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.

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.