6 Years and 6 Things

Life in General, Living Abroad, Uncategorized

Recently, the folks over at HiFX contacted me about contributing to their expat tip page which is part of a new campaign they are working on to give expats some helpful and honest advice and it couldn’t have come at a better time since this week marks the 6 year anniversary of when I left the United States.

6 years.  That number still amazes me.

Since then it has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs (mostly ups) in which I have lived in 3 different countries, 2 different hemispheres, had 6 different jobs, met some of my best friends, and stumbled across a French man who became my husband.  As I think about everything that has happened over this time period, I consider all the things I wish someone had told me beforehand, the tips I would have liked to have had.

So, without further ado, here are 6 things (get it?  6 years, 6 things…très cute) that I would have liked to have known beforehand:

#6. Making plans is hilarious.

When I left Washington D.C. and my job and life and friends and family and country…and…(yeah, you get it) for Wellington, New Zealand I repeatedly kept telling everyone that I would be back in one year.  Conversations would go like this:

“Oh my god, I can’t believe you are leaving!  I’m never going to see you again,” said by wailing friend.

“Puh-leeeeese, it is a one year visa, it’s like I’m going on a vacation.  I’ll see you this time next year,” said by over-confident and foolish me who had no idea what I was talking about.

It was 3 years before I even so much as visited D.C. again.

Woody Allen is credited with saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans” and I couldn’t agree more.  Over the past 6 years I have repeatedly announced things that were going to happen, like when I would return to the USA (…there have been multiple timelines for this – sorry Mom), how long I would stay in a particular country (just 1 year in France, right…), what type of work I would have (I will finish my Master’s Degree and get a job in HR…), etc.  Every time I would proclaim a particular plan something would happen to change it (I think the Universe has a perverse sense of humor), often, these changes weren’t bad they just weren’t in line with my original “plan.”

It would have been nice to have been aware of this little joke earlier as I would have been saved many awkward conversations in which I backtracked and had to announce changes to my “plans” (I can’t take the word seriously enough anymore to write it without quotes).  Now I just dodge questions as best I can and try to go with the flow and I suggest that any new expat does the same.  Don’t get too sure about what is going to happen or not going to happen, instead be open and prepared for all sorts of different eventualities.

#5. Be careful about your living situation.

Oh la la la la la la (this should be heard in French accent).  I cannot stress this enough and it applies whether you are 20 years old going for a year overseas or 35 years old and moving for an indeterminate period of time.  THINK before you sign a lease and get into an irreversible living situation.  Listen to your gut if something seems off, consider your finances beforehand, and know what your walking-away point is.

It can be really easy to get desperate about where you will live upon arrival in a new country, there is a need to be settled, and living in a hostel or temporary housing can be the pits.  But you know what is worse?  Living with crazy people people with whom you do not get along or moving into a house you can’t afford or a neighborhood that seemed fine at first but is actually super-inconvenient.  It is not always easy but try to be patient and wait for the right living situation, not merely the simplest…you won’t regret it.

#4. Take good opportunities!  

ARGH.  I still think about a job offer I had in Wellington, NZ – it was perfectly suited for my past experience and would work well to get me where I wanted to go professionally in the future.  It couldn’t have been more perfect…but when they offered it to me (and agreed to give me a visa – yes, I was this idiotic) they said they would need a 2 year commitment…well, I had only been in NZ for a couple of months at that point and I thought, “well, I’m not going to live overseas for 2 years” (see #6 about making plans) so I said I couldn’t do it.  ACK (read: epic stupidity)!

This was 5 ½ years ago and it still plagues me.  Don’t get hung up on timelines because nothing is set in stone.  I could have taken that job and still left after 1 year if I wanted, I mean, it wasn’t a blood oath (…or was it, things get crazy in New Zealand), or I could have ended up staying longer and building something really interesting.  It could have been amazing or it could have been a horrible experience, I will never know, the only thing I do know for certain is that I regret not finding out.

Now, I’m not saying jump at every little thing that comes your way but opportunities don’t come knocking all the time – when they do, take a beat and consider what your end goal is and then maybe say yes to something that seems a little scary.

#3. There will always be something to miss. 

“Being an expat is soooooo amazing, I never think about the past or the future I just live in the moment and I’m never going to be sad about things I don’t have anymore.”

EIH!  Wrong answer.

So being an expat is exciting and full of new things –TRUE – but you are also setting yourself up for some tough times…as my Mother constantly likes to remind me: “you’ve chosen a hard life” (Mom loves a truth gun) and she is right, per usual…so annoying.

