The dark side of expat life in France (and where to turn for help)

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

A few months ago in an expat group I follow on Facebook, an American woman living in France bravely posted about her struggles with depression and anxiety ever since moving here.

The dark side of expat life (1)

She was looking for support and probably thought a few people would do their best to help, but to everyone’s surprise, over 100 people in the group replied with their advice, words of support, and their own personal stories of experiencing the same thing. No trolls! No jackass comments!

Their words of encouragement and willingness to lend a hand were really touching and reassured all of us that we’re not alone and that kind people out there genuinely do want to help. The woman who posted about her struggles encouraged me to write this post, so to that end, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the dark side of expat life that so many foreigners abroad are afraid to speak up about.

Read on!

The dark side of expat life in France (and where to turn for help)

This isn’t a fluffy feel-good post on how life in France is OMGAMAZING 24/7. Nowhere is perfect day in and day out and that’s the truth. This is a post about mental health. I don’t think it does the expat community any favors by sweeping this extremely important topic under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist. So let’s talk.

Let me ask you a question. Do you tend to react positively or negatively to the more challenging things in life? 2017 Diane is going to choose the positive option 98% of the time because if it’s in my control, I’m going to see the glass half full. Mentally I feel better choosing this option and others perceive us more positively as well.

If you’ve been here awhile or know me in person, you know I love the life I’ve created abroad 98% of the time, but life has a habit of getting in the way every now and then.

It’s OK to talk about the struggles we face.

Talking about them doesn’t mean we’re being negative; it means we’re just going through life. The hard times are more bearable with a caring support system and people to turn to. I also mention France specifically in this post because that’s where I live but foreigners living anywhere will be able to relate to this post. It’s by no means France specific.

dark side of expat life mental health abroad

My goal with this post is threefold:

1) To let anyone out there who is struggling know they are not alone. So often we keep feelings of sadness, anxiety, and depression to ourselves thinking people won’t understand, don’t want to be bothered with our “negativity,” or worst of all, that there’s something wrong with us if we aren’t 100% in love with life abroad every second of every single day. We’re ashamed, scared, or want to pretend like we’re fine.

2) To provide resources (scroll to end) for anyone who doesn’t know where to turn.

3) To let prospective expats know that life abroad isn’t always easy, in case they thought otherwise. Living in France is not always in line with romanticized versions we so often see. That might sound like a major “DUH, Diane, of course it’s not always easy,” but you’d be surprised at how many people I encounter via my blog who have their rose-colored glasses strapped on with duct tape unwilling to let any clouds of reality peek through.

I’m asking you to read on with an open, empathetic mind. I’m sure that someone in your life is struggling in silence (or has in the past or will in the future).

If you’ve lived abroad for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly confronted one of the issues in the InterNations graphic below:

Most Common Expat Problems 2016 — infographic

Even experiencing just one of the issues pictured above can add fuel to an already burning fire with no extinguisher in sight.

Now hold up a second.

I’m sure that at least one of you out there reading this right now is thinking, “Oh I’m sorry to hear life isn’t easy for all of you who chose to move, but I love France and think it’s great. I would never have trouble like that!” or “When I move to France, it’s going to be perfect because I know so many people, etc.” or “Sucks for them but this would never happen to me because I don’t have mental health problems” or maybe “If you have so many issues, go home!”

None of these reactions is helpful or kind.

I assure you that many of the people who I spoke to before deciding to write this post did and still do love France. They came here prepared and with high hopes. Many came with a French partner, a job, and decent French skills that have only improved over time.

Depression and anxiety don’t discriminate based on age, gender, class, or anything else. The way our body reacts to life is not a choice and is not always in our control.

On keeping it real

If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you’ll know that I try to paint an even picture of what life can be like for a foreigner in France. But I admit, the majority of posts here show La Belle France in a positive light. Why? Two reasons. Because the truth is that I love living in France. My life is good here and I enjoy sharing my travels, cultural commentary, stories, and photos with all of you.

But I also keep it positive because I know that’s what people want to read.

