An abridged version of the post below originally appeared on my Instagram feed. It got a positive response so I am republishing a longer version here.
I enjoy living in France. The truth is, though, if I weren’t married to a French guy, I wouldn’t be living here in the long term. I had my first living abroad experience back in 2009-2010 when I first came to France alone for a 7-month teaching contract. I went back to the USA after getting a taste of life in France and that was enough to scratch the itch. I came, I learned, I lived.
I was satisfied.
Then a couple of years later, after getting married, Tom and I made the decision together to live in France for a bit. Eight years in, we’re still here and we’ve never regretted it. Yes, there have been a lot of hard days when I’ve doubted myself and my choices. Sometimes the bad days have to do with France, but most of the time France is just the backdrop that adds a layer of stress to life problems that could happen anywhere.
For so many reasons, moving to France has been one of the best choices of my life although it’s not without its challenges. There are so many pluses about life in France to balance it out — affordable healthcare and vet care, work/life balance, the food and wine scene, etc. We adapt the best we can while keeping our eyes open to what’s happening around us. I even catch myself acting a little French in my mannerisms and attitude. It makes me smile.
Yet I stubbornly cling to silly little things that remind me who I am, like keeping my phone in English and the temperatures in Fahrenheit, as if changing them over would surrender a piece of me that I’m desperate to hold onto… something familiar. Something mine.
Without a native partner in crime to share the ups and downs with, I don’t think I’d be able to deal. Support is everything. Life abroad is not a permanent vacation. I say that loud and often because it’s the truth. I want you to know that it’s OK to be having a hard time and it’s OK to talk about the less-than-ideal aspects of making a major life change and choosing to live in a place that’ll never truly feel like home.
We idealize life somewhere else and it goes both ways. People who want to live abroad think life in France is a dream come true and a 24/7 vacation where life is perfect. People who live abroad think about how so many things would be easier back home. On our worst days, we yearn for everything comfortable and easy…. unable to see in that moment that nowhere is perfect.
Life is always a trade-off. We can’t be everywhere at once. We can’t have it all. Doesn’t life have a funny way of getting more complicated the older we get? I sometimes think maybe if I’d never moved abroad that I’d have a closer relationship with my brother and his family, including my nephew who I didn’t even meet face to face until he was a year old. I’d see old friends more. Certain relationships wouldn’t have dissolved. I’d do this and that. But we do the best we can and settle for short visits and calls via a screen. That has to be enough.
I remind myself that I lived in the USA for years and didn’t always pick up the phone or see people in person. We think we’d be better versions of ourselves if we had never left. It’s easier to tell ourselves that. Maybe we would be better people, but sometimes we just want a neat little box in our minds where only black and white exist… no shades of gray.
But what I’ve learned is that life abroad is all about the gray. It’s not cut and dry. It’s not easy or hard. It’s not something I can easily classify with binaries. It’s life. And it’s mine… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Living in France has come with so much personal growth and that’s one of the things I’ll cherish the most. It’s forced me to examine my home country and culture through a different lens. It’s made me reconsider how I think and act. It pushes me well outside of my comfort zone…. still, at 8 years in. It’s taught me a new language (that I’ll be forever learning). It’s given me some amazing opportunities. And most of all, it’s allowed me to connect with people like you…. sharing my experience and hearing yours.
Thank you for being here.
Niculina McClanahan says
And thank you for being where and who you are! By the way, how are you guys coping with this corona virus situation? I hope you are well and stay physically distanced from other people.
I think I mentioned in another comment to a different post that my biggest fear that I had at some point after moving abroad was losing my identity. I believe that’s the reason you’re still clinging to your little things that remind you of who you once were.However,in my case I realized that although I was losing my identity, at the same time I was gaining a new one. I got this insight that I was morphing into a hybrid of two cultures and rather than desperately trying to get attached to one, I should just embrace and work on my new identity. That change in my attitude actually liberated me. I didn’t feel trapped anymore. I started to look at myself like a truly unique person and I would pick and choose what I wanted to incorporate in my identity from both cultures. To this day, I don’t blindly adhere to all that is American just because it’s American and I don’t cling to anything Romanian just because it’s Romanian. I am a person of my own as silly as that my sound.