You are going to have friends, sometimes best friends, scattered throughout the world and you are going to miss major events in their lives.  You are not going to be able to see your family as much as you might want to.  When you go back home you will miss things and people from your host country, if you stay overseas you will have a pang in your heart for your home and the things that you love there.  No place will ever have it all again and you will be doomed to be that obnoxious person who is constantly making mental comparisons in your head about which place is better (I say “in your head” because if you share these thoughts out loud people will find you super irritating).

This is one of the big tradeoffs that one makes when deciding to embrace the expat life and it is a hard one.

You will also miss certain junk foods.  KRAFT BLUE BOX 4 EVA!

#2. Oh my god, pay attention to your frequent flyer miles. 

There isn’t much to say on this other than the sad fact that MB and I are morons and didn’t rack up our FF miles the way we should have.  If we had been responsible, we could be super special card members with all sorts of lovely perks.  Consider yourself warned, I get irritated every time I think of it.  Le sigh.

#1. You are not ruining your life. 

When I left the USA there were a lot of people who thought I was nuts (don’t try to deny it – I saw your faces).

What people said:

“Ohhhhhhh muh-gawd, that is totes amazing, I sooooooo wish I was brave enough to do that.  You’re like, an inspiration.  It is going to be ree-diculous.  I can’t wait to hear all about it.

What people thought:

“Um right…brave my arse, she has lost her dang mind.  She is walking away from her job, her life, everything.  She is 27 years old not 19, when she comes back she will have to start from nothing.  This is an EPIC mistake.”

I get it, I was pretty freaked out about what I was doing as well.  Leaving a decent career (even if I wasn’t suited for it) and an established life was scary and there were a lot of nights before and even after the move that I was afraid I was destroying my future…but I didn’t.

It can be really easy to get sucked into societal pressures, parental pressures, and even pressure from friends about how you should be living your life and what timeline you should be on.  Don’t worry about it – if I had listened to everyone else (including my internal voice of reason) I wouldn’t be married to an amazing man, living in France and following my love of writing.

Be confident about your choices and chase them with intelligence and hard-work, don’t let the naysayers (internal or external) pull you from your path.  (Insert appropriate “Robert Frost, life is a journey, two roads, blah blah blah” quote here)

*While this post is directed at expats, I think that it applies to life in general no matter where you might find yourself living…especially the part about frequent flyer miles, keep up with that stuff, people! 

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A Simple Dimple: My Ode to Cellulite

French Food

I am standing in the kitchen at a friend’s house watching as he prepares a huge pot of fondue.

“Ehermergerd,” I say, “It looks SO good.”

“Yeah,” my friend responds glumly.  “But not exactly fat free, huh?”

“Oauis,” I reply.  “I don’t even care anymore.  In fact, I think I’ve kind of grown to like my cellulite.”

“Quoi?!”  A female friend jumps in, having overheard our conversation.

“I don’t know,” I say.  “I guess I’ve started feeling attached to it.”

She is looking at me like I am crazy…which is fair enough.

“Like, years from now if I don’t live here anymore I can look at my thigh and think “ah yes, that is my French cellulite.”

She laughs but it is in the “you are being weird so I will humor you” way.  I shrug – what can I say?  I’ve become zen with my dimples.

***

I like to eat which works well in France since the French are a people who also like to eat (I know this is a lot of new information to handle at once).  I am always comfortable and welcomed (the French version of being welcomed so, you know…toned down) when I enter a party or arrive for dinner ready to try everything and “ooh” and “ahh” over the food.  It is my primary “in” with French society – they love anyone who is enthusiastic about their cuisine.  However, there are some drawbacks as I have discussed before.

These days, I have figured out how to manage my FFFC (French Fatty Food Consumption).  I’ve realized that “um, I live here and I don’t need to eat everything all at once and constantly” which has been great for the waistline; however, recently I have noticed that some damage just can’t be undone.  There are some things in the FFFC repertoire (foie gras, pate, cheese) that one’s body simply can’t ignore no matter how moderate the intake.  At first, these noticeable changes really bothered me:  “Cellulite, Quelle Horreur!”  But now, I have come to realize that really my cellulite is like a sexy badge of honor, I mean, I feel a little romantic about it.

“Heeeeey Cellulite, how you doin’?”

“Oh you know,” Cellulite says, coyly, flashing me a dimple.  “Just hanging around.”

“Why don’t you let me take you out?  We’ll go to the beach where I can show you off, guuurl!”