No one likes a Debbie Downer although there are plenty of less-than-perfect things to share about life abroad. Or life anywhere.

There’s a difference between being negative and being real.

By only talking about the positive aspects of life in France, I’d be doing my readers a disservice. I’ve written before about how living in France is completely different than vacationing in France, that no one is “lucky” to live abroad, and a big ol’ post on reflections after 5 years. The whole “living in France is real life and not a 24/7 vacation” point is one that is lost on a lot of people who see France only through their rose-colored glasses.

This mindset of “perfect France” is generally from people who have never lived here, or if they have, it’s only been for a year or two.

seeing life through rose colored glasses

I’ve noticed on my blog and on other people’s blogs and social media, when someone writes something critical about France (another example here), people seem to get very defensive.

They seem to take any critique about France — no matter how valid — personally. It’s like they think of France as a human friend that we’ve just offended that they need to defend.

It’s the strangest thing.

Some people also like to blame the person suffering for their own problems, as if anyone would actually choose to feel miserable all the time.

Along with that, when foreigners in France complain or courageously speak up about feeling depressed or needing help, people who don’t get it respond with, “How bad can it be, you live in France?” as if simply living in France is a cure-all for all of our problems. Or worse, “Well, then just go home if you hate it so much!”

Again, not the right answers at all.

It’s responses like these and people’s unwillingness to try to understand that make it harder for people struggling to speak up and get help.

It’s why bloggers sometimes focus on only the great aspects of life abroad and pretend that shades of gray don’t exist.

Alexandra Guitelmann over at Les Lolos writes,

“There are so many articles selling expat life: What a wonderful, fulfilling experience it is; how you should embrace your host country’s culture to truly appreciate it. Not enough prepare you for balancing a foot in one place while the other’s back home. No one teaches you how to cope with the constant anxiety of something happening to loved ones 10,000 miles away. You’re certainly not prepared for sadness sneaking up on you, triggered by a Facetime with your best friend showing off her latest Monoprix purchase. Or simply the absence of the daily phone call. That one hurts, too.”

If we’re made to feel ashamed, it’s much easier to put the negative feelings aside and try to distract ourselves. But sometimes that’s not enough. It’s not a sign of weakness to speak up and ask for help. There’s no shame in reaching out to a therapist or support system. Or taking medication. Or writing posts like this one.

I think it’s very easy to focus on the positive sides of life abroad so much (especially the first couple of years) that we almost feel guilty if things aren’t always amazing.

We feel even more guilty if we’re dealing with anxiety or depression and that something must be wrong with us if we’re not loving it all the time. Or when a life issue like job loss, divorce, addiction, health scare, or death gets in the way of us being able to live life to the fullest. Especially when someone close to you is struggling with one of these issues very far away and you’re not physically there.

Life can be hard anywhere.

Add in a new language, culture, job, family, and things can even get worse.

Feeling like you don’t belong anywhere while watching others around you seemingly move forward can be crippling. Alex Ellsworth, a former New Yorker living in Seoul, South Korea, wrote in this New York Times piece:

“Expat life has a dark side: getting stuck in limbo, neither here nor there. I’ve watched as peers back home have married, had children, bought houses, advanced in their careers. Meanwhile, most of us here in Seoul find ourselves living Peter Pan-like existences. I’m entering middle age with nothing tangible to show for it.”

The hardest part for me?

For me personally, integrating and making friends has been the biggest challenge. While I speak French, there’s always more to learn and I don’t think I’ll ever be as precise in French as I am in English.

Even after 5 years here, I don’t think I’ll ever have “real” friends, despite my best efforts to network and put myself out there. And that hurts because I’m a social person who thrives on personal relationships. I realize this is not a France-specific problem and that people anywhere deal with the same issues, even those who move within their home country.

That’s not to elicit sympathy but to show that it’s not always simple to just pack up your life, move abroad, and live happily ever after.

