Aidan: Conjugating Irregular Verbs
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After spending five years in Ireland during an expat assignment the country was - and still is - known for, Aidan and her husband relocated to France, a country they fell for during their honeymoon. Her blog, Conjugating Irregular Verbs, deals not only with the expat experience abroad, but also has a sweet tooth for the culinary side of living in France.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to France, etc.
We’re a family of Texans who’ve found our home in the South of France. My husband and I honeymooned in France 14 years ago and that’s when the love affair began. We moved abroad to Ireland with my husband’s multi-national company in 2005 to test the expatriate waters and finally made the big French move two years ago in February 2010.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
My blog actually started in Ireland. I realized how much the experience there had changed me and our family (we had our third child there) and I wanted to have memories to hold onto. I enjoyed writing it so much and my friends and family enjoyed reading it so it became something I couldn’t stop doing. When we moved to France I naturally kept it up. Blogging about our life abroad has become a necessity; a way to document and process the experiences here as well as a way to meet other fantastic people who are doing the same thing.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I’d have to say my favorite posts are those when I’ve really messed something up! When you’re living in another language and culture it’s the little things that make life challenging. Those and of course the food posts. I love food and living here has given wings to my foodie obsession. Two good examples are the Aidan & The Egg Series and The Diesel Fiasco.
Tell us about the ways your new life in France differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Life in France is much slower and much less materialistic than at home in the US. There aren’t the little conveniences like drive-thru pharmacies or all night convenient stores. You have to embrace the laid back attitude. For example, lunches here take up two hours of the day. This is true for my children’s school and for many shops and businesses. Things close for two hours and you just have to get used to it. You’re supposed to be eating lunch and reposing at that time anyway! As far as culture shock, I’d have to say the most difficult thing for us to get used to is that grocery stores and all shopping centers and malls are closed on Sunday. I remember when I was a little girl in Texas and the malls were closed on Sunday. It’s still like that here. And that’s kind of nice once you get used to it.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in France? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I don’t know if you can ever be fully prepared for the daily ins and outs that are different in another country. The language is definitely a big one for me and my husband. The children have picked it up just as everyone kept telling us they would but the sheer fact that everything is done in French was surprising. That sounds weird probably but somehow you just don’t realize the complete reality of living in another language until you do. I remember when we first moved here thinking how everyone sitting in their cars next to me in traffic thought in French, any conversation between fellow commuters was in French, all the songs they heard and signs they read were perfectly normal to them. This shouldn’t have been a revelation but it was and sometimes still is. To that, there’s really nothing to prepare you. You just have to experience it.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I’m spoiled for choice here! Usually it’s when I say something wrong like the time I told the doctor that I had all my shots because I had been a mistress. I meant teacher but the word is the same and so context means everything. Or when I wished one of my friends ’happy lovemaking’ for the New Year. That went over well at the school gates!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in France?
I’d say that being positive makes or breaks someone embarking on expat life. You have to have a sense of humor and be brave and open to other ways of doing things. I’ve been surprised at the number of people who complain about things here; things that are quintessentially French and that the entire world already knows. Don’t be surprised if certain stereotypes are true. Try to look deeper to understand why that may be, what purpose it serves the society and how that makes France what it is; the country that intrigues you. There wouldn’t be the laid back lunch that everyone romanticizes if lunch breaks weren’t a part of the social fabric. Are those tips? I think so.
How is the expat community in France? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I think this one depends on where you are. Paris, for example, is a city and so therefore the expat community will be broader than if you move to some tiny village in the Southwest. In Montpellier where we live, there is an active group of expats who will happily welcome any newcomers to the area. Wendy Johnson and Lulu Shore are at the epicenter of the expat welcome committee here. If you need anything, they are the ones to go to. I have been lucky to find a few very close and supportive friends here. Plus, the blog has opened up a world of friendships to me. As a matter of fact I’ve spent Thanksgiving with a fellow blogger and we have blog lunches where we all meet in person and speak English, glorious English, the entire time!
How would you summarize your expat life in France in a single, catchy sentence?
I do all the things every mother does; I just do them in French (kind of) and then I write about it.