IMG_4957 copyStarting a new life in a new place is fraught, but doing it in a different language and culture adds a layer of complexity.

BIO-300x300-bordered-1px-white-edgeThe expat bibliography is stuffed with tales of misunderstandings and scams suffered by poor newbies ignorant of the wily ways of the French contractor and the Kafkaesque requirements of the French bureaucracy.

We experienced none of that. Everybody was very professional. But at the beginning, with the Carnivore gone at work all day and me at home with a new baby, no car, no job and no friends, the transition was shockingly hard. Happily, very quickly, many people reached out, making connections with us and connecting us with the community, much to our surprise and delight.

Why so many rainbows? Even when it rains, there’s sun.

One of the first was our neighbor’s father, who did not quite approve of foreigners next door. However, he gave us the name of a trustworthy local, J-C, who would keep tabs on the place when we were gone.

When we moved in for good, J-C was our guide. He told us where to find a doctor. Which led to the pharmacy, where the pharmacist looked at my address, said she lived in the same village, and that I should check out the gym classes at the community center.

The gym classes became my go-to for all kinds of information. The relative advantages of the various supermarkets in town. How to sign up a kid for preschool. Where to take baby-swimming lessons. What all those French acronyms mean. Any time I needed to know something, I would ask at gym class. I exercised my vocabulary as well as my muscles during the Wednesday night sessions. (For the most accurate weather report, eavesdrop on the line at the bakery.)P1070029The park was another touchstone. It must have been a magical time, because now when I run around the park, I no longer see mothers with little ones on the manicured lawn. I was lucky to have a nice clique of three other mothers as insistent as I was that kids need to go outside unless it’s pouring rain. They had kids the same age as mine, and our four were sometimes joined by various others who were more relaxed about the park-television ratio. Even on wintry days, we would go, huddling against the wind as the well-bundled little ones (emmitoufler is the adorable French word that means “to wrap up in warm clothes”) intently picked up rocks or leaves or chestnuts from one place and dropped them someplace else, while similarly well-bundled little old ladies perched like delicate brown birds on a bench against a sheltered, sun-warmed south wall, watching the spectacle. Who needs cat videos when you have live toddler performances?P1060482When I had surgery on my foot and was laid up for a month, these mothers came by every day to visit me. Every day. They also did the school runs, while another handled swim lessons.

That is when I knew it. I was loved. The roots were sinking in.

Have you ever planted seedlings from a nursery and then later pulled them out, the roots still in a tight ball? Meanwhile, other plants are nearly impossible to get out, having sent their roots wide and deep. 21. JUNE 2012 - SEPTEMBRE 2012 - 432A difference with humans, though, is that we can have roots in many places at once. Mine are now spread across countries and continents.

I don’t like to think of having lost touch with old friends; there’s no repudiation of the time spent with them, and it’s only normal that we all devote most of our energies to those in our presence. Technology makes it easier to stay in touch, yet that’s sometimes on a superficial level of headlines about what’s eating up our time. 278.RainbowsOn the other hand, I regaled my mom with her faraway grandchild’s antics via email, and she would write back as soon as she read it several time zones later. My mom even babysat from almost 5,000 miles away. She and the kid would get on Skype, and talk. They would draw pictures and hold them up to the camera to show each other. I would be shooed away during these sessions, with a curt, “We are TALKING!” And talk they did. I couldn’t always hear the exact words, but they came in a steady stream, punctuated by plenty of laughter.

My dad preferred snail mail. I would get a thick envelope from time to time, every bit of every page filled with his distinctive writing, which got shakier and shakier. The topics were stream of conscious—certainly his mind worked faster than his hand, and by the time he had scratched out a sentence, he was already paragraphs beyond. He always signed off with “I love you and always will.” Always.

Though it’s been a while since I’ve seen my siblings or old friends, on the rare times when the stars align so we can get on the phone despite the transatlantic scheduling challenges, we pick up as if we’d last seen each other just a few days ago. The details don’t matter. I love them deeply, fiercely, and that’s all that it takes to keep the connection.IMG_3627 2This post is part of the group “By Invitation Only,” which this month is discussing connections. For other points of view, please visit Daily Plate of Crazy, where you can find not only D.A. Wolf’s sensory take but also links to other By Invitation Only participants. And tell me about the connections that are important to you.

31 thoughts on “Connections, by Invitation Only

  1. This is just lovely. Relocating can be terribly difficult and to a new country, even more so. Those roots in the community, in many communities, make all the difference.

    The connections you describe are the very best kind. Once you begin to interact with people, to really connect, everything else begins to fall in place.

    I love the the thought of the Skype babysitting! Brilliant. And beautiful.

    So glad you’ve joined the international party! “By Invitation Only” is richer for your connection.


