Feeling funny about France

Hi Guys,
Sorry for putting it under password protection for a few days but I wanted some particular family members to read this first. It is about a few simple facts of expat life. Part of it is that Seb and I realised that I am a housewife and will probably be a housewife for the next year or so.

As a way of explaining, my culture shock has been a bit like this scene with the unfortunate crab in Disney’s Little Mermaid, The more he tries to avoid those awkward horrible situations the more they chase him around:

Part of the point of that is, that I am now a housewife. There is no jobs available for me right now. Everytime I applied for a job I got treated like a specimen to CHOP APART. I realised I don’t speak enough french and unless you have a masters people barely look at you for employment. What “chopped” me more was that to even get a cleaning job I needed to apparently be a perfect French speaker.  So here I am doing something I had refused to even think about. Let alone consider.

Another part of the puzzle is France. It is Sebs home not mine. We live in his hometown too so everyone knows him. Everything is familiar for him, everything is expected and normal. For me I am the opposite of that in every way. I am Australian. Part of me felt a little foolish for my reactions, and left me worrying that in come cases I had overreacted.

After researching it I realised that I am fact a textbook example of moving overseas:
“What they, the foreign spouse, must learn to deal with is the loss of identity and the subsequent period of reshape and remodelling that ensues in the new environment.

As the trailing spouse leaves friends, family, a career path or an impassioned endeavour, priorities begin to shape shift and reordering them can become chaotic in its own right. Co-authors of “A Portable Identity”, relocation coaches Debra Bryson and Charise Hoge explain the phenomenon as a four stage process.

“The trailing spouse goes through several alterations: first, by the decision to move; second, by the actual departure from her home country; third, by the entry into the foreign country; and, finally, by the addition of new roles and relationships in her life overseas.”

This transition can result in feelings of resentment, disorientation, depression, boredom and extreme pessimism. When coupled with the problems of career abandonment, family issues, lack of support and difficulties in maintaining meaningful work the mental landscape of the trailing spouse can become very rocky indeed. “

My attitude right now is normal, I do really resent my situation right now, and that in turn makes me feel guilty and ashamed for feeling like that and then sad that it is happening. (maybe you can see a circle here like I can?)

An expatriate in Belgium describes it perfectly below.
“My support network was far away. I knew my friends and family loved and supported me, but I also knew they didn’t really understand what was wrong. How could they when I didn’t know myself?

The only person I had to talk to was Andrew. He would come stumbling in at the end of a long difficult day at work (saddled with his own stresses revolving around a new job) and just want to crash on the couch – the couch that still had the impression of my butt from sitting there all day long. I would be raring to go somewhere or do something – anything.

And I wanted to talk – and talk and talk, because I hadn’t talked to another soul all day (unless you count the cats who were frankly bored of my nattering and aren’t the greatest conversationalists.) Andrew just wanted to unwind from work, watch a little TV; read his book. It was a recipe for arguments – lots of them”

I can add to this much more and in so many ways. What is above is merely a basic vague summary. But at least I know I am normal. I am praying for that sixth month to arrive. As much as I have read, people start to get comfortable at six months.

I am a housewife. But here is where that remodelling comes in. I have never been able to sit down and take time to work out what I like to do the most. Part of it too means that like that little crab I may get away just in the nick of time to live on the shore but still survive.

Hope it gave some of you guys hope.
Nik

xxx

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Bread: The biggest culture divide.

In Australia I remember talking to Seb about bread. The conversation went something like this..
“When you get to France Nik you are going to eat bread, it’s amazing the bread, the texture and everything.” Seb was starting to rapture and I interjected here with
“But it’s just bread.”
“JUST BREAD?!?!? JUST BREAD?!?!” You could see his french side growing and taking over (think a Jekyll and Hyde transformation)
“It is not just bread, it’s never just bread. It’s our culture, identity, life! Bread is …..” and I then got lectured for over half an hour about my slight ignorance on French Bread (yes, with capitals). He still tells people about this conversation and people in France regard me as the “weird Australian girl”.

"it's just bread"

Basic comparison of Australian and French breads

Growing up in Australia my family focused on healthy living and an outdoor lifestyle, bread was never at the top of my list for something on the foodchain to worship. Choclate: Yes. Bread: Never.

