a chewy sponge. For me that is the difference of France and Australia.

Bread is so important that it has led to riots and even a war called la guerre des farines In the history of France you can find it used in slander against the French Royalty. The “great princess” learning that there was no bread for peasants responded with “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (Let them eat cake).

And that’s what it boils down to for the French. While life can be complicated the things to be proud of are simple. Bread is eaten by everyone: from a street beggar to a millionaire. You have the most amazing chefs and michelin starred restaurants. But yet what do you find a French person misses when living abroad. The BREAD!!! Bread such a simple staple that it must assist the enjoyment of life. Not hinder it.

Australians forget the simple joys in life. We are always going somewhere, doing something. We struggle to stop on a Sunday (I still feel crazy on Sundays when nothing is open). And we struggle to enjoy a piece of bread. We look at it in quantities of health and how much we’ll have to run after eating it. Or how much better something else is for us than that slice of bread.

And that’s my education and my lesson for you with bread.
1. Take the time to go to a real bakery.
2. Pick a baguette or a roll NOT A SQUARE LOAF.
3. Take it home. Turn off your phone, TV, INTERNET, RADIO Or Fax.
4. Sit down to silence and listen as you rip it apart. You should actually hear cracks from the crunchy bits and whispered tearing from the soft parts.
5. Eat torn chunks. Not neat cut off pieces but chuncks. With demi-sel buerre (semi-salted butter) and cheese!

And just enjoy life while you have it!

*Images sourced from interenet, if you do not wish them to be displayed please leave a comment below.

Loosing my “Zing” and the human touch

Hey guys just a general quick update about why I have been away for so long. 3 things.

1. I got so ill that food wasn’t an option to consume. I arrived at my doctor and he asked who drove you?? My reply made him annoyed…
“You drove yourself? But you are not well, I don’t want you leaving the house and while you are in that house you are to sleep. Nothing else.” (Obviously translated from broken french/english)
I have been following those directions to a tee… The point of that story is. Goofy doesn’t clean up after herself. Especially when she has a new found fetish for making confetti out of toilet rolls.

2. Before becoming sick I also elongated tendons in my knee from running. So arriving into the doctors when I was sick I actually waddled “comme un cannard” (like a duck). This has resulted in me having immense pain and inflamation in my right knee. I am also now a little scared to do a lot with my knee. Everytime I think it is fine I go for a run/jog/walk and it inflames back up with suprising vengeance.

3. Homesickness has been my most horrible issue of late. I have had a fair share of bad news on the home front and that combined with the loneliness and onset of Autumn has made me rather mentally paralysed. For a few weeks I remember just sleeping untill Seb arrived back from lunch, sneakily getting in the shower as he arrived home. And other days being awake all morning and just staring for hours out the backyard window.

It was also the concoction of a few other things.

Like searching for a job and being told a consistent NO. Trying to stay positive after continually being told you aren’t good enough to even clean makes the weight on your shoulders a little heavier. It doesn’t matter that I actually have degree earning experience(Accountantcy) in some industries than cleaning. It’s just that I am simply not Frenchy enough.

Failing one of my correspondance subjects because I just couldn’t handle the pressure of that and a new country, two languages and anything else that has been thrown at me.

Putting on weight because you can’t exercise and comfort eating at the same time is not a good feeling for your self image and confidence. Right now I have a paunch worse than some mum’s just after they have had a baby.

And lastly that ever bearing feeling that you are failing at it all. The effort to dress nicely now is a drag. It seems that I want pyjamas or tracksuit pants. I have lost the urge to put makeup on or brush my hair (The messy bun has been my permanent look of late). To put on jeans, and a nice top is just so much effort. And that’s just going for a beer with sebs friends. I have lost my zing and I am not sure where to find it.

I think part of it is I need hugs, I need more human touch than two cheek kisses from every person I meet. I maybe also need to adopt someone’s mother similar in stature to my mum and demand hugs (I have one in mind but am totally terrified to ask). I need to feel like I have a mom’s hug.