A note:  I have no idea why me talking to my cellulite sounds like an early 90’s white rapper.  Apparently the world and my fellow women should all be happy I wasn’t born a dude because my game is sounding pretty sad.

Okay – so it goes something like that.

Point being, I’ve just decided that my cellulite (and other various body issues…don’t even get me started on stretch marks) just isn’t that big of a deal.  I mean, did you know that somewhere between 80-90% of post-pubescent women have it?  (No, I don’t know who those 10% who don’t are, I pretty sure they are like Rainbow Unicorns…I’ve certainly never seen one)  That means that it should be like a rite of passage, proof that you have had a life, that you survived teenage years – I mean, my god, who on earth would trade in cellulite for having to been a teen?  Dimples are definitely the better end of that bargain (apologies to any teenage readers but don’t worry, you’ll get it in about 10 years).  Basically, it is the visible evidence that you have lived some life and are interesting (people who never indulge in yummy food are boring – BAM –truth gun).

So, today, I embrace my cellulite, it kind of makes me smile and remember all the great food that I’ve eaten with great friends during great moments in my life – it is a mark upon my body…but a mark doesn’t necessarily mean a blemish, does it?

So Cellulite, this one’s for you:

An Ode to Cellulite

Rippling waves of dimpled flesh can leave me feeling quite bereft,

Squeezing, pulling, squats galore and still, each day, I find some more.

Yet as I sit and contemplate this state…suddenly, my heart inflates.

Perhaps this unsightly mark against beauty should be embraced by any true foodie.

A swath of fat above my knees to remind me of a Burgundian cheese,

A Parisian dinner caressing my thigh and taking me back to a night gone by,

A plumped buttocks from cassoulet…the evening we met and talked the night away,

Foie gras with confit and magret canard, raclette in winter and pommes de terres in lard,

Memories of moments mapped out on my skin, why should I fight it, perhaps they should win?

It could be inner thighs that flop with vigor indeed present a nicer figure

Than those that stay in shapely place, never rubbing or losing face…

For never having known glorious taste.

***

Apologies for the extra-long sabbatical.  Bread is Pain should be back up and running with normal posts from now on.  I hope that all of you had a glorious New Year! Cheers!

 

 

Merry Christmas Part II: Wassailing (repost)

Holidays in France

Hi y’all – yes, another repost for Christmas.  I hope you will still enjoy it!  Thank you so much to all of you who helped support Bread is Pain in the Expat Blog Awards – we took home first prize for France which is pretty darn cool!  I hope you all have wonderful holidays – I will be back posting again at the end of January (a brief sabbatical).

Happy Holidays and have a wonderful New Year! 

***

“Quoi?”  MB calls out from the kitchen.

“Quoi what?”  I say this before the redundancy of it computes in my mind.

He steps out of the kitchen and into the living room where I am dancing like a maniac and going through my Christmas songs on Itunes to sort out a playlist for our upcoming party.  I grab his hand and make him dance with me which gets a laugh…one of his classic laughs in which I can tell he is trying really hard not to but can’t help it.

He kisses me on the cheek which is my cue to stop.  “What is this wassailing?”

“Oh,” I respond, putting “Here We go a-Wassailing”* on mute.  “You know, it’s to… “wassail.”  This seems like a totally logical answer to me.

“You don’t know what it means, do you?”

YES, of course I do, I sang this song when I was a kid!  Gaw!”  I have no idea what it is to “wassail.”

“So, what is it?”  He puts a hand on his hip and stands over my computer.

“Hold on…” I say, as I google it quickly.  “Huh…it is: 1 : an early English toast to someone’s health 2 : wild drinking : REVELRY.”

“So it is a Christmas carol about getting wasted?”  He asks me this with amusement on his face.

“No way, it can’t be,” I look up “wassailing” as opposed to the noun form “wassail” hoping there is some translation change; it isn’t much better.  “”Wassailing,” I read, “To go on a wild drinking spree.”

MB bursts out laughing.

“It also means to drink to someone’s health!”  I will defend “wassailing” forever!

He pats me on the head and walks back to the kitchen.  My whole childhood has just morphed into an old English drinking song.

When I was little I was a Girl Scout.  We had meetings once a week and events like camping (okay so camping in cabins not in tents but get real…we have bears in Tennessee) and selling Girl Scout cookies throughout the year.  I remember learning how to light a match, how to sew a button (quit giving me that look, Mom, just because I don’t do it well doesn’t mean I don’t know how), and I can still pick out poison oak.  Somewhere in the attic there is a sash with badges on it and I still keep in touch with a few girls from my troop and one of them even came to my wedding this year.