I remember working in a bakery during highschool. I worked there for three years. The boss always fed us for free and I ate salad for my lunch followed by fruit that was supposed to go on top of the cakes. For 3 years.

It. Was. A. Bakery. With. Bread.

Which shows exactly the Australian attitude to bread. I regarded it as something that was as exciting as eating cardboard. A filler for more interesting things. And Australian bread is exactly that. The general character of an Australian piece of bread is boring, dry, chewy and lifeless.

But slowly over the last two years Seb has slowly changed my attitude. I still won’t eat bread in Australia. But in France? Well it’s way too easy! Everyday I buy bread. EVERYDAY. Baguettes that are usually arriving warm out of the bakers oven.

The difference, which is like explaining sex to a virgin is the bread itself. It’s in the flour that makes it. The way they cook it.The kneading of the dough.

French bread

Baguettes ripped apart!

It’s the way that when you tear it apart steam rises like an advertisment. It’s maybe the pride behind the bread too.

The crispy crunchy outer layer. I hated crusts in Australia. Now in France I search the baguette for the best bits. And the crunchiest bits still soak up juices. That crunchy robust outer layer then gives way to the inside of a baguette. The bread is never dry, more humid and soft. The texture like a chewy sponge. For me that is the difference of France and Australia.

Bread is so important that it has led to riots and even a war called la guerre des farines In the history of France you can find it used in slander against the French Royalty. The “great princess” learning that there was no bread for peasants responded with “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (Let them eat cake).

And that’s what it boils down to for the French. While life can be complicated the things to be proud of are simple. Bread is eaten by everyone: from a street beggar to a millionaire. You have the most amazing chefs and michelin starred restaurants. But yet what do you find a French person misses when living abroad. The BREAD!!! Bread such a simple staple that it must assist the enjoyment of life. Not hinder it.

Australians forget the simple joys in life. We are always going somewhere, doing something. We struggle to stop on a Sunday (I still feel crazy on Sundays when nothing is open). And we struggle to enjoy a piece of bread. We look at it in quantities of health and how much we’ll have to run after eating it. Or how much better something else is for us than that slice of bread.

And that’s my education and my lesson for you with bread.
1. Take the time to go to a real bakery.
2. Pick a baguette or a roll NOT A SQUARE LOAF.
3. Take it home. Turn off your phone, TV, INTERNET, RADIO Or Fax.
4. Sit down to silence and listen as you rip it apart. You should actually hear cracks from the crunchy bits and whispered tearing from the soft parts.
5. Eat torn chunks. Not neat cut off pieces but chuncks. With demi-sel buerre (semi-salted butter) and cheese!

And just enjoy life while you have it!

*Images sourced from interenet, if you do not wish them to be displayed please leave a comment below.

Loosing my “Zing” and the human touch

Hey guys just a general quick update about why I have been away for so long. 3 things.

1. I got so ill that food wasn’t an option to consume. I arrived at my doctor and he asked who drove you?? My reply made him annoyed…
“You drove yourself? But you are not well, I don’t want you leaving the house and while you are in that house you are to sleep. Nothing else.” (Obviously translated from broken french/english)
I have been following those directions to a tee… The point of that story is. Goofy doesn’t clean up after herself. Especially when she has a new found fetish for making confetti out of toilet rolls.

2. Before becoming sick I also elongated tendons in my knee from running. So arriving into the doctors when I was sick I actually waddled “comme un cannard” (like a duck). This has resulted in me having immense pain and inflamation in my right knee. I am also now a little scared to do a lot with my knee. Everytime I think it is fine I go for a run/jog/walk and it inflames back up with suprising vengeance.

3. Homesickness has been my most horrible issue of late. I have had a fair share of bad news on the home front and that combined with the loneliness and onset of Autumn has made me rather mentally paralysed. For a few weeks I remember just sleeping untill Seb arrived back from lunch, sneakily getting in the shower as he arrived home. And other days being awake all morning and just staring for hours out the backyard window.

It was also the concoction of a few other things.

