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