Every Christmas my Mother (a “forever” Girl Scout) would get the girls together over at our house and take us caroling in the neighborhood.  My Mother an avid…dare I say “hardcore”, caroler loved the tradition and so did I.  It was awesome and SO much cooler than it sounds…I swear.  We would all meet at someone’s house and dress up in super warm clothes and drink hot chocolate and afterwards we would have a cookie party.  It was fun to go out into a cold wintery night with all your best friends and sing songs to strangers.  Carolers are often made fun of in movies or on sitcoms but let’s face it – in this day in age it is pretty amazing to have a bunch of strangers show up at your door and sing songs to you for no other reason than to spread some cheer.

I remember one year in particular back in the late 80’s.  After the adults made sure we were all warmly attired in our totally cool purple, green, and fuchsia winter wear (I’m just assuming…I did say late 80’s) we set out with our song books into the wily streets of High Point Terrace in Memphis (this will be funny to anyone from Memphis).  We went to house after house singing our songs and generally being “ooh’d” and “awe’d” over by all the folks in the neighborhood (perhaps another reason we all loved Christmas caroling…a nice little ego boost if I do say so).

Only a few doors down from my house we came and knocked on a door.  Now let me give a little lesson in caroling for you novices out there, it’s not like you ring the doorbell and wait to take requests; you ring or knock and then get going with your song – if the people living there don’t like it then they are scrooges, plain and simple.  At this house my Mother whispered to us to start singing “Silent Night.”  The porch stayed quiet as we began our song and we started to wonder if they were going to open the door; we could see people in there.  Suddenly the door swung wide and the whole family was standing there.  I remember having a very odd sensation of seeing so much light around them as we stood on the dark porch.  While we sang I noticed their arms going around each other and hugs being given, heads rested on shoulders, a couple of the people even cried.  We had never made such an impact.  Later my Mother explained to us that the man who had lived there had died a few days ago and that the family was there comforting each other.

It was a special moment in my life, maybe it was a special moment in theirs.  Maybe it is a story that they still tell in their family about the night that Grandpa died and little girls showed up at the door during the wake and sang “Silent Night.”  We didn’t understand while we were singing what had happened and we only sort of understood later but I understand now and it can still bring a tear to my eye thinking about it; thinking about the fact that the simplest acts that you commit in your life can bring a sense of peace, a sense of thankfulness, a sense of joy and love to a complete stranger…and sometimes when they need most to not feel alone in this world.  I understand that often God or the Universe or Mother Nature, or whatever you believe in will use you as a tool for good even when you aren’t trying.

When I asked my Mother about this story to make sure I was telling it right she was so pleased that I remembered caroling and had happy memories of it.  She told me that the reason she always hosted this party was because of a memory she had when she was a little girl.  “It was probably only once in my life – one year,” she wrote, “The cold, the holiday season, the thrill of singing with others, the smiles on the other side of the doorway.  I still recall the intense delight I felt.”  It’s funny, isn’t it?  That two women in different stages in their life still think about and remember fondly singing to strangers a few times when they were children.

My Mother said that when we would go caroling sometimes people would try to give us money.  They would want to know why we were caroling, they assumed we were doing it for something.  Well…we were.  Maybe it sounds cheesy and maybe it is too trite for some people but we were just doing it to spread cheer.

So, “Wassail” my friends!  Drink an extra glass of egg nogg or vin chaud, be unnecessarily cheerful, sing songs too loudly, and allow yourself to be used in the crafting of someone’s happy holiday memories.

*Note – there are two different “Wassailing” songs around the holidays and neither is for Christmas but for the New Year.  There is “Here we go a –wassailing” and there is also (my favorite) “Wassail, Wassail”. 

Happy Holidays Everyone!  I’ll be back in the New Year!!

Merry Christmas Part 1: Joyeux Noel

Conversations with France, Holidays in France

*This is a repost of a Christmas post I wrote my first year in France.  I hope you will enjoy, more Christmas Posts coming soon. *

 

Before leaving for the United States, I saw France out at the Christmas Market in town.

France:  Hello!  American friend, hello!!

France is waving wildly and jumping up and down.  I turn behind me to see whose attention is being sought…surely not mine.

France:  Oui, for you, so silly!

France laughs gaily and waves me over.

Me:  Ah…bonsoir, France.

France:  Bonsoir, mon amie!  It has been a long time, yes?

Me:  Yes, I guess so, not since the “Total Eclipse of the Heart” situation.

France:  Ah yes, this was very funny.  We always have such a good time.

In my mind I think, “do we?”  France gives me a friendly slap on the back.

