Reflecting on 5 years in France

Written by Diane on. Posted in France, on life in France

reflecting on 5 years in france as an expatsmaller

Time is a magical thing. Sometimes it feels like life is creeping by at a snail’s pace and other times it whizzes by and you can barely catch your breath. Time can help to put things in perspective, mark different periods of our lives, and maybe best of all it allows us to heal, grow and reflect. This past winter marked 5 years in France, and wow, I can’t it’s been half a decade already.

Truth be told, this post has been in my drafts folder for months. I kept starting it and then deleting what I’d written not sure what I should say or how I should say it. It’s difficult to condense 5 years of your life into a blog post and to accurately convey what the experience has been like. Anyway, I’m going to try.

It’s a long one clocking in at over 3,500 words, so pour yourself a beverage and settle in, OK?

Enjoy. Maybe you can relate.

Reflecting on 5 years in France

The 2016 Christmas season marked 5 years since I packed up my life in the USA and made France my home after marrying a Frenchman (if you’re new here, read more about my backstory here). I didn’t move for work or school. I wasn’t fluent in French. And I didn’t know anyone beyond my husband and his family. Shortly after arriving, we added Dagny to our little family (had been waiting to get a dog for years but life was too fast in NYC to allow for it) and I felt complete.

Saying I was scared to make the move would’ve been an understatement, but I focused on the prize. I kept my head up, carefully researched, saved money and planned and then worked through the challenges that arose. Five years later, I’m still here… happy, hopeful and looking forward to whatever comes my way.

diane and dagny

So where to begin, where to begin…

I have no regrets.

I’m more thankful than ever for where my life has taken me..

I’ve always been a self-aware person and I have never taken for granted the positives that come with living abroad. It sounds all sentimental, but I’m thankful for my husband and the support of my family and friends. Flip on the news and there are horrible situations everywhere we look, so the fact that I have a loving support system, food to eat, and a roof over my head is a privilege that I’m well aware of and is nothing to take lightly.

Living abroad, seeing more, and getting older and wiser has made me less judgy. I see shades of gray in life situations much more easily now. Things aren’t so cut and dry and I take a very human approach to most things. I feel like I understand people and their plights better than I did 5 years ago.

Even if I don’t agree with your point of view or your life choices, I can understand why you believe what you do, why you’ve acted the way you have, and how you got there. I don’t know if living abroad has contributed to how I see the world or if this shift is just part of maturing, keeping an open mind, and seeing and experiencing more. I have to think it’s a little bit of everything.

Something else I’ve learned is that people who belong in your life will stay there regardless, and no move, job change, baby, relationship, health crisis, etc. will change that. The people who are in your inner circle love you for you. Sometimes a major life change — either yours or theirs — will test the relationship and show you who really is in your corner. I guess it’s better to know late than never.

Maybe most importantly to me is that I’m still the same old American I always was. My humor is still a tad inappropriate and I still find stupid things funny. America still feels like home. It’s comfortable and familiar. With every trip back, I take comfort in the fact that my home still feels like a home and I’m welcomed by family and friends with open arms. I’ve had little culture shock moments here and there, but at my core, I am, and always will be, an American.

Now I’m going to get all specific on you. Let’s take a look at some aspects of my life in France and how things were then, when I first arrived, and now, 5 years later.

The weather

The weather here is similar to what I experienced back in New York City. The summers would be warm with one or two really hot weeks in the 90s the rest of the seasons are close enough to what I was used to. With 2 exceptions — no a/c and no “real” winter. If you been reading here awhile, you know that winter is my favorite season and I love snow.

THEN: The only time I saw snow here was when Mother Nature gave me a welcome gift of sorts and dumped a whopping 2 inches of snow on the area in January or February of 2012.

NOW: Since then, I think we’ve had one or two dustings that melted by noon but no snowstorms. I rely on Facetime with friends and YouTube for my snow fix. Speaking of snow, one of my super-sweet readers — Lori in New Jersey — made me this little snowman on her deck that just melted my heart. SO thoughtful. She made my day, THANK YOU!snowman from lori

Style

THEN: When I first arrived, I felt like I had to prove something. To who? No idea. I was under the impression that all French women were fashion mavens and that as a foreigner I had to put on makeup every day and dress up to fit in. I think I was scared that if I was “me” that people wouldn’t accept me or like me. Then I opened my eyes and saw that out here in small-town France in the Maine-et-Loire, no one really cares what you’re wearing and high fashion and 4-inch heels aren’t necessary. The media has gotten it wrong! I let my guard down and was much happier that way.

NOW: These days, comfort is the name of the game and I have no problem putting on my North Face windbreaker to walk the dog in sneakers. I’m not the only one. I’d much rather wear flat boots or fashionable sneakers over heels any day, and from what I’ve observed, many French women agree. I guess I dress for myself and that’s good enough for me. Note: I do notice that older folks, like 70+, do tend to dress up more for everyday things.

French language skills

THEN: Back in the early years, my level of French was very much intermediate. I didn’t study French in college (genius here thought Irish, as in Gaelic, was a good idea) and only started taking classes once a week at the Alliance Francaise a few years after college. The hardest part for me was comprehension. Understanding what people were saying to me in real time stressed me out because the sounds just didn’t make sense. I’d understand half of the sentence but not the important part. Context helped, but random questions had me shaking in my (flat) boots. And this continued for a long time.

NOW: These days, I’m kind of at peace with my level of French and have given myself grace to just be. I’d say I plateaued about 3-4 years in and haven’t really improved a ton since. Sometimes I’m still not comfortable, but overall, I’m confident and proud of how far I’ve come. I’m not a French expert and I don’t speak French perfectly. I still mess up le/la occasionally. My grammar isn’t always correct. I’m advanced but not perfect and that’s fine by me.

To an outsider, I’d probably appear fluent, but I’m well aware that there’s still a lot I don’t know. I’m also my worst critic. I was that asshole in high school who told everyone after a hard math test that I totally bombed and definitely got an F. Then I’d get my paper back with a 95. French is kind of like that. My inner voice tells me I suck but I know I don’t. Far from it.