M.E. over at Surviving in Italy writes, “What I’m NOT saying here is that you shouldn’t live abroad because it’s hard… I’m also not saying that living abroad is hard for everyone. Every situation is different and sometimes getting away and moving to another country can be healing. My first two years in Italy were like a wonderland la-la fest and the best time of my life. The subsequent three years were filled with stress, anxiety, and feeling more alone than I ever have in my life. What I’m saying is this: Prepare for the struggle and get help when you need it. It’s okay to ask for help.

I want you to truly hear that. It’s OK to ask for help.

expat depression can't get out of bed

The snowball effect

Another point I want to bring up is how life abroad can play into one’s overall well-being — even if you’re “fine” at home. Life problems can affect us anywhere and it’s when they snowball that I personally have the most trouble. Even if you were able to deal with similar issues in your home country without a hitch, your experience abroad may not be the same.

Take, for example, a bad day at work where you arrived late and then messed up a presentation. You brush it off and move on. Then you get into an argument with a friend back home via text message over something trivial. This gets you down. Then a few days later you get some bad health news about someone you love or yourself. Then you lose your job, etc. Then you snap at your husband. It’s all just too much to deal with.

Maybe all that is a little extreme, but even just 2 or 3 little things together can have you hating life — and they often sneak up on you.

That’s when I tell Tom I hate France.

But it’s not France that’s to blame.  It’s just life. Being far away from what’s comfortable can make life struggles — that can happen anywhere to anyone — that much harder to handle. I choose positivity when I can, but I’m not immune to feeling down or getting into a funk. And that’s OK. We can talk about these things. 😉

Now for some resources….

Mental health resources

(Please note I have no affiliation with any person or business listed below.)

Dr. Julie Askew

Dr. Julie is an Anglophone Counsellor / Psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience, working with individuals, couples and families. She’s based in the Mayenne (53) region of France, and services can be offered face to face, or via Skype for clients living in other parts of France and Europe.

Gretchen Jakub

An English-speaking therapist in the Lille, France, area.

Dana Nelson, Ph.D., and The Mindful Expat Podcast

Dana is an American psychologist practicing in Lyon who specializes in counseling and psychotherapy for adults and adolescents. She explains what she does best on her site: “[I help those struggling with] emotional and psychological difficulties and who want develop greater self-awareness and self-compassion, feel more grounded, and develop more meaningful and satisfying connections with those around them. I also specialize in working with intercultural couples and couples whose relationships have been impacted by their life abroad.”  Be sure to catch her podcast here for “expats and other overseas adventurers in search of some guideposts for emotional wellbeing and resilience in their lives abroad.”

Counselling in France

A great directory of therapists of all types offering therapy in English throughout France.

Angloinfo’s counseling & therapist directory

BetterHelp.com

A website with over 2,000 licensed therapists where you can get help in English.  

***

If you’re struggling, I hope the resources above will be of some help. I invite you to share other resources you’ve come across in the comments.

Lastly, if you have no one to turn to and think the people in your life won’t understand, email me. I’m not a therapist and can’t solve your problems, but I care and am always willing to listen. I truly mean that. You’re not alone. We are not alone. There is no shame in talking about mental health.

***

Sending you all some virtual support. Be good to one another. Hoping a few of you will chime in below if you’ve experienced the dark side of expat life.

Feel free to post under a pseudonym if you’re more comfortable with that…

Much love,

D


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The dark side of expat life (1)

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Comments (39)

  • Cosette

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    Thank you for this post, Diane. It’s excellent and the topic is important. I’m very glad that woman found support in that Facebook group. I have left expat groups because people were not allowed to talk about these feelings. Readers got defensive and the basic message was ‘love it or leave it’. I keep a lot of this to myself now.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you for reading it, Cosette! FB groups can often be really toxic with a combo of people behaving badly and mods not stepping in to do their job and actually moderate. It leaves people angry and hurt, especially when certain personalities show no empathy whatsoever. I mostly lurk because I find people to be really short with others and it’s not a good environment in some groups. That’s why I was especially surprised when people were SO supportive toward this woman — the group usually has a bunch of negative people who poo poo on others so it was great to see that so many people understood and wanted to help. And even more surprising, so many people were having similar issues!

