The Holiday

The Holiday movie, starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, really encapsulates the differences between Californian and British Christmas. And it humorously highlights the querks that come with living in England vs California.

First of all, I love this movie. It is one of my favourite Christmas films. It has a wonderful cast and is totally feel good. I love the American vs British accents. I love the exchange of houses, particularly how excited Iris is to see how huge and extravagant Amanda’s house is vs how underwhelming and tiny Iris’s house is, although very cute and homey. And I adore Graham’s children. They are too adorable. I also like how they address the agony that love can be. And I truly am a sucker for a good romance story with a happy ending.

Me in Hayward, CA December 2020

Living in California, I find that Christmastime does not feel quite as Christmassy as it did in England. Although, I have been enjoying the glorious weather, there is something exciting about a chilly snowfall in the lead up to the holidays. The cold invites you to sit by the fire with a warm blanket and hot chocolate. Whereas, the sun just begs you to come outside and enjoy basking in its warmth. Both are lovely experiences, but the former is definitely more Christmassy. I also love wearing my winter jumpers (sweaters), and this year I really haven’t had much opportunity for that here in Cali.

Let’s talk about Iris’s cottage in Surrey and Amanda’s house in LA. Iris’s cottage is so cute and quaint. But it could be more accessible – the tiny lane is quintessentially country but not easy to navigate – and the cottage seems to have no central heating, rather a firplace… not to mention the lack of shower. Although the bathtub does look fun. Conversely, Amanda’s house is huge… a typical Californian house in an affluent neighbourhood. Amazing. I would be exactly like Iris if I was visiting LA for the first time and got to stay there. Neither house is decorated for Christmas in the movie, but somehow the cottage wins in being more Christmassy since it looks like it could be on a Christmas card.

Now comes the romance. I love the international alliances made in this movie between the love interests. Perhaps the exotic nature of the other makes the person more appealing. Or perhaps it is exciting that the person is on vacation and will leave soon. Or perhaps they were just lucky enough to find the right person due to a spontaneous decision made by two women who needed a break.

When hope is lost, love can still be found. And when you are not looking, that’s when it will appear. That’s what I glean from this movie… but then, it is just a movie.

What do you like about this movie?

Pies

When I think of pie, hearty, meaty savory pies tend to come to my mind. My favourite kind of pie is chicken pie. And after that beef mince pie. My Dad loves pork pie. And pasties are a whole other category of pie that make my mouth water. The pasty does not really exist in America. Sure, they do have savory pies, such as the chicken pot pie, but they lack the distinct flavouring that British pies have.

Fall is here and it is almost Thanksgiving. The kind of pies that most commonly come to my mind here around this time of year are sweet potato pies, cherry pies and apple pies. There are so many kinds of dessert pies here. Boston cream pie sounds particularly delicious to me…. or chocolate cream pie… or banana cream pie… basically any kind of pie with cream. Yum! Of course, Britain has dessert pies too – my nana makes a mean apple pie. Then there is the mince (fruit) pie that melts in your mouth like a Christmas explosion around Christmas time.

There is something so comforting about a pie. Don’t you think? I certainly miss British pies. But it is nice to be able to try different things. Maybe I will even try making a pie this year for Thanksgiving. Wish me luck!

What’s your favourite kind of pie?

Culture Shock

When I moved to the USA from the UK, I received training at an au pair school. One of the things they tried to prepare us for was culture shock. Culture Shock is “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes” (Oxford Languages). Yet, despite learning about culture shock, I still wasn’t prepared to experience it.

Culture shock can manifest in different ways for different people. I couldn’t imagine experiencing culture shock in a country that I thought I knew so well. After all, I was an English speaker and I watched plenty of American movies to know what living here was like, right? Wrong. And to top it off, I was living with a family of Russians, so the main language I was hearing (and unable to understand) was not my own. I found myself becoming homesick. There many things to adjust to… from the food, to the way people behaved.

If you experience culture shock, don’t be surprised if you start to feel irritable. Perhaps there are systems that are frustrating (I felt like there were always long wait times or lines, stating at the airport when you arrive in the USA and have to go through customs). Perhaps you are tired of not being able to understand the language or are having a hard time keeping up with cultural references in conversation. Sometimes you may also begin to feel lonely. For me, these things meant that I began staying in my room more and really missing my family.

Some tips on how to handle this are:

1. Keep an open mind. Things are bound to be different than you are used to. Accept this and try to embrace it. Focus on the positive differences and find things that you enjoy to do. Practice the language. Maybe watch a few movies from that country or read some books. Don’t criticize or judge… instead find things that you DO like about where you are. Differences are what makes travelling interesting.

2. Accept that you will be homesick. Ask your family to send you some treats from home. Set up a time to call with them each week. You could even plan a trip to visit home, if you are living in a new country or are struggling to adjust. But also, try to make friends where you are. Familiarize yourself with your surroundings – find places you enjoy going to. Go exploring. Take language classes and practice speaking the language that you are immersed in. See this as an opportunity to improve yourself and to make new friends. Soon, the new will become the familiar.

3. Time. It may take a while to get used to a new place. Try new things. Familiarize yourself with what is local. Before you know it, you will get used to where you are.

Don’t worry. You will start to adapt to the new culture you have entered. Sometimes it takes a few hours, and sometimes it takes a few weeks. After hiding in my room for a while, I began embracing my new home. I took Russian lessons and practiced with the family that I lived with, asking them to help me. I went for walks and mini-adventures, discovering what this new place had to offer. I made friends with other au pairs, who were going through the same thing (I was lucky to be part of a group that were all going though the adjustment – it was easy to meet people since we had au pair meetings every month). And soon, this became my home too.

However, it is possible that you will also feel strange when you go back home. Your experience away may have changed you. You may have to get used things again if you have been away for a long time. For me, it is always nice to be back home. I live in the USA still, but I visit my family in England as often as I can. I love the familiarity of home. It is like a warm embrace. But what makes me feel weird, is when some things are different than they were when I lived there – when the familiar is no longer familiar. For instance, they changed the money in the UK so that now it looks different from when I lived there.

Culture shock can be a little jarring. But when you travel or live in a new place… you may discover things that are wonderful. Perhaps you will find a new hobby or a new favourite food. You may meet amazing people or do things out of your comfort zone. You could end up with crazy adventure stories that make you more interesting. Or you may experience something life-changing. Remember, if you find yourself struggling to adjust, it will get easier with time.

Have you experienced culture shock? Tell us about your experience in the comments.