Expat Life: Is it Curable?

by missfootloose on October 15, 2013 · 17 comments

in Food, France, life abroad

Avontuurlijke eendjesIt is said that once you’ve caught the travel bug you don’t get rid of it easily or ever at all. Similarly, once you are used to living the expat life you’ve changed forever who you are: You’re addicted. To keep yourself high and happy you need an expat lifestyle, international friends, and a foreign environment.

[Even these adventurous Dutch ducks are trying out a foreign land. Unfortunately they are not welcome.]

Itchy feet, of course, can cause trouble as they march you off into a new country. After all, the expat life may offer you a multitude of challenges –weird coffee pots, a strange language, creepy food, cranky plumbing. It is work to get accustomed to a new place and a new culture. Work, I tell you, no matter how interesting your new environment is. The awful plastic wrap! The mysteries of foreign washing machines! The horror of disgusting unusual animal parts in the markets!

Why not stay in the pond where you were hatched? How much easier it would be to just live in a familiar place – the one you grew up in (the land of windmills and cheese, in my case), or the one that adopted you years ago (the land of cowboy hats and huge refrigerators, in my case). But no. You are addicted to the expat life. You need your daily fixes of things foreign.

So here I am, Miss Footloose, on the move again because my feet itch. My prince and I are back in the south of France.

Yes, I see you rolling your eyes. How hard a place is France for a western expat? It’s true that after spending most of my expat life in less prosperous lands, I will find life in France a party. Good, is what I say.

We’re here in the Languedoc region to see what fall and winter brings. To see if la bonne vie is still bonne when the weather is cold and the vineyards look dead. Fortunately we have a comfy rented house, no challenges with coffee pots or washing machines. And all is sparkling clean and redolent of lavender. Because, well, there are sachets large and small tucked away in drawers and nooks and crannies. If you remember my tale of woe about our cruddy cottage earlier this year, you will understand my bliss.

First things first. We unpack. We go foraging for comestibles in the Hypermarché. It’s huge. We buy coffee, wine, milk, a rotisserie chicken. A few days later it’s market day and the whole town is taken over by it, or so it seems. Even the traffic pattern is changed for the weekly occasion.

We buy heavy, crusty bread, rustic paté de campagne, dark chestnut honey, funky cheeses, spicy sausages, and an assortment of olives. And mushrooms. Oh, the wonder of French mushrooms! It’s that time of year and the market is full of them, all kinds, wild and dirty and fabulous looking.

Mushrooms in a French market

I ask one of the vendors if I should clean them with water and an old lady standing next to me about has a heart attack. “Non, non! Pas d’eau!” she exclaims, eyes wide. No water! She gives me a sermon in French of which I understand 14 percent. (14 percent is not bad, let me tell you.) The vendor shows me how to do it using the dull side of a knife to scrape off the worst of the dirt and a piece of cloth for the rest. Careful, careful! He demonstrates, holding a mushroom tenderly in his big dirty paw.

Pas d’eau!” the lady repeats. No water!

Later we meet friends for lunch on a terrace. It is still warm enough to sit outside. We watch the people go by. Some tough looking cross-country riders in colorful gear stop at the restaurant and aim for the table next to ours.

cross country riders

The two females at our table appreciate their hunky looks. We assume they are cool French guys, but are disabused of that notion when we hear them talk and discover they belong to my native tribe, the Dutch. And they’re happy to pose for a picture.

The house next to our rental abode has a huge pine tree which is causing the owner grief because of the needles dropping on the roof, clogging places that should not be clogged. We watch breathless with wonder and respect as the young tree-cutter expert takes it down limb by limb. Fortunately he’s attached by ropes for safety. It’s quite a show of skill and athleticism. Here goes the top:

Cutting down a big tree

What else do we do? We go on walks through beautiful countryside We check out a couple of restaurants. We go to our first French conversation/language class with four other foreigners. We learn a “bad” word indicating a part of the male anatomy. We’re told to watch out for it because it’s easy for us innocents to say it. I am grateful for this warning, as it is not in my nature to go around saying bad words if I can help it..