      It’s a shame we’re made to feel that we have to keep stuff to ourselves. I’m always here for you….

      Reply

  • Jasmine

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    Just finished reading this Diane and really loved it. An important piece to put out there and I really liked that you put in resources as well!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you! Appreciate the kind words. I hope the resources will be helpful for people and maybe others have some additional ones!

      Reply

  • Lisiane

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    Hi Diane,
    That was such an insightful article. Thank you so much! I’ve pretty much been an expat my entire life, so I don’t know any other life. I have no roots and I can’t really relate to “leaving loved ones and familiar surroundings behind” because I have almost always lived away from parents and siblings. But what I struggle with is making friends where I live. Because I have moved so much and always know I will eventually move again, I’m often not bothered to make any deep and meaningful relationships anymore. That’s one moment where I wish to settle down for somewhere at least 5 years to know it’s “worth it” to make friends. Do you know about the website http://www.onvasortir.com? If you don’t, you should definitely check it out. I think it’s such a great initiative! Have a lovely week, Lisiane
    Lisiane recently posted…How to Start Speaking French Without NativesMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Lisiane, thank you! Remind me again if you grew up in a military family… I know you told me but I forget why you moved around a lot. It’s really interesting what you said about not knowing anything different than a life where you always moved around. That’s a concept I can’t even wrap my head around and I don’t know what it would be like at all. I’d think it would be impossible for me, but if you grew up always moving, it’s your “normal.” Super interesting.

      I AM familiar with onvasortir.com but haven’t had much luck on it. I find that in my area, there are a lot of redneck types who aren’t really interested in people from other cultures. I met a few duds who turned me off to the site. I also met my stalker on there (a weird woman who harassed me a couple of years ago). Even my doctor warned me that it’s full of “paysans”, which was funny that a busy guy like that would know about this stereotype. But I tried it — maybe it’s changed since 2014 — just didn’t have much luck!

      Thx again for your comment!

      Reply

  • Taste of France

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    Great post–as you say, it’s one of those things that happen but don’t get talked about. I would say it’s not so much related to France but to moving. I felt the same way when I moved from my hometown to NYC, and again when I moved to Africa and to Belgium. I was very depressed when I moved to France, not so much because of France, but because we left bustling NYC to move to a tiny village in a very rural area and we had only one car, which my husband used for work. So I was stuck at home, no place to even walk to, with a baby and no family or friends, and no work. All that changed with time–well, not the village part, but I have a car, the baby is grown, I work and have lots of friends. Even if the rocky transition is temporary, it still is hard while it’s happening.
    Taste of France recently posted…Liberté, Égalité, FraternitéMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you! Yes, moving (even domestically) can be really difficult and traumatizing even if you DO want to move and know it’s for the best. When you’re in the moment and everything seems to be hard, it’s not easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m so happy to hear things started to look up for you with time!

      Reply

  • Cynthia

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    This is an excellent post, Diane ! Many people are in illusion about living abroad, especially if it’s in France. Travel and the opportunity to live abroad can be a wonderful experience. But all too often people try to run away from their problems by doing this. Sooner or later reality sets in. Ultimately we have to face ourselves. Issues that have long been ignored can no longer be covered up. Nobody can run away from what’s on the inside. Issues of co-dependency, addictions, self esteem and financial limitations all come to the surface. People can live in denial all they want, but they can’t escape what’s on the inside. They pack it up and take with them to the most picturesque of environments. That’s why this is so important ! You are so right on !
    Cynthia recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you very much! I think living abroad has an allure to it and people idealize the lifestyle making it whatever they want it to be in their minds. It’s so easy to focus on the positives but detrimental if when people neglect to consider the very real reality of what things can be like if you don’t speak the language, if you live in a rural area, if you lose your job, if a sibling at home gets sick. etc. That’s not to say living abroad isn’t worth it — for many it is. At least for a while. I just felt like I needed to speak up about this because painting pretty pictures about how life is so amazing all the time isn’t real, not for me at least. Thank you for your support and kindness, as always!