At this point I’d say I’m good enough to speak to anyone with confidence. If I wanted to really master the language, the truth is that it would require some significant effort, like writing exercises and reviewing grammar. My daily life just doesn’t require mastery so I don’t practice writing and reading. Comprehension/speaking are my strongest suits.

Some days I get mad at myself and think, “You’ve been here 5 years! You should speak perfectly at this point, you dummie!” I beat myself up and stress myself out because I don’t speak/write/read French flawlessly, making me not want to improve, like I’ve already been defeated. But then I snap out of it and remind myself that language learning is an ongoing process and I’ve come a long way. It’s never too late to learn.

our-backyard

Housing

I’ve lived in the Maine-et-Loire department of France in the same town since I moved here.

THEN: When I first moved to France, I shacked up with Tom in his one-bedroom apartment. We had a nice balcony but no yard and cooking was difficult because our kitchen lacked storage and counter space.

NOW: A year or so after moving to France, we started looking for a house of our own in the same town. We live in a little house with a yard in our town’s center that’s central to most things so I can walk.

Citizenship

THEN AND NOW: Legal permanent resident. As the spouse of a French citizen, I am legally allowed to live and work in France. I have a 10-year residency card to prove that.

Sometimes people confuse permanent resident with citizen but being granted citizenship is not automatic, nor do you have to be a French citizen to live in France. Other than being able to vote, being a citizen of France wouldn’t really change much for me. After 4 years of marriage, I was legally allowed to apply for citizenship, but it’s not something I’m pursuing at this point. It’s a big undertaking in terms of paperwork and cost, and as I said, it wouldn’t change anything substantial for me in my day-to-day life. I have the option to apply for citizenship down the road and I probably will; it’s just not something I’m looking to start now.

Hardships

THEN: When I first arrived, the trouble was mostly administrative and situational, so the stress was about my carte de sejour and getting my health insurance card and making sure I was understood at the bakery. The difficulties I faced then mostly had to do with adjusting to a new place as a foreigner. Everything came fast and furious and was totally new so that kept me busy.

NOW: I settled into life as you’d expect and quickly became familiar with my new surroundings and routine. My life in France is real life, not a permanent vacation. I think life problems are hard anywhere, but when you’re far away and stressed by a new culture and language barrier, regular life problems can seem magnified. We all deal with health issues, death, fights with loved ones, job loss, relationship and financial stress, etc. and sometimes the stress of living abroad can compound life problems that you’d have to deal with anywhere.

Sometimes little issues can snowball, and before you know it, you have yourself all worked up. Sometimes it’s over nothing and other times it’s a legit problem. I know that sometimes I’ll blame “life in France” for whatever I’m going through and that’s only a valid excuse half the time. I talk about mistakes I made in more depth here.

monday mishmash phone computer

Blogging

Blogging was then, and still is now, something I truly enjoy.

THEN: I started Oui in France about six months after arriving here in May 2012. It was kind of an experiment because I jumped in headfirst without having too much of a plan. Sometimes that’s the best way. When I first started, my content revolved around my discoveries as a newly married foreigner adjusting to life in France. Since my blog’s inception,  I’ve managed to consistently post twice a week.

NOW: My blog is still super active. I have 575 published posts (holy heck, right?) and have built quite a resource here. That said, I plan on cutting back to a once-a-week posting schedule. I just don’t want to feel self-imposed pressure to post twice a week, so I’m giving myself some leeway now that I’m about to hit the 5-year blogging mark. Will I actually cut back? We’ll see, but I’m giving myself the option. Hope that’s OK. 😉

Over the years, I’ve toyed with the direction I wanted Oui in France to go in and announced a shift in focus a couple of years back to include more fitness posts. I never want to pigeonhole myself and come across as just “Diane, an American in France.” I feel like I’m more than that as a person and can bring more than just “life in France” posts to this blog.

I didn’t feel fitness was the right direction because I wasn’t authoritative enough to write anything of value but still don’t want to only write on French culture/language and expat topics. So  I reaffirm that sometimes you’ll see posts that delve into other topics. Posts on my dog, cool products I want to share, maybe a recipe or fitness post here and there or other life topics that have nothing to do with the fact that I’m a foreigner in France.

On a technical level, I’ve become more consistent with images and fonts. I started a newsletter last year (sign up here!). I also opened a specialty online shop with Francophile tees and tote bags. I’ve also tightened up my social media game and regularly use Pinterest now. I’d love to do a blog redesign at some point just to update my theme and help categorize the content better. I have a ton of content and a lot of it has gotten buried over the years, but a redesign is not in the budget right now. Anyway, blogging is probably my favorite hobby and it’s here to stay 🙂 Thank you for being here.

Homesickness

THEN AND NOW: I think the excitement of living in a new place sweeps you off your feet. For the first 6 months, you’re so busy seeing and doing that you have no time to be homesick. As time has gone on, I think I miss certain things about home, but I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t experienced any real bouts of homesickness. Here’s my theory on why.

I think my experience with homesickness has been more subtle. Sure, I miss certain aspects of life in the USA and of course my family, but I don’t have a deep longing to move back. At least not now. I think this is because I came to France on my terms, for something positive, to start a new phase of my life after getting married to a French guy who is super supportive of me. So I was looking forward to life here and to turning over a new leaf, if that makes sense. I am settled here. It’s France where we bought a house, where I was finally able to get my dog, etc.

Now that said, of course I miss things in the USA. To help combat that, I focus on these 3 things:

1) Care packages. I regularly get packages: Either things I buy myself or things from generous family and friends. Along with that, I try to keep “American things” in my house to give me that American comfort even if I’m not in the US. It’s like it helps me retain my Americanness in a way. So for example, purposely buying a pillow in the USA and putting it on my bed here in France or a baking with a baking tray I found in Homegoods in the US. It’s silly but simple things like home decor and products from the US mean a lot.

