When I worked in the City on some vast dick-swinging corporate merger, surrounded by the patter of inflated egos sumoing into each other, one of the mantras spewed out when justifying one business cuckholding its shareholders by bed-hopping with another was ‘our cultures are complimentary’. Sometimes that was true; sometimes all that meant was ‘we fire different people at different times’.
Does that opening sound a touch cynical? Well, maybe I exaggerate for effect. When my law firm set out on a the path to merging with a behemoth of the German legal market, compatibility of cultures was at the heart of the merger. Before I might have sneered but when it was part of my business it became critical: the way we treated staff; how we chose new partners; when people retired; what sort of pension was there; how we viewed growth and expansion as well as what we did if downsizing. The negotiating teams on both sides flushed out all sorts of little issues that might have acted as grit in the Vaseline that helped our joint business run smoothly. Indeed they only thing they missed that caused post-merger angst were the names of our new partners and how they might come across, phonetically, to we Anglo Saxons but that is a story whose telling is lost on the page.
The point is hundreds of hours and acres of anxiety went into getting every little detail straight. There are experts who know how to point out the things every business should consider. Management treatises are written on the subject. It is an area that is well trod.
And in one’s personal relationships? I think we rely a little too much on standard memes. Boy meets girls (or boy meets boy, or girl meets girl or boy meets cute wolfhound… sorry, but you get the picture) and they are from a different country, religious persuasion, culture etc and warning bells might flash. But people can see them coming and prepare.
Oddly, because they are obvious, they’re the easy ones. When the Textiliste and I met and did the falling in love thingy, we were from similar backgrounds (well, she was from Norfolk but had avoided the extremes of NFN – Normal for Norfolk – so we were similar), basically the same educations etc. What culture clashes could there be?
We went from boyfriend-girlfriend to flat-sharers to married and only then did we hit the cultural clash buffer.
How to celebrate Christmas
Until we wed we did separate Christmases. Neither of our families are especially religious but, anyway, Christmas isn’t really religious for most I don’t think. Not here, in the UK, not back in the 1970s and 80s. But with its excess of bank holidays and the emphasis on family and present giving, it stands out as one time in the year when you cluster around the fireplace together, eat too much and bitch about something Auntie Joan said on V.E. day and for which she has never apologised (or was that just my family?)
Even when we wed, we had a quiet time, doing little, eating a lot and watching TV and videos and DVDs until work started again, often with a small sigh of relief.
And then children came. And then it began to fall apart.
You see the advent of children turns on the nostalgia tap big time. You are zipped back to those Christmas mornings when you burst in on your parents with ‘he’s been’ only to be shoo’ed out again with ‘your father isn’t feeling great just now’. You want to recreate for your own little seedpods that mix of remembered heady excitement and warm contented glow that you had, even if you are determined that, if Santa is to be left a drink it won’t be a schooner of cheap sherry that indubitably accounted for dad’s sensitive head back in the day.
It’s in the planning that you find that your own family’s moderate and measured Christmas morning
– stockings filled with small treats, followed by breakfast followed by everyone sitting by the tree and, one by one, opening their presents as your mother retrieved the wrapping paper, smoothed it down and put it in a box to be reused next year, before a family lunch, the Queen, a snooze and turkey sarnies to accompany silly games –
clashed completely with the unstructured mayhem of your beloved’s Christmas of memory
– a pillow case – yes, a pillow case, I ask you – stuffed full of wrapped gifts (wrapped from Santa?) left by the bed to be ripped open as soon as you awake, the paper carelessly shredded, and the rest of the day spent wondering when lunch will be and what might be worth watching on the TV
Which do you go with?
And there are other decisions to make.
Do you go for a late morning walk while Mum cooks the Christmas dinner? Are you allowed any Morning TV? Is champagne served at breakfast, and if so is it diluted with orange juice or the sherry mid morning (the Textiliste adopted breakfast champagne very quickly).
But one of the most difficult, and to me one of the most important given that it has a major superstitious resonance.
Do you just note the receipt of clothes as pressies or do you put them all one at the same time, every pair of socks, every tie and underwear and wear them until all the pressies are opened?
I mean, doesn’t everyone? If you don’t you’ll end up embarrassingly naked at some point in the year. This has been proven scientifically.
Christmas has been a minefield. It caused consternation and friction. Our otherwise solid marriage has been rocked by this (not as much, admittedly, as when, without her say-so, I bought debenture seats at Lord’s to make sure I could always go to the Test matches – ‘How much!!?’ I mean, you can’t put a value on something like that, can you?)
When one’s childhood is at stake, compromise isn’t easy.
We have fought our way to an accommodation. And developed our own new traditions. Now the Vet and the Lawyer have partners and will be experiencing other’s Christmases and they will try to be accommodating. But really, deep inside there lurks the seeds of discord. Because, frankly, if they have kids they’ll want the Christmas quiz, the charades, the compulsory showing of Love Actually and the mass wearing of clothes (yes, I won that).
It’ll be a nightmare. And very tiring. They have been warned.