      Reply

  • Jessica

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    This is such a beautiful post. Really it’s all the emotions I have felt as an expat. Also thank you for the links for help, I considered a counselor at one point and it was difficult finding resources for English speakers. I’m glad I have a few options if I ever feel like I need to explore it again. I think what annoys me the most on blogs and Facebook groups is people don’t seem to realize that it’s not always as easy as “hey I’m moving to France”. There are many paths here but usually the rose glasses people are retirees who sold their houses in Britain and were able to buy chateaus here and get their British groceries mailed in every week. They don’t need to work and have already lived their lives for the most part. That was a clear choice on their part. Sure they deal with some red tape but their biggest worry is about how their marble tile for their renovation isn’t going to be delivered until September because it the vacancies. Yet they seem to be the first people to tell me to just leave if I hate it so much here or have anything but a 5 star review of France. Some of us (me) don’t never gave a crap about France and never wanted to live here, yet here I am. Shocking words I know! My husband was sent here so we didn’t have much of a choice. It was either France or stay in Italy making 800 a month. Moving here meant more money not only for us but also we could support my husband’s family back in Italy since the crisis hit really hard there. making the choice to live somewhere isn’t always as romantic as blogs makes it out to be. There is always a sacrifice somewhere. People that say just go home are over simplifying. Say I do go home (to the US for example), I’ve been out of the workforce there to over a decade, it’s not clear how my husband’s skills would transfer there, we’d both be working 40+ hours a week for the same or even less money, and he’d be so far away from his family which i know he mentally can’t do as an Italian lol. So we just live with what we live with. France isn’t in my top ten places I’d love to live but it’s not on the bottom of the list either. It just is what it is. There are things I love, things I hate and things that confuse me just like there are in Italy, Belgium and the US. I think it’s so unfair that people will get flak if they mention any downsides.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you, Jessica!

      I completely understand your point of view. I think everyone’s experience is valid and what infuriates me is when people tell me I’m wrong because my life is different than theirs is. Of course life is going to be yippy skippy if you have a fat bank account and retire here with only your decor choices to fill your days and refuse to learn French, but then don’t email me and say that my experience isn’t valid. People who live in a bubble should be avoided at all costs because you can never win! Anyway, my point is that all of our experiences are valid because we’re all living life our own way. It’s when we refuse to consider that other people do things differently that the problems start. I have no patience for people who refuse to help others and lend a helping hand (or ear).

      Love your comment. Thank you!

      Reply

  • Carolyn

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    I am a retired psychotherapist hoping to initially live in France for 3 months at a time and them eventually move permanently. Thank you for writing this. Yes, the myth is that life will be perfect in France. How could that be true? I’ve considered coming out of retirement when I moved there. Sounds as if that might be helpful for expats as I specialize in depression and anxiety, also marriage counseling. Thank you for being real.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Carolyn! Thanks for your comment. I feel like the people who think life is perfect here are people who want to keep their rose-colored glasses on tight and fantasize about moving here but never take the steps to do so. It’s easier for them to keep France on its pedestal and think life here is perfect, refusing to see any criticism (even by the French themselves). And that’s fine. We all do what we need to do. I just think everyone can be a little more open minded and allow some space in their head for shades of gray. Where do you practice now? Feel free to link to your website if you have one…. Thx again

      Reply

      • Carolyn

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        Website above. I closed my practice last year after 30 years.

        Reply

  • Saliha

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    I love many of your posts, and I especially love this. It’s really accurate. It hurts a lot that people were more “emotionally involved” with our social updates when we used to live in a 3rd world country 2 years ago, but now that we’re in France, I can count the number of people who REALLY care on one hand.

    I am positive that they believe that living in France is easy and I agree that that thought has been highly romanticized and sugarcoated.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks so much, Saliha! I think moving abroad shows us who are true friends are, and as hard as it can be to let friendships go or realize people don’t care as much as you do or as much as you thought they did, it’s eye opening and for the best. For me, it’s better to have a handful of people who I can count on who really care than a bunch of people who only stick around when it’s convenient for them. Again, appreciate your comment!

