1.  You decide you’re going to move to another foreign country just because you want to, not because of work. You’ll do this without the support of a company. On your own, with your man. OMG! The country you ask? France.

2.  You go house hunting in a foreign language. This is not for the shy, the meek, or the sane. The French real estate business does not work with a multiple listing system. You drop in at every real estate agency office you can find and ask them what they have on offer. No, not everything is listed on the Internet. It is a major cultural experience to see the inside of houses in a foreign country, but that’s another post.

A House in France

How charming! Such potential!  No, we didn’t really go check this one out.

You see 28 houses and you don’t like them for one reason or another. By now your spouse has had his fill of the search and is giving up, and you lie awake wondering if you are crazy wanting to do this. You have a perfectly nice little house in America. Everything works, functions and is practical.

You put a contract on French house number 29. Okay, the living room is small; the toilets are not in the bathrooms, but in separate WCs; the guestroom is off the garage; there is no air-conditioning. But! It has a great terrace, a lovely little garden, a pool, and it’s in a friendly village dating from the Middle Ages. You will love it there!

3.  You go back to the US and put your house up for sale. Now you have to empty it, sort through the basement, the garage, the closets and shelves and drawers of accumulated junk you once thought was fabulous or valuable.


Like a package of letters from a Dutch boyfriend who wrote you faithfully for the entire year you spent as a foreign exchange student in the USA. (After you came back to your native Holland, he broke it off because you had changed. Go figure.)

4.  You read every page of your angst-ridden, teenage journals before throwing them out. No, yours are not an interesting, cultural/historical document for the next generation, and since they were written in Dutch the American grand kids won’t be able to read them even if they wanted to.

5.  You spend hours going through boxes of old photo albums with discolored pictures. Who are these people? Why should you keep them? The kids won’t care. Take out the ones you want to keep. Promise yourself you’ll scan them in later and have a record. Really, will you ever do that? You’ll be in France, visiting wineries, sitting on terraces with friends, hiking in the mountains, strolling through the markets, checking out all the many funky cheeses.

6.  You wonder what to do with a dinner set of 70 Chinese dishes you bought in Hong Kong, had them shipped to the US and used once in twenty five years.

Chinese dishes

You put them up for sale online on Craigslist (like Marktplaats in Holland or LeBonCoin in France) and nobody wants them.

7.  You make several exhausting trips to the French consular office to sort out your legal requirements and documents needed. You get conflicting information. The web site says one thing, the irritable consulate officer says another. What to do? What if they throw your husband out of France? You have a EU passport, and are allowed the stay as long as you want, but really you want your American prince by your side.

8.  You get a letter from your editor saying the team has finally worked over your 400 page manuscript and please check out all the suggestions, comments, changes and so forth. (Accept, edit, comment, fix in track changes, please.) Just what you need while your mind is busy with Chinese dishes and unfriendly consular officers.


And here it is, just out as an e-book. Click on cover picture for more information.

9.  You find out how much it costs to ship your earthly goods across the ocean. OMG! Of course you checked out how much it would cost to simply buy a houseful of furniture again in France, thinking it’s crazy to ship IKEA marvels over  to Europe when there’s an IKEA an hour away from your new village. Trust me, shipping is cheaper.

10.  You lie awake at night thinking about stupid stuff, worrying. Why can’t you be more minimalistic and throw out more stuff? Nobody wants to buy your house, nobody wants to buy your Chinese dishes. What if moving to France is a mistake? What about finding new doctors? A plumber? A new hairdresser? What about the fact that you only speak the most basic fractured French? What’s wrong with just staying put in your American house with your American doctors and your American supermarket and everything comfortable and familiar?

11.  You watch the moving truck leave with all your possessions. You are sleeping on an air mattress in an virtually empty house, the house nobody wants to buy. The house looks at you, feeling hurt, feeling abandoned. You can feel it as you wander around its empty rooms. Guilt creeps through you.

12.  You get on a plane to France. A week later the last of 79  signatures has been put on paper and the French house is yours, empty, but you have inherited Daphne the Greek nymph by the pool. You’ve bought another air mattress at the BUT store (BUT, really!) and now you are sleeping again in an empty house with four forks, two plastic chairs, a cork screw and another few odds and ends. Oh, and Daphne by the pool.


