I moved abroad for the first time in 2009. I came for work and there was a very clear end date at the end of my contract. It meant I’d cram in as much as I could in those 7 months abroad in terms of culture, language, and living the French life. But then, I’d abruptly have to pack up my things, thank France for the experience, and be on my way back to the USA. It was freeing, in a way, to know I had a set period of time to live life abroad. I was ready to take advantage of everything in front of me and took comfort in the fact that my time was 100% mine. My life abroad in France was to be short-lived and I was ready to soak up every minute.
And I did soak it up.
Then life took hold and my plans changed. It was time for round 2 of my life abroad in France. After marrying Tom, I officially moved back to France for the long haul. We’re not in a major city and we don’t live a sparkly, jet-setter lifestyle. Where we live is probably a lot like where you live in a lot of ways.
There comes a point when living abroad just becomes living. Life in France is life.
My time in France doesn’t have a defined end date. We bought a house. We work. We have a little dog. At some point over the years, living abroad became my new normal. It sneaks up on you in the quiet moments when you’re barely paying attention. You don’t realize you’ve adapted to the French way of life.
I speak the language. I do the everyday things that you do like running errands, hitting the gym, paying the bills. Sometimes we go on vacation, but my life has a regular rhythm and routine. I cling to that rhythm and routine, even more so when things get tough.
The first couple of years abroad, everything is shiny and new. You’re distracted, almost drunk off distraction. And sometimes quite literally, depending on how much of that French wine you drink. 😉
There are so many aspects of living in France that I’ll be forever grateful for. Beyond the wine, cheese, and healthcare afforded to all, I’m most grateful for the struggle and for France teaching me that I am stronger than I think. Language challenges, culture frustrations, life challenges… they come at you hard and fast. When the challenges feel overwhelming, you turn to your support system and hope they’ll help get you through.
I could have learned these lessons at home, but I don’t think they would’ve meant as much. When the backdrop is familiar and comfortable, how much can you really grow?When the backdrop is familiar and comfortable, how much can you really grow? #livingabroad #expatClick To Tweet
But then that “foreignness” becomes the norm. You lose sight of what’s different about life in France. The normal routine abroad becomes your normal routine. There’s nothing wrong with regular life. I guess what I’m trying to say is that living abroad isn’t a constant vacation. Everything isn’t better in France. It’s a real place. Things are different than what you’re used to but you get used to it all.
You adapt to France and not the other way around.
Any way you look at it, life abroad is real life. As time ticks on, you miss people. You miss things. You lose some along the way too. But you also gain so much.
I’m reminded of all the special things about living abroad when someone from home visits. In fact, my parents and aunt, uncle, and cousin just left earlier this week and we had a fabulous time in Provence. I love seeing France for the first time through their eyes, appreciating the newness all over again and reminding myself of what the early days were like.
Through them, everything becomes new to me again and my memories from years past come flooding back. Their comments and observations remind me of differences back home and the things I yearn for when I catch myself remembering my old life. It’s a good thing and I can’t help but smile thinking about them.
It’s incredible to watch as two worlds collide and people from home are treated to a glimpse of life in France. They notice the cultural differences right away since they’re hard to miss… the volets, the store hours, the way the desserts are packaged at the bakery, the bread drawer, the electric kettle….
Their visits help me remember what dazzled me and what frustrated me back when I first arrived. What made me scratch my head and what made me smile.
I catch myself explaining why seemingly annoying things about France are the way they are, almost in its defense. Life is different here.
They take in the French energy and vibe around them and it’s such a treat to be able to see them acclimating to the place I call home. Because that’s what France is to me now. It’s home.
Home is comfortable. Normal. Fun. Routine. A place to escape from and a place to escape to.
France has become real life for me a little over time. So yes, I live abroad in France, but these days, I change the phrasing. “I live in France,” I tell people. It’s my home. At some point, living abroad dissolves into just living. And France is a wonderful place to do it.
Taste of France says
Great post. I think it’s when you understand why a place operates the way it does that you can get into the flow of local life. Then you get culture shock when you go back “home.”
Thanks so much for reading, as always! Every time I go back to the USA now, more and more things surprise me. It’s so true.
Cynthia Greer says
Beautiful, Diane ! As a first generation American I can relate strongly with this post. You never do forget your birth country. All the little things that mean so much. I remember this with my own parents when traveling as a small child. Also the little touches in our home brought from overseas, the food, traditions and language. I agree with you ! The lessons wouldn’t have been the same. I am happy that you have adjusted into a routine that is a part of you ! I wish you all the best in the coming years. Also congratulations on the success of your blog and YouTube channel as well ! Best wishes from California ! Love ! Love ! Love !
Lovely post, and so true! Being in the military and moving 10 times in 20 years, all your insights are experienced in a compact amount of time. Or it doesn’t. It occurs when you love that new assignment… and is a constant struggle when you don’t like the new destination. I’ve been blessed and loved – and gotten attached to – all our bases. Thank you for your insight!
Juliette Giannesini says
I’m at that stage too (been in Canada since 2002… half of my life!). Life in Canada is definitely “normal life”, however I still find that our multicultural background (“our” as in us, newcomers) allows us to have a unique view on several cultures and occasionally choose what we want to be, what we want to adopt and what we’d rather skip. This is where it gets interesting and possibly complicated 😆
So much of this post was “my” life. And yet I am also the American ambassador in my village which is a wonderful reminder of why I am here: to clarify what is good about the US in person. So much in the media is anti-American here now.
bonnie groves poppe says
I’ve been here ten years, and yes, living here is just living. I don’t think about living in Provence vs. living somewhere else, although I often marvel at the sight of Mont Ventoux and the Dentailles de Montmirail when driving into nearby Carpentras. What I miss about the US is the efficiency of so many things, a fast and reliable internet, not having to remember which stores or businesses are open (or closed) from 12-2, reliably clean toilets in stores and restaurants, and the great choice of quality merchandise. On the other hand, when something uniquely French really annoys me, I remind myself that I’m living here with a great lifestyle on a beautiful property, all of which would not be possible in the US, and I think …. So what if the internet just went out again ……
bonnie in provence
Laura Wilson says
You asked on the email if anyone had taken anti malaria pills. My family and I have when we went to Africa and none of us had any side effects.
Richard Paolucci says
Nice article Diane. You seem to enjoy living in France. I loved reading your article because someday I would like to live abroad also. I know some languages and living abroad would be interesting. Nice pictures and interesting insights about living in a foreign country and culture. Merci beaucoup for sharing this article.
James Smits says
Thanks so much for a post! It’s so true.