Third Culture Christmas

Third Culture Christmas is a guest post I sent to Tall Blonde Tales for Blogmas! Here it is in all its glory!

I am a Third Culture Kid, which means that before I was 18, I lived in countries other than one of my parents’ nationalities. I have lived in France, Switzerland, the UK, the USA, and now I’m currently in Canada. People ask me what Christmas traditions have I picked up from my life of diverse cultural exposure? Read on to find out!

French Traditions:

I was too young to remember living in France, but my parents still taught me French culture after we moved to the USA. One of my early memories was being confused about how Santa arrived with presents. In France, when Santa brings presents on Christmas Eve, he arrives on a donkey, not a sleigh. As I got older, there are three French foods that we have had at Christmas, depending on availability and quality expected. 

Bûche de Noël or Yule log, is one of our favourites! France is one of those cultures that observes the Feast of the Kings on Twelfth Night. A common dessert is the Galette de Rois. There is no proper English translation for the galette, but you can look it up here: Galette des Rois: A Sweet French Tradition – FAYLI

I sometimes have the galette for my birthday cake because my birthday falls within the twelve days of Christmas! When I moved to Canada, I was ecstatic to find authentic Bûche de Noël and Galette de Rois at a French patisserie! Another food that my family enjoys is foie gras, but availability depends on where you live. The last time I had foie gras at Christmas was when I lived in England! 

English Traditions:

On that note, I have had some memorable food while living in London, England! My family attempted a Christmas pudding a few times. I loved lighting it and watching the alcohol burn off! I found it hard to eat though since it’s soaked in so much booze. One year, my family had a goose for Christmas. It was incredible! Goose fat adds a certain special flavour to food, and it reminded me of French food. I haven’t had a goose since leaving England, but I will never forget how incredible it is!

One story that is always told in England around Christmas is the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914. When World War I started in 1914, the soldiers were all told they would be home by Christmas. When that didn’t happen, British, French and German soldiers laid down their weapons and had fun together. This happened all along the Western Front. The saddest part was all the men who engaged in the truce were censured severely and the generals tried to cover it up. I personally think it was a beautiful act of fraternity, peace, love and cultural sensitivity.

I have seen cartoons, advertisements and other things that commemorate the Christmas Truce. One of the movies I see during the Christmas season is Joyeux Noël, which is the story of the Christmas Truce. You can read more about the movie here: Joyeux Noel (2005) – Plot Summary. Even though I don’t live in England anymore, I still have a little remembrance of the Christmas Truce.

The Christmas Pantomime:

I wanted to give an extra special shoutout to an English Christmas tradition: The Christmas Pantomime. If you are ever in the UK in December or January, see if you can go to a Christmas panto! I personally recommend the ones at the small theatres rather than the large ones. The small theatres feel more personal and there is a lot of audience participation in the Christmas panto. I was part of a community theatre and I did two Christmas pantos. I played Dick Whittington’s cat when I was 12, which was the best role I ever had! Makes me feel like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet! 

A bit of history. The panto originated out of the Commedia dell’Arte, which was a popular theatre tradition in Europe for 200 years. It really is worth learning about, and pantos have classic scenes that are right out of the Commedia dell’Arte. For instance, there is the cooking scene and the school scene. Also, the principal boy is played by a woman and the dame is played by a man. 

One thing that my parents and I realized is that colonization of the Americas was happening at the same time as the Commedia dell’Arte. The Puritans, who were against the arts for religious reasons, were among the first settlers in what is now the USA. So, the panto tradition never crossed the Atlantic. My parents and I have had discussions about whether the panto can become an accepted theatre tradition in the USA. We have certainly found distinct cultural differences between American and English humour. I could write an entire post about the panto tradition and this particular historical significance, but I will stop right here.

American Traditions:

I moved to the USA when I was two years old. At the time, my parents didn’t know if we would ever live in another country again. But what my Mum did was collect Christmas stories from wherever we travelled and lived and put them in a binder that we would read every Christmas. We continue to read those stories, even though we have now lived in five countries. The stories include classics like The Gift of the Magi, to more current stories.

