The Expat Life

The expat life seems to conjure up images of tropical beaches, long lazy days of perfecting the art of idleness, open air markets where one can easily chat with the locals, and the ability to take off for a few days at a moment’s notice. In reality, being an expat brings many challenges. It’s an odd position to be in; you’re not a visitor, but not a citizen either. We were reminded of this fact the other day at the market when someone handed us a political flyer for the upcoming election, in which we cannot vote.

As an expat, you need to learn the culture, language and customs, so it feels a little different from being a tourist. At home, in the US, we know how everything works. Daily activities like getting groceries, gas, interacting with neighbors, talking with a postal employee and other service people who come into the neighborhood are common, everyday occurrences, ones that we all know how to handle. But as an expat, when someone comes to the door, you’re immediately aware of the potential language barrier. Or, when someone backs into your car, and in the stress of the situation you’re faced with rapid-fire French; it’s challenging! Help is available through organizations like Renestance, for some of the more challenging tasks, like buying a car; but for the day to day stuff, we’re mostly on our own.

Making the decision to move to Europe was not an easy one. We have a daughter and theTravelsketcher has two sons from a previous marriage; he also has grandchildren. In addition, we have siblings, nieces, a nephew, and dear friends who all live in the US. We discussed our move here at length with those closest to us and they all gave their stamp of approval. Our daughter is one of our biggest supporters in our decision to move to France. If she had any reservations, we would have stayed in the US. But quite the contrary, she encouraged us to follow our dream. During COVID, when moving to France seemed unobtainable, we considered traveling through the US, or moving to Oregon for retirement; but she encouraged us not to give up on our dream.

As they say, hindsight is 20/20; and there are certainly things I would do differently. Here are a few thoughts.

What would I do differently?

1. I wish I had a better command of French. I can speak it fairly well; but my understanding of the language is more limited than I would like. When I ask a question, I often don’t understand the rapid-fire response I receive. I find myself frequently asking “Pouvez-vous parler plus lentement, s’il vous plâit? Can you speak slower please. I’m studying French everyday, listening to French radio and TV, to increase my listening skills, but it’s difficult.

2. I would have brought less stuff. We shipped three boxes, and each brought two suitcases. On our next trip back to the states, I’ll take a lot of that stuff back home. Yes, they have stores here and you can get anything you need. And Amazon even delivers to our little corner of Normandie! What was I thinking??

3. We know many people who have lived the expat life – friends and some family members. I wish I would have taken the time to talk with them about their experiences before we moved.

What wouldn’t I change?

1. Where we live. I am glad that we found a community of English speaking people to start out in. Eventually, we’ll move to an area where we have French neighbors; but for now, it’s good to be here as we learn more about life in France.

2. We are very glad we brought our cat, Neville. He has a pretty amazing story of how he found us and picked us as his pets, which I will share someday. But since he found us, twice, there was no way we could have left him behind.

3. Choosing France as our country of residence. The French are warm, friendly and helpful people. Yes, we have had some challenges since arriving, we expected that. In addition, there have been several times when we seriously questioned our decision to move here, but overall we are settling in and enjoying life in France.

And who could resist living in such a beautiful area?

Neville – Il est très content!

I do miss family, friends, and missing out on birthdays and special events; like the birth of a baby boy to my dear niece and her husband; just yesterday! But we’ll go back to the US periodically to visit, and it will be fun to have people visit us here. So overall, I’m all in on being an expat in France. La vie est belle!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:

Some Random Thoughts About COVID-19 and Sheltering in Place

A Milestone Birthday

Our homes are not described by geography or one particular location, but by memories, events, people, and places that span the globe. Marilyn Gardner

Wishing you grand adventures,


P.S. You can follow Neville’s adventures on Instagram at: nevilleofnormandie.

