Life In France (A Month In Review)
I can’t quite believe it’s been a month since I blogged. With all the pre-move craziness & stress of moving to France, plus the post-move decompress & details of getting set-up and working through the basics of life (how do I set-up a bank account? how can I get a SIM for my phone? where in the world do I go to buy a mattress? etc.) somehow a WHOLE MONTH has passed since my last post.
It’s not that I haven’t thought about blogging over the last 4 weeks, it’s simply that I needed some time to sort out this new life of ours. Plus to be honest, I needed some space not just from the blog, but also from the web and social media in general. I hadn’t quite realized how wound-up I was from the move, and it took a good few weeks to decompress from all that.
It took me several weeks just to come to grips with the fact that we’d actually MADE it and that all our pets were OK (I still can’t quite believe that). Then it took me several more to come to grips with the fact that we were actually LIVING here. THEN came the full and complete realization that we really weren’t RVing in the US anymore (no more beast…….!!!!!) and wondering how in the world I was going to change the look and content of my blog to anything that made sense (yes, I’m still working on that one!).
Life Changes Are A Process….
Of course all of this is perfectly normal! Making a big move like this is a bucket of emotions all at once, and it’s never completely smooth sailing. Change is super exciting, but it’s also (often) hard. I talked about pre-change emotions in my post about “Overcoming Fear And Inertia“, but there are also a whole set of post-change emotions which I think many folks go through no matter how much they’ve wanted or worked towards a given goal.
Paul and I have gone through multiple life-changes in our time together so I knew this stage was coming, but this time around it hit me much faster than I expected. It’s an interesting enough topic (for anyone making any kind of big transition in their lives) that it definitely deserves its own dedicated blog post. Plus I have yet to finish my “Moving to Europe” series of posts one of which will cover the very pertinent question of “why we didn’t we bring a small RV with us?”…so far I have ~3,000 word answer to that one.
So I’ve got a ton of blog material in the bag. It’s just a question of sorting myself out, and then getting it out of my head and onto digital paper. While I rummage through all of that however, I figured I’d give you a quick run-down of our first month here and what it’s been like including some of the good, the bad, the frustrating and the fabulous.
We Are Loving It So Far
Bottom line is yes, we’re actually living in France now and yes, so far everyone is loving it. Paul and I have settled in and we’re enjoying the rest, while the pets are absolutely LOVING their new space. All three of the paws are ridiculously relaxed and happier than we’ve seen them in years.
The cats are having a ball. Rand loves going outdoors and habitually purrs herself to sleep (she even purrs and snores at the same time), while Taggart spends hours inspecting the garden and warming herself in the sun followed by even more hours snuggling and sleeping with her sister. They are so active and healthy that it’s hard to believe they’re over 16 years old.
Polly is in dog heaven and is experiencing a very full and exciting doggie life. Of course there are all the outings to local markets and such (all very new and interesting), plus there’s all this SPACE which is now HERS and which must be properly monitored. So she takes regular walks around the property, enjoys long afternoon naps in the grass and conducts daily in-depth surveys of the local rabbit population. It’s a lot to take stock of and keeps her very busy indeed…
But we’ve also encountered a few hurdles.
Some of it is just a mental adjustment thing. The pace of life is soooooo much more relaxed here, which is both a good and (sometimes) a frustrating thing. It encourages you to slow down and enjoy the moment, but it also means accepting that everything simply takes more time (patience is admittedly not my strongest quality). Other barriers are uniquely French and have just required us to accept that c’est comme ça (“that’s the way it is”). Things are done differently here, and whether or not you think it’s inane, it’s simply the way it is.
So, what have we experienced so far?
The Food (and Food Markets) ROCK!!
Before we moved here we already knew that the food was going to be one of our favorite things about living in France. We love our food and considered ourselves pretty hard-core “foodies” in the US, but we quickly realized that we were mere amateurs compared to the average Frenchman. This point became crystal clear when I overheard this serious (and somewhat disapproving) question at a regular French open-air market…
“Ces oeufs ont été pondus hier, pas aujourd’hui?” (“these eggs were laid yesterday, not today?”)
Ah yes, NOW I understand….
From the French point of view, be it eggs or bread or veggies or meat, if it isn’t perfectly fresh and you haven’t personally met the person who raised it or made it, then why would in the world you buy it???
You can find open-air markets every single day of the week in the French countryside and it’s such an integral part of the local culture that you’d be crazy not to participate. Folks mill around the market chatting to friends, grabbing an espresso from the local café and picking up the best and freshest produce you could ever imagine. You’ll find stands over-flowing with crisp veggies, cheese-makers with at least 40 different kinds of cheese, pans sizzling with paella, fresh-baked bread so fragrant it’ll send you into an instant food coma, not to mention custom butchers, artisan sausage-makers, honey, crafts and and reams of other local specialties. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at a French open-air market, there is something seriously wrong with you.
And everything is SO DARN FRESH!
Holy smokes, I’d forgotten what real salad tastes like….
We have been reveling…..REVELING I tell you….in the exceptional quality of French ingredients. We are re-discovering the joy of vegetables, re-living the taste of pasture-raised meat and re-learning what real food is. Produce which might generally have seemed bland or indistinguishable “back home” is vibrant and flavorful here. We are in frikkin’ foodie paradise and it’s going to be darn near impossible to ever go back!
Everything is Ridiculously Dog-Friendly
We already knew that France was pretty darn dog-friendly before we got here, but I have to admit it’s been even better than we imagined.
In the short time we’ve been here Polly has been almost everywhere with us including to historic sites, restaurants, cafes and markets. And it’s been soooooo easy!
