Serial expats are not always charmed by yet another new country and another new culture. Much is written about the strains and stresses of the expat life, so I will refrain from adding to it. Instead I’ll just jubilate about my own experience of moving to another new country: France. I am in love. Yes, I know, it’s France, how can you not be in love?
Alas, apparently you can hate the place, because I hear expats whine and complain and I read their diatribes about how bad things are. To them I say, go home.
I love the sounds of our village: The church bells chiming the hour; the cooing of the doves; the bonjours in the street of people greeting each other; the loudspeakers announcing the arrival in the village square of the butchery on wheels, or the mobile unisex hair salon. I love walking through the ancient, narrow alleys to the small village shop with my basket and buy a baguette and a few peaches and the garden tomatoes grown by the owners themselves.
Doesn’t it all sound romantic? What can I tell you: it is!
I love the open markets that come to towns and villages on certain days. The fabulous cheeses, meats, fish! You find yummy honey of all sorts from the fields and mountains just nearby, free range eggs, and artisan breads sold by weight. And now it is mushroom season again…
Oh, what the heck, here a picture of cheese. You love cheese, don’t you?
And let me toss in a quote by Charles de Gaulle: How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?
It’s totally cliché, but I love old buildings, balconies, windows, doors, ancient stone walls (but I don’t want to own them!).
Old door in our village
Just to be fair, there are many nice new doors in medieval villages, but the old ones are more romantic, and I’m in a romantic mood. Below a picture of a stone wall along the vineyards just outside our village.
I love our morning walks through the vineyards, watching the sun rise and munching on the wild blackberries and figs, and picking more to take home.
Early morning harvest of wild blackberries
I love the summer festivals everywhere: the food fests, the art fairs, the wine tastings, the concerts in old castles. Every town and village far and wide bursts into activity with shows of all sorts, the centers of town being the stage. Food stalls, wine tasting stalls, and art displays line the streets. Tables are set up so you can sit down and eat and drink what you buy along the way. Music and other performances create a wonderful ambiance.
Pasta and mussels, anyone?
Children watching and listening to an Irish music/dance group.
I love watching the children. They will sit nicely in a restaurant, eating a bowl of mussels. They will attend piano concerts with their parents and listen and not fuss (usually). Teenagers will politely greet you with a bonjour when they’re passing you in the street or square. And it is rude not to greet everyone nearby when you enter an office or a shop, and to offer a proper bonne journée when you leave. You don’t just say thanks, turn around and walk out.
The French people here are warm and friendly, and eager to help, including waiters in restaurants and cashiers in supermarkets. They’re patient with my sorry French, and if they speak English, they’ll generously offer it up. I’m always surprised when foreigners say the French are rude. Of course they say that about the Dutch too, and that surprises me as well. Perhaps I don’t recognize rude when I see it?
Last week we were so busy doing things, eating out with friends, and doing all the above things, that we were not home for 5 evenings in a row. My prince and I do not normally have a wild and woolly social life, so this was quite a surprise.
One of the great advantages of our own village is the fact that it is near several larger towns that have all the attractions and conveniences of modern life: restaurants, theaters, art galleries, antique shops, health food stores, supermarkets, DIY stores (Americans, think Home Depot).
One of my favorite hobbies is to sit on a terrace while having a drink or eating a meal and watching the world around me. And the world around me is new and different and I’m enjoying it. And yes, it is summer, and yes, it will all look different in January, but no worries, I’ll keep you posted!
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What country did you love when you first arrived? Or after you got used to it? What did you enjoy and made you feel welcome?