25 thoughts on “The Expat Life

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  1. It´s really not that easy. When I came as an expat here in Germany I knew I would be starting from zero. My daughter was only 1,5 years old and I had zero German in my vocabulary. It was hard, and challenging.Culture is also real and the struggle to do normal daily things becomes like big hurdles in my life. A simple task of ging to grocery shops, doctor´s appointment and looking for Kindergarten required a lot of guts…but then things got better through the years.
    I would definitely recommend to learn the local language, that´s what I´ve did. German was really tough and I am not yet an expert on it but it pays off little by little.
    My daughter even speaks German much much better than I do and yes, in the end, I would still say that expat life is not always glamorous or so…its a life that we choose to embrace.
    I hope you have better days in your new world..Goodluck!
    Best regards from Germany.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughts and comments! It sounds like you have lived a long time in Germany, and it’s terrific that your daughter is becoming multi-lingual. We’re slowly picking up more of the French we hear; it just takes practice, patience and time. Bonne journee!


  2. I agree, we made the right decision, and love it here. Thanks for mentioning the challenges, I am often reluctant to bring them up because people think I am complaining or discouraged, neither are true. AND, your French is better than you give yourself credit for, I rely on you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautifully and personally written. Thanks for sharing your thoughts,–both the joys and concerns.I loved the Nariltn Gardner quite–so well stated. Another quote, this time from my mother still ringing in my ears all these years later. She was an Australian war bride and moved to the other side of the world & kept moving with my ministry dad. She would always say—in regard to any challenge: “If it were easy, anybody could do it.” Well, you and the Travel Sketchier are not just “anybody.” You are on your grand adventure and all the ups and downs and sideways that entails. They sre part of your grand story. Kudos to your daughter for knowing and encouraging that! Your a French will ferl more neutral every single day! It’s all good!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hate to use the space to repost but my life challenge is to remember to proofread. So in reference to the post above: I typed MILITARY dad, not ministerial. And I said your French will become more NATURAL, not neutral! Sigh!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Shirley; you are so encouraging! I knew what you meant. 😊 And coming from someone like you who has lived all over the world; I know you can relate. I think once I am better at understanding what is said, I’ll feel better. I hope you and JJ are well; miss you both!


  5. Looking at your beautiful pictures, you definitely chosen the right location in France! There are pros and cons to everything in life and it’s good to “re-visit” these from time to time.
    I think the most difficult aspect of moving to another country, must be the fact that you will be separated from your loved ones … but just think the parties you’ll have when you visit the USA and the amazing time when they visit you in France! And bravo to you for learning to speak French 🌸.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Enjoyed and related to much of the insight you’ve given about expat life. I have lived long term in Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands and China (among others) and in all cases it was the language that was the biggest challenge. The culture goes hand in hand with that too, the better your language skills get the more in tune you’ll be culturally. Wishing you the best of luck moving forward. By the way, how is Neville’s French progressing?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have quite a lot of experience with being an expat; thanks for sharing your thoughts. We have found several podcasts that help with listening skills. Hopefully, we’ll see some improvement soon! Neville is doing well and seems very happy here; thanks for checking!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I can totally relate with your feelings, we have 18 years now since we moved to Canada, and my hubby dream was to retire in Provence😊 But not so sure LOL It’s never an easy decision to move to another country.
    Best of luck, and enjoy the beautiful scenery!!
    Christie, xx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. And the bread and pastries! Don’t forget the bread and pastries! I would move to France for those alone. Also, I have the exact same problem when I visit France: I speak (or maybe “spoke” – it’s been a while) it well enough to get most basic meanings across, but could never understand the responses! I look forward to one day hearing about how Neville adopted you.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Such beautiful pictures! You were brave to attempt a move now at what we hope is the tail-end of the pandemic, but I am glad you haven’t regretted it. Learning the language will come, I’m sure, as most people say that actually living in a foreign country is the best way. Neville is a cutie! I look forward to that story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. There have beea few times when I thought we were completely crazy to move here, but all in all, we’re glad we’re here. We’ll eventually move back to the PNW, after we’ve seen more of France and other countries in Europe.

      Liked by 1 person

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