      Reply

  • Zhu

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    I found myself nodding a lot when reading your article. So many points are very true and very relevant!

    I never really hung out in expat forums (and I don’t consider myself an expat but an immigrant), but it can be very frustrating to find help when you’re far from home, immersed in a different culture. The people you trust and have a long common history with (for instance, family members) can’t always understand the unique challenge you’re facing abroad because they aren’t familiar with this environment. People close to you abroad may not react the way you expect, either telling you to “suck it up” or simply complaining along with you (which can be comforting at first but doesn’t always help in the long run).

    Anyway, each challenge, each situation is different but it’s important to stay realistic, balanced and to acknowledge issues before they snowball.
    Zhu recently posted…Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Ottawa BluesfestMy Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Merci beaucoup, Zhu!
      We do face a lot of challenges living abroad as expats, immigrants, students, whatever. Even moving somewhere within our own country and people sometimes don’t try to understand. I just wish people would be kinder to others sometimes because it’s a lot easier to stay realistic and balanced when you know you have people on your side!
      Appreciate your comment!! (and love your site and how you say it like it is)

      Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you, Jo-Anne! So happy to hear that!

      Reply

  • Dana

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    Thanks Diane for posting it. So much of what you said about expats being protective of France is so true and so annoying. France merits criticism just like any other place. People just need to relax.

    Expat groups- love and hate, as you know.

    I’m so glad I found an English-speaking therapist. It’s something I pay for out of pocket but I know is helping… 🙂

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Yes, I think the ones that take criticism of France personally are those who have never lived here and want to keep the idea of France (not the reality) a certain way in their minds. As if we’re spoiling it for them if we show cracks in the facade. Now of course that’s not free rein to shit on France, but valid criticisms/concerns, as long as they’re respectful, shouldn’t be a major issue. But yet people still flip out. Oh well, there are worse things in the world. Just something I wanted to point out 😉

      Yes the FB groups bring an interesting mix of people together and most of the time they provide value but not always.

      That’s fantastic news that you have an English-speaking therapist! I think we all could benefit from one no matter our stage in life. You don’t need to have mental health “issues” to benefit from therapy.

      Reply

  • Tom

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    Excellent post. As an immigrant, first to Northern England for 32 years and then here in France for 15, life is much as you describe it. Hard to find people to talk about immigrant problems. I have one very dear French friend who thinks I don’t like French people or France. Others, French or not French I speak French fairly well to one or two people who speak only French, do get touchy as you said. One day I hope to write something as long as you have, but thank you for writing as you did.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hey Tom, thank you! You seem the be the token man here in the comments section. 😉 I’m so glad you found the post useful. I hope you’ve developed a little network of people you can trust over the years. Where are you from originally?

      Reply

  • Louise Romain

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    Upfront disclaimer: I’m now registered as a certified trainer in Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

    Oh how I wish I’d had better self-empathy skills when I moved to France in 1993. Empathy can be a life-saver, and I mean this literally. If air traffic controllers in France’s airports are encouraged to learn about NVC to manage their stress without verbally beating themselves up, then surely it’s easier for the stress of ex-pats (quoique…)

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Louise, NVC sounds really interesting. How did you get into that line of work? Do you teach in France or are you no longer living here? Will check out your site!

      Reply

  • Pippa

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    It was a relief to read your article. Thank you. I’m 64 and until last year had a very challenging and interesting career in my home country, Australia. I’ve been living in rural France with my UK-born husband since last year. Not working, so I guess what’s known as “retired”. We planned to stay for 2 years, but he is very keen to stay here forever. He has suffered from severe Depression, now medicated, and I dread its return, which may be triggered if we go back to Australia. But all my dear friends are there. To be in a country where I have no history with anyone, and where I have little contribution to make, is going to be a challenge. No easy answer. Please don’t stereotype all expat retirees though. We have our own dilemmas!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Pippa, thanks for your comment! I’m sorry to hear about the struggles you’ve been facing. There are no easy answers. I apologize if I stereotyped retirees. I think that in my experience, most of the people who email me or comment on social media with their rose-colored glasses on tend to be people nearing retirement age who haven’t spent time in France beyond a vacation, so that’s where I was coming from there. Totally based on my experience and it’s frustrating because real life is real life. But there are people of all ages and walks of life that have idealized ideas about a place. Thanks again!