2) I talk to my friends and family often, pretty much daily. We’re lucky that in 2017, a familiar voice is just a Facetime click away and they don’t feel far away at all.

3) Visit home often, finances and time permitting. 😉

And finally, I guess I remember that we’re never “stuck” in life. That if at some point life abroad isn’t right for us anymore, then we move. Things like owning a house and a great job can make that more difficult but not impossible. Life is fluid and we always have options.

honfleur normandy france dusk

Travel

THEN: I’ve been fortunate that I’ve seen a lot of different areas of France including Brittany, Normandy, Marseille, and even Corsica. I love discovering new-to-me areas of France.

NOW: I’d love to do more travel but it’s not always financially possible, so we do what we can. When we have extra money, we almost always head to the USA and that’s fine with me. One place I’ve never been to is Iceland. I’d reallllllllly like to visit one day. You know, winter lover and all. 😉

Making friends

Ah, this is a hard one.

THEN: When I first moved here, I didn’t think it would be that difficult to make friends. I didn’t think it would be a slam dunk either but figured that with time and a bit of effort, I would have a new network.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The truth is that making friends has probably been the most frustrating part of life in France. It’s not a France problem, so let me be clear on that. There are lovely people here, as there are all over the world, so please don’t think if you move to France you won’t make friends. Maybe it’s bad luck. Maybe I’m a social pariah!

It’s not for a lack of trying to make friends, though, and I want to be clear about that as well. I joined meet-up groups and was more active on them during my first couple of years here. The people I met were just not a good fit. I met a few weirdos and also a stalker. And one of the most selfish people I’ve ever met in my life. I even went to a Mormon church (I’m not Mormon). I’ve met people in person who reached out through my blog who live in other areas of the country or have since moved home. I enjoy meeting people, but as far as people in my area? Nada. I don’t have any close French friends (or any nationality) in and around where I live. Sometimes I’ll meet the wife or girlfriend of one of the American basketball players for a local team, but they’re usually here for just part of the year and then move to another country.

NOW: About 3 years ago, I joined the local gym and I now have a small circle of acquaintances. These are people I look forward to chitchatting with but we’ve never done anything together outside the gym. Except for my one teenager guy friend who loves speaking English with me. He’s great and has a really nice family. But women in their 20s or 30s? Zip. Zero. Remember I don’t live in Paris or a big city — not that it’s easy there but maybe it would be easier. I don’t know. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve kind of given up in the friend department and have just accepted the situation. I’m not sad about it anymore and have embraced Tom, Dagny, and technology over real-life friends in my town. I appreciate the long-distance friends and family I do have so much more.  I’m hopeful, though, that maybe a new friend is right around the corner. I’m completely open to it. 😉

Fitness

THEN: I discovered my love for spinning (indoor cycling) and the gym when I was in college, and other than blogging, it’s my other favorite hobby. I’d go to my gym back home regularly and enjoy group fitness classes, lifting weights, and the community that a gym could bring. When I first arrived in France, I held off on joining the gym and looked to online videos and subscriptions for my fitness fix. But it was lonely working out alone and it wasn’t very motivating.

NOW: As time went on, I realized that socially speaking the gym would be great, so I joined and never looked back. These days, I take mostly Les Mills classes my gym offers as well as weightlifting even though my gym is kind of run down and has old equipment. It’s the only one in the center of my town.

The one thing I really miss about my life here is access to fitness studios like PureBarre, Orange Theory, Cyclebar and all the other cool classes that are commonplace even in suburbs in the US. I feel like the US is about 10 years ahead of France. Everything new and innovative is coming out of the US and sometimes I feel like I’m missing out by not being there. Again, thank goodness for technology and my visits home where I look forward to taking all kinds of fun classes. Peloton has an app now that I’m dying to try (I just need a bike!).

The future

Your guess is as good as mine. I don’t see us leaving France anytime soon although I don’t feel too attached to the town in which I live. Maybe we’d move somewhere within France in the future? Or try out life in the US at some point? I’m open to all possibilities.

saumur rapeseed field windmill

Closing thoughts

Life abroad is what you make of it. My life isn’t glamorous. I haven’t become French. I’m still me. It’s regular life. It’s fun sometimes. It’s monotonous sometimes. It’s exhilarating. It’s stressful. It’s eye-opening. It’s hard. It’s everything life was at home, just in a new setting with a new language.

Before moving, I think I was guilty of thinking that the joy and fulfillment of moving abroad would be more about what France could do for me. The travel, the excitement, the fun things I could see and do. It was like that the first couple of years. But then you realize the value of living in France is less about external factors of the country itself and more about one’s experience as an expat and how that helps you to evolve as a person.

Even as the sometimes-confused foreigner, I embrace my life in France because it has opened up a whole new side of my personality that I never would have uncovered if I was still in New York City.

I’ve learned the beauty of a slower-paced life and the meaning of patience and resilience. I’ve chilled out. I’ve been able to overcome challenges that probably once seemed insurmountable. I’ve had a bunch of firsts in France. And I’ve done them all with the man I love. All of that is the real joy and fulfillment of life in France. I guess both halves of Diane — pre-France and right now — are authentically me, but one was just waiting to be uncovered and challenged. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.

***

Can you relate? How long have you lived abroad?

P.S. Most of the posts on my site are aimed at being helpful, entertaining, educational, or thought-provoking in some way, in an effort to be useful for my readers. Oui In France is not my personal diary or any version of it, so writing something serious and personal was really difficult and I second-guessed myself a bit. I told you I started this post months ago! If you found any of this post useful, can I make a special request and ask you to comment below and/or share? Would mean a lot to me.  