A few years after we repatriated to the USA after living in London, we decided to go to Yosemite National Park for Christmas. We arrived there at the Winter Solstice, and there happened to be a full moon then! That doesn’t happen often. Ansel Adams photographed a full moon at Yosemite at the Winter Solstice, right when it was over Half Dome (which is an iconic feature of Yosemite). We had to stay pretty late to see the full moon over Half Dome. I tried to take a photo, but I didn’t do it justice. The park was abuzz with people trying to see what Ansel Adams saw when he took his iconic photos.

photo of snow capped mountain under blue night sky

Photo by Ian Beckley on Pexels.com

Canadian Traditions:

I was in for a couple of Christmas surprises when I moved to Canada. I became a huge fan of Canadian comedy, and their holiday comedy is cathartic when dealing with holiday stress. Our political and new satire show This Hour Has 22 Minutes has some incredible holiday sketches on YouTube. Since Canada has long winters, we have to have something to keep us entertained. Canadian Christmas comedy is a great way to decompress. Here’s one of my favourite videos to laugh at Christmas stress:

Christmas Light displays are hugely popular in Canada as well. I am already getting notifications about light displays at the zoo, and malls! My city has a river walk that you can do to see all these light displays. Additionally, they have a site where they list houses that have light displays that you can walk or drive by to see. Even if it’s not Christmas, I have noticed there is a real love of light, especially in the winter.

person walks outdoor during night

Photo by David Guerrero on Pexels.com

Other Traditions:

I got to know a lot of Russians while I was living in London. I learned that Russian Christmas is generally celebrated on January 6th or 7th, depending on the Orthodox calendar. New Year is more popular in Russia than Christmas though. It used to be on a different date from January 1st, but then it changed to meet more Western standards. So, I have heard things about Old New Year, versus New New Year. Additionally, one Russian saying is that you will spend the New Year the way you meet it (Как Новый год встретишь, так его и проведешь). Yes, I speak Russian, but that’s not the point. Because of that saying, Russians have some cultural practices to help them meet the New Year ready for a fresh start. 

You can find this movie called The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! on YouTube. It’s a Russian New Year comedy made in 1975, and it showcases traditions for Russian New Year. It has English subtitles, so don’t worry about not understanding it. Although to be fair, I started watching it when I was first learning Russian, and I was still able to pick up the story by watching what the actors were doing. Whenever I remember watching the comedy for New Year, I do so. Plus, I still believe that you do spend the New Year the way you meet it, although some things you have to take with a grain of salt.

No matter where I am in the world, nothing makes me happier than a white Christmas! I have always loved snow as a kid and that has never gone away! That’s a Christmas tradition that is universal for me!

Merry Christmas/Joyeux Noël/с Рождеством! Happy New Year/Bonne Année/с Новым Годом!

Culture Shock/Reverse Culture Shock

Update: I may be moving soon! Haven’t set a definite date just yet, but watch this space! My passport took 4 months total to process, thanks to COVID-19, but it finally happened and now my plans can move along!

Something that has been on my mind while preparing to move is culture shock. The last time I went through culture shock was when I was 10 years old, and before that, I’m not sure what I went through as a little kid was culture shock or reverse culture shock. I was born in one country and ended up in my parents’ country, but my parents were going through reverse culture shock, so why shouldn’t I? On the other hand, French culture had stuck with me. There should be another form of culture shock for kids born in one country and moving to another when they are too young to remember it, but it still affects them. I might call it child culture shock. I definitely went through reverse culture shock when I moved back to the US. 