Like searching for a job and being told a consistent NO. Trying to stay positive after continually being told you aren’t good enough to even clean makes the weight on your shoulders a little heavier. It doesn’t matter that I actually have degree earning experience(Accountantcy) in some industries than cleaning. It’s just that I am simply not Frenchy enough.

Failing one of my correspondance subjects because I just couldn’t handle the pressure of that and a new country, two languages and anything else that has been thrown at me.

Putting on weight because you can’t exercise and comfort eating at the same time is not a good feeling for your self image and confidence. Right now I have a paunch worse than some mum’s just after they have had a baby.

And lastly that ever bearing feeling that you are failing at it all. The effort to dress nicely now is a drag. It seems that I want pyjamas or tracksuit pants. I have lost the urge to put makeup on or brush my hair (The messy bun has been my permanent look of late). To put on jeans, and a nice top is just so much effort. And that’s just going for a beer with sebs friends. I have lost my zing and I am not sure where to find it.

I think part of it is I need hugs, I need more human touch than two cheek kisses from every person I meet. I maybe also need to adopt someone’s mother similar in stature to my mum and demand hugs (I have one in mind but am totally terrified to ask). I need to feel like I have a mom’s hug.

It may sound funny but for all that cheek kissing the french are such distant people. I am accustomed to hug my friends and family hello, and each hug is different. My Aunt squeezes me and my uncle pats my back. Another Aunt rests her chin on my shoulder and I have a friends mum that used to rock me a little. I had cousin I could swing around into a hug and they would squeel with delight and then snuggle in properly, like a little koala.
My girlfriends all gave me hugs in their own different ways. It was all about that comfort of human touch. The fact that it’s closeness and sharing, tenderness and love all without the sleazy lip smacking that can happen here.

I may just start a hugs group, I am really not sure. I do know I am craving for my English family, but must wait for my passport to be vignetted so I can return easily. So far I have demanded that Seb be on permanent hug status. It’s unfair for him as it makes me fairly permanently attatched to his side. And I don’t think he is too keen on getting my sickness.

Talk soon
Nik

Part 2: The process of Marriage to a French Citizen

Seb proposed to me on the 17th of January, I left France at the end of February and was married on the 27 of April.

After the nearly mind-boggling visit to the prefecture I decided to try my luck on home turf. STUPID STUPID WOMAN I was…. Thinking that I would have better luck.

You have to realise that the further french people are away from a French bottle of wine the more grumpy they get. (I think the Australian Reds and New Zealand Whites are perfectly fine thankyou, but being in Australia I often heard a french person wax lyrical about that Red Bordeaux). This grumpiness resulted in often spectacular results, quite often with me dreaming of murder on french soil in Australia.

With bags still full I commenced my first call to the local consulate about information to commence the paper process of marriage. After two minutes of speaking broken french the man bursts out in Englsih. “DO NOT call Brisbane. Marriage “thing” is for Sydney.”

Not to be deterred I immediatly googled and called the Sydney Consulate of France.
“Hi, I would like to speak to someone about marrying a French citizen in Australia?” I remember trailing off, hopeful that this person in Sydney would be more English speaking than the Brisbane consulate.
“Erggggg blah blah blah blah… blah blah blah blah…” Was the reply in that fast french.
“Erm Je ne comprends pas… slowly please”
“Get your boyfriend to call- BEEP BEEP BEEP!”

Yep she hung up on me after telling me to get Seb to call. So he would at midnight in France call Sydney,Australia. We quickly found out that they hang up before even speaking to you. Really you have to hope they are in a wonderful mood (If I could have I would have laced their water with anti-depressants).

After about 2 weeks of calling everyday we finally hit the jackpot. We had PAPERWORK. Which sounds like a nightmare. But was actually wonderful to have a direction. We had information for lodging a Banns in France which is like an intention of marriage for Australia.

Because we are two different nationalities we had to lodge both. For Australia, its a document stating that you are of an ability to marry and your passport or birth certificate as identification.

The banns requires all that stuff plus proof of address, proof of relationship, proof of no previous continuing relationship, and sometimes even toenail clippings(just joking for the last bit).