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reflecting on 5 years in france as an expat

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Comments (55)

  • Carlie

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    Beautiful read, I have only lived in France for 6 months so far but was in London for 3 years prior. I wonder where I’ll be in 5 years. 🙂 especially interesting re. your language progress: Im doing 3 hours of classes a week at the moment and it’s baby steps, complete beginner. Comprehension only key words at the moment. Sadly as I work full time AND freelance, french study gets pushed aside too often. Friends, oh man if it wasn’t for doing jiu jitsu here in Strasbourg and joining an expat gals group I might not have any. Making friends was so much easier in London, obvs I guess!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you, Carlie. I know what you mean about French study getting pushed aside. It’s hard to focus when you have other things going on. I’m really hard on myself about the language because I WANT TO BE PERFECT but let’s be real, no one is perfect, and it shouldn’t mean that much for me. I think you can go from total beginner to advanced intermediate in a few years or intermediate to advanced (as was my case) in a few years as well but the damn plateau is annoying. People don’t correct you because your mistakes don’t interfere w/comprehension, you understand what’s going on, you can communicate, etc. So now, as I said, I’ve just chilled out about it and accept that I’m doing just fine. 😉 You will get there. Celebrate the little victories, OK? You’re better than you think.

      Dude, maybe I should find a jiu jitsu club. Sounds badass, totally my style!

      Reply

  • Taste of France

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    This is a wonderful post, Diane. I think some of the things you bring up, like making friends, isn’t so much an expat thing but an age thing. The easiest time to make friends is when you and your cohort are young and unattached, free to make plans or to just do things at the drop of a hat. Once you (or they) have other responsibilities, like work, a home that they care about vs. a crashpad, a family, time for friends is limited, and time for new friends is hard to come by.
    I’ve been in France for 13 years and have lived outside the U.S. for a total of 22 years. France now feels like “home” equally with the U.S. I agree that France is behind the U.S. on trends, but increasingly I don’t care. Kale is overrated. I’m less interested in the next best thing as enjoying the good life I already have here.
    I love your blog. You always make me smile and nod in agreement. Bravo!
    Taste of France recently posted…Restaurants in FranceMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yup, you’re totally right about it being an age/stage of life thing. Once we’re out of high school and college, it’s so much harder to meet people. I know it would be hard for me to make friends in a new area of the US so I don’t want anyone to think it’s a problem with France or the French. I think it’s a people problem after age 22!
      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. They mean a lot. Sometimes you never know who you’re writing to because people read and then disappear, so it’s nice to know you’re out there. I appreciate you!

      Reply

      • Anglo in France

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        This post is a great share and I agree about the age thing! I have been fortunate to meet quite a few people, but I’m finding that most of the French in their 30s have 1-3 kids who are still quite young (since they start later). The majority of the people who have wanted to socialize with me are either in their early 20s and eager to improve their English or at least 10 years older than me with grown kids. I’m not sure that I’ve met anyone in my age range yet who has no children, so their schedules are quite a bit more restrictive.
        Anglo in France recently posted…Abroad Edition: An American in ManilaMy Profile

        Reply

  • Peter Horrocks

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    Bravo Diane

    Takes some guts to be so open.

    I too find myself doing a degree of nodding and smiling when reading it…

    You write well, maybe you’ve got a book in you? You’ve got plenty of source material…

    I wrote one a year ago and though I haven’t even wanted to show anyone so far I was surprised at what an enjoyable experience it was to write it. So much so I am having a go at another even if the result is the same…

    For what it’s worth over time I learnt to adapt and use my time in different ways depending on the moments, which change as you go along, sometimes in unexpected ways, often all on their own and sometimes because I’ve moved on to new horizons. Not necessarily trying to fix things or looking for reasons, just getting on with it and taking pleasure in using time well. Your doing a pretty good job of that so far apparently…

    Best

    Peter H

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks for the compliment, Peter. Means a lot! I don’t have any plans to write a book but I do enjoy writing. I think I enjoy it most when it’s on my own terms, like my blog, and a conversational style. I probably have a few books in me but nothing I’m pursuing now. I’ll never say never though!

      Reply

  • Catherine

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    Lucky me. I checked on Twitter and saw your post Diane. Then my husband took the kids to the bus and I could have breakfast while reading yr post. Thank you so much for sharing! Many things have resonated with me: friends; keeping France or Germany alive everyday with decor, tools, books; blogging etc.
    I was 21 when I moved from France to Germany. I still have a few good friends from my first years there, but I didn’t meet them outside of work. Not a single one. Later on, it was easier as soon as I got kids. That’s also what I’ve experienced in the US when I relocated here. Still, I wouldn’t name them friends, more acquaintances. However it’s great to know people and to chitchat at school.
    Iceland : I book yesterday our flights to Frankfurt with Icelandair. The stop-over in Rejkavik is free of charge, we’ll stay 3 days in AirBnB. Just an idea for your next trip to the US!
    Thank you again Diane, I love your blog

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Great to hear from you on this one, Catherine! The friends thing is so weird and yes, I’ve heard that sometimes having a child and the whole school experience can help form bonds between adults. I know it’s hard for everyone everywhere. I agree that having acquaintances is better than not. The chitchat is something I look forward to.

      SO JEALOUS ABOUT ICELAND!!! Are you on Instagram? I want to follow you. When are you going?

      Thanks again for reading all that. Can’t believe it topped out at 3900 words. Wow.

      Unrelated question, do your kids speak English, French and German? And all at the same level or has English taken over? Just curious.

      Reply

      • Catherine Rochereul-Portier

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        They speak… long story short:
        The oldest German, French, English, and a bit of Spanish
        My little ones: English, French, and a bit of German
        And my husband’s children, German, Spanish, English, and French.
        And yes, I have 5 kids at home, ages 5 to 17.
        The strongest language is in first place… I could fill a blog just with my family’s stories, but I feel there are enough bad talk shows on TV!

        Iceland: June, 25th to 29th. Hotels are very very expensive! Looking for an AirBnB now. Thank God, we are only 4 travellers! Instagram is @rochereul. Do you have one too?

        3900 words were not a minute too long for what you had to say! My experience of 2 long term expatriation is following: the younger you are, the better to meet people. Work and kids are best to connect. I go to aqua aerobics twice a week for two years but we never met outside. Maybe it’s different with team sports?

