A daily bulletin of news & opinion

26 October 2012

For the long-haul expat, the holiday season is not as relaxing as one would hope.

There’s a potentially very stressful choice at hand: stick to your adopted city and miss out on family festivities or bear the Christmas time cost of an intercontinental flight.

Now, in late October, if you haven’t made your choice it’s nearly too late. Finding that direct flight to Vancouver is only going to get more difficult, and more expensive – and for a 10-hour flight, you want to have your choice of airline.

After four years in London, I’ve only opted for a Christmas here once. Conclusively, it’s something to be avoided.

As you approach 25 December, the generally frenetic streets of central London grind to a near full stop. At first, the change of pace seems charming. For a moment, you pretend you’re in some quaint countryside town – there are more smiles, you take the time to chat to the shopkeeper and there’s nothing to do at the weekend but relax. The mirage quickly fades, however, after still needing to spend the better part of an hour to cross the city to get to Christmas dinner.

So for me the holidays will remain a time to fill the annual family-time quota and head back to the homeland – in my case, Canada. And the cost I’ll bear isn’t only that of a peak-travel plane ticket.

Expect to be the son or brother “returning from abroad” and expect to include in your carry-on a cornucopia of gifts that represent your temporary address across the ocean.

There’s only so many times you can get away with buying your aunt tea from Fortnum & Mason, and Miroslav Sasek has only published one version of This is London. Once your niece has that there’s no chance to repeat.

To mix it up, I’ve started to look further afield. Glühwein from Germany went down well, the Finnish straw goat – less so.

Though the pan-European gift hunt may be more fun and a good excuse for a bit of retail exploration during otherwise stacked work trips across the Channel, I doubt non-expats feel the same pressure during Saturday strolls down the commercial streets of their hometown.

So I find it quite easy to sneer enviously at those whose trek back home involves a zippy car or train journey – though at Monocle they are a relatively rare breed. But, there is at least one distinct advantage to being in distant lands.

With a 24-hour radio station on the go, there will be at least some of us at Midori House every day throughout the holidays. And no better excuse to whisk yourself away for a week or more and get your name off the top of the emergency contact list, than counting out loud the number of time zones you skip over to get home for the holidays.

I supposed you get what you pay for.


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