Another thing I wanted to tell you is that also back in those days I thought that I will never feel truly at home in California, where I currently live. But that has changed as well. Now I do feel at home here, I am comfortable living here. I still have my accent and make pronunciation blunders, but I feel like I belong here. So there is hope for you too in France. Just give it some time.
So agree Diane that life isn’t black and white. I am from the UK and have still kept my phone as I can’t go through giving out a new number to all my contacts. I think a lot of foreigners hold a romantic view about France as they think Paris is France and life is just one long wine laden lunch…But living here can be just as mundane sometimes as anywhere else. I admire people who buy houses and move hete to live but have never previously visited France and can’t speak any French. Chaque a son gout
100% to all of the above and especially this bit – “Sometimes the bad days have to do with France, but most of the time France is just the backdrop that adds a layer of stress to life problems that could happen anywhere.” Thank you for keeping it real!
Mark Bramhall says
I retired at 70 and then was offered a job in a French startup, so i unretired and now live in the Marais (4th). I am living alone as my wife is in MA due to being passionate about raising dogs. Cannot bring 13 dogs to Paris! One of us crosses the Atlantic every six weeks or so. Work is in English, but with a native-born colleague. I shifted to KM and C before i left for Paris. It is now how I measure and feel things. Of course, right now, things are different. I am back in MA to be with her in these difficult times. Walking to my apartment from the office (20 minutes), I often look around and say “What am I doing here?” But it is always in a good sense. I feel I am lucky. I live a simple life. I try to improve my French. My advice: If you have an opportunity, take it and live it to the fullest.
carolyn byrne says
Oh what a time I’ve had in France! I’ve been here permanently since 2007 but came in 2002 and bought my first little house. Then bought a larger house when I knew I would be here till the end of my days…that was at age 60. Came on my own and shipped over my 2 American cats and later added a petite French miss named Boubou. I have loved living here…for the scenery, for the ambiance, for the people…who, even though my French is halting, always indulge me. The bad has been the destruction of my second house by fire 10 years ago 4 months after a 2 year renovation was ended…there ensued a 2 year terrible time with the assurance, then not receiving the full amount, forced me to re renovate, then sell at a loss…I’ve been in the same small apt for 10 years and will now have to move because my proprietaires are selling. Two months ago, I had a terrible car accident…not my fault,,causing injuries and a demolished car and once again, I wait for the assurance . Hope springs eternal that I will be given what I deserve this time.. So, a new chapter of my life will now open. I don’t know where I’ll go…stay here or move to the Med or the Atlantic …and now at 75 , while it is a more daunting, I still feel that twinge of excitement at a new life. But it will most definitely be in France. I’ll never really be French but I will always be a French friend.
Aussie Jo says
Living abroad is not for me
And that’s totally ok!
Girlllll! You are speaking the truth! I have the same problems and challenges living in Penang that I would have had in Chicago. The backdrop has changed, I have changed, but the daily BS of life (and the bigger BS of life) remains the same. In some ways, I thought (or hoped) I would leave Chicago and all of my problems there would evaporate. That couldn’t be further from the truth. They are just farther away and more challenging to deal with.
I am sooooo happy we moved to Malaysia. I’ve grown and learned so much about myself, my family, and life in general. I wouldn’t change a thing about it – and I have no intention of going back.
Thanks for sharing!
Diane, I loved your IG post and love this longer version even more. Even though I’m usually the one dishing out the truth (of MY experience abroad), the way you describe your truth really touches me. Especially the part about idealizing the life that you didn’t choose…”unable to see in that moment that nowhere is perfect.” Thank you for this profoundly beautiful and raw post!