        Reply

  • Jess

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    I love everything about this post, Diane! I always appreciate when bloggers get personal and honest. For me, that adds a touch humanity to it all- you’re an actual person with thoughts and feelings, the real deal! I didn’t think it possible, but I appreciate your blog even more. 🙂

    Even though my time living in France was only a semester years ago, I remember feeling bits and pieces of what you describe at times. I’m sure you’ve written about this a bunch, but to refresh my memory, do you remember what your expectations on living in France were before you left as opposed to now? Were some of the challenges ones you expected, or were certain things easier? That sort of thing. I hope that makes sense.

    At any rate, awesome post! Whether you post once-a-month or daily, I’m hooked! 🙂

    -Jess

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you so incredibly much.

      Let me think about your question…. {{ thinking }}

      I think my expectations re: France before I came were realistic but maybe a tad idealized. They were realistic because I had visited before and done a 7-mo teaching contract and had Tom who helped me to understand what life was like. I think I thought the language would just magically click and I’d be speaking like a native in no time. I don’t know if I expected things to be easier exactly. I never had rose-colored glasses on, but I guess I maybe bought into the whole “France is great” notion a bit. And how can you not? France IS great. So many things are positives here. It’s even more great if you have a well-paid job, a big network of friends, no life problems to deal with, etc. But real life is real so problems here are the same ones people face anywhere.

      What I’m getting at is what I said in the post. France is real life so these days, my expectations are what they’d be at home. I expect to run into traffic if I try to go to Nantes at 4pm on a weekday. I expect all the cultural niceties and norms. I expect for the stores to close early, etc.

      None of this is bad. It’s just how things are here and how people live life. I don’t really let things get too under my skin at this point. Happy to go with the flow. And laugh at inappropriate times. That helps.

      As I type this, I’ve realized you’ve asked a big question and maybe I’m going in the wrong direction.

      About challenges, I knew it would be hard to be away from family and friends. I knew the culture and language wouldn’t be easy to adapt to. And then being a newlywed abroad getting adjusted to married life, that in itself can be a challenge even in your own country.

      I’m lucky that I haven’t had any major issues (knock on wood). Maybe it’s my attitude in general or perspective on life that has helped. I don’t know. I think the biggest thing is what I said in the post, that I came here on my own terms. I’m not a trailing spouse. My husband doesn’t support me financially. I didn’t flee my country due to war. This was my choice so I came into it with a positive mindset. We can’t always control the things around us but we can control our own reactions, so I try to focus on that when things get tough.

      The stupid things that I find hard are trivial to some, like lack of fitness studios here and Whole Foods, but sometimes I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out. But then I realize I have awesome wineries where I can buy direct from the producer and head to Brittany for the weekend and browse awesome products at the farmers’ market. So it’s all just a shift in perspective sometimes.

      I think your question could turn into a another very reflective post but I need some time before I crank out another one of those. Hope this comment kind of answered some of your questions. If not, je suis vraiment desolee. I tried. 😉

      Reply

      • Jess

        |

        I think you answered it perfectly! I realized it was a loaded question after I asked. I really like to cut to the core! haha Thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully respond.

        I do envy your access to wineries! 🙂
        Jess recently posted…The MiamMiam Box of MemoriesMy Profile

        Reply

  • French Girl in Seattle

    |

    Wonderful, well thought-out post, Diane. I know this was not an easy one to write. As a long-term expat in the US (notice I use “expat” not “immigrant” even if I became an American citizen along the way, when my ex-husband applied for the US citizenship,) I can relate with quite a few points you have made. There is no doubt living in another culture, while challenging, is also an extraordinary opportunity that will teach you a lot and most certainly change you as well. I particularly enjoyed the section on “homesickness.” You and I seem to be dealing with it the same way 😉 As for the chapter on “Friends,” I am a little sad you have not made any close friends in France. I would think it is easier to do outside of a big city like Paris, actually (where you could get to know many expats, but not necessarily French people.) I don’t know about the age thing. When I moved to the US, I was in my early 30s, and I was not working since I followed my ex-husband here. I remember meeting my first real friend at the dog park. Like me, she was married to a foreigner (she was Canadian.) Later in life, I made many friends through the school system after my son was born. Dogs and kids – and the office environment – seem to have been my three main “sources” of long-lasting friendships. Even if you have created a good life for yourself in your corner of la Belle France, I certainly hope you meet more people soon! Everyone needs a couple of good friends around. Take care. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)
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    Reply

    • Diane

      |

      Thank you , Veronique, always a pleasure to hear from you and glad you could relate.

      I said I’m not sad about the friends thing but maybe I am a little sad. I try not to dwell on it though. I walk with a man and his cocker spaniel and met him a few years ago. I wouldn’t say we’re friends but we chitchat and I usually bump into him a few times a week when we’re out at the same time. He and his wife are in their 70s and it’s nice to have them in my circle. I don’t want to scare anyone and be like “oh cool you have a dog, want to come to my house for a coffee?” I usually just make a little small talk and then the person moves on with their bonne journee and that’s that. Maybe I need to head out at different times.

      Do you still have a dog?

      Thanks again

      Reply

  • Diane

    |

    Language skills, well done, but you are lucky you live with someone who is French; big help. We bought the house here in 2005 (I was already over 60) and I had never learnt of French in my life. After many lessons I still only have a rough idea what is going on! Memory lets me down sadly and having an English speaking husband who speaks pretty good French is anything but a help! He takes over! Admittedly if I go shopping on my own I cope, but if they answer at their normal speed of talking I have no chance.
    For all that we have more French friends than English and I love France and have not intentions of leaving. Our French neighbour who speaks a little English tells me I speak terrible English 🙂 He struggles with my mild Afrikaans accent.
    Have a great week and I hope you continue to enjoy France as much as i do. T’other Diane
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    • Diane

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      Believe it or not, we rarely speak French unless we’re in the presence of other French people! Old habits don’t quit!
      I know how hard it is but glad you are hanging in there. You’re really brave moving to a country where you didn’t know any of the language. Not sure I could do that. So congrats on that!