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  2. We never had any of the disasters that you read about when moving to France either. The only crappy tradesman we had to deal with wasn’t French. All the French were professional and punctual. And now with Brexit I am learning just how good my network in France is. We have friends we can call on here for all sorts of things, from fun days out together to decyphering administrateese. As ever you have put it perfectly and said just what I would like to say (although I don’t have a kid, but you know what I mean…)

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      1. No dogs sadly. But we immediately joined several clubs for a range of interests and now run one of our own which is dedicated to creating a network for French and expats to get together. Writing a blog that has become well known locally (including with our local mairie) has helped enormously, even though it is in English. It is seen as contributing to promoting our little town and area and we’ve met all sorts of people because of it. I’m always surprised how many French readers we have.

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  3. What a major thing it must have been … living in a new country. I don’t think that I could be so brave !!! I do so admire you….. and, how lovely to have kind people to show you the way.
    A lovely take on our ‘ Connections ‘ subject this month and a delightful read. XXXX

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  4. When I moved here I had a week with my husband and then was entirely on my own with the dog. The dog proved to be my version of a child. A conversation opener with strangers, an apology to my neighbours when she menaced their cat through the balcony railings, a melting of a gruff farmer as I strode purposefully across his yard because it was on a PR route. So much. I had what I thought was reasonable French but I quickly learned that I had so much to learn. And still do. It’s a life’s work. We have never had any problem with tradesmen, bureaucrats nor banks and insurance companies and lawyers. I think that it is a question of acceptance and not assuming that everyone does things the way one is used to (they surely don’t but that is surely their right … it is after all their country not mine until such time as I take nationality. Which we will – it was always the intention). So it has been an adventure and I miss my daughters terribly, my mother though my brothers had both lived abroad for over 10 years before I moved so that is less arduous. More and more I feel like a foreigner when I go back to Britain but it is always lovely to see them and I am grateful that communication methods are so much easier than years ago though my mother does still write letters and I write to her (she does not own a computer and refuses to contemplate one). My father has been dead for 14 years …. I know he would have been here often but I carry him in my heart. This is a lovely post. I am sure that many will enjoy its heartfelt messages.

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      1. You speak my heart! Before we moved, we were staying in the hotel that hosted our wedding reception a month or so before (very unpretentious and they absolutely pushed the boat out for us and made it the most beautiful occasion and exactly as we wanted … relaxed but as country French as ….) and there was a fellow at the table next to our at breakfast. He recognized English (of course) and engaged me in conversation. It turned out that he and his partner had bought ‘a big house … you know the one – the really big one in XXX’. I did know it but didn’t grace him with the fact as he regaled me with the awful time they were having (she incidentally had no intention of learning French – she preferred it that way – really??!!?) because ‘these people’ (stet) have no idea how to do things. The house is these days boarded up. I guess they gave up and good riddance. Poor attitude will out. ‘These people’ are bright and engaging and funny and kind if you allow them to be. As my mother said to my first husband ‘the problem is you insisted on insisting she change and that was never going to work’. Same rules apply and I think irritation is a politer response than my own!!

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          1. Yes, I have an old friend from England who moved to Corrèze 18 months ago. She announced (on FaceBook, mind you 😱) that she thought she ought to think about learning French because if she is to settle permanently she needs to integrate. I was very hard pressed not to make a choice remark. Instead I took deep breaths and went out for a long walk!!!

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  5. In my heart, we have moved to France. We are constantly overwhelmed by the kindness of the people to two muddled visitors. We have been invited into homes after a casual meeting. I think the secret is to be open and acccepting…
    Sigh…if we were younger, we would take the plunge.


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  6. I moved to france when I was 65, after having made long visits. I obviously had no children with me, just dogs. My french was somewhere between Nonexistent and Crap. But i reached out to people of all nationalities (I am from California) and made so many friends. Lenny Bruce said “Life is like a sewer, you get out of it what you put into it.” How true that is. I have since left that original landing place (2009) although I still have a house there, rented to the lovely french “maçon” who did most of the work on it. I landed here due to a friendship with a German neighbor who wanted to buy a property over here, so we joined forces. I’m having the same experiences here near Carpentras, making the effort to meet people of all nationalities. At least my French has improved …..
    bonnie in Carpentras

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  7. I have loved reading all of the interpretations on connections and yours is no exception. The kindness of strangers who helped you is inspiring. I love how your were able to stay connected with family through Skype and email. Happy Wednesday!

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    I adore getting to know people………….I LOVE FINDING OUT HOW SMALL THE WORLD IS!
    THIS WAS A BEAUTIFUL DESCRIPTION Of your LIFE IN FRANCE!I can relate a bit as we spent 3 years in ITALY!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved reading this as it just shows that people around the world are full of kindness and quite friendly. I’ve lived in the Middle East and found the same truths there. So happy you’re in our By Invitation Only group as it is just getting re-started. xx’s

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  10. I don’t know how you did it. I tried to move away with my baby and I only lasted a year and half. And I lived only 300 miles away from my family. LOL. My mother couldn’t stand being away from “her” baby.

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  11. Susan your blog is always one of my very favorites. I have had so much going on I have lost touch with my favorites. I loved this post. We live in the country and my kids always played outside. I remember my son when he was in 6th grade coming home and complaining that they had a contest at school that related to TV programs. He had no idea what they were talking about because they preferred to play in the creek etc. I envy your life in France it sounds like perfection!

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