Part of it is that we’re living in the countryside where dogs are a core part of life (it IS different in the big cities), but part of it is just a reflection of typical French laissez-faire attitude. If you want to bring your dog pourquoi pas (“why not”)? As long as you don’t bother anyone, why would anyone care?
In some places it goes even further than that…
Last week we were walking around a rather hippy market in a quirky little country town around ~30 mins from here (think Rastafarians, chakra incense, healing crystals and such) when a young gentleman in a long flowing tunic came over to ask why we had our dog on leash. After we tried to come up with an explanation that made sense (errr, it’s always been like that?), he proceeded to point out the other dogs that were off-leash and then launch into a 20-minute explanation about why it’s better to let them explore freely. They are more in their nature, no?
Clearly we have lots to learn….
The Nature Is Incredible
What can I say about the nature in the SW of France that will adequately describe it to you? Our location is in one of the oldest and lushest parts of France and the mix of history and nature makes for an unbelievable combo.
We are only ~1 hour from the Pyrenees, a 491 km (305 mi) long chain of majestic mountains that cap out at around 3,404 meters (11,168 ft) in a line of sharp & ragged snow-tipped peaks. We have a full view of them from our house and it’s an incredibly beautiful sight that changes hourly with the wild mountain weather that surrounds it. From crystal-clear mornings where the air is so bright and turquoise blue that it appears dreamy and surreal, to dark and stormy afternoons where the peaks look like they’re locked between an imaginary line of angry clouds, to sunsets where oranges, pinks and reds mix together in soul-soothing harmony.
There’s not a single day that goes by where I am not surprised or awed by this sight….
Plus of course it’s spring-time and that means an evolving play of color and vibrancy throughout the garden. When we arrived the tulips were in full show, but most of the other flowers and trees were still bare. Now the tulips are gone, but our trees have sprung out in brilliant green, the lilac plants are blooming (and wafting waves of delicious perfume), and the first roses are opening up. Apple trees are blossoming, fig trees are popping out teeny fig-babies and of course the grass is growing like crazy. Lawn maintenance and weeding are daily (rater critical) needs.
Since we’re planning to be here for a while we’ve taken the chance to to enjoy some good old-fashioned gardening again. We re-planted my mom’s old herb garden with sage, basil, cilantro, parsley and mint plus we re-discovered some old thyme bushes that are now clear of weeds and thriving again. Plus we’ve got a few salad heads in the works. We’re not going crazy on gardening, but we’re doing what’s fun and we’re having a total blast with it.
Speaking French Is Necessary (And Often Painful)
I think you’d be really hard-pressed to make your way around the Southwest of France without speaking any French. It’s not that folks here never speak English, but it’s sporadic and once you get out of the big city (e.g Toulouse) and into the countryside you’ll find it rare and in-between.
Thankfully both Paul and I learned to speak French in our past, but admittedly it’s been a few years so finding the exact words we need at the exact time we need them doesn’t always come as quickly or easily as we’d like. Plus the locals always seem to speak at super-sonic speeds which means our slower moving French-speaking brain neurons have zero time to catch up. We end up spending a lot of time asking folks to repeat what they just said, and sounding rather like 4-year old children when we finally figure out how to reply…
Oh and it’s physically painful too. If you’ve ever had a language headache from your brain cells working overtime to try and express yourself in a foreign language, you’ll know exactly what this feels like. Sometimes you just want to lie in bed with an ice pack on your forehead and dream of the good ol’ carefree days of speaking English.
Ah yes, life abroad….
French Bureaucracy Is An Art-Form Unto Itself
And then there is the crazy and unique living organism that is French bureaucracy. If there is one thing that’s probably the most frustrating about living in France it’s their love of seemingly unending and unnecessarily complicated paperwork. It’s a most French thing and so much a part of the culture and government that it permeates every part of life here.
Want a phone plan for your phone? No problem, you’ll just need to spend 30 minutes answering questions on the phone, then send in a handful of documents via regular post (no e-mail, of course) including your bank account info, your electricity bill (or some “attestation” that you have a place to live), proof of residence status, a signed contract, a signed declaration of some sort (there’s always one), and typically a few other bits and bobs. Then you wait a week for the SIM to arrive in the mail, then another few days for your documents to be accepted and finally, in what will feel like a MAJOR achievement, you’ll have a working phone plan.
This same process applies to banking (we spent 1.5 hours signing documents at the bank only to be told that it would take up to 4 WEEKS before our account was “verified” and we could actually use it), and even online ordering (oh, didn’t like you order? No problem of course, we have a process for rétractation. Please just fill out these 3 forms, post them to this random address and wait 4 weeks for your refund). Plus of course ALL of this pales in comparison to the reams of documentation and patience you’ll have to supply for anything related to the government (I’ll tell you about that story some other time).
It’s just the way things are done….
Whenever you do anything formal in France you have to mentally prepare yourself for PAPERWORK and TIME, and you’ll likely have to prepare yourself for several rounds of it too. Take it in stride and (preferably) with a touch of humor and you’ll survive. Fight it and you will rapidly descend into utter lunacy from the sheer mental stress of frustration. Trust me on this…
But It’s Totally Worth It
Like all life changes that mean anything all this effort is totally worth it. We may not (yet) have a bank account, nor do we have any idea when Paul will have his residence papers (best guess is 4-6 months from now), but we do have working phones (yeah!) and we’ve already racked up 4 weeks of incredible experiences here. By the end of this week we’re hopefully going to have our first set of French-based wheels and then the planning starts. We’ve been developing some interesting ideas for how we might travel part-time this year and it’s probably not what you expect (it certainly wasn’t anything I expected). Still lots of planning to go though, so it may be a while before we make a final decision or do any reveals. In the meantime I think this’ll do quite nicely….SPONSORED LINK:
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