Expat Life: 13 Ways to Drive Yourself Nuts

by Miss Footloose
Going Nuts

Driving yourself nuts

Do you ever drive yourself nuts? No? Well, here’s how:

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. You don’t know the country, you don’t know anybody, you’re an idiot.

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. You drive yourself nuts trying to figure it all out. And it’s a major cultural experience to see the inside of houses in a foreign country, but that’s another post.


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


You see 29 houses

You don’t like them for one reason or another. They’re ugly, or they have no kitchen, or they come with three generations worth of furniture, or you access the garden by rickety ladder from the kitchen, or . . . .   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. What’s wrong with staying put? Nothing. Except it is not exciting. You’ve lived in 8 foreign countries and you want the stress of trying out another one.

You put a contract on French house number 29

Okay, the living room is smallish; 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! You keep telling yourself that while you lie awake at night.

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.

Expat letters

Letters from an old boyfriend among others

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

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. You throw them out. Your heart bleeds.

5.  You spend hours going through boxes of . . .

old photo albums with discolored pictures. You drive yourself nuts trying to decide what to do with them. 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 them in Hong Kong, had them shipped to the US and used them once in twenty years.

Chinese dishes

Orphaned dishes. Nobody wanted them.

You put them up for sale online on Craigslist (like Marktplaats in Holland or LeBonCoin in France) and nobody wants them. You can’t even give them away for free. A waste of hundreds of dollars. You feel guilty. You should have made a donation to Doctors Without Borders instead of buying these useless thhings.

7. You go batty dealing with paper work

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 pretty safe, but really you want your American prince by your side. Fortunately it gets sorted out.

8.  You get a letter from your editor

She writes that the team has finally worked over your 400 page manuscript and she needs you to 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 a rude consular officer. If only you had Valium.

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 minimalist 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? Nothing is wrong. It’s just . . .  well, not exciting. You’ve lived in 8 foreign countries, and you want the stress of trying out another one.

11.  You watch the moving truck leave with all your possessions

Moving Truck

All our worldly goods. What have we done?

You’re a wreck. You’ve done it. 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. Is there a bottle of wine somewhere?

12.  You get on a plane to France

It’s final. There is no turning back. 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.

Nymph Daphne

Nymph Daphne, adopted, low maintenance

13.  You are bleeding money

A car, a bed and mattress, a TV, a refrigerator, 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 making our move to France. (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 now in France, drinking wine, sitting outside on the terrace, writing this. I live here with my American prince, in this little house, in this ancient village amid the vineyards in the South of France. How nuts is this?

French village

Our French village


* * *

Oh, do tell me what drives you nuts!

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I’ve just found your blog! Hello!

I loved this. How very exciting! I’ve worked abroad in a couple of countries so far but always the company have sorted out the accommodation… your new house in France makes me drooool, I love it! I’m currently boxed up in a studio flat (1 small room with sink, 1 gas burner, fridge, sofa bed, en-suite with a shower that has no hot water) but I’m in the middle of the Indian Ocean in Maldives! Can’t complain! What kinds of jobs do you do abroad or are you a full time writer now?

I’d wondered where you’d gone!

Moving house is hell.

After we sold our family home last year, I had to pack up / give away / sell 40 years [plus] of stuff my parents had collected, then move me to an apartment.

I was exhausted, no wonder I got ill.

Your move looks as though it’s worth it though!

I can’t wait to see your pics and read your tales.

Itchy feet!!! Did you ever sell those dishes?

Oh why, but why aren’t we ever happy living where we were born, or grew up? Very brave to move to a country where you don’t speak the language. We lived in Germany for almost 6 years, but due to husband’s work, but I wouldn’t like to settle there, it was tough learning the language. My daughter and son in law moved from the south of France to Amsterdam for work and she also says she had to visit various real- estate agencies as they don’t share listings, they finally bought an apartment recently after she saw 40 places!! I… Read more »

hi karen Yeh I know that kind of nuts It reminds me of when we emigrated to NZ. I said in the beginning “what was I thinking” Now I wouldn’t go back for anything Love it.
The village and especially daphne at the pool looks absolutely gorgeous
It sounds so romantic. I have a cousin living in France He loves it
I also love the French language and French music
Enjoy and au revoir and congrats whith your e-book

Hi K,

I am so excited to read this. It seems like an excellent plan to me and I’ve done it several times myself. The transition and squatting in empty houses is no fun but I’m sure you’ll accumulate plenty more crap soon soon 🙂

And best of all you got rid of that chinese dinner service. Well, I hope you did! I’m laughing about that as my mum bought one in china too and says she’s leaving it to me in her will!! No idea what I did to deserve that 😉

Yep, that does sound like it would drive me crazy. And if not me, then my husband, and that’s even worse. But, you got Daphne! That alone might be worth it? If not then just sitting on your new patio sipping wine. Sounds heavenly.
My husband speaks of retiring elsewhere some day, and I almost cringe when he says that. Because nothing could induce me to move again, at this point. Voluntarily moving after 6 times involuntarily, I don’t know… Maybe one day:-)

Good to have you back in the blogging world – you’ve been busy!


Did you sell the dishes? They are beautiful and I know someone who might be interested. How much are you asking?

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