It may sound funny but for all that cheek kissing the french are such distant people. I am accustomed to hug my friends and family hello, and each hug is different. My Aunt squeezes me and my uncle pats my back. Another Aunt rests her chin on my shoulder and I have a friends mum that used to rock me a little. I had cousin I could swing around into a hug and they would squeel with delight and then snuggle in properly, like a little koala.
My girlfriends all gave me hugs in their own different ways. It was all about that comfort of human touch. The fact that it’s closeness and sharing, tenderness and love all without the sleazy lip smacking that can happen here.

I may just start a hugs group, I am really not sure. I do know I am craving for my English family, but must wait for my passport to be vignetted so I can return easily. So far I have demanded that Seb be on permanent hug status. It’s unfair for him as it makes me fairly permanently attatched to his side. And I don’t think he is too keen on getting my sickness.

Talk soon
Nik

French Kebabs and pregnancy tests…

So this is a detour from my normal posting. BUT it is to inform you of Seb’s wonderful introduction to life in France.

After two years of visiting (equaling at over one year of being/living in France). I am now permanently in France. While sounding like a great ending to a fairytale life: Think love, distance, different nationalities and a visa. In truth it really is a different story.

I am with my husband: the love of my life. But the whole romanticism of it all??? Meh. That’ll never be Seb. He is not a romantic. He is more a surprise guy(which I truly do love and is romantic in its own way)… and for being French? He loves his great food. And he can actually tell you if the foie gras you are eating is decent or not.

But he is also such good friends with the workers at McDonalds that they sometimes give him dinner for free. This is not your normal serve either. A normal not manhungry meal consists of: A large Chicken Bacon meal deal (Inc a Large Coke and Potatoes). With another 2 large servings of potatoes(Wedges for my aussie mates), then he will finish that with another 2 double cheeseburgers. If he is hungry it get’s bigger and grosser.

So to bring you back to my point. I arrived to live here on the 24th of August. I brought with me milo, 2 blocks of cadburys and vegimite. The rest? Well my expectation was pretty normal, it’s France so it should be French cuisine.. My particular favourite is the poisson avec buerre blanc(fish in butter white sauce.).

Another favourite was on a visit to the Pays-Basque, we ate out and it was absolutely delicious local cuisine. Local poisson merlu, Home-made Foie Gras, Roasted duck to the point of it melting off the bone. Sadly I forgot to get pictures of these delights. I promise to do that from now on.

However what pictures I do have are ashamingly my extra diet of recent… Junk food and more junk food! McDonalds I will not even bother to photograph. It is universal. I refuse to eat it now. However their Kebabs are so different from ours that I was forced to photograph them. They stuff them with chips… It’s amazing. And sadly addictive.

The sadness compacts when you realise I am in France eating the normal bread, pain au chocolate,roule au chocolate and cheese. And not just aiding my weight gain but adding to it with junk food. The delicious kebabs are a sin. Seb loves them that much he normally eats two.

Which brings me to my second part. Pregnancy tests… I have had waves of sickness and they started before I discovered these wonderful kebabs. And not just little pains in the tummy but massive feelings of neausea so strong that Seb has on more than one occasion nearly pulled over the car because my face was so “yucky”.

We want kids but not now… and Seb panicking suggested that I take a pregnancy test. So being sure that I wasn’t pregnant I took the test. And as normal no extra line showed. I breathed a sigh of relief. The problem here is when Seb decides that a joke could be made: by drawing a line on the pregnancy test. And then just flashing me the test. While knowing 2 seconds after seeing it that it was a “Seb” line. I had those two intial seconds of Panic and Fear.

With this inital face Seb is chuckling and giggling his way around the house. And I am left wondering what prank next is going to arrive in my lap. Maybe I need some vengeance of my own but I have no idea where to start. And Seb is a strong believer in pay back. It makes me shy away from even starting this tally.

So instead I address the sickness. Healthy eating should at least help fix it: No Kebabs/McDonalds/Cheese Courses/extra chucks of bread cos its just fresh and hot/ no pain au chocolate for breakfast/ AND DEFINATELY NOT the roule au chocolate I was eating everyday at morning tea with Sebastien. Part of this shock is Australia has been such a salad eating – fresh lean meats – kind of place that this rich calorific food has left me on a cheese high!

This is going to be hard. But I will try to act the French woman. Healthy eating with things in consideration. Chocolate for the taste not for the Comfort. The problem? We are heading into winter and Christmas…I am crazy… but its better than encouraging my body which is already at its biggest ever size!