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?
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!
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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.