My little Cata Crew of a family (ie Robin & moi), have celebrated Christmas for the last 5 years in France. This usually shocks people and I get a pity round of “say, it ain’t so!” from everyone (including the strangely peppy customs officer). But fear not my friends, I tend to make it home every 6 months or so and a trickle of American guests shimmy across the Atlantic to bombard us with American hugs pretty regularly throughout the year.
We always end up spending Christmas in France for two reasons. The first being that flight tickets are at least 2x more expensive at Christmas than any other time during the year. It’s hard to rationalize a holiday trip in December, when I could return three times during the year for the same price as one “ho ho ho” flight at Christmas. The second reason is that I hard-core adore Robin’s family. The mythical creature that is a monster-in-law just doesn’t exist in my current reality. I genuinely like spending time with his family, which makes the pain of missing a holiday at home, easier to swallow. Especially knowing it sets me up for three ah-mazing trips full of deep-dish pizzas, milkshakes and bagels.
HOWEVER, for 2018, I was adamant that we would go celebrate the holidays in the Midwest with my family. Robin was more than happy to tag along and witness his first “American” Christmas. We bought our flights 8 months ahead of time, coughed up some extra cash to fly direct and I ordered Robin his first monogrammed Christmas stocking. Things were lookin’ jolly.
Our trip got off to a rough start. The night before we were supposed to leave, I was doing my usual pre trip panic. I had forgotten to wash half the clothes I wanted to take, I couldn’t find my passport, I was trying to charge twenty different devices with only 5 plugs available and where the hell were all my American adaptors hiding? Of course, among all this chaos, I needed to check us in for our flight ASAP so we didn’t miss a seat swap opportunity. What is seat swap opportunity you ask?
Seat swap is a traditional airplane game that Robin and I play on every trip. We book the window and aisle seats hoping no one proactively chooses the middle seat between us. If they do, they are always happy to switch to the aisle seat so we can sit together and if no one does (happens all the time!) we get an extra seat between us. #EvilGeniusesAlert
I managed to finish packing that night, get our window and aisle seat selected and make it to the airport the next morning with time to spare. We were waiting in line to board when all of a sudden I get “the feeling.” My arch nemesis, UTI was tapping at the door and she wanted to visit reaaallll bad. If you have ever experienced a UTI in your lifetime, you know what I’m talking about. That instant feeling of… “oh snap. Something’s off.”
I started getting for real anxious because I hadn’t brought my cranberry pills with me. The line started moving and I needed to make some quick decisions to survive this 9 hour flight. I shoved my bags at Robin, and ran for the bathroom. I dove into the stall and ripped off my leggings. (Yes, I still travel in leggings no matter how long I’ve lived in France.) In one swoop, my underwear was off and shoved deep into my purse. Lace is frenemy #2 for UTI’s, only second to dehydration. Then I ran to the closest convenience store (Relay) in Terminal 2E. My phone was beeping with frantic messages from Robin that everyone had boarded as I grabbed three bottles of cranberry juice and a liter of water. I jog back to the gate and chug one of the juice bottles at the same time. If there was an Olympic medal for multitasking, I was #winning.
We boarded the plane and made it to our seats in time. The row was empty and we had all three seats to ourselves. I didn’t even take the time to bask in my glory of outsmarting Air France for my own travel convenience. I just curled up next to the window, drowning my bladder, while Robin rubbed my back and tried his best not to scold me for forgetting my meds.
I had a record number of bathroom breaks, but I survived the flight by watching Crazy, Rich Asians…Twice. Who doesn’t love some Peik Lin Goh? We were corralled through the Chicago O’Hare customs at the pace of a slug, but since Robin compares our customs experience to Paris (i.e. 1 customs officer for 500 people, who is more likely to take a coffee break while you are waiting in line, than not), the USA still came through for the win.
We eventually made it out of customs and took the L train to a high school friend’s apartment in Greek Town. Christmas holidays had officially started!
We spent the next two days exploring Chicago. We love that city and never seem to get tired of aimlessly walking around with no real destination in mind. Twice we went out for dinner and drinks with friends and twice that hooligan Robin forget his I.D card. We had to beg the manager each time to serve him. Robin kept getting pissy about the desperate need in the US to card everyone. While I completely agree that it’s over-the-top intense, buckle up bud. We’re in the US, we gotta play by their rules.
We grabbed the Amtrak train from Chicago down to Springfield. It was a smooth trip, but Robin couldn’t get over the fact that the train took the same time as a car. He’s so used the high speed TGV trains in Europe that get you places 3x faster. He kept asking me what added value I saw in a slow train, if everyone owns a car in the US? I put my headphones on and blasted Mariah Carey’s Christmas album to drown out his pertinent, yet relentless, comparisons.