If it wasn’t an original they would send the whole thing back to you. It also all had to be within three months of issue. These people like shiny new things. Not some document that was 23 years old like my Australian Birth Certificate.

To compact that problem. The documents for a Banns changes from district to district. If you are going through this yourself. Call the local district of your partner to be. Some places are content with a passport. Others need your life story.

In the end we had two rejections for bad compilation of paperwork. And one delay with Sebs birth certificate needing to be reposted from France to Sydney. I was interviewed about our relationship and to stop them critising the relationship I submitted copies of my passport for visitation dates, every email we had written, phone texts and calls plus facebook documentation. From submitting those documents the “realness’ of our relationship was accepted.

We recieved the go ahead to marry A WEEK BEFORE THE MARRIAGE. I’ll continue next post about the documents needed post marriage. (Yes there is more.. You really had no idea, did you?)

So far so good

Hey everyone,

I’ll give everyone a proper update in the next week about the Visa process for Australian’s going to France, which I promise has more drama than the Bold and Beautiful.

I officially have my Visa in hand. In my passport which has currently been sleeping on my desk since I got it back. I have been too scared to even take the visa to a friends house to show because I am scared I will loose my passport.

I haven’t finished packing but am about to start sorting the last of my odd bits and pieces which includes packing my suitcase and the boxes… GOD I HAVE SO MUCH CRAP THAT I AM THROWING OUT! And so many books that I refuse to be without. When Sebastien wants to cheer me up he literally takes me to a bookshop! Its like bookporn, that’s how much I love books.

Sebastien and I as usual are fighting like cats and dogs. This is the usual process of arrivals. We are a very easy cycle to read. While together we have our ups and downs like every couple. Apart it reads like so…

First phase: Missing the other person like you have lost a limb and or your bestfriend to cancer. I am morbid, cry a lot and generally eat too much chocolate.
Middle phase: Addicted to skype, man hater in general except for the lovely Sebastien. Starting to focus on getting healthy. Starting to appreciate my girly time and making an effort to not let myself go.
Last phase: Being so excited and frustrated at the same time, because you are both so close but so far away. Fighting like cats and dogs. Drinking a lot with mates and partying hard.

Other than that I am preparing to visit my Mumma in the Outback just before I go. Get a real taste of Australia before I leave in the hope that it puts off my homesickness just a little bit longer. And yes I know I will get homesick. I am not pretending this is a holiday. I am going there to live. I already have a mild distrust of French people. You can thank some ex-female friends of Sebastien for that. It’s also the language barrier and the culture that decieves you. You think you understand it. And then BAM! It slaps you in the face for getting too comfortable.

Anyway this packing will not do itself.

Talk Soon

Nik

Prefecture – a complicated word

It doesn’t sound so hard to pronounce right? Try pronouncing it french style when you are angry. It’s complicated all right. As soon as any strong emotion hits me I lose all french language ability and what results its something like a two-year old with horrible pronunciation.

Really, try this, imagine a young woman (aka moi), sitting there flushing red, attempting to produce a recognisable sentence with my pathetic range of vocabulary. I have a slightly panicked and confused look on my face and have curled my hands into those little white knuckled balls. AND I don’t understand a thing. I sit stiffly in the chair while VGT talks with the woman. I try to calm down and concentrate on understanding anything of whats being said. VGT glances at me with a funny look on his face. I must look pretty weird compared to my normal carefree, relaxed Australian style.

I bring this scene up for a very good reason. We are sitting in the office of etrangers (immigrants), at the prefecture. The Prefecture. Will. RULE. My. Visa. Here is the place I come for information, to give information and to get important things like my carte de sejour. Oh, and did I mention that we waited 10minutes for the lady at the desk to finish gossiping to serve us. There was no one else waiting but we still had to stand/sit/shuffle for a designated time. And she looked harassed!

So we are back to me sitting in the chair, my nails are now making pretty crescent shapes in my hand. She is speaking so fast it’s nearly spanish to me. Somehow the conversation is ending because she starts pausing (I am amazing at body language now, after a year in this country I am obliged to learn something ) and after all the hullabaloo of waiting and getting information I don’t understand she finishes with “Mairie”. My ears prick up like a dog hearing a whistle. The mayor, what has he got to do with it all?

