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