When I was little, I didn’t understand why I spoke French and no one else did. At my US school, I didn’t know why everyone called me “the French girl”. I loved and hated French throughout my childhood because my parents kept putting me in French classes. On one hand, French classes gave me a sense of belonging somewhere. On the other hand, I hated speaking French at home because no one else did and it was embarrassing if my Mom spoke to me in French in public. I just wanted to fit in. Eventually, I got so rebellious, my mother said if I can learn another language, she would stop making me learn French. Challenge accepted, Mom. I jumped at the opportunity to learn German in secondary school in the UK, much to my Mom’s chagrin. She argued I didn’t have a good reason to learn German, and I had to compromise and take a French class as well. When I finally chose Russian as my language to pursue, my Mom was good to her word and let me give up French. In retrospect, I realize that my reaction to French was going through some kind of culture shock, and dealing with teasing and not knowing what it was or what to do about it. I love French now!

I definitely went through culture shock when I moved to London. When my parents and I were looking for an apartment, the estate agent said to us that if we chose the place we did, we would be living among English people! Well, yeah. Where did she expect us to live? An American community and end up not experiencing anything about England? No thanks. 

When I went to school, I crashed. The English kids would get me to say things only to make fun of my accent, and they would ask me questions and then laugh at my answers. That was worse than being called “the French girl” and being teased for speaking French. Little did I know that this was a normal thing for immigrants to England. I thought a country that had a lot of immigrants would have citizens who knew better than to do things like that, and would teach their kids how to behave properly with immigrants, but I was wrong. I had a friend at my first school who was from South Africa and she had similar struggles. My first school had this contest about who had the coolest accent, and the students voted me as the winner. I didn’t care about that contest and my Mom found out about it through my friend. In retrospect, that contest was a signal to bullies to go for me as a target. It also translated into a lack of success in preparing for my future endeavours. The same kind of bullying happened at my second school and continued even after my experience in school. Fortunately, my Mom figured out what was happening and homeschooled me after that whole experience. After my experience in school, I knew I didn’t want to live in England for the rest of my life. Somehow, I ended up staying in England for over a decade, but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t going to work out for me. Not all was lost though. 

I became involved with the Russian community though because I fell in love with their ballet and started training to be a professional dancer. I didn’t like England, but I didn’t want to go back to the US, so I thought if I became good at ballet, I could go to Russia to dance. That’s how I became proficient in Russian. I didn’t make it in the end, but that’s another story. Also, I would deliberately hang out with other immigrants. I felt more at home with them. The best thing about having friends from other countries was I could find some way to relate to them culturally and we would share stories. For instance, I could relate to people from India on celebrating our independence from England. Immigrants from Caribbean countries and Canada made me feel closer to home. There are many other examples besides that as well, but it would take too long to write.

When I moved back to the US with my parents seven years ago, I naively thought I would not experience reverse culture shock. My Mom warned me that reverse culture shock can be just as bad, or worse than culture shock. She had a hard time of reverse culture shock when we moved from Switzerland and a lot of it had to do with her not wanting to go back to the US. I thought that because I wanted to return to the US and England hadn’t worked out for me, that I wouldn’t have as hard a time adjusting to the US. There were struggles that I didn’t anticipate. I felt embarrassed asking someone to repeat something they said because they were talking too fast. I thought people would appreciate my perspectives on a subject, but that was not always true. If anything, I would be shot down for sharing my points of view. I was told once to “give up the London thing”. How? I lived there for a good portion of my life! I can’t just let it go! I have a big mouth because I’m not afraid to speak out against something that is very wrong and violates human rights. That has got me in trouble way too often since moving back to the US. As I lost my British accent, I lost the one clue that I had that I am multicultural. I look and sound American now and no one can tell that I have lived overseas. I was put in a box and I didn’t fit there. 

When I was living overseas, I saw that the US was becoming increasingly polarized politically. Despite that, I moved back to the US because I did need to go home for a while. The moment when I realized that I wanted to move to Canada was a culmination of hurts I have suffered since moving back here and not being appreciated for what I have to offer. Additionally, I can see the US is falling apart thanks to all these toxic systems that created the country and the pandemic is exposing those toxicities. This is not my country anymore. I can’t put my name to Donald Trump’s actions and atrocities. I see how far-right movements are springing up in many countries and the US is the perfect example of what happens when it gets out of hand. I think because I was away from the US for so long, the polarization hit me the hardest. It was a shock to see how much had changed since I last lived here. I read that a lot of expats move overseas again after they return home, and that doesn’t surprise me. If you see how much has changed in your country, it can be harder to cope with that change and you can feel like you don’t belong anymore.

