Holiday Coffee isn’t Enough

It goes without saying that it can be hard dealing with the reality that, when one is moving to another country, one way or another you will have to accept that someone you love will be far, far, away during the holiday season – a time where friends and family being close is what is desired the most.

For myself, at this point, I have my family still around me and that helps me cope, somewhat, with the fact that it is my fiancee that is 4,000 miles away from where I am.

There is something about the winter holiday season that brings out the desire to be with others in many (I still hold that there are will always be one person in the world who breaks the social norm – which is why I want to avoid absolutes as much as possible); I imagine it has something to do with the combination of religious festivities (for those that have such) and the long nights paired with short days… not to mention the cold that keeps those of us who are not snow/outdoor-activity loving in the first place.

Keeping a policy of enjoying the simple things in life, of only really wanting what I call “small happinesses,” makes holidays a challenge for me in many ways. Being social was never a strong suit of mine, by any stretch, but given the time of the year the only thing I would like more than anything right now is to just have a cup of coffee or tea and sit in the quiet with my fiancee; savoring the moment.

Of course, given our current circumstances, that really isn’t possible. Which leads me to the topic I will cover today: How does someone cope with being  apart during the holidays.

While we daydream of visiting our family in our homelands during the holiday, the reality is that isn’t always possible. In my case, due to immigration issues, when I finally relocate I will not be allowed to travel for two years. So while I am stuck on one side of the “pond” with my kin right now, when I eventually do relocate, I will be stuck on the other side with, more or less, the same dilemma.

For those who are watching their loved-one going through the same thing, it is hard to say what you can do to help them cope. It boils down to personality; I reasonably expect that my family doesn’t really know how I am feeling right now. My feelings of loneliness leave me feeling even less sociable than usual, which is rather counterproductive when it comes to easing those emotions as I feel I would be happier to avoid people altogether. Really, in my case, it isn’t unlike a form of depression.

The holidays can bring an added pressure to meet the expectations of those around us. This is a challenge in itself for transplants as we are already feeling out of our depth – it is difficult enough for someone who is struggling to meet “normal” social standards; the holidays are just more baggage. The traditions of ones new home or family can be tricky to negotiate and the more I am exposed to them, the more it becomes clear to me that it is the small things that matter.

Things like what and how the main dish is prepared and served, who sits where, what goes into the side-dishes, what the after-meal entertainment is (or if there is any at all).

From the inside looking out, I recall a family that moved into the lower half of my grandmother’s house and the feelings I had when they did something outside of my normal during one such social gathering (to be exact: Thanksgiving). It takes a great deal of acceptance on the part of the insider to not be thrown off of their beat when the transplant does something not in their normal. In the case of this family, tradition in my family has always been to wait an hour or two before having desert, so when the children ate their dinner and then started right away on cutting into pie, I quickly found myself feeling distressed by their actions. This was not in line with my normal, and because it was not, the act, though innocent as can be, left me feeling as though my sense of power or authority (even though I had no control to begin with, I admit) had been directly challenged.

To the me that was the insider, their lack of conformity was almost in line with an insult, an actual attack. At the time, I did nothing about it – I didn’t speak or even give any indication that it bothered me (or I tried).

It is this feeling, I think, that most insiders feel when someone new arrives in the community. They feel put-upon to automatically accept the behaviors that the new person exhibits. The outsiders, in reality, have no idea that they have rocked the boat; they’re only doing as they have always done – why would that bother anyone? The thought process when an outsider is questioned or challenged on their actions is confusion at best. Being so used to a certain behavior, they naturally will not stop to think about how it may be seen by someone who does something differently. Without realizing it, the transplant ends up walking into a den of snakes.

In the case of my Thanksgiving experience, it did not amount to any form of confrontation, however, as I have stated before in other posts, there have been occasions where I had the misfortune of being in the outsider’s shoes and it had escalated into an actual argument complete with insults thrown and all too many tears for the subject that had caused it.

So what does one do if they can’t ignore the breaking of social norms, if one shouldn’t actively address the transgressor? Perhaps taking a step back would help… honestly, I am not too sure myself (I tend to bury my head in the sand when it comes to such things) in all honesty. Sometimes, though, I think it does help (with anything, really) to ask one’s self why something is the way it is (why -does- my family wait an hour before having pie? There is no real particular reason to it beyond just letting some of the food we ate properly digest before having more) and then asking one’s self how much of a difference it makes if someone decides to violate that rule (in my case, I imagine the worst that could happen is that they will have an upset stomach later, but at least they will have finished eating and will have less compulsion to go back for more – unlike my own family who always feels the need to “nibble”).

Perhaps, and this is the hard part, it takes accepting that our own social norms are not necessarily the “best” or only “right” ones. Accepting that there is more than one correct answer is difficult at times. Especially when it comes to something that runs contrary to what we have always done or always been taught. For some, this leaves the feeling of “lostness” that is hard to shake. I think that this may be the reason why so many try to avoid it; no one wants to openly acknowledge that the way they have always done something might not be actually the right thing. It can call other things into question and, when it upsets the normal, I have found that very few people want to question anything.

Having a transplant in your midsts can force a person to do what they want to do the least, in short. This is probably another reason why many insiders have little appreciation for those who upset the “natural order of things.”

It is just unfortunate that, however well-intentioned both sides of this exchange are ultimately, there is little that can be done to ease the chafing feeling the insider gets once the faux pas has been committed.

I will say this several times on this blog, I am sure, but I believe that communication is important. Talking about cultural differences is important.  This goes true for most things, but it is especially so when it comes to holidays. The holiday season is when most people feel a sense of nostalgia, a desire for the things of our pasts – things that made the holidays the holidays for us. As the insider, this is a time where we revel in the joys and splendor of everything we know and hold dear; as the outsider it is a time of reminiscence – recalling the things of our pasts while at the same time, trying to embrace the new. By sharing the stories of each culture, both parties will be more aware of the differences, which will serve to prepare the insider and the transplant for things to come. But more than that, it will also serve to highlight the similarities.

For the transplants, all I can offer is this advice: don’t get stuck in the rut of “this is how I’ve always done it.” Like the insider, outsiders are guilty of becoming fixated on the idea that their way of doing things is the only right way. It is not. The longer I live, the more and more I see that there is no clear black or white, just many, many, shades of gray. When we get stuck on the thought of how things have always been, when we keep thinking “Yes, I see what you are saying, but I’ve always done it this way…” it can send us going in circles. It’s not easy to accept that the way we were taught to do something doesn’t agree with those around us. While most people in your new home will expect (some may even go so far as to demand) you to conform completely to their wills and ways, it is actually very difficult to break old habits, especially ones that were enforced in your own sub-culture. Transplants that cannot adapt can end up leaving or finding themselves very isolated in their new home – which only adds to the animosity that is already felt by the insiders in regards to outsiders that refuse to integrate.

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