Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

One Of My Cards Designs: Do You Like It?
Is Christmas the time to be nice and helpful? Or is Christmas the time to tell the truth? I sometimes wonder. Right now, I have to admit that I am tired of being nice. Shattered. Exhausted. Don’t get me wrong: I am a glass-half-full sort of person.  I just feel that it might be time to be more French and less British, and get out in the open all the things that bug me.  Shall we call it a much-needed Christmas mind detox?

Right, where do I start? I received a phone call from a French acquaintance. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from her. Then, she told me that her family was spending Christmas in London, and wanted to know if they could stay in our house as she assumed we would be in France. Rent free of course. I managed to keep polite and say no. What I wanted to say was: how dare you? We haven’t talked in 18 months and all you want is my house? No need to call me. Ever. Again.

Every month or so, I get a request from a friend/an ex-colleague/a friend of a friend looking for a French au pair or whose daughter wants to become an au pair in London. I usually reply politely with some links to various agencies. And the exchanges suddenly stop, without so much as a Thank You. Right, let me spell it out for you: I am not an au pair agency!

To make matters even worse, my mother is staying with us for a couple of weeks. She is starting to get on my nerves because, in a bid to rewrite our dysfunctional family history, she keeps boasting about what a good job she did with my education, my upbringing, and so on, and so forth. In order to maintain some appearance of familial unity, I shut up. The truth is: I can’t take it any more. She didn’t protect me from a bipolar father, and I still resent her for not standing up for me.  I just have to suck it up. It is Christmas, for God’s sake. At least that’s what I keep telling me.

This year, I am also wondering whether I am going to send any Christmas cards at all. I used to send at least a hundred of Christmas cards. I used to design my own Christmas cards. Well, I have stopped now. I got tired of receiving 25 cheap supermarket cards in response to my lovely cards. I am really toying with the idea of not sending any Christmas cards. I know, I am going from one extreme to the other. I will find a middle ground. At least I think I will.

So, tell me, how does it work? When do you stop sucking it up? When do you start voicing your opinion in no uncertain term (i.e., the French way?)? The funny thing is that I have the reputation of being direct. That said, I feel like I keep a lot to myself! Sigh.When does it get easier?
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London
  • Hmm… I think you have seasonally affected disorder…
    Seriously, I understand your mom issues perfectly… I used to love how my parents invented a childhood that I would have loved to visit- let alone live…

    I don’t understand the Xmas card phenomenon (thankfully), but I do wonder sometimes when we have folks over every weekend (for Shabat) how it never dawns on them to offer a reciprocal visit. (I admit, we’d probably demur, unless it was on a different night…)

    The trick is to just remind yourself that there is no need to ever visit the level of many of these friends…Because you have clear vision at the top and they are just stuck in the muck…

    • Thank you for this comment, Roy. I was glad that you understood where I was coming from with my mum. I am really trying hard not to answer back because I don’t need another fight with her. That said, it is harder than I thought. How did you manage the situation?

      And you are right, I think that it might be time to, well, keep a safer distance with some ‘friends’!

  • SarahHague

    Your mum will be leaving you soon, Muriel. Count the days, breathe deeply and hold your peace. Just make polite noises and stay vague. She’s not going to change so either you have to be nuclear about it and ruin your own Christmas peace of mind, or keep those thoughts to yourself and punch the pillow every now and again. 🙂

    I think I’m too nice too, but I have got better with age and I’m not even French. I can’t hope to reach French levels of speaking my mind though, I just wasn’t brought up like that.

    I just wrote my Xmas card list – 6 not including my family. It gets less as the years go by and I receive ever fewer… People are sending more electronic cards now but even those are getting thin on the ground. I’ve had one so far…

    • I will put up with it, Sarah. That said, it sounds easier than it is. I suppose that it is part of the Christmas spirit! As for Xmas cards, I bought some charity ones, and will send less cards this year. As I am getting older, I have to find a compromise, right?


    Give it to ’em!

    • Really? Don’t tempt me, Caro…I wish I could. Maybe I am more British than I thought…

  • Niceness is wasted on ‘users’, so I say reserve your niceness for those who truly deserve it. Not being nice doesn’t equal being rude though so there’s a lot of gray area in between. Follow your heart 🙂

    • I am trying hard, Joy, I am really trying hard. Sigh.

  • Carolina HeartStrings

    Not letting yourself get walked over does not make you not nice. Oh my – lots of nots…. but that makes sense, right? I think the holidays can be overwhelming and make us all a little crazy. Each year I do a little less and feel just fine with that. One day in my pretend future I will have time and funds to do more again. Right now, well, not so much…

    • You are right, the holidays can be a bit overwhelming, right…I will sit tight and try to relax!

  • God, the mum situation.. I can so relate! I think I told you that we are not on speaking terms anymore. I did have my nuclear reaction a while ago, and this is the result. If that’s what you want, French away. If not, a stiff upper lip might in order, dahhhrrrrling. Mwah mwah – coffee on Tuesday? xx

    • Tuesday is fine tell me. Tell me when and where…as for my mum, well, I am between a rock and a hard place. I wish I could send her back right away. Not nice, but true.

