Up until the age of 18, I had never spent Christmas anywhere other than Mexico or the USA. For me, as for most I assume, it was all about family. All of my uncles and cousins would gather, and we genuinely had an amazing time. Then as I grew up, such gatherings kept getting smaller, but it was only when I moved to France that things took a different turn.
I suddenly found myself figuring out where and how I would spend Christmas without my family. During my first two years here, my mom wasn’t able to come for Christmas, and because of my exams I wasn’t able to go to Mexico either, so things had to change a little bit. I ended up spending Christmas at my best friend’s grandma’s home the first year, which gave me an insight into what Christmas it’s like in a French household. Then the following year I went to England and spent it with another friend and her family, and got to see a little bit of the English traditions.
Now these have been experiences that I’ve genuinely loved, and as an expat, I think holidays are always a pretty particular aspect of the whole experience. It’s interesting, the way in which the same holiday changes around the world.
In Mexico for example, the real celebration comes on Christmas Eve. You may go to church if that’s part of your tradition, then head back home and get everything ready for dinner. When it comes to the meal, there are a few standard dishes you’ll find. In most households: tamales, turkey, cod and “atole” are first on the list. Then of course each family adds its own variations. Now I had the chance to go back home last year for it and relive all of it again, and let me tell you, although my marks at uni didn’t appreciate it that much, I sure did.
However this year it all changes again, I had no more than a few weeks break for Christmas and most of it needed to be spent revising for finals. Hence, this time it was Christmas with friends. You see in France, the order seems to be Christmas with family, new years with friends, so I guess that in a way, I was somewhat respecting that this year. In Mexico we are used to spending both with family, however, ever since living in France I think my friends and I have gotten use to our random little holiday stories, not really knowing where or with whom we might be. But don’t get me wrong though, every single year is a new experience and it’s always nice to see what others might be doing for the same holiday.
To me, it’s pretty amazing to see the way in which people are brought together during this time, and how you can spend a whole day and night with people you just met that day but yet have the best time, because we’re all there for the same reason.
Meeting new people is quite interesting isn’t it? They were always there, in fact you might have even crossed paths, they just weren’t a part of your life.
Now this fascinates me in many ways, mainly because I always found taking that first step hard. You see some might say I am a shy girl, in fact I could even label myself as one, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to get to know you. But that’s the weird thing about first impressions, they set you up for expectations. After seeing someone for the first time, you’ll probably be lead to categorize him or her. Not intentionally of course, it’s just something that happens. Now the big difference lies on whether you are willing to see past that and find out more, or just stay like that, in the dark.
You see one moment can change it all. A simple decision can make it or break it; saying yes or no to a metro ride with someone, or a study session in the library, or simply laughing at a remark being made about your name. In just a second, you can go from being in your own bubble, to acknowledging another human being that could unexpectedly become a big part of your life.
Now I must say I never really had to experience much of this. Up until the age of 18, I grew up around the same people and group of friends. We knew and still know everything about each other, went through our worst phases together, and can probably tell if something’s wrong even if it is just over the phone or a message. Needless to say, stepping out of it was a rather unsettling situation. I didn’t know how to approach strangers, and even worse, having to do so in a different language terrified me. But here’s something I’ve learned, no matter how scared or shy you might be, if you are open to the possibilities, things can work out in the end.
Being able to say yes or just considering it can open the door to and endless world full of relationships and bonds, created in seconds, amongst people who somehow, somewhere, found their way to each other. You can end up meeting people who have never been to your country, and yet from miles away are fascinated and want to know more. Or people from a totally different background and culture, that might understand your struggles better than those you grew up with.
To me this is the beauty about Paris, and big international cities in general. You have a pool of stories and cultures in one same spot; Australia, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Georgia, France, England, Colombia and much more. Now if you would’ve asked me three years ago if I thought I would know someone in each of these countries, my answer would’ve probably been no. However today, I can tell you that I feel more connected to the world and the people around me than never before.
I’ve learned that Melbourne is known for its coffee, and never to question a Melbourian’s knowledge on it. I travelled to Ecuador for the first time after meeting a great group of Ecuadorians studying in France, and have now ironically gathered and adopted quit a few of their expressions. I’ve been to England to be welcomed by a Romanian family, allowing me to learn from both cultures at once. And, recently and unexpectedly, I’ve learned more about Sri Lanka’s culture, dances and language in the past few months than I ever thought I would.
The list could go on and on, and to be honest I think it is one I’m really proud of. I don’t think I would be the person I am today if it wasn’t for the experiences I’ve had. I’ve built friendships and relationships that are scattered all over the globe, and I’m constantly amazed by how much I am able to learn everyday from the people that surround me.
Creating bonds is part of what makes us human. Realizing that the girl or boy you cross paths with everyday could have a similar experience to yours puts you in this interesting position, where you suddenly feel less like just an individual, and more like part of a community. Now, I must say that before coming here, these were circumstances that terrified me. But now, I can safely say that I’m happy with where I’m headed.
I’m going to be honest; I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know whom I might meet, or who might not stay. The one thing I can say though is, that every single person you know can have a great impact in your life. So take a chance and say “Hi”, however many times it might take, there’ll always be that one person who’ll reply.
If you had to give one answer, to define what you would call home, would you be able to do it in just a few words?