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

Tartiflette and Tantrums

So in Australia I am really well-known as a cook by my mates and family. I actually don’t even have recipes. It just comes out of my head and onto the plate in correct flavours and form. Coming from a family of feeders my pride is watching people come together and enjoy food. I love the fact that my up-bringing was that food is something to be shared.

My sharing was varied from traditional roasts, to stir-fries, to pasta, dessert, salads, starters and tapas… I would literally just pop off to the grocery store and later that night have a feast for my people. I have a favourite memory of getting carried away with cooking and instead of cooking for four people I ended up inviting ten and we spent all night eating different types of tapas!

But alas… the problem:
I CANNOT COOK IN FRANCE!

In fact as I write this I am eating a stir fry that tastes something similar to a second-hand takeaway AND I cheated (Yes; Sauce, frozen veg and chopped up meat, Shameful that I can stuff up something so basic, especially when I hate to make it this way). Why am I eating this? I can hear people’s thoughts… Well I cooked it. And stubbornness is starting to set in.

I have been trying my best to settle into France. And to handle this stressful situation my genetic wiring is to cook (thanks parents and Nan!). But here I cook and it is always an experiment. With quite often spectacularly bizarre results. The best example of this is Tartiflette.

My first ever Tartiflette I couldn’t understand French… Zilch, Zip, Nuttin. The result ended in a dish of raw potato in a runny whitish discoloured liquid covered by not a crust but an actual LID of BURNT something.

My second Tartiflette I at least didn’t burn the ‘thing’. We will leave it at that. And with the third try panic set in as Sebastien had invited over the immediate family (another 3 people). The problem with this was Sebastien was starting to lose weight. My cooking had indeed become that bad.

In panic I contacted quite a few French friends of Sebastien’s about Tartiflette. And ended up googling the crap out of the recipe and creating my own hybrid. To coincide with this third try/experiment I also brought 2 ready-made Quiches. If I failed I would still be able to feed them, my confidence destroyed but my genetic instinct to feed still intact. I had actually concentrated so much on getting this dish ‘right’ that I went and brought a ready made dessert (against my grain but I didn’t want to push my luck).

As the night grew closer I grew anal-retentitive about following my ‘recipe’. To the point that when baking came to eating I was panicking as it landed on the table. Papou as I call my father-in-law is always the compliment when I try things (even eating beef that is so tough that you can’t cut it with a steak knife!). Mumu, my mother-in-law is a seafood-vegatarian so she would eat something different.

The true test would be my husband and brother-in-law. These two guys are permanent vacuum cleaners. As I scooped it out of the dish you could see the creamy cheese mixed with lardons(bacon) melted into the soft fluffly layers of potatoes. The steam rised from it like an advertisement! ENFIN!!(FINALLY!) A DISH! And they had seconds! Oh Mon DIEU! I had done it. I had finally cooked a meal in France that passed THE test! Then comes the crash landing…

My husband without realising how sensitive I am right now (about cooking in particular) does something really French. He critiques the meal.

“Eeet’z(It’s) good, but we will improve it. There still needs some things to be fixed.”

This goes against my Australian culture of “Giving it a Go” so strongly that it makes me intensly dislike him for a lot longer than a split second. More like I fume silently for 5 mins followed by a lot longer sulking. (I had actually tried this 3 times because he likes this dish so much!)

Being the Australian I am. I do not act French in response to this. I do not loudly discuss/nor do I tell him to stick it/and I don’t even try to huff about it. Instead I sit on the problem. And sit, and sit some more. Then a few days later I blow up. Like a very normal Australian.

When I do he wonders what my tantrum is even about…

“Nikki, this problem isn’t about the mistake on the orders for a bodyboard is it…??” He peters out hopefully wondering what the hell has happened to his normally cruisy good natured wife.



“Nikki?”



“Nikkiiiiiiiiieeeeeyyyyyyy”
-“No it’s the fact that I can’t cook. And Australian people don’t believe me and what’s worse french people believe that I can’t cook. And when I do finally get it right, it’s not good enough. NOT EVEN FOR YOU” It rushes out like I have unstoppered a cask of wine. My pride and my tears. Ending in such a fierce accusation that Seb is silent for a second. He starts to laugh, bubbling through his laughter he says this….

“I still eat it even when its crap, I love you. And I promise to eat your food. I eat McDonalds; I can eat your food!”(Just for those not in the know Seb is nearly addicted to McDonalds.)

Later on, after retelling this to a friend of mine she cackles at me…
“Nik that’s not a story, that’s tantrums and Tartiflette’s!”