A wise friend once told me that there comes a time when you’re living in another country where you realize it’s either going to work out for you, or it isn’t. There’s no shame in a country not working out for you. It doesn’t mean you are prejudiced, or there’s anything wrong with you. It’s just a fact that sometimes, things don’t work out. There are a lot of clues that can help you in deciding if a country isn’t going to work out. One thing I see people get wrong is time spent in a country is NOT a determinant in deciding whether a country is going to work out! I lived in the UK for over a decade and got citizenship, but that didn’t make me any less miserable. I lived in the US for half my life and it hasn’t worked out, even though it’s like anyone who knows me would expect it to work out for me. I never thought that moving back home to the US would not work out for me. There was a part of me that desperately wanted to go back. As you can see, a country working out for you or not is a purely subjective thing. No one can decide whether or not a country will work out for you, except you. It puts a lot of strain on families if there are some members who the country is working out for and some who want to go back to their home country. Family problems are often exacerbated by culture shock, and tensions can be on a whole different level. You have feelings you never thought were possible. The best solution I have is to develop close friendships with expats, regardless of whether or not they are from your own country and third culture kids. They are the best friendships you can have.

As I’m preparing to move, I am able to think about my past experiences and how they have prepared me for whatever lies ahead. It’s no less scary to move again, and there is a fear that things might not work out. The best thing is that I feel more prepared for this move than I did for the other ones and in my post Visas, I quoted Winston Churchill. It’s basically a mantra for moving overseas in general, not just for visas and culture shock.

I’m Moving To Canada! Read On To Find Out Why!

I get asked this question a lot. Here are my reasons why:

I Am A Third Culture Kid (or TCK):

What is a Third Culture Kid? Sociologist Ruth Useem developed the term to mean “a child who grows up in a culture different from the one in which his or her parents grew up.” So what’s my TCK story? I have lived in four countries, so far. I was born a US citizen in Switzerland, but my parents were dividing life between there and France. My childhood in the USA was spent in three different states during an eight-year period. I grew up in England and obtained dual UK nationality. I repatriated to the US seven years ago, intending to stay permanently. So, I have itchy feet! Plus, the election results in 2016 were an utter disaster! Trump and his ilk go against everything I stand for as a TCK! At least I can rely on my experience of moving to other countries to help me in the process.

Good Quality of Life in Canada:

Growing up, I learned what qualities make a country good to live in. Canada has consistently scored high in quality of life, happiness and health in international rankings. It’s further ahead on those rankings than other countries I have lived in, with the exception of Switzerland. I guess I will find out soon why that’s the case!

I Want A Better Life:

The main reason why people move to another country is to achieve a better life for themselves and their family. Deciding to move to a new country takes a lot of honest self-reflection. At first, I did not want to move to another country. I know the challenges and stressors that can happen during the process of immigration. I had hoped that the US would recover from the disastrous 2016 election results and I wished to be a part of the process. Then, I saw the shock waves of the disastrous election are being felt most strongly during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to more disastrous consequences. I cannot see myself having any sort of future in the US anymore. The more I learned about Canada, the more convinced I am of moving there. I shall continue my reasons for wanting to move to Canada in future posts.

More About Me:

Here’s some more about me. I recently graduated from college/university as an Economics and Data Science major. I am moving to Canada on the International Experience Canada (IEC) visa through InterExchange. Any students or graduates out there who wish to learn more about this visa? Please leave a comment and I will direct you to the right places!

If you want to follow me on social media, you can find the links on my Contact page.

Coming soon: Packing tips, finance tips and doing your research. Stay tuned for more!