France:  And what will you drink?  A vin chaud?

Me:  Oui, yes, sounds good!  You are in a very good mood today.

France pauses and gives me an exasperated look.

 France:  Is this okay with you?  Pfff…always the same, never satisfied.  It is the Marché de Noël, eh?  Maybe you can try to not ruin a party for once, uh?  Pfff….

Me:  Sorry, sorry, it’s just so – are those animatronic bears?

France:  Mais oui, they are very nice, yes?  Luke (look) at them playing their instruments, I love eet (it)!

I look over at the four animatronic polar bears playing a string quartet with wonder.  This seems very un-French. 

 Me:  You know, I didn’t think the market would be so festive.  I mean, this is really hardcore.

France:  What do you expect, American?  Ronald McDonald with a Santa hat?

France says this with an eye roll.

 Me:  No, it’s just, you know…

France looks at me questioningly.

 Me:  Well, in the U.S. we really celebrate things intensely, lots of decorations, lots of costumes.  I mean, they don’t even have to be our own holidays – St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Bastille Day even…we don’t discriminate.  So, in France it is a bit more subdued; I just didn’t expect the Christmas decorations to be so over the top!

France:  Over the top?  It is a few lights, a market, this is normal!

Me:  Yes, yes, it is all very normal but –

I am interrupted as an accordion player wanders through the crowd playing Christmas carols.  She passes out sheets of paper with the music on them and the whole crowd joins in to sing with her.  France joins in loudly.

 Me:  What is happening?  Strangers are breaking out into spontaneous musical numbers together…and they are FRENCH.  Is this a joke?

France:  Stop being so, ah what is this word…SCROOGE!  Oui, stop being so scrooge!

Me:  I’m not being a Scrooge, I am just very confu-

France hands me my glass of vin chaud. 

 France:  Now, I will go and get us some foie gras sandwiches.  Here, you can sing.

France thrusts the music into my hand and goes to the stand to get the sandwiches.  Once in line, France gives me a ‘thumbs up’ and waves at me and I must smile. 

 Christmas really is a magical time of year. 

Joyeux Noël and Happy Holidays to all!

Top 7 Moments in France (and shameless self-promotion)

Adjusting to France

Hello all!

Just a quickie to ask for your help.  I’ve entered the Expat Blog Awards with a post entitled “Top 7 Moments in France.”  It is a new post that has never been published here and I would be thrilled if you would pop over to their site and check it out.  If you feel so inclined, leave a comment and that will go towards helping me win the contest (the post with the most comments wins).  Comments must be over 10 words to count towards the award (yeah…they won’t let me get away with “nice job”…cheeky) and they will ask you to verify email to make sure you aren’t a robot.

I would so appreciate any help and hope you will enjoy the post!

Cheers!!!

On the Road to Nowhere

Holidays in France, Travel in France

“Are you looking at the map, which way do we turn here?”  MB is talking to me while driving as I search both the map and the road for a sign.

“I’m looking,” I wail, “but I’m telling you I can’t even figure out what road we are on!”

MB sighs and pulls over and I can tell he is blaming this confusion solely on the fact that I have…meh…not a great sense of direction (seriously, it is a miracle I can make it out of walk-in closets).  

“Let me see,” he says, relieving me of the map and scanning the page.

I wait as he looks at the map, then looks up at the road, then down at the map, then up at the road, over and over again.

“You look like a bird eating bird seed,” I say.  I’m so helpful.

“Quoi,” he says with irritation in his voice.  I realize he has not heard my statement at all…he is “in the map.*”

He steps out of the car and walks toward the intersection, searching for a street sign, looking on sides of abandoned sheds.  Finally he spots something and I see him throw his hands up in frustration before returning to the car.

“(French expletive),” he says, shutting the car door. “I mean, this is ridiculous.”

I shrug and smile at him smugly serenely.  Mwahahahahaha!  Now who has no sense of direction, huh?!  (yeah, that would still be me.)

“I mean, how can both directions be correct,” he says angrily as he points to the only apparent sign.

I burst out laughing as I look at the signage: TOUTES DIRECTIONS = all directions.  Beneath these words are arrows, one pointing to the left and one pointing to the right.  It might as well say: make something up.

“ARGH!!!!”  MB gives a shout of irritation and I have to force away a smile.  (Sometimes it is really funny to me when MB gets angry because he is usually so calm.  Does this make me a bad person?  …possibly.)

After a few minutes of debating with himself and looking further down the map MB decides to just pick a direction and hope for the best…I mean, it’s not like it would be the first time.