13.  You are bleeding money. A car, a bed and mattress, a TV, a dryer, a multitude of smaller things: a fly swatter, extension cords, doormats, a telephone, wine glasses…

Thirteen? Did I say thirteen? What an optimist I am! However, rest assured, I will not traumatize you with all the other ways I have managed to drive myself crazy over the last months. (And now I have moved from second person viewpoint to first, and my editor would say I’m not allowed to do that, but she won’t see this.)

I am in France, drinking wine, sitting outside on my terrace, writing this. I live here, in this little house, in this ancient village amid the vineyards in the South of France. How crazy is this?

French village

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Oh, do tell me what drives you crazy!

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Is your globetrotting life full of little incidents, insights, views, colors, smells and other bits and pieces that don’t stand alone as a big adventure or an amusing story, but are fun or interesting just the same? I have lots and for this post I’ve stitched together a few random ones fished out of my treasure box of odds and ends.

This photo is of the vendor who, in INDONESIA, used to walk by our house with his enormous load of plastic ware and assorted housecleaning paraphernalia. Sort of like Walmart on legs. He was a nice, smiling man, but when I asked if I could take a picture, he turned instantly serious. The same story with the flower vendor who would come to the door every week with huge baskets full of gorgeous tropical flowers. It’s a common reaction of people in many countries. The cheeriest person looks instantly funereal when faced with a camera.

Dolls found in Turkey

A couple of years ago, on vacation in TURKEY, I came upon a shopping cart (trolley) full of dolls in front of a shop. It was late at night and I found it a rather creepy sight in the semi-darkness.

Tribute to working men and women aka Son in law tossing out mother in law_600x478

All over ARMENIA you find statues and monuments hailing from Soviet times. I like this one especially because an Armenian friend told me it’s affectionately called “Throwing Mother-in-Law Out of the House.” It was probably erected to the glory of working men and women. Or something like that.

In Armenia, young men and women do not usually strike out on their own when they become adults but live with their parents until they marry. Then the lucky bride moves in with her husband’s family. You can imagine your mother-in-law plays an important part in your life as a married woman and you’d better like each other. When couples at some time or other do move into their own digs, they often end up with aging parents living with them until the oldies get called up to their home in heaven. When I told an Armenian friend about retirement communities and nursing homes in the West, she was appalled. How could you possibly send your parents to live by themselves and be taken care of by strangers! (Okay, you answer that one.)

France, old and new

Recently in FRANCE I walked through an ancient village and found this sign of modern habitation. In foreign countries I always love seeing the contrasts between old and new, traditional and contemporary, etc..

I was quite taken with this building in downtown Tirana, the capital of ALBANIA. Every time I looked at it from the balcony of my tenth-floor apartment across from it, I had the impulse to lick it. I can’t decide if it looks like a frosted cake or a funky kids’ toy, but I always appreciate architecture that has at least the guts to be different. Tirana has many colorful apartment buildings, oceans of paint covering up the drab colors of communist-era architecture.

Albania is a poor country, but the center of Tirana is very nice and blooms with sidewalk cafes and restaurants abuzz with people drinking espresso. It is said that half the population of the town brews coffee and the other half drinks it. I only spent a short time in Albania and the country was a big surprise to me. The people are open and friendly and full of curiosity about the rest of the world. It’s amazing they have so much spirit left after having been suppressed under a cruel communist regime that lasted almost half a century.

Rome Street Scene

Just a little street scene in Rome, Italy. Just sitting in my files, so here it is, for what it is worth.

GHANA. The cheeriest country of them all.  I lived the expat life there on two occasions, for a total of 8 years. There’s always something fun to see by the side of the road. Billboards like this one for cough medicine, and small shops and businesses with names like MY WIFE LOVES ALL ENT., GOD IS GREAT HAIR CUT, HOLY TRINITY FAST FOOD, DRESSED TO KILL BOUTIQUE, and so on. Who needs TV I ask you.

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And now, dear reader, it’s your turn. Please tell me about your bits and pieces – colorful vendors, interesting statues, fun buildings, anything entertaining.

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