  • My 2 Cs: PCS (well, you know what it means) and you will still be a very nice person even when you stop sending off a 100 cards. I used to do this as well and to this day I still receive tons of Christmas / Happy New Year cards. I had a reason when I stopped the mass mailings: the friendly gesture of reaching out had lost its meaning for me. And here is the dilemma: I love receiving mail and I feel bad at the moment of opening the mailbox. This is but a moment and if I want to reach out I can still write a personal letter.

    I do not think the cliché of French or British mentalities are applicable right now. Blame it on the season: it is cold and dark and we are nearing the end of the year. Take a glimpse of what beckons in the near future: spring, daffodils, light and sun, new life!

    • I think that you are right. I need to focus on quality and not quantity…Sound advice!

  • Carol

    When you are older 🙂

  • SueraeStein

    I, too, send out 100 personally designed cards for Christmas and I am not doing it this year. I need a break from it and I honestly don’t think anyone will notice. I tend not to notice when I don’t get cards from people. So, I say you cut yourself some slack, take the year off, and see if you want to do it the following year. And, as far as those “friends” go that want to use your house… don’t answer the phone the next time they call. Sorry, I don’t know what to say about your mother. That might be better left unsaid. Keep your chin up!!!

    • We all need a break from time to time, right? As for my mum, well she will leave, eventually!

  • Muriel, I know a lot about dysfunctional families. I grew up in one and married my way into another. Now it’s just me and my sister. I do want to mention something from my more senior position. Please put up with your mother. You don’t want to be sorry you didn’t. As for cards. I used to do that and my friends all sent the glowing messages about how wonderful their lives were. Frankly I got tired of reading that stuff. So I quit trying to write something funny or send stuff. What happened is not good either. I don’t know where any of my old friends are. We have all “lost touch.” As for being nice all the time–that is highly overrated at this time of year. Do the best you can.

    • Ann, can I just say that I love your advice? You are clearly ahead of me and having your perspective helps a lot. I shall put up with my mum and continue to send some Xmas cards. Believe me, Ann, I am trying hard. I think that I deserve a medal!!!

  • Lou

    I can completely relate to your mom and dad issues, my dad is still bipolar and enjoying his old age with his girlfriend. Since my mom died, and I have to deal with my dad concerning my disabled brother, I realize she could not protect us; I am getting a glimpse into just how manipulative he is. He will soon be enjoying half the year in Tuscany with his friends and girlfriend, the hell with his responsibilities, right?
    Your mom did the best she could, she is just going through the process of trying to rationalize it because she couldn’t change it.
    Try to have a good holiday! Enjoy your kids!

    • Hi Lou! Thanks for this comment. I am sorry about your dad. This bipolar illness is just a nightmare for family members, isn’t it? I realise that my mum did the best she could. I am not saying that it was easy for her. That said, she keeps boasting about what a great job she did with her children, and I find this very hard to swallow, as I had to endure quite a lot (just like you, probably). That said, I am glad that I managed to move on. She hasn’t, and it is sad and annoying at the same time. Good luck with your dad and don’t forget to take good care of yourself! x

  • I always think niceness is great, because it is impossible for anyone to fight with. That’s my only reason for being utter sweetness and light – that way *I* never start the argument (if someone else wants to, I will join in with gusto, but until then I keep smiling). Nobody can fight with someone who won’t fight back, so it’s a way of keeping the moral high ground!

    Grit your teeth and smile politely when anyone says something stupendously rude, your karma will thank you for it. They are the ones who will come back as wasps.

    • Jane, I need to learn from you. I am trying hard to keep being nice but right now I am a the end of my tether.I will take it easy this week-end!

  • Perhaps you need to celebrate Humbug day on 21st December?

    Seriously, although it is tough when most people seem to care only about what they want, I think your blog shows you’ve got the balance right. These days I feel Christmas is all about being with the people I care about. I’m sending very few Christmas cards, we buy few presents, but the time with treasured people is to be treasured.

    I find the levels of materialism – the want, want, want and people’s need to have things their way and get what they want with no thought to anyone else – very sad and I don’t think speaking out will change them. I know people like this and wonder whether they will ever see how pointless it all is.

    Writing your blog gives hope that more people feel this way.

    • Thanks for this post, Robert. I am glad that you understand where I am coming from. I suppose that, as we grow older, we start to see what is important…and what is futile. I like your approach of quality as opposed to quantity. That’s the spirit, right?

  • I’ve just discovered your blog via the Expats Blog writing contest, and I’m glad I did. I’m suprised at how British your behaviour is. Hell, let the Frenchwoman in you out, girl, and say it the way it is! Life’s too short to chew your own arm off so that others don’t have to face up to the fact that they’re not as perfect as they think they are in other peoples’ eyes. Sometimes being honest and popping the myths is a way forward with family issues, too…
    I couldn’t help smiling, because I’ve become more French in my behaviour over the years, and I’m now so direct with people at times that my husband looks at my with huge eyes and tells me to back off.

    • So, tell me, have you applied for a French passport yet? You seem to be more French than me, well, I don’t know where I belong any more. That said, as I have a British passport, I suppose that I can say I am British now…

  • I gave up Christmas cards a few years ago, one of the best things I did for myself. I suggest starting there…

    • I did as much as possible electronically. It was quicker, and a lot cheaper!