***

You remember the movie Labyrinth?  If not, I would be happy to give you a one woman show BECAUSE IT IS AWESEOME (David FREAKIN Bowie).  Anyway, I digress…do you remember this scene – go to about the 2min mark:

That pretty much sums up what it is like to drive around on back roads through France (minus the hot androgynous fairy king).  On the highways it is no problem, even the smaller national highways are great and well-signed but once you get off the beaten path, you are on your own.  Street signs may or may not exist and the indicated directions often have an “all roads lead to Rome” style.  Even for MB it can be a struggle.

“OH please, she is just being silly, I mean, doesn’t she know everyone has GPS these days.” 

HA!  I scoff at your GPS…and so does France.  Do you remember that episode of “The Office” when Michael drives into a lake because the GPS tells him to?  Yeah, well, that scenario happened to us in Provence (incidentally, we chose not to drive into the large tree indicated).

“Yeah, but I’ll still have my IPhone, I can pull up maps or call someone.”

No you can’t, France will take away your cell phone reception too.  When you are traveling through the countryside, cell phone reception is spotty, to say the least.  Basically, consider back roads as a personal challenge issued to you from France.

FRANCE:  HA!  You want to go on a nice weekend road trip?  That is fine but don’t think it will come easy – you have to work for it!

ME:  But France, WHHHHHHY?!

FRANCE:  Don’t question me – I am France, I am full of enigmas!

That is pretty much how the challenge is issued.

So, when that moment arrives and your GPS tells you to drive into someone’s barn, dust off those wilderness skills (Girl Scouts 4 EVA), pull out one of those old-fashioned paper things with directions on it and figure out from the placement of the sun which way is North…

…or stop and ask for directions – the answer can’t be nearly as confusing as trying to figure it out yourself.

 

*In the Map!  Remember this from “Friends?”

My Dirty Little Secret

Adjusting to France, Life in General, Living Abroad

“I HATE EVERYTHING – nothing is ever just easy,” I am stomping around the house in full tempter-tantrum – Scarlett-style.

MB looks at me silently with no reaction (he has learned to let me just wear myself out…much like one might do with a 3 year old).

He sighs as I continue to slam around being disagreeable.  Could I be enjoying this?!  NO!  Of course not…

“I went to Picard…NOTHING.  Then I tried the Petit Casino – you know, the one that always has them and they didn’t have anything either,” I wail.

“Well,” he says tentatively.  “Maybe at Carrefour?”

“NO,” I say loudly, for some reason feeling satisfied to crush his possible solution.  “I have never seen them there, they don’t carry them at all*!”

MB looks at me, “I could call the stores,” he suggests.

“I guess,” I say, sulkily.  “I don’t know what good it will do, even if we find them we will have to take a tram to go and get them.”  I’m not ready to be mollified yet.  “GAWD!  I just wanted to make crawfish etouffee – I bought all the other ingredients and stupidly took for granted that I would be able to find the crawfish at the stores.”  I’m ranting again and flailing about with drama.  “But NOOOOOOOOOO…I mean, why would a store stock the same merchandise every time?  That would be too easy and convenient for the customers and your country HATES easy and convenient!”

MB retreats into the bedroom with the telephone to call the stores and I am left feeling…meeeeeeeeeeeh…a little ashamed of myself.  I don’t mean to pull out the “country card” but it is certainly the quickest thing to revert to when I’m feeling frustrated.  These are not proud moments

***

“My, my,” My Mother says into the phone.  “You are really living the life, aren’t you?”

I have just finished telling her about our weekend jaunt over to Munich.  There was all-you-can-eat schnitzel and fairy castles, what more could a person ask for?

“I sure hope you are appreciating it,” she continues.

I smile and roll my eyes at the same time (this is the reaction to a special mixed emotion that only my Mother can summon forth – it is simultaneous irritation and amusement).

“I know, Mom,” I reply.  “I do!”

“Well,” she continues.  “I sure hope so…”

I’m waiting for it.  I know what is coming next.

“Because…”

Queue ominous and foreboding thunderclap. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  Feeling scared yet?

She goes on, “Your life will not always be like this.”

I sigh into the telephone, unsure of exactly what my response should be.  Do I say, “thanks for letting me know” or “I appreciate the warning?”  Do I pretend that I am still fourteen years old and say, “GAH MOM, you’re such a downer!”  OR do I tell her the truth?

