"You’ve got a little accent," the shopkeeper said. "Where does that come from? American?"
No. I shake my head, getting ready for the inevitable exchange that comes next. "I’m Australian."
"Australian! Oh my goodness! But what in the world are you doing here? "
I flash my biggest smile and give my standard reply with the practised laugh. "That, Madame, is the question I ask myself every day."
Watch: Things Aussie never say at Christmas. Post continues below.
And then I give her a snippet of the backstory. The French husband. The moving around the globe for work. Ending up here three years ago. Is it forever? We don’t know. Yes, the people are lovely. Yes, we are very happy.
And it’s all true. It is lovely here - picturesque in the way Australians would imagine a countryside Belgian village to be, especially at Christmas time, with decorative lights everywhere, frost in the woods when I go running as the red sun comes up at 9am. The smell of woodsmoke in the air.
But then she asks the next question. The one which I can handle most days, but right now, at this time - I cannot.
"Don’t you miss it? "
I haven’t seen my family for 18 months. And probably won’t for at least another six. We didn’t go ‘home’ to Australia for Christmas last year, or the year before - this was the year for the big trip across the globe. I should be on a Flying Kangaroo now, listening to I Still Call Australia Home as we circle to land into Sydney, tears pricking my eyes as they always do when I catch sight of the only place I really call ‘Home’.
How do I tell this stranger that I could never call what I feel something as banal as “missing it?” That being away from my home, even though I left it 20 years ago, is a daily suffering, a hole. It’s like an absent limb, still a part of me but not actually there. Who I once was. Who I could have been.
How close I would still be to my friends, to my cousins and their families. Who my children would have been if they had grown up going to Nippers on the weekend and helping shear sheep in school holidays, instead of spending their childhood first in the concrete jungle of Singapore, then in the dusty pollution of Jakarta, and now here, so far away from family. I try to never think of it.