What more? We visit a village that’s all dolled up for an olive festival. Stalls full of things olive and other regional products. Live music. Kid’s games. We spend time sitting on a terrace waiting forever for our lunch order of local sausage, fries, and a glass of rosé. The poor waitress is overburdened with the number of eaters, but smiles and smiles and apologizes. We smile back. We’re hungry but we’ve got time and we love people watching.

Eventually the food arrives. The sausage is interesting. It’s a roughly chopped mix of animal bits inside a thick casing and offers a distinct barnyard flavor. It’s a comfort to know it’s not Chinese sawdust and chemicals we’re ingesting.

French village sausage

So this more or less covers the last week. Not terribly exciting to you probably, but I’m afraid it’s all I’ve got. As for me? I’m feeding my addiction. I’m not ready to be cured.

* * *

Are you addicted? What are your fixes? Or maybe you can’t wait to get back home and settle down?

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Jill October 15, 2013 at 4:23 pm

I was raised abroad (Navy Brat) and dreamed of doing the same for my kids, but my older son is on the intense side of the autism spectrum and living abroad now just wouldn’t be practical or fair to him.

First of all there is a fact that special education (if provided at all) varies a lot from country to country. Secondly, he really struggles to understand and be understood in English, his first and only language. I can’t see dropping him in another country with its own language and customs and changes in routine.

I’m sure there are some people out there that make it work, but for now we’re staying put. Thankfully we live in DC where there are always lots of international things to soak up. 😉

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missfootloose October 15, 2013 at 10:32 pm

You are lucky to live in the DC area! And of course as parents we have to create a life that fits the needs of our children. We also spent a good number of years in VA for similar reasons. Thanks for stopping by!

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The Guy October 15, 2013 at 11:16 pm

I know what you mean about the expat life. It is 12 years since I ended my time as an expat but haven’t stopped travelling since. I’ve had 3 opportunities to be an expat again which I showed keen interest in. For one reason or another it didn’t quite come to fruition.

Now I’ve got married this year the possibility of being an expat is not a decision I can make alone if the chance arises again.

I wish you well in the south of France. I just hope the food is better than the food you often find in Paris.
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guyana_gyal October 16, 2013 at 1:01 am

I indulge my itchy feet via your delicious blog! Thank you 🙂
That mushroom sounds wonderful, ‘wild and dirty and fabulous looking’.

I’ve had to give up the idea of travelling after my father died, to come home to help look after biz here. But that’s ok, I can dig in and write, which is my REAL addiction.
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missfootloose October 19, 2013 at 10:16 am

Delicious blog? Thank you! I was wondering, are there many expats in your area? Do you live in Georgetown? I hope you’ll get a chance to do some more traveling in the future, but it’s good to be happy doing what you are doing, and writing is addictive, for sure!

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Gordon Barlow October 16, 2013 at 2:15 am

We were expats in half a dozen places, over 15 years, but then we settled in one of them and are still there. In our 70s we can’t really see ourselves moving again, unless poverty strikes. We have raised our son much the same way. He was an expat in several countries, but settled for his children’s sake in their mother’s home – Norway. He would like to travel again, but the tender trap has him in its grip. That’s life, eh?
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missfootloose October 19, 2013 at 11:00 am

You found yourself a great place to settle! No winter!