      Reply

  • // grenobloise

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    Hi Diane,

    Thanks so much for sharing! This is a very real and very widespread issue that is not spoken about enough. I had some really low lows here in France that were really bad.. I definitely had to seek outside help and it may have saved my life.

    Friends from back home would message me, while I was in the middle of a huge life crisis, saying “Ohhh, how lovely your life is. Glad you’re doing so well!” because I put a basic photo of a French street on Instagram. I was livid..

    I’m fortunate that my boyfriend was always by my side and hoped to support me, but had he bed a bad seed I would have been literally trapped with nowhere to go! It can be a big risk to relocate abroad..

    France is not an easy place to live socially, and if anyone needs totalk they can feel free to email me (contact info on my blog).

    I recently did a big and scary move…Moving from the solitary and isolated Alps to Paris — a more connected place with more opportunities. I was really on the edge and I’m so glad I took the leap! But, again, if it wasn’t for outside support I wouldn’t have been able to do it!

    Thanks for the links; I will be sure to check out the podcast!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi there, thank you for your comment! (not sure I know your first name… please let me know!)

      I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had a rough time while in France but am so happy to hear your partner is supportive and you got help.

      It’s hard to strike a balance with friends and family back home and not mislead them in any way about the reality of life abroad.

      Completely agree that France is not easy socially.

      Congrats on your move to Paris! All the best

      Reply

  • Carolyn

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    Diane,

    I’m not an expat, but I enjoy reading your posts. I discovered your blog roughly a month ago. As an American and as someone who enjoys travel and learning about other cultures, I enjoy reading about other people’s lives abroad. I am so thrilled to have discovered your blog, for I find the writing to be excellent, and I find your posts to be very informative. And, I love the fact that you keep it real. Life is not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s important to give a balanced view of life. I think that you do this very well. And this is coming from someone who is a former editor and reads ALOT.

    I am 51 years old and decided to learn French about a year and a half ago. This has been a dream of mine since I was a teenager, but like an idiot I listened to people who said, “Why do you want to learn French? You live in America. You should learn Spanish because there are a lot of Spanish people here.” While it is true that we have a much larger Spanish population in the United States as opposed to a French one, I was always interested in French. And, I just wasn’t interested in learning Spanish. So to make a long story short, at the beginning of 2016, I said to myself, “Fu*k it, I’m gonna learn French.” So I set out to find myself a tutor that would teach me privately. (I really didn’t want to enroll in a college course.). My first tutor was a nice Belgian guy who I met for a few sessions in NYC. While he was very nice, I found our sessions to be too difficult for me since I needed a quiet environment since I wear hearing aids. I found another tutor who meets with me in my home and that has worked out much better for me.

    What I have learned since trying to learn French:

    French is a nasal language as opposed to English, which is more guttural. The irony is that while growing up I went to 16 years, yes 16 years, of speech therapy, to unlearn speaking nasally, which afflicts those who have a hearing problem. So after learning to speak through my throat as opposed to my nose, I now have to return to speaking nasally when I try to speak French. I find this extremely funny and ironic, but I think you might only find this funny if you have a hearing problem.

    Learning a new language is hard, damn hard. Sometimes I want to give up, but I keep pressing on.

    And, what is really hard is that although I know I am a smart person, I feel really dumb when trying to communicate in this new language with its weird grammar (e.g., adjectives after the noun – mostly). I’ve gained more compassion for those who use English as a Second Language.

    Okay, I have rambled on enough. I just wanted to say I’m so glad I discovered your blog.

    P.S. I understand you are from New Jersey. Are you familiar with Cape May? I love that place.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Carolyn, welcome! To start w/your question, yes, I’m from New Jersey but several hours from Cape May. Tom and I visited Cape May though a few years ago and loved it! NJ has some incredible beaches and I was so fortunate to have gone every summer as a kid (a bit north of Cape May).