The expat life is great.  I am living in Europe for the first time and enjoying traveling around and seeing all the sights, I have an amazing French husband, and I get to write all day long (sometimes this is awesome and sometimes this feels like I have sentenced myself to a lifelong homework assignment).  I mean, it’s pretty much a Meg Ryan movie over here without all the neurosis (and bad plastic surgery…why Meg, why?).

…Except when it isn’t.

I regularly think about how much I am enjoying my time here and all the cool experiences I am getting to  eat have but sometimes…I hate it.  (EEEK!  I’ve done it now – I’m just waiting for the black helicopters to start circling.) 

Alright, alright, calm down – I don’t hate France, that isn’t it, it’s just that some days I hate being an expat and France gets caught in the crossfire, a convenient thing to blame for a bad day.  The only thing that people hear about is that I get to go to Munich or Italy for a weekend – it sounds so romantic and exciting to have all these European countries at one’s fingertips…and it is.  What they don’t know about is how when I need to get crawfish for a dish I want to make and can’t find it after spending two hours walking around to different stores that I have to wait for my husband to come home and call every supermarket chain in the city because I can’t just do it myself.  I mean, sure, I can speak French but try asking a complicated question over-the-phone with grocery store level customer service (read: no customer service) in a second language…I dare you.   Or how if I want to go and see a movie I have to search to try to find one that hasn’t been dubbed or how if I want to run a quick errand it is impossible because I either a) spend ages looking for parking or b) take public transportation as opposed to the glorious, glorious parking lots of my hometown.  OR how when I am sad or having a bad day I can’t just pick up the phone and call home because it is probably 3 o’clock in the morning.  It can be lonely and it can be alienating, everyday tasks and chores are more complicated and things that are normally really easy aren’t anymore.

Okay, okay so I can hear you rolling your eyes at me and I get it – I’m not this bratty all the time and I know it’s still a pretty sweet deal when you get to travel and learn about a new culture, I realize that my life isn’t hard; but bad days happen everywhere…even in the middle of a romance novel setting.  And while there are certainly some pretty sweet perks to being an expat, it isn’t all roses all the time…usually you will love every minute of it but some days you will have disgraceful temper tantrums about groceries and wish the time zones were the same so you could call your best friend (who, by best friend contract has to agree that you are being completely rational) and tell her about it.

So, the old adage rings true: I should listen to my Mother and remember that my life won’t always be like this.  Some days that idea makes me sad and other days…well, other days it seems alright with me.

 

*Carrefour does actually carry crawfish occasionally but it is in very small, expensive packages and not worth the effort.  Just wanted to clarify so that people didn’t think I was maligning the glorious Carrefour!!! 

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Cultural Differences, French Food

“What tha…why is there a potato on that tombstone,” I turn, looking at MB questioningly.  We are on a tour of Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

“Quoi,” he asks, looking towards the grave, apparently he doesn’t know why either.

“Ah,” our tour guide walks over and joins us, bringing the rest of the group.  “This is the grave of Parmentier, the man who introduced potatoes into French cuisine.”

As always, I am amazed at thinking about how much cuisine changed after the discovery of the Americas (I still have trouble handling the idea of Italian food without tomatoes).

“In Parmentier’s time,” he continues, “the late 18th century, it was thought in France that the potato was poisonous to humans and it was used solely for feeding livestock.  However, after a stint in a Prussian prison, Parmentier came to realize that it was not poisonous and became determined to bring the potato to French tables.”

“Was that difficult,” I am incredulous.  I mean, at this point in time, the Irish were eating them, the (P)Russians* (clearly) were eating them, the Americans were eating them…what was there to prove?  They obviously were not poisonous to human beings.

The tour guide looks at me like I understand nothing.  “Of course,” he says.

“But why,” I press on, “if so many people in other countries were already eating them?”

He chooses to ignore this question and instead turns to address the entire group.  “Actually, it is a very good story.  Apparently,” he says, walking over and placing his hand on the grave.  “He met with such opposition that he had to manufacture a trap to get people to change their minds.”

I look over at MB, “a trap,” I mouth the words to him as dramatically as possible.

“He set guards up at his storage facilities but allowed them to accept bribes for the potatoes, hefty bribes.  Then, at night, he would send the guards home so that people could steal them.”

I burst out laughing and the guide gives me a stern look, then turns and leads our tour towards another tomb.

***

This story, to me, is so quintessentially French, stubbornness mixed with the inherent desire to break rules.   I can just imagine the conversations of people over the potato:

“But non, it is disgusting, it will kill you. It is for the pigs, not for us,” one man says, looking at this friend.

“OH really,” his friend responds.  “I just had some the other night and they were delicious, a revelation, really.”  He shrugs and takes a sip of his wine nonchalantly as though it were no big deal.