As we walk back down the stairs VGT explains that for my carte de sejour we need to get married now by the Marie, and then I return to Australia, wait for my visa AND then come back. If we don’t get married now, I have to return after marriage into Australia to wait for my visa. So another plane ticket, or the extension for the fifth time of the ticket I have now…. Insert the sarcastic AWESOME!

So not only did the woman want me to rush into my marriage, she wanted it in three weeks. And then I had to go back to Australia. I am skeptical as to whether she gets a commission off the airlines too…

As we drive home I start screaming and crying at the same time “I TOLD YOU, I KNEW IT, I TOLD YOU SO!” It all stresses me out. But alas, I have survived my very first encounter with french bureaucracy. I have come out nearly whole, I don’t need a mental institution but I do need tissues…

The problem was I had been under the impression of a Fiance visa, allowing me to move and marry in one big swoop… after double checking different sources it is still possible. She was just… FRENCH.

Prefecture… There. I can write it without wanting to fisty someone in the eye. Don’t ask me to say it just yet. I ask for a little patience (maybe kindness too, the french aren’t too good at that, have you heard their national anthem?) But there, Prefecture. It’ll have to do.

How to explain it all? The basics

I’ll start this bluntly in the hope that it answers the basics quickly and efficiently…

  • I hope to be moving to France in a few months.
  • In the last year I have spent more months here than home in Australia. (Ironically I feel out-of-place back home now.)
  • To state the obvious my partner, VGT, is french. He is a classic geek but with a few quirky areas like surfing and ice-skating. He still loves the odd LAN which contains large doses of aggression at his computer.
  • I am getting married and no it’s not for Visa’s, pregnancy, or money reasons. It’s not to get away from my beautiful Mum and nor is it to get a new citizenship. (Just addressing here all the nasty comments that arrived at the announcement of my engagement.) It is in fact for that universally cliché thing called Love.
  • The French visa application process is interesting,to be nice about it: It’s a complicated bureaucratic mess. Being Australian I hope that I have better chances than a Tunisian.
  • To obtain any form of longstay visa I must return to Australia and then come back to France. (I go back to Australia in about 2 weeks to start it all)
  • I am only learning to speak French now, with interesting results.

Ok now we have that out-of-the-way… I love chocolate and comfort eat when I am under any type of stress. I hate McDonald’s(which VGT adores) and love fresh veggies and fruit(horrendously expensive here) I do love the odd wine but when I can finally force down a beer I am drunk after a single stubbie.

I miss cooking Australian food here, the ingredients are different which results in different flavours. Sometimes better tastes but usually disasters (For example my soon to be father in law had to HACK SAW my frozen oranges for dessert last night, the ice cream had refrozen into milky orangey ice)

Australia is being flogged right now weather wise and personally I am glad we picked France for the first country to live in… It’s a loud passionate nation who strikes over the craziest reasons, you are lucky to be served with a smile and it can be a chaotic mess. However at the rate Australia is going economically and weather wise I will be coming home to a card board tent, thankful, that I get some newspaper for a pillow.

My second seemingly crazy reason is this. VGT knows Australia culture and customs a little. He speaks nearly fluent English and can happily communicate with any of my family or friends. I speak no French and often ruin a moment of tradition or culture with my habit of Australian blundering. Their perspectives are sometimes totally opposite to what I try to communicate. So it’s a little human experiment of learning french culture and customs then back over to my land of sunshine….

I am overly curious, and love new things. Love being on the move and visiting and meeting friends and family everywhere. In the last month I Have been to Bourges, Font Romeu, Paris, London, Bournemouth, Lyon, Nantes, Anger, Bordeaux, Biarritz and La Pointe du Raz….  I am known as G like a Golden Retriever, how happy they are to be loved and surrounded by people. But also how curious they are. We watch Rhianne, VGT’s dog and she is 14 with bad hips and she still gets in and about the most amazing little places. Wiggling her body, wagging her tail you can see the pleasure of a new sensation. That’s me, just in human form. (I get excited over a 10 euro bowl of pasta that tastes amazing)

Lastly, Why not?