It’s decision-making time in Toulouse. Before starting this adventure we agreed to evaluate our situation after one year and decide if our move to France would go beyond a one year sabbatical.
I won’t tease you; we’ve decided to return to the U.S.
It was not a difficult decision but it was not without regrets either. We’ve (Diane) accomplished a lot of what we set out to do but we (Neal) haven’t reached all our goals. Diane has built an impressive photography portfolio. See for yourself at:
My writing has been less successful than Diane’s photography. I have a novel’s-worth of words written but apparently prose isn’t like uranium-232, a readable story does not just burst forth once you’ve reached critical mass. I haven’t abandoned the project but I need to admit that I’m not going to finish by the time we leave.
Next week we say au revoir to Toulouse. We end this journey the way we began, on a boat. Unfortunately we won’t be taking that boat all the way back. We’re cruising to Venice and then taking a train to Munich where Diane will force me, blissed-out on benzodiazepines, onto an airplane.
This decision is really being made for us. France doesn’t want us. It’s not really that they don’t want us, they don’t want us taking their jobs. Our visas do not give us permission to work in France, they expressly forbid it. We are not wealthy; we would need to work to stay. I suppose it’s possible we could eek out a living around the edges, teaching English or scrambling for free lance gigs. We’re getting too old for eeking.
Diane in particular is reluctant to leave. Her first mistake was marrying me. One of the go-to methods for women to live their dream of la vie en rose is to marry a French man. I’m the only thing standing in the way. I keep an eye out for any sudden moves when a bus passes by and I’m not going to put my back to her as I gaze over the rail of the cruise ship. Paranoid? Maybe, but you don’t know how much she loves this country, hopefully a little less than she loves me.
So, what’s with the regret? Well, there’s a lot we’re going to miss…
We’re both going to miss the people of France whom we found to be generous and friendly, especially the family of our landlord. “Our Family” as we call them, includes a thirty something couple with two young boys. Dad positions satellites for a living and Mom is a teacher. We found them on Leboncoin, the French version of Craigslist.
Before arriving in France we heard lots of scary stories about the difficulties of foreigners securing housing, the need for French guarantors and possibly even paying an entire years worth of rent up front. Like most of the scary things we heard, it wasn’t true. We signed a year lease and made a one month security deposit just like anywhere in the U.S.
Unlike in the U.S., we were also adopted by our landlord. “Our Family” took us to markets and taught us how to shop (if you want an entire loop of sausage you ask for a “round trip”), shared their friends with us, translated for us, invited us to meals and parties, and basically made our lives easier and more interesting than we could have hoped for.
The French we have met are all about family. Yes, the French do get a lot of vacation time compared to Americans and they use it to spend time with family and friends. The results, at least in “Our Family”, are very loving and happy people. High on Diane’s list of things she will miss is hearing the boys’ little voices calling “papa! papa!” while they are waiting at our garden gate for their Dad to walk them to school.
What else will we miss? Well, there’s all the charm of European cities that are thousands of years old. The weather too in southern France has been a refreshing change from New York with it’s tempered highs and lows (a lot like those French people I mentioned earlier).
We are both going to miss the Health Care. We’re getting to that age where we are becoming consumers of Health Care. By the time we leave, we will both have had surgery in France along with several visits to the dentist. It’s simply done better here. I can see hackles rising across the ocean from here – The U.S. has the best Health Care in the world! Bullshit. You get equal or better care in France for a fraction of the cost. We could learn something here.
Diane noted some things she’s going to miss in particular in a recent post:
I noted some things we are not going to miss in the post before that:
The number one thing we’re not going to miss is our inability to communicate well. We’ve been here a year now and we can get by, but not much more. We can get our basic point across in almost every case and understand the general idea of what someone is saying to us. But there is so much more to communication than basic understanding. We miss the nuances of communication, things like humor and sarcasm that make it so much fun and help form meaningful connections.
We befriended a couple when we first arrived and had hoped to spend more time with them. Eventually they stopped calling and we didn’t make any effort to contact them. I’m convinced it was because of the language barrier. It was exhausting to simply sit down and have dinner. Every word was agonized over and pantomimed. Not a relaxing way to spend the evening.
We are friends with another couple, both of whom speak English vey well. We have not lost touch with them (even for the three months they spent in Madagascar adopting a child). This is proof that it’s the language that’s the problem, not us. Right? This couple had us over several times for home-cooked meals and went out of their way to welcome us to France. We hope to keep in touch with them and see them again some day (that’s a hint Estelle & Hervé!).
If you’re planning a move abroad, we have one piece of advice – Learn The Language! Do everything you can, pay for classes and/or a tutor. There’s no way you could arrive knowing more than you need to.
Other than that we’re NOT going to miss people asking us to explain Donald Trump.
So is it back to New York? Denver? Nope. We’ve lived on the east coast and in the middle, now it’s time for California. Diane has had her fill of cold weather and if it’s time for us to settle down, what better place than The Golden State.
Repatriating and adjusting to lives filled with responsibilities and deadlines is going to be challenging. Diane is already suffering from reverse culture shock and we haven’t left yet. I’m actually looking forward to returning to work, believe it or not I miss it. I only hope I can find a firm where my habitual afternoon nap is not frowned upon.
The end of our time in France also means the end of the raison d’être for this blog. The next blog post will cover Diane’s recent trip to Paris, Colmar, and Switzerland. The very last post will recap our trip back to the U.S. and our first days back home. To put a bow on the whole experience we’re going to print a book of our blog posts that will include even more of Diane’s photos. If you come visit us some day we will pull out that book and torture you with it. If you really can’t get enough of us you will be able to order your own.