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Erika October 17, 2013 at 4:22 pm

I hear ya! Totally…
I come from a cultural mix (USA Father, Colombian Mother, born in Panama), and have always loved all things travel and multicultural. I always had jobs that made me travel, and even ended up working on cruise ships! I did meet my hubby on one of my last massive trips, and moved here to Madrid to live with him. It’s been 3 years. I was able to travel more often the first 2 years, going home to visit any time I could, and my yearly visits to grandma in North Carolina are sacred. But I haven’t had the chance to travel the EU as I would have wishes… I haven’t even traveled much around Spain! It’s killing me!!!! I am a travel bug myself and my feet are always itching! Hubby likes to travel, but I am much more the Girl-wants-to-eat-the-world type. I need my travelling fix every once in a while!
Luckily, one of my side jobs is writing for a magazine, and sometimes I get to travel as an excuse! But haven’t been able to go to far, nor as often as I’d like.
We recently moved to a new apartment and are loving it! So now we need to balance our expenses a bit, before we are able to travel again.
But I really can’t wait to get on a plane!! (or train… a plane just means I’m going somewhere far away!)
I wish to raise my kids as the multicultural traveler type, but we’ll see what reality has in hand for me… I will try my best! At least to let them sink in to all the cultures that make up their heritage, and hopefully, the travel bug will have bitten them and they would want to see the rest of the world.. we’ll see..
I really enjoy your stories 😉

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missfootloose October 19, 2013 at 11:04 am

You do come from quite a cultural mix — great! And Spain is an interesting country not too far from other interesting places. There was a time when I was “tied down” in the US for a good number of years and at times I despaired I’d never see another country again, but fortunately I did 😉

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Sine October 18, 2013 at 3:11 am

Yes, I think it is indeed addictive. Which is weird – as you say, it takes so much effort to pack up and move, when staying put would be so much easier in so many ways. I used to wonder how military people could tolerate the constant upheaval, but now that we’ve moved a ton, I can see the appeal. Maybe it has to do with being given the opportunity to constantly reinvent yourself. And trying out new things. It’s fun to do new things instead of the same old. It also helps you to loosen up and not always think that you absolutely need a routine and everything has to be just so. You become much more flexible when you constantly move, and you realize that you like it. I guess the only “cure” is that you eventually do get tired of all the packing, or that your kids start rebelling. We have one right now who hasn’t been happy with the latest move and constantly wishes he was back in the old place. If your kids are unhappy, then you are unhappy, so that definitely puts a damper on it all.
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missfootloose October 19, 2013 at 11:33 am

It seems we think pretty much the same way about being an expat. It is a problem when kids have it hard in a new environment. It happened to us with one of our daughters, but it did get better after a while. I loved your post 10 Things all Expats Should Know about Moving !

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Sine October 21, 2013 at 9:36 pm

thanks! I’m now replying to your comment there:-)
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Sami Veloso October 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Enjoy the new country. Such great mushroom variety…
I was born in Africa, moved to Europe a few years after getting married, to accompany my husband on his work projects. It was great as we got to visit so many European countries, even when the kids were small. About 6 years ago we moved to Australia, again for my husband’s work, and are loving it here, although we still haven’t visited most of the Asian countries as was our intention…
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Turkey's For Life October 19, 2013 at 8:54 am

No, that was a very timely and interesting read, actually. 🙂 This month marks 10 years as expats for us and I was thinking I ought to write a post about what we’ve learned…I’m still pondering what we have learned, however…except that maybe we are addicted to being foreign. 🙂
Julia
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Edna October 19, 2013 at 7:09 pm

I totally know what you mean by being addicted — I caught the bug at 18 when I moved to China and have since moved to Singapore, Paris, and (as of last month) Italy, not to mention all the travel in between — the plan is to spend the rest of my 20s trying a new country every 18 months or so, and who knows, probably into my 30s as well!
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missfootloose October 20, 2013 at 6:14 pm

A very ambitious plan, Edna! Packing up, moving, and settling in every 18 months is a lot of adjusting and saying goodbye again. I’m looking forward to your stories!

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Mara October 22, 2013 at 11:42 am

Well, ever since I was a teen I wanted to be going somewhere. Anywhere, as long as it wasn’t where I was. Which has brought me to several countries and now to Norway. And how long I will be staying here is anybody’s guess! I certainly don’t know. Until I find something better? Until I get bored again? Until the end? Who knows…
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