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.

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!

Part 2: The process of Marriage to a French Citizen

Seb proposed to me on the 17th of January, I left France at the end of February and was married on the 27 of April.

After the nearly mind-boggling visit to the prefecture I decided to try my luck on home turf. STUPID STUPID WOMAN I was…. Thinking that I would have better luck.

You have to realise that the further french people are away from a French bottle of wine the more grumpy they get. (I think the Australian Reds and New Zealand Whites are perfectly fine thankyou, but being in Australia I often heard a french person wax lyrical about that Red Bordeaux). This grumpiness resulted in often spectacular results, quite often with me dreaming of murder on french soil in Australia.

With bags still full I commenced my first call to the local consulate about information to commence the paper process of marriage. After two minutes of speaking broken french the man bursts out in Englsih. “DO NOT call Brisbane. Marriage “thing” is for Sydney.”

Not to be deterred I immediatly googled and called the Sydney Consulate of France.
“Hi, I would like to speak to someone about marrying a French citizen in Australia?” I remember trailing off, hopeful that this person in Sydney would be more English speaking than the Brisbane consulate.
“Erggggg blah blah blah blah… blah blah blah blah…” Was the reply in that fast french.
“Erm Je ne comprends pas… slowly please”
“Get your boyfriend to call- BEEP BEEP BEEP!”

Yep she hung up on me after telling me to get Seb to call. So he would at midnight in France call Sydney,Australia. We quickly found out that they hang up before even speaking to you. Really you have to hope they are in a wonderful mood (If I could have I would have laced their water with anti-depressants).

After about 2 weeks of calling everyday we finally hit the jackpot. We had PAPERWORK. Which sounds like a nightmare. But was actually wonderful to have a direction. We had information for lodging a Banns in France which is like an intention of marriage for Australia.

Because we are two different nationalities we had to lodge both. For Australia, its a document stating that you are of an ability to marry and your passport or birth certificate as identification.

The banns requires all that stuff plus proof of address, proof of relationship, proof of no previous continuing relationship, and sometimes even toenail clippings(just joking for the last bit).

If it wasn’t an original they would send the whole thing back to you. It also all had to be within three months of issue. These people like shiny new things. Not some document that was 23 years old like my Australian Birth Certificate.

To compact that problem. The documents for a Banns changes from district to district. If you are going through this yourself. Call the local district of your partner to be. Some places are content with a passport. Others need your life story.

In the end we had two rejections for bad compilation of paperwork. And one delay with Sebs birth certificate needing to be reposted from France to Sydney. I was interviewed about our relationship and to stop them critising the relationship I submitted copies of my passport for visitation dates, every email we had written, phone texts and calls plus facebook documentation. From submitting those documents the “realness’ of our relationship was accepted.

We recieved the go ahead to marry A WEEK BEFORE THE MARRIAGE. I’ll continue next post about the documents needed post marriage. (Yes there is more.. You really had no idea, did you?)

PART 1: The process of Marriage to a French Citizen

I was just starting to bask in the idea of being engaged when we took our first visit to the prefecture. It is something that I prefer to think of as an ambush which I wrote about here. We are in love, we were in love. We are pathetic apart. Really badly, Sebastien’s friends don’t like him anymore when I am not around. And me? I can’t stand being away. Our decision to get married was compulsory. We could no longer handle being apart.

However after that episode I continued down our set idea and path. Originally we started looking at marrying in France. I was caught up in the romantics of a French wedding. The real reason was that I would get the marriage paperwork straight after the wedding. Taking less time than being processed in an Overseas French Embassy. There was also the bonus of using it to hide from a case of family politics. Who would I invite, who I would forget and who I would deliberately forget. That was a very lovely bonus.

However at that point in time we realised a few things. The amount of paperwork, apostilles, translations I would need would be utterly crazy and ridiculous let alone the time constrictions and the massive cost. Some people have Daddy behind them but we did not. And I was completeing full time uni in the process.The French Embassy in Australia didn’t help at all. The marriage office could barely speak English and never replied to any emails that I wrote.

To summarise the marriage process in France:

  1. I would need to apply for a marriage visa with required paper work, translated, apostilled. Applying for this visa would require a flight to Sydney from Brisbane to get it then endorsed by the French Embassy.
  2. I would then fly to France and we would lodge a Banns and also the Australian version of the Banns (Notice of Intent to Marriage). This process would take about 4 months to complete if the French were in a good mood and if all paperwork arrived on time. (More about this later)
  3. Please do remember that at this point I could arrive at the Mairie of my husbands townn and even though I have the Visa permission he may or may not accept our Banns on  various conditions such as a of a lack of paperwork. I may not have enough sufficient identity, or proof of relationship. If I flew over there was still a risk of rejection.
  4. After the required time had passed of 4 weeks Australian, and 3 Weeks France. We would then have permission to marry.
  5. We rush to marry and collect required marriage paperwork. Of marriage certificate AND livrette famille.
  6. THEN I would return to Australia and apply for my spousal residency visa. In France, they have phased out the Fiance visa for Australian’s. The choice was this or marriage in Australia.

Because of this run around. We chose to marry in Australia. It still was stressful but cost wise, translation and apostille wise it was a lot easier to do and more economical. We basically cut out the whole step of the Marriage Visa including flights.

Next time I’ll let you know about the actual marriage paperwork from France to marry in Australia. That’s when the fun/mess/anger/stress truly starts 🙂
Mignonne 🙂

Loosing your mobile phone when moving overseas

Yes,
I did it. More masterful than a masterchef. I lost my mobile a week before moving overseas. Smart cookie aren’t I? And I did it on the day when I planned to book all my last minute things in before I go. BTW to top it off it is in fact a broken mobile that I dearly love.

It’s a wonder I am surviving. I learnt my DOM (dependance on mobile) off a Class A professional: My husband. That thing, better called an Iphone is glued to his hand with cement (Superglue wasn’t good enough). Including into this his DOT(dependance on technology). The particular DOM with his Iphone really topped of my cake. DOT and DOM for me are generally frustrating to say the lease. But really he is french, he is man and therefore he loves gadgets and technology.

Me? I am very nearly a technophobe. To the point it is nearly like green eggs and ham. Normally I would be quite proud to go without the phone. In fact I fell IN LOVE with the book The Winter of Our Disconnect, to the point that I am not wanting a TV in the loungeroom. Much to my husbands distress.

In France I am known as a hopeless phone user except when it comes to the game app flight control which I deliberatly learnt to piss off the husband by beating his score. However my dependance comes from the convienience of a phone call, to shop around, to find out if you are home and just the whole normal communication thing.

So instead I have considered my options to amazing points.

  1. I could turn on my French mobile in Australia and rack up some hefty phone bills in response to the horrible loss of an already broken Aussie phone.
  2.  I could try to buy some skype dollars and call around. But that seems like too much effort.
  3. I could email the people I want information for. Which I did concerning my lost mobile.
  4. I could actually physically go to the shops in person. AMAZING IDEA ISN’T it?

So right now I am signing off and venturing into that scary world. It actually isn’t too hard it’s just a pain in the ass cos it takes so much more time.

a bientot (see ya!)
mignonne (me)