      Have a wonderful week too and thank you for taking the time to read this one. 😉

      Reply

  • Cheryl

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    Beautifully written, Diane! Thank you so much for sharing such a personal post. What a great perspective. My husband and I had been planning to retire in France since 2012 when I first started following your blog. We worked really hard toward this goal for the past 5 years making a couple of lengthy trips, re-studying our French, and doing a ton of research. Last June we set off on our third long trip to the area where we planned to buy a house. Unfortunately, I became very ill right away and very, very long story short we had to return home though not before I had the opportunity to experience the French medical system which was quite enlightening. After 6 months I was finally diagnosed with an extremely rare autoimmune disease — serious but treatable and manageable. It has been a crazy, scary ride, but my health is now much improved. At some point, we had to reconsider our retirement location and France just didn’t seem wise or practical at this point in our lives with this added issue given all the effort if would take in so many ways as you well know. So we have moved on to “Plan B” — we always knew there had to be a Plan B. I retired in January and in a couple of days we are off to new adventures in the next chapter of our lives — moving from the Silicon Valley to Eugene, Oregon. Even though we will still be in the U.S., it will be a very different environment. I know that many of your comments and observations in this post will even apply to us in our new location. Looking forward to continuing to follow your evolving French life!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Aww, so sorry to hear about your health struggles, Cheryl, but maybe Plan B will surprise you and you’ll end up loving Oregon. I’ve never been there but have seen beautiful pictures! Thank you for your comment and best of luck in your new home!

      Reply

    • Diane

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      Yup, life is good here and if I didn’t enjoy it, I think I would have left already. Life is too short, you know? Hope all is well Down Under 😉

      Reply

  • Louise

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    Diane, Greetings from Western Australia! I followed your advice and made a cup of tea and settled into read, and thoroughly enjoy, your beautifully written post. I related to many of your observations as I spent five years in a long distance relationship with a French/Swiss man and spent months each year with him in Europe and he with me in Australia. We would chat about the differences for each of us in one another’s cultures.

    I enjoy reading your French language tips…please keep blogging, if only once a week. Best wishes, Louise

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hello! I will absolutely keep blogging. Stopping has never crossed my mind because I enjoy it so much. Just trying to take some pressure off myself. How’s Western Australia? I’ve never been there (plane stop in Melbourne on way to NZ would be the closest).

      Reply

  • CatherineRose

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    I loved reading this and I can relate so much (….even though Hugo and I moved to California at the end of my fourth year in France.) I really like how you show the reality of what it’s like to live abroad for an extended period of time. I think that France is often glorified and glamorized and while I definitely love France, it’s not always so black and white as “the French raise better babies” and “French women all wear X.” Thank you for writing something more nuanced and sharing your experiences and perspective!
    CatherineRose recently posted…Monthly Slice: FebruaryMy Profile

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    • Diane

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      Thanks so much CatherineRose (do you always go by your full 2 names or is just an online thing? Been meaning to ask you and feel silly since I’ve known you for so long — like is it ever CR, or CRose or Catherine, want to get it right ;-))

      I SO know what you mean about the glorification. I feel like sometimes people have this impression of France where it can do no wrong and place it up on a pedestal. That living here is some kind of life prize and if you “make it,” you’ll live in a bubble of perfection. But that’s so not the truth, and if you say anything negative or different than what people expect, people think it’s you and you’re not grateful or something when really our experiences are uniquely our own and there’s no one way to have an experience.
      To me, this idealized life that people think of is a permanent vacation and of course that’s “perfect” if you’re not working or focusing on any of life problems that come your way. Like people who live here for a few weeks or a few months of the time, with money to do touristy things all day and not work. I love visiting places on vacation too. It’s like people only see what they want to see, you know? It’s not always reality. Or if it is, at least be open to how other people see and do things.

      Put a different way, it bothers me when people aren’t looking at an apples to apples comparison. If you work a high-powered job in NYC and move to do that same job in Paris, well you may have more vacation days but will you have time to use them if you’re always in the office? Probably not. On the flip side, quitting your high-powered job in NYC to live in a French village and not work will feel wonderful, I’m sure of it. That’s the permavacation. That’s not my life — I work. I pay 50% of my mortgage. I go through life here, if that makes sense. Moving to France is a positive change only if you make it one, you know? And I think I’ve done that but I’m not skipping through lavender fields and sipping on wine everyday in a fairy tale world, you know? 😉 Anyway, rant over. Thanks for “getting it.”

      Reply

  • Cathy Henton

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    Great post Diane. I can identify with many, many of your sentiments. We’ve been here 11 year this year and don’t regret the move at all. My only regret (like yours) is that I haven’t made strong female friendships like the ones I had in the UK which has saddened me. We have a good social life, mostly with French people but the girls just don’t seem to operate outside of their relationships for a coffee or a girl’s lunch etc. I get the feeling this is different with the very young though so maybe things are changing. My daughter (who is 21) has a huge circle of friends and a close core of girlfriends that do all sorts of things together – I don’t see that changing for her. On balance, the quality of life in France is much better than the life we were leading in the South of England without the pressures and stresses, the traffic and congestion. However life has had it’s ups and downs and when we do return to the UK we are always happy to get back here in the calm and beauty of the Loire.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks so much, Cathy! Wow, 11 years, good for you and sorry to hear that you, too, haven’t had a ton of luck in the friends department either. It is different here. Yes, the balance here is much better but as you said, life has its ups and downs. Thank you for taking the time to read my post!

      Reply

  • Catherine

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    Bravo Diane for a wonderful post and for having the courage to publish it! I knew I’d enjoy it and would relate to SO many aspects of your experience…

    My biggest takeaway is what you wrote about evolution of attitude and perspective, that living among a population of people with a completely different history and culture and mindset teaches you to be less judgmental and more understanding once you learn why they think and act the way they do. Even if it can be (often) unnerving and frustrating, realizing it’s not personal is a huge comfort. Travels back to the States do, however, make me miss all the little things I took for granted there. But quickly I think about the reverse and realize how much I’d miss in France once I leave.

