Oh, Christmas. Even all the way from here in France, I can see remnants of the American version of the holiday. Panicked last-minute shoppers, the obsession with money, food, wine and gifts. And, the relief of having a few days off work. But never have I ever experienced such exclusivity during the holiday season.
In America, we are taught that Christmas is the time of giving, a chance to help the homeless, reach out to those in need, or make time for people without family. Not so in the Perigord. After ten months in this town, where I have at least a dozen friends, the only invites I have had to Christmas were by my significant other and a friend from Montpellier who I’ve known for two months.
Families in the Perigord take on a sort of sect mentality during Christmas, asking you often what you will do for the holiday season, but taking no pity when you say you will be spending it alone. There are condolences, however – a coffee before or after the day, maybe even a weekend invite. But it all feels like an afterthought, too little too late.
Christmas is sacred in the Perigord. A time for family, not a time for friends. And if you don’t have family? Well, here’s to hoping you live near a church, where you can attend a dinner entitled, “Repas pour des Isoles,” or “Meal for the isolated.” How appealing. Maybe I’ll go eat a meal at Restos des Coeurs, while I’m at it, which offers food to the homeless. It seems that I, a single foreigner without family in France, has only as much clout as this group.
I watched a preacher on Larry King Live today that said we need to stop playing the victim and feeling sorry for ourselves. He’s absolutely right. I’ve recently made a pact with myself that I’ll stop doing that, and that I’ll stop spending my time with those who do. We all have choices and we make them depending on the situations we are in at the time. If we can’t live with our choices, we always have the option of making another one. Self-pity-ers, martyrs and woe-is-me sufferers need not apply.
So on that note, this post is not an attempt to play the blame game or to cry about how bad I’ve got it. I have an amazing family back home in the States, my health, good friends (in times of distress, you really learn who you can count on) and a future that is sure to bring unexpected joys.
But after almost a year in the Perigord, this Christmas debacle is the final nail in the coffin, the last push out of here. I can’t wait to find a new home, where people reach out, sympathize and empathize, and aren’t only there for you when it’s convenient to them. Dordogne folks are satisfied with what they’ve got and won’t take any infringement on their current status. Change – not welcome. New friends, not necessary. Help, don’t ask for it.
Despite all this, I am smart enough to know that it’s not a French thing, it’s the little-known “Dordogne disease.” People coming to France always say they’ve disliked their trip because of a rough time in Paris. But I gaurantee, if the Dordogne were the capital of France, there would be no tourism or economic growth in this country whatsoever.
Luckily, I’ll always have Marseille, where I lived three years ago. Those sometimes crazy, always passionnate Meditteraneans showed me what true altruism is, what joys France can offer and how happiness is not what you take for yourself, but what you give to others.
This Christmas, I had a 100%, no holds barred meltdown. And for what? I, like many people around the world, got caught up in exactly what Christmas isn’t – thinking about myself. I will try not to let it happen again. But will you?