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.

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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

Tartiflette and Tantrums

So in Australia I am really well-known as a cook by my mates and family. I actually don’t even have recipes. It just comes out of my head and onto the plate in correct flavours and form. Coming from a family of feeders my pride is watching people come together and enjoy food. I love the fact that my up-bringing was that food is something to be shared.

My sharing was varied from traditional roasts, to stir-fries, to pasta, dessert, salads, starters and tapas… I would literally just pop off to the grocery store and later that night have a feast for my people. I have a favourite memory of getting carried away with cooking and instead of cooking for four people I ended up inviting ten and we spent all night eating different types of tapas!

But alas… the problem:
I CANNOT COOK IN FRANCE!

In fact as I write this I am eating a stir fry that tastes something similar to a second-hand takeaway AND I cheated (Yes; Sauce, frozen veg and chopped up meat, Shameful that I can stuff up something so basic, especially when I hate to make it this way). Why am I eating this? I can hear people’s thoughts… Well I cooked it. And stubbornness is starting to set in.

I have been trying my best to settle into France. And to handle this stressful situation my genetic wiring is to cook (thanks parents and Nan!). But here I cook and it is always an experiment. With quite often spectacularly bizarre results. The best example of this is Tartiflette.

My first ever Tartiflette I couldn’t understand French… Zilch, Zip, Nuttin. The result ended in a dish of raw potato in a runny whitish discoloured liquid covered by not a crust but an actual LID of BURNT something.

My second Tartiflette I at least didn’t burn the ‘thing’. We will leave it at that. And with the third try panic set in as Sebastien had invited over the immediate family (another 3 people). The problem with this was Sebastien was starting to lose weight. My cooking had indeed become that bad.

In panic I contacted quite a few French friends of Sebastien’s about Tartiflette. And ended up googling the crap out of the recipe and creating my own hybrid. To coincide with this third try/experiment I also brought 2 ready-made Quiches. If I failed I would still be able to feed them, my confidence destroyed but my genetic instinct to feed still intact. I had actually concentrated so much on getting this dish ‘right’ that I went and brought a ready made dessert (against my grain but I didn’t want to push my luck).

As the night grew closer I grew anal-retentitive about following my ‘recipe’. To the point that when baking came to eating I was panicking as it landed on the table. Papou as I call my father-in-law is always the compliment when I try things (even eating beef that is so tough that you can’t cut it with a steak knife!). Mumu, my mother-in-law is a seafood-vegatarian so she would eat something different.

The true test would be my husband and brother-in-law. These two guys are permanent vacuum cleaners. As I scooped it out of the dish you could see the creamy cheese mixed with lardons(bacon) melted into the soft fluffly layers of potatoes. The steam rised from it like an advertisement! ENFIN!!(FINALLY!) A DISH! And they had seconds! Oh Mon DIEU! I had done it. I had finally cooked a meal in France that passed THE test! Then comes the crash landing…

My husband without realising how sensitive I am right now (about cooking in particular) does something really French. He critiques the meal.

“Eeet’z(It’s) good, but we will improve it. There still needs some things to be fixed.”

This goes against my Australian culture of “Giving it a Go” so strongly that it makes me intensly dislike him for a lot longer than a split second. More like I fume silently for 5 mins followed by a lot longer sulking. (I had actually tried this 3 times because he likes this dish so much!)

Being the Australian I am. I do not act French in response to this. I do not loudly discuss/nor do I tell him to stick it/and I don’t even try to huff about it. Instead I sit on the problem. And sit, and sit some more. Then a few days later I blow up. Like a very normal Australian.

When I do he wonders what my tantrum is even about…

“Nikki, this problem isn’t about the mistake on the orders for a bodyboard is it…??” He peters out hopefully wondering what the hell has happened to his normally cruisy good natured wife.



“Nikki?”



“Nikkiiiiiiiiieeeeeyyyyyyy”
-“No it’s the fact that I can’t cook. And Australian people don’t believe me and what’s worse french people believe that I can’t cook. And when I do finally get it right, it’s not good enough. NOT EVEN FOR YOU” It rushes out like I have unstoppered a cask of wine. My pride and my tears. Ending in such a fierce accusation that Seb is silent for a second. He starts to laugh, bubbling through his laughter he says this….

“I still eat it even when its crap, I love you. And I promise to eat your food. I eat McDonalds; I can eat your food!”(Just for those not in the know Seb is nearly addicted to McDonalds.)

Later on, after retelling this to a friend of mine she cackles at me…
“Nik that’s not a story, that’s tantrums and Tartiflette’s!”

How to explain it all? The basics

I’ll start this bluntly in the hope that it answers the basics quickly and efficiently…

  • I hope to be moving to France in a few months.
  • In the last year I have spent more months here than home in Australia. (Ironically I feel out-of-place back home now.)
  • To state the obvious my partner, VGT, is french. He is a classic geek but with a few quirky areas like surfing and ice-skating. He still loves the odd LAN which contains large doses of aggression at his computer.
  • I am getting married and no it’s not for Visa’s, pregnancy, or money reasons. It’s not to get away from my beautiful Mum and nor is it to get a new citizenship. (Just addressing here all the nasty comments that arrived at the announcement of my engagement.) It is in fact for that universally cliché thing called Love.
  • The French visa application process is interesting,to be nice about it: It’s a complicated bureaucratic mess. Being Australian I hope that I have better chances than a Tunisian.
  • To obtain any form of longstay visa I must return to Australia and then come back to France. (I go back to Australia in about 2 weeks to start it all)
  • I am only learning to speak French now, with interesting results.

Ok now we have that out-of-the-way… I love chocolate and comfort eat when I am under any type of stress. I hate McDonald’s(which VGT adores) and love fresh veggies and fruit(horrendously expensive here) I do love the odd wine but when I can finally force down a beer I am drunk after a single stubbie.

I miss cooking Australian food here, the ingredients are different which results in different flavours. Sometimes better tastes but usually disasters (For example my soon to be father in law had to HACK SAW my frozen oranges for dessert last night, the ice cream had refrozen into milky orangey ice)

Australia is being flogged right now weather wise and personally I am glad we picked France for the first country to live in… It’s a loud passionate nation who strikes over the craziest reasons, you are lucky to be served with a smile and it can be a chaotic mess. However at the rate Australia is going economically and weather wise I will be coming home to a card board tent, thankful, that I get some newspaper for a pillow.

My second seemingly crazy reason is this. VGT knows Australia culture and customs a little. He speaks nearly fluent English and can happily communicate with any of my family or friends. I speak no French and often ruin a moment of tradition or culture with my habit of Australian blundering. Their perspectives are sometimes totally opposite to what I try to communicate. So it’s a little human experiment of learning french culture and customs then back over to my land of sunshine….

I am overly curious, and love new things. Love being on the move and visiting and meeting friends and family everywhere. In the last month I Have been to Bourges, Font Romeu, Paris, London, Bournemouth, Lyon, Nantes, Anger, Bordeaux, Biarritz and La Pointe du Raz….  I am known as G like a Golden Retriever, how happy they are to be loved and surrounded by people. But also how curious they are. We watch Rhianne, VGT’s dog and she is 14 with bad hips and she still gets in and about the most amazing little places. Wiggling her body, wagging her tail you can see the pleasure of a new sensation. That’s me, just in human form. (I get excited over a 10 euro bowl of pasta that tastes amazing)

Lastly, Why not?