It’s been more than a year. It feels like much more.
Moving to a foreign country is hard. There are the expected hurdles and adjustments. Then there’s reality, all the things that were impossible to anticipate no matter how much you thought things through.
If you’re going to do it, you must be someone who gets a thrill from daily opportunities to explore, discover and learn, and who has the resilience to deal with the incessant bureaucratic tick boxes and murky rules of life as a foreigner.
You must be someone who takes the initiative on reaping the benefits of new territory, who gets a jolt from the daily challenges on the “who moved my cheese” level, who can overcome cultural impediments to doing things the same old way.
Speaking the language really makes a difference. All those people waving away the language barrier with “everyone speaks English” and “there’s always Google Translate” are missing a lot. So much that they might end up paying more in local taxes than they need to, or can’t figure out why their visa extension hasn’t appeared on time, or are oblivious to the need for a French Last Will and Testament. Let alone explaining what you need at the pharmacy, post office and police station in an emergency. There’s always something that needs explaining, and understanding, because life is just life.
You have to learn to make light of appalling customer service. Really, it’s astounding. Would it surprise you to learn that our bank, Credit Lyonnais, a major French bank, would up and close a branch with no notice whatsoever, leaving customers to figure out which is the closest other branch? How about the dreaded DHL France, where they decide they don’t have to deliver the package to your home after all? Nor do they let you know where to pick it up? How about the seaside café that left its doors open past the time when it was warm, and when you mention you’re getting cold are gruffly told by the waiter “There’s nothing I can do.” Hey, at least I didn’t have to bribe anyone to get that package, once we found where it was.
Europeans smoke. A lot. Anywhere they can get away with it. It’s common to see bus passengers stick the cigarette between their lips as prepare to exit, the lighter poised at the tip, finger on the switch, desperately taking the first big gulps of toxins before their feet hit the pavement.
In Nice, drivers hold up traffic to nab a prized parking spot, leave their car in the road to “run inside for just a moment” or stop to roll down their windows and get an update from a neighbor. Honk, honk, honk. Other drivers never hesitate to lean on their horns.
French dog owners generally don’t pick up dog poop, and every other person has at least one dog. There aren’t enough trash bins for all the people throwing away stuff. The recycling centers aren’t emptied regularly. You get the picture.
Coming from Oregon, I find the beer is really bad.
In short, there’s a lot to deal with and get used to. Every day is stretched with adventures and misadventures. Time lasts longer.
Of course, we think it’s all worth it. We love the many advantages of being in France, beyond the fact that it’s a beautiful country with a rich cultural history. We’ve met lovely people. Since we walk everywhere, we’re probably more fit (although, that might be offset by the wine). The health care is great. The pace is much more relaxed and humane than in the US. Before we know it, another year will be over, and then another and then another. We plan to stay.
great post..I sent to many of my friends…..thank you for writing them!
Very thoughtful post. My husband (Bill Baars former LO library director) and I enjoyed reading it very much this morning. We are currently in Lacoste in the Vaucluse for a two month stint. If you find yourselves over this way contact us and perhaps we could share un verre.
Bonne continuation and bon courage,
I wish we could, Jane. Sadly, my husband’s wallet was pickpocketed along with his driver’s license and we cannot rent a car at the moment.
Really enjoyed this piece!
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Love the way you turned around that story, Kathleen. Tom shared your stunning image with me; it IS that! Not to worry about Bresson; I drive Tom crazy by telling him that Bresson wasn’t stuck on sharpness, only the beauty of imagery, the precise moment delivered. LOL
HAPPY THANKSGIVING to you and David.
Love and hugs to you both,
Thanks, Jim. I always think I’ve seen all the really great Cartier-Bressons, and then here comes another one that leaves me gaping at it on end.
I love all your postings, but this one in particular resonated with me. Beautifully written and particularly thoughtful. Sorry about the wallet!
Why did this one resonate so much?
Seems his work affirms his treatise on “the decisive moment.” It’s all about being in the right place at the right time, in the fullness of awareness. And you are really good at that already. As I said to a dear friend who finally allowed herself to write a book, “Ah, i see you finally got out of your own way.” To which she responded, “Exacctly! and how easy it became when I did.” You already have all talent, abilities and skills, now just let it be–and you, as well. GREAT GOING!
I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s all true. My French friends here for a year teaching at the French American Intl School were shocked to the core when at Les Schwab they fixed the nail in the tire hole, put it back on and didn’t charge. In France, they told me, you get your repaired tire back that you have to put back on yourself. Yep, that’s customer service à la française.
There are some companies here that do customer service well. Orange (telecom) is apparently quite good, for example. I have heard Amazon.fr has excellent service.
That anti-customer-service attitude must go back to the French Revolution, I bet, when the French people made the decision that they were finished lowering themselves to serve the whims of the aristocracy, or of anyone who considers themselves a cut above. That real equality means just that. Equality. Here’s the tire, thank you very much. I’ll leave YOU to put it on.
That’s my theory too, Diane!