Expat Essentials

Laura Kaye in Berlin: Surviving the Holiday Season, expat style

Well the countdown to Christmas has now begun! And for many of us, that means making the decision about where we will be spending the “most wonderful time of the year.

For those of you new to the expat life, and perhaps facing your first expat holiday season, this may seem like an exciting but daunting concept.

Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.

Follow these simple rules to help you get the most out of December, and make it through to January unscathed.

Let’s begin with what is arguably the easier option.

How to survive spending the holidays far from your family back home

Rule No. 1 Send your family gifts via the internet. Yay for Amazon!

Rule No. 2 Video message your family

Rule No. 3 Eat Stollen and drink Glühwein (or insert appropriate cultural foods from your new homeland) with your new “overseas family”

Congratulations, you did it! Cheers! Prost! Salute!

How to survive going home for Christmas

But what about those of us who are taking the plunge and making that long journey back home to spend this precious time with loved ones? Well, this one may take a little more preparation and planning.

Brace yourselves.

Rule No. 1 Choose your souvenirs wisely.

Don’t bother to take back special “meaningful” gifts from your new home unless they are actually things that will be well received by people who have never lived there.

Do not let your growing emotional connection with your new homeland lead you to believe that pickled cabbage will be universally adored.

Sadly for us, no one really wanted the special hand-woven fabrics that we’d carefully chosen and lovingly carted all the way back from East Timor during our first year away from the UK.

It turns out our family members were not as excited about these cultural treasures as we were.

“Erm…thanks! It’s beautiful!” *Places item in back of cupboard. End scene*.

But the Timorese coffee went down well. As did the Hungarian wine and German chocolate in the years that followed.

OK, I will rephrase this one … don’t bother to take back special “meaningful” gifts from your new home unless they consist of: coffee, alcohol or chocolate. To be fair, this is fairly good advice for gift giving in general.

Rule No. 2 Prepare your family for the cold shoulder from the littlest expats.

Warn your loved ones in advance that there is a high likelihood that your kids will run for cover (and possibly scream) if their beloved long-lost family members try to hug them on arrival.

“You were totally acceptable as a talking face that lived inside my Daddy’s iPad Auntie Jean, but try to kiss me again and I’ll go supersonic! Initiating meltdown in 3…2…1…”

Rule No. 3 Remember to actually pack all of those cool travel gadgets you bought.

You know, the six different kinds of inflatable pillows; the multi-adaptor that works anywhere in the world and comes with additional USB ports; the suitcases your kids ride around on whilst you frantically chase after them down the airport travelator thingies.

If you don’t own any of these gadgets yet, firstly, ask yourself if you really are a true traveller and. Secondly, immediately add them all to this year’s Christmas list.

Rule No. 4 For those travelling long distances with children, remember to plan ahead and take something to sedate them with.

Breast milk or a bottle will usually work for young babies (seriously, milk on take-off plus the white noise from the plane and they’re out like a light. Pro tip!).

Older kids can usually be hushed by filling the iPad with all of those TV shows that they’re not usually allowed to watch (Warning: Undesirable side effects may follow).

Once everyone is successfully sedated, it’s time to sedate Mum and Dad. “Pass the duty-free purchases please, darling”.

Rule No. 5 Recall your native language.

Start to make the mental switch back to your mother tongue before you exit your flight. You don’t want to be that guy who keeps telling anyone and everyone that “this word sounds so much more beautiful in French,” or that he “can’t even remember how to say that word in English anymore.”

We get it, you’re all cultured and exotic now. But no…just no!

Rule No. 6 Take the largest suitcase possible.

Pay for that extra luggage allowance. And do you know that huge bag you bought last time you went on holiday? Well, get a bigger one.

No matter how many times you tell your family that you have limited space in your case, the message will never sink in. My grandmother recently bought my son a whole wooden airport to take back with us (if you’re reading Nan, he loves it! Thank you xx).

And even if your family and friends do manage to reign it in in the name of travelling light, you won’t!

We sometimes need to take an extra case just to squeeze in all the boxes of tea we buy to bring back with us (can I get a high five from the other Brits please?)

Rule number 7 Don’t panic if you suddenly feel that you no longer “belong” back home.

This one is more a warning than a rule. Trust me, it happens to all of us. You fantasize about your first trip back: the things you’ve missed, the familiarity of everything, the ease with which you’ll be able to find things and communicate with people…

…And then you get there and feel like a fish out of water. As if you’re a foreigner in your own land, and you belong neither here nor there. In fact, you question whether you’ll ever truly feel like you belong anywhere ever again.

Fear not, that just means you’re one of us now. Welcome to the tribe!

We’re all in this together, guys. See you on the other side in January.

Joyeux Noël, Glædelig Jul, Feliz Navidad

About the author:

Originally from the U.K., Laura Kaye currently lives with her family in Berlin. Having left the U.K. in 2009 to pursue a career in the humanitarian and development sector, she has since lived and worked in multiple countries across three continents.

Laura moved with her husband in 2014 and is currently taking a career break to raise their 3-year-old son.

More posts by Laura Kaye

An open letter to the undecided: ‘My family is right at the heart of the EU membership vote’

Having a baby in Berlin: Medicine, rather than modesty, is the aim of the game in Germany

Having a baby in Berlin, Pt. 2: Learning German whilst pregnant so we’re not ‘those expats’

Having a baby in Berlin, Pt. 3: A Berliner is born, and the German benefits you need to know about

Hugsy: ‘Kangaroo Care’ product for babies doesn’t replace mum and dad but extends their reach

+ posts

Laura Kaye is a freelance writer, researcher and editor. Her work focuses on social and development issues, parenting and family life.

Originally from the Wirral in the United Kingdom, she is a serial expat now happily living in Berlin, Germany.

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