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Monday, November 8th, 2010

The Expat’s Dilemma

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Eight days before Halloween, on a misty Saturday afternoon, I had what the French call “un grand moment de solitude.” I was in a nearly-deserted park, one designed on a truly grandiose scale. Matthew, age four, was standing next to me, dressed in a raincoat and boots, with a king’s cape. A golden crown was on his head and a foam sword was tucked into his improvised kingly belt made out of a playsilk that had been languishing, unused, for years in his toy box. Aside from us and a few stalwart joggers, the park was empty except for the ducks and the lone swan swimming in the grand canal. In my hands, I had a blue plastic bucket and a bag brimming with candy.

“Mom, where are the other kids?” Matthew asked anxiously.

“Well, sweetie, I think a lot of people decided not to come because of the rain. But your friend C will be here in a few minutes, and remember A? She and her mom are on their way.”

We were standing in the mist in the nearly deserted park on a Saturday afternoon because I was determined to make sure my son got to go trick-or-treating.

He’s only had one American Halloween, when he was two. It was great. It started a week early at the local zoo, which had a huge event for all the kids. We went to Target, bought an adorable dragon costume, he had his little pumpkin-shaped bag with his name embroidered on the side. On Halloween evening, he and his playgroup buddies trooped around the neighborhood, collecting enough candy to keep them in sugar through their third birthdays. Afterwards, there was a party at his cousin’s house. It was easy, joyful, fun.

When you live outside your culture, the “easy, joyful, fun” celebrations take on a whole new level of meaning. They become Important. They are no longer a fun way to pass an evening, but part of a culture, part of your culture, that you are determined to pass on and share with your children. To that end, you will spend a Saturday afternoon in the rain. You will help the other adults organize the trick-or-treating, which won’t be from door-to-door, but from tree-to-tree. When the children reach you, you will say, “What do you say?” and the polite children will all chime together, “PLEEEEEASE” and you realize they don’t know that they’re supposed to say, “Trick or treat!” It will make you sad, while you laugh at the totally predictable mistake.

Fall, which was never a season that held much particular meaning for me, has become a charged time. There’s the hurdle of Halloween, followed by the challenge of Thanksgiving. Then, the mother of all anxiety-producing holidays: Christmas. Will you have family to celebrate with? Will you be alone? Can you manage all the trimmings of what you consider to be a true Christmas–the tree, the lights, the decorations, the big delicious meal, the gifts? The existential dilemma: if Christmas happens with no extended family, is it still Christmas?

When the leaves start to change colors my sense of solitude increases.

In the end, our improvised Halloween in the park was a hit. The mist cleared. A few other families braved the damp. The kids ran from tree to tree, a ragged band in their rainboots and improvised costumes, clutching plastic bags. The bucket, meant for bobbing for apples, wasn’t used–the kids were wet enough as it was. Matthew came home with plenty of candy. And he learned that on Halloween, you don’t say have to say “please.”

© 2010 – 2013, Mary Hackett. All rights reserved.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Mary Hackett was born and raised on the Texas/Mexico border. She moved to France in 2000 after graduating from the University of Chicago, and aside from a year back in the US has lived there ever since with her Franco-Lebanese husband and their two sons. They are raising their kids trilingually in English, French and Arabic.

Leave us a comment!

2 Comments
  1. CommentsKeith   |  Friday, 19 November 2010 at 10:32 am

    A lovely post and it calls to mind the strange things I brought back with me one year for a Thanksgiving feast: cranberry sauce in a can, those package crunchy onions, cream of mushroom soup… Small, strange, inexpensive things endowed with a fetishistic meaning; things we’d never ever consider eating at any other time of year.

  2. CommentsJill   |  Monday, 03 January 2011 at 11:53 pm

    such a thoughtful post Mary. The urgency with which I feel the need to celebrate Halloween makes me stock our cupboards with candy in a way that I never would’ve had we been living back in the states.









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