      You’ve brought up a bunch of things, so where to start….

      I really appreciate your kind words about the blog. I know typed words on a screen can seem hollow but I truly mean it when I say thanks. It’s hard to strike a balance sometimes in the blogosphere and everyone is going to have their opinion, but I’m so happy my posts are of interest to you and that I have your support!

      Congrats on studying French. It’s such a rewarding endeavor, so stick with it and you’ll get there little by little. That’s great that you have a tutor who has worked out for you. Don’t worry about feeling dumb. We all go through it and it’s the only way to learn. Like you, I’ve become so much more compassionate toward people w/accents, people who are foreign, etc. after living abroad and having to live in French. It’s not that I wasn’t caring before, but I just didn’t see things through the same lens. Keep at it and the little victories in French will make your day! 😉

      Anyway, thank you again for stopping by and hope to see you in the comments in future posts!! All the best!

      Reply

  • Carolyn

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    OCD Alert:

    Diane,

    I forgot to put a period in a sentence that I wrote above. LOL. Yes, I’m being OCD. It’s in the third paragraph, last sentence. There should be a period after “when I try to speak French. I find this…” Sorry that I’m being anal about this. I’m the type to edit my Facebook posts for spelling and grammatical errors. 🙂

    Carolyn

    Reply

    • Diane

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      No problem, just fixed it. Let me know if you want me to delete this comment about the error! I type too fast and make all kinds of typos, so I understand!

      Reply

  • Jeanne Teleia

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    Hi Diane, I was just in France for 3 months in preparation for a move and met LOTS of people who struggled with these issues. I am also a therapist and wondered about the mental health care resources for English speakers and how I can be of service so thank you for listing the resources and feel free to add me to the list. I work remotely so it makes it easy for anyone to get help. I also find even in preparation for moving overseas family and friends are not at all understanding, thinking that it’s just a whim or because I’m somehow rich (I’m trying to find a CHEAPER place to live than where I am now!) or the are jealous or resentful or whatever. So then you move there with little support from home and have to find friends fast. Ex-pat groups help but are not the total solution. I’m so glad you posted on this and see you’ve gotten a great response. Congratulations!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Jeanne, thank you for sharing your point of view. I completely agree. Moves of any kind (even for people who are positive about the move and want to go to the new place) can be difficult, even within their own country, so a move to somewhere “foreign” can wreak havoc on our entire way of life and psyche.
      Family and friends don’t always get it and some are absolutely resentful or jealous not realizing that life somewhere else isn’t always a paradise or that it’s better and worse for reasons that you kind of have to experience to fully grasp.

      I will update the post to include your site as one of the resources. Thank you! I’m undergoing a slight site upgrade and this comment along with changes I make are going to be wiped so I will have to manually update anyway. Promise I’ll add you once everything is done. Thx again!

      Reply

  • Karen Bates

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    My book Faking it in France caused a storm when it was first published 5 years ago. It wasn’t the jolly we all lived happily after moving to rural Normandy book and I did get slated- I did however get an awful lot of messages from ex pats from all over the world where the themes of homesickness and loneliness resonated through.
    I throughly enjoyed this article and I think we need more awareness of the darker side of living in a foreign land.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Karen! I’ll have to check out your book!
      I find that the people the most upset if anything critical is said about France are either 1) folks that have only visited France on vacation or lived here for a period of time with an end date (school, 1-yr work contract, etc.) 2) folks that have never visited but want to idealize France in their minds like some kind of pastry-filled Disney World where everyone is thin and polite and perfect.
      I think everyone’s points of view are important and valid but it’s when people get disrespectful that I tune out. There’s no reason for that and I’m sorry if people were rude to you and trashed your work. I know how much that can sting. But on the other hand, what I mention here and what you wrote about affects so many people so there’s nothing wrong with getting a discussion started. Hopefully we help those who need it even in the smallest way and those that have perfect lives will keep on living in their bubble. 😉 Appreciate your support!

      Reply

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