    It’s the nature of our unique experience, and it’s always wonderful to be able to read about and share with others that “know” what it’s like…

    Hope you make it to Iceland soon… seems like such a fascinating destination! xo

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you, yes it’s like a personal evolution sometimes. Just being here in France has exposed me to things I know I wouldn’t have seen/done if I was still working in an office day in and day out in NYC, and that is 100% positive. It hasn’t been easy necessarily, but challenging ourselves on a personal level is always a good thing.

      Yes, I’ll get to Iceland one day. P.S. I always enjoy all your pictures!!!

      Reply

  • Nadine

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    Hey Diane,
    This was a great read – I love finding out more about my favourite bloggers!
    I could relate to a lot of it, but seeing as I’ve only lived here less than a year – more so the “Then” parts than the “Now”!

    This especially resonates with me: “Understanding what people were saying to me in real time stressed me out because the sounds just didn’t make sense. I’d understand half of the sentence but not the important part. Context helped, but random questions had me shaking in my (flat) boots.” – I usually just avoid talking to people for this reason, which doesn’t do me any favours!!

    Anyway, glad to get to know you a little better, and hope to meet up when I’m back in your part of France. 🙂

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks so much, Nadine!

      Keep hanging in there w/the French. Truth be told, in the early days I’d carry a little notebook and pen with me while out so I could ask someone to write what they were saying because sometimes I couldn’t figure out where one word would end and the next would begin. Everything was clear when written, but man, was it hard sometimes. It’s a humbling experience but does get better. Sometimes more quickly if you don’t go into hermit mode, like I’m guilty of.

      When will you be back?

      Reply

  • Emily

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    I loved reading this post! I feel like it was so spot on, especially the parts where you spoke about the town you live in. Seeing as that is how/where we met, I can definitely understand where you’re coming from. I need to come back and we can go to the cinema and talk about our favorite american TV shows this time.

    I enjoy all of your posts and am looking forward to the next one!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks Emily, wish you were still here! Hope life is treating you well back in the States!

      Reply

  • Michael

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    “I have no regrets….I’m more thankful than ever for where my life has taken me..”
    Lovely intro and nice conclusion: “…I’ll be forever grateful…”.
    Lovely piece of content here Diane.
    Thanks for openly sharing your inspiring story with us.
    While there might seem to be many perks one misses out when they move to France, while life might seem monotonous at times, being and remaining grateful for where life has taken us is the thing that matters. I’m happy I ready this post and I thank you for having written it, Diane.
    Michael recently posted…Mobile layout UI designMy Profile

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    • Diane

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      Thank you, Michael! The lessons I’ve learned here, both about myself and others, will be carried with me from this point forward. In the US, in France, wherever, the lessons we learn along the way are so important and as was the case for me, it takes leaving your homeland to really develop yourself (even if that wasn’t your goal). It’s all for the best. 😉

      Reply

  • Diane

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    Hi Diane from Sarasota,FL
    I am a Brit living as a legal alien in your Mother country.My husband is from Boston,but we have been in FL permanently just over a year..We have a good life but I miss my family in Liverpool,England & my holidays in France,Spain,Italy terribly.!
    Guess we can’t have it all.We we’re home in UK for Christmas but have to split up time with my husbands family also.Reading about making new friends,I understand totally.Thank God for my old friends who I worked with as a Midwife,They go back many years & are like family as I was an only child.
    Don’t worry Di,many people will pass through your life but only a few will become special.Enjoy your idyllic life in France you don’t always need others to make you happy.Love reading your blogs..Isn’t it funny we are all in different countries but melting into each other’s cultures.Diane H.

    Reply

    • Diane

      |

      Hello, great name! 😉

      I know how hard it is and even if Florida is great, sometimes just being “away” no matter where it is can be difficult. For me, it’s the worst when life problems creep in. But just take it day by day. You’ve been there a year so a lot can change.

      I don’t know a lot about Sarasota (my family lives near West Palm) but are there a bunch of retired-age folks and snowbirds that come down for the winter? Regardless though, the weather probably beats Liverpool!

      And oh yes, I learned a long time ago I don’t need others to make me happy. So happy you enjoy my blog. 😉

      Reply

      • Diane

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        I so enjoy your blogs Di or Deanne as they say in France.You are right with the population of Sarasota!
        I miss the glorious French countryside & as you so rightly said the more simple way of life.It is also less materialistic too.
        Keep writing

        Reply

  • Janet T

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    I’ve read quite a few of your posts before but as I haven’t been reading them for very long this was a particularly good read and helped me sort of “see the whole”. I haven’t changed country myself although friends have. I did move from south to north UK many years ago and found a few bewildering cultural differences. I eventually settled in through having children and meeting other mums. But I think your point about “care packages” is an excellent idea.
    Janet T recently posted…Using Spot Colour – Without Being Heavy-HandedMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

      |

      Thank you, Janet. I know a lot of women make friends, or at least acquaintances through their kids’ school. In my case, I just have a dog but I’m not giving up. 😉 Speaking of care packages, I’m expecting one I sent to myself today. Have a great weekend!

      Reply

  • Annie Andre

    |

    Wow, this hit home in so many ways. I have been sitting on the same article (about my five year mark in france) since November of 2016. I have written it, re-written, deleted, and re-started more times than i can count. I am heading to Canada to get away for 3 weeks and plan on writing my 5 year summation from North America.

    I can relate to everything you wrote about. Especially the part about thinking that all French were fashion mavens. ANd I met many of my friends at the gym in the beginning too. I remember reading one of your articles on that subject.

    I am not married to a Frenchman, and I have 3 kids with me, 2 who are now adults (19 and 20) so our situations are not the same but our experiences and thoughts and ideas seem to be very similar. I do miss the variety of food that was at our disposal in the San Francisco bay area and in Montreal but like you said, I realize we have access to so many great wineries and great bread which isnt so readily available in North America.