“QUOI,” the first man exclaims.  “How is it that you tried them?  They are not for sale,” the health hazards are suddenly no longer the priority.

His friend leans in across the table, conspiratorially.  “I bribed a guard,” he sits back in his chair, satisfied, for no Frenchman can resist pulling one over on “the man.”

“Non!”

“Oui!”

“Non!”

“OUI!”

“Ben bah, we must do it again tonight – I must try these potatoes!”

The French are a people who have been heavily stereotyped.

There are books, articles, heaps of Mark Twain quotes (that dude did not like the French) which all discuss the subject.  One stereotype that is often brought up is their irritability towards change (…stubbornness, I was trying to make it sound nice).  And I suppose there is some truth to it, they do, indeed, like a lot of things to remain the same (Sundays) and are happy to protest change vehemently…especially when the weather is nice.  I mean, heck, even the French Bulldog (quite possibly one of the cutest dogs of all time) is considered by breeders to be a particularly stubborn breed – that’s right, even their dog is stubborn. But is it really an inherently French thing or is it just an inherently human thing?  Are they really any more stubborn or change-resistant than the rest of us?

I mean, what American over thirty doesn’t remember the “New Coke” debacle?  I’m pretty sure even Parmentier’s trick wouldn’t have changed our minds about that wretched marketing failure.  There are few of us that run screaming with excitement towards the unknown…towards big changes, the French are no exception but also, I’m not convinced they are the rule.  Just like everywhere else change is accepted slowly here, over time, as people become acquainted with it.

So, in reality, the French really aren’t any more stubborn than the rest of us.

***

MB and I hurry and catch up with our group.  As we approach the guide he is in a conversation with one of the French tourists.

“But Monsieur,” says the French man to our guide.  “Actually, the toxicity of the potato has been proved by multiple research and… well, so, in fact, the French were correct to ban it, the potato is poisonous!”

MB and I turn back to each other and exchange a look of bemusement.

***

…Okay, so maybe just little a bit.

* For those of you unfamiliar with Prussia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prussia

 

 

 

 

Repost: In Remembrance

In Remembrance

This is a repost of a previous Veteran’s Day blog.

I am three years old.  We are careening around a twisty, two-laned mountain highway in eastern Tennessee.  My Mother is white-knuckling the arm rest and looking at her two little girls in the backseat.  “Why did I let my grandfather drive, “she thinks to herself. 

It was an unusual family trip, just the girls up to visit Grampy in the mountains.  Daddy had stayed home to work and we were off on an adventure.  Every visit with Grampy was an adventure.

“What’s that mean?”  I ask, pointing at a sign on the side of the road.

My sister and Mother are still clinging to the car for dear life, I am having a great time.

“Oh, it’s a sad story,” says Grampy, as he takes a hair-pin turn at 45mph.

“What happened?”

“Well, there was a big, important Indian chief named White Eagle.  He was very famous and very brave and everyone respected him very much.”  He turned around to make sure I was listening.  “He had a son who was also a brave warrior and they were very happy.  One day, White Eagle and his son got into a big fight and his son ran away and has never come home.  But White Eagle will never give up looking so that is why he puts the signs up everywhere around the mountains so that we can all help him look for his son, Falling Rock.  Are you going to make sure you keep an eye out?”

“Yes sir!”

‘WATCH FOR FALLING ROCK’   We pass another yellow, triangular sign.

“There’s another one!”  I kept my eyes peeled for Falling Rock the rest of the journey.

My Great-Grandfather had been in France during WWI.  He had fought in the trenches and saw many warriors who were lost, never to be found again.

On this day in 1918, we can only imagine what must have been going through his mind as he woke up, packed, and began marching back to the trenches to relief the last group of men.  He must have felt a sense of dread or maybe just a feeling of acceptance, we’ll never know.  Somewhere along the way, somewhere in the road, they heard the news, the unimaginable had happened.  A cease-fire was called, it was over.  It was over.

It wasn’t even noon.

My Great-Grandfather lived a long and full life, full of hard-work and happiness.  He worked for Congress in Washington, DC and was at Arlington Cemetery for the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  My Grandmother, only a little girl at the time, stood next to him and held his hand as they sang “My Buddy.”

It is easy to forget the men who sacrificed so much and managed to be brave in such a scary time.  Many of them came home.  But many of them are buried here in France, in unmarked patches of earth, tombs that we will never know are there.

So today, I would like to remind you all to continue to keep an eye out for Falling Rock and other lost warriors.  They are still missed and remembered.