Three days in Springfield with my stepfather, his fiancé, sisters, aunts, cousins and grandparents flowing in and out of the house was more therapeutic than a session with my psych. I grew up in Springfield, in the exact house we stayed in, and there is something so entertaining about showing Robin a slice of that Midwestern life. He can now hold a Mel-o-Cream vs Krispy Kreme donut debate, he can quote Abraham Lincoln and has visited every important Lincoln landmark within 30 miles, he knows the best route to walk our golden retriever Riley in the neighborhood and has even devoured a Horseshoe, a Springfield delicacy, from Darcy’s. Plus he got to experience out of control holidays lights, Christmas stockings (can you believe this isn’t a tradition everywhere?!) and the oh so precious Santa at White Oaks Mall. And I’ll stop you before you ask, he absolutely refused to take a picture with me on Santa’s lap. Surprise. Surprise.
We started the 9-hour migration north to Minnesota for our last Christmas stop. We made the journey with two cars, two kids and seven adults. Robin was dreading this car trip as much as a Paris Saint Germain vs Olympique Marseille soccer game when he knows Marseille is destined to lose the game. He’s so used to his high speed trains, cheaper than dirt airlines, and a country the size of Texas. He wasn’t so keen on being trapped in a car for 9 hours and to be fair, I was worried about my own mental health with my family + Robin for 9 hours in a car.
Surprisingly we all pulled through, and kept up with Robin’s comments for the entire ride. How crazy straight the roads are. How unsurprising it is that we can have driver’s licenses at 16 since you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to drive an automatic car down a straight road. The insane amount of calories in a butter burger from Culver’s when we stopped lunch. The ongoing debate as to why we call soccer, soccer when it so clearly should be called football. And how absolutely weird he finds it that presents on Christmas come from an anonymous Santa Clause.
Apparently in France, Santa Clause brings presents from a specific person. So the card reads, To: Kate From: Robin’s Santa Clause. As if Robin asked Santa to bring this specific gift for me. Whereas in my family you get gifts that say To: Kate From: Santa and other gifts that say To: Kate from Robin and you don’t technically know who bought the gift that came from Santa. It’s already confusing enough to write it out so you can imagine how much time we spent contemplating this difference as we roared down I-94.
Minnesota was similar to Springfield. Lots of family, lots of Christmas cocktails, lots of laughs. One thing was slightly different though. Minnesota was cold. And Minnesota had snow. Which meant introducing Robin to activities like snow tubing and family snow photos. Snow tubing is a pretty simple activity, you fly down a massive hill on a tube normally made for water. A clear Christmas highlight for Robin.
Family snow photos on the other hand were a less fun discovery. It’s basically family photos, outside, in -10 degree weather, with no jackets on. And of course, everyone needs to bring their best, toothy, smile. Robin was a great sport and my siblings allowed the “French smile” during the photos if anyone wanted to. This was basically a grimace, but allowed Robin to smile without his teeth if he couldn’t handle the CHEESE after an hour. In any case, we got these adorable photos so another #win for the US I’d say?
We flew out of Minnesota back to Paris a week after Christmas. As we boarded the plane, I was fighting back tears like always. The guilt when I leave my family turns me into a contestant who just got kicked of the Bachelor and is giving their last interview. Otherwise known as: A hot mess. While I’m trying to pull it together, Robin is next to me muttering about how annoying it is that tax isn’t included in the prices of goods in the US. It’s so unnefficiant not knowing the final price of things before getting to the cash register.
We got to our seats and our evil genius plan hadn’t worked this time. A woman devouring People magazine in the middle seat happily traded and took the aisle. I curled up next to the window while Robin read on his phone.
What are you looking at?” I asked
” I’m looking up how much gasoline your dad’s Lincoln Navigator consumes so that I can send him his carbon footprint. He’s got to get educated on how insane that beast is for the enviornment. “
My head started pounding behind my eyes when they announced that the plane doors were closing. As much as Robin’s ability to debate topics I don’t even see coming can give me a headache, the pounding I felt was not related to that. Oh no, my bacheloresque tears had alerted my arch nemesis’s little sister, migraine. And guess who didn’t manage to pack their migraine medication in the 2 suitcases full of Cheetohs I was bringing back to Paris… me.
The trip had gone full circle. Started with a UTI, ended with a migraine. I squinted out the window as Minneapolis got smaller. The baby in the seat behind me screamed and my head pounded louder.
I wonder if they’re showing Crazy Rich Asians on this flight too?
Fun stories about your first Christmas at home with your significant other? Does it bring back any memories if you’re from a bicultural clan? Don’t hesiate to leave it in the comments below!