    Thanks for writing this, i loved reading it and feel like im not alone.
    Best,

    Annie
    Annie Andre recently posted…Top Candy From French Supermarkets To Buy As Souvenirs & GiftsMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      You sound like me, Annie. It’s so hard to write something like this. I’ll be looking forward to your post. You are definitely NOT alone!

      Reply

  • Dana

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    “Living abroad, seeing more, and getting older and wiser has made me less judgy. I see shades of gray in life situations much more easily now. Things aren’t so cut and dry and I take a very human approach to most things. I feel like I understand people and their plights better than I did 5 years ago.”

    I feel you on that so, so much. I don’t know if it’s just the overall idea of getting older or what, but I totally agree. It may be that we are a bit vulnerable as foreigners and are used to be judged, if that makes sense.

    Like Veronique I am a bit sad for you that you haven’t met many people in your town, but it sounds like you’re making the most of it. 🙂

    Finally, your small part about being American– yes, yes so much yes, but we’ve talked about that a bit.

    This post was wonderfully written and I agreed with so much of it. Here’s to the next 5 years, in France, the US, or elsewhere! xo

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Makes total sense. We are more vulnerable as foreigners and sensitive types like me can even get defensive at times. Even when people say totally innocent things, sometimes I’ll overthink it like omg were they criticizing my country, or my accent or me? I’m not an overly defensive person but I feel like that comes out more here. I tend to give people a break. Maybe I’m too lax.
      Yeah, the friends thing sucks and is kind of weird because if you knew me back home, you’d say I’m easy to talk to, a good conversationalist. Trying to do my best, though.
      Thank you for taking the time to read it!

      Reply

  • Katherine

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    Hi Diane. I truly enjoyed reading your post. I, too, have things in common with you and several of the other commenters. Our 5th anniversary in France will be in May, though we lived in Ireland for 11 years before moving here. We were in a Gaeltacht area in South Connemara. How is your Irish these days? My husband used to have a lot ( he’s English and is a language lover) and still retains a fair bit but though I took classes out of interest I never learned too much….though over 11 years it became very familiar. The challenge is that even in the Gaeltacht most Irish speak English so I didn’t need Irish to survive.

    Big difference in France, of course, where a good working ability in the language is very necessary. I had many years in school in the States but never used it and lost a lot, plus I’m much older than you. Mostly I’m enjoying relearning it but, like you, I’m frustrated not to be better after almost 5 years.

    Like you,I’ve been frustrated in friendship except for a very close English friend. I know not one other American here in France Profonde. My theory about not making French friends easily is that unless our French or their English is exceptionally good, it’s difficult to have the deeper conversations that friends need to have. I hope to have a deep conversation in French with a French person before I die!

    Thanks for the great post. Go raibh ma agat!

    Reply

    • Diane

      |

      Hello! My Irish is not great. I remember a few things, like ta me go dona. Not sure of the spelling. I also remember how to make something possessive like if you want to say Cait has something, the equivalent of the ‘s is to add an H in her name so Cait’s house is Chait teach or something like that. Always found that interesting.

      Sadly, about the friendship thing my level of French allows me to get pretty deep (not without errors, of course) so I can’t blame my level of French on the lack of friends. And you will DEFINITELY have a deep conversation with a French person before you die!

      Thank you again for taking the time to read this long one. Means a lot.

      Reply

  • Geraldine

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    What a beautiful and thoughtful post. Thank you for taking the time to write and share. I still live in the UK but we are in the process of having a house built just outside La Rochelle, with a view to splitting our time between the UK and France. I am excited about our new adventure and trying to immerse myself in French language and culture, whilst reading blog sites like yours for advice. Thank you so much for sharing your ideas and experiences.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks, Geraldine! I love La Rochelle, great town! What a fun adventure for you! So happy you’ve found my blog helpful. 😉

      Reply

  • Margo

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    Hi,
    I just found your blog today and really enjoyed reading a few posts. I’ve lived in rural SW France for 6 years now. I have met some very nice people here but only one person has become a close friend; then she left the country! I recently moved in with my French boyfriend (with whom I have a lot of cultural differences) and then lost my job, so I’m struggling with feeling isolated and a little insecure now that I can’t identify myself with my profession anymore. Thanks for sharing so honestly.

    Reply

    • Diane

      |

      Hi Margo, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Welcome!
      The friends thing is so incredibly hard and sorry you’re dealing with that and feeling isolated. I can relate all too well. Feel free to email me at ouiinfrance@gmail.com any time if you want to talk more! 😉

      Reply

  • Mike

    |

    Thanks for writing this post, I think it is a very balanced account of pros and cons

    As for the friends issue, I am probably the least qualified to opine in because my opinions are based on reading books by expats. But from what I’ve read, French people aren’t in general looking to make new friends; they’ve made the ones they need growing up or by the time they finish college. Second as a foreigner you aren’t part of the “club”. I don’t think most intend this in an offensive way, but in any culture there are a million and one accepted ways of doing things, often stratified by class. The way you’d behave at a backyard BBQ in Kansas and at a get-together for drinks of investment banking associates in NYC are pretty different. If someone in France brings into their circle of friends someone that is unintentionally/unknowingly out of place or awkward, it reflects on them and will irritate their friends.

    That all said, there are exceptions to making friends in books I’ve read. Having children can lead to getting to know some of the parents; it works that way in the US too. In some books a younger person befriends an older (often 70’s or more) couple that wants to take her/him under their wing. And people in the 50’s and beyond have written of building friendships. Maybe as one gets older the perspective on taking a chance with a foreigner changes…

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mike. Lots of what you said makes sense!

      Reply

  • Carlo

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    I’ve been to France twice and really loved it! I plan to go again in the future. And this is beautiful read btw, you should right a book!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks very much!

      Reply

  • Elaine

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    I uunderstand the pain and difficulty regarding friends! I eventually met friends via Couchsurfing! I at least knew we had one thing in common: traveling 🙂

    Reply

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