Delana: du Jour
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to France, etc.
I am Minnesota born and raised but spent most of my life across the border in Wisconsin, first attending University and subsequently raising my family there. My plan was to move to the city of Minneapolis once the boys were well on their way to adulthood. But, at 49, I decided that ‘between jobs’ was probably the best time to finally live a dream. I sold my house and most of my possessions and in January 1999, I took off for the south of France. I wanted to give myself a year to immerse myself in a culture and learn its language. I’ve now moved into year four with no plans to go back and those leftover possessions are still sitting in a warehouse in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, waiting to be sold.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
A friend of mine owns a small-town newspaper and asked me to write a couple of articles about my experiences in France. I thought that might be fun and those few became a weekly column that I continued until article number 86! I learned that I loved to write and did a fairly decent job of it so I made the somewhat difficult decision to open up my life and let the world in. I haven’t regretted it. I have met so many interesting people this way, including my business partner.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Oh this is hard, but it was a trip down memory lane re-reading them. Some are very personal about the effects of uprooting oneself…like this one.
And some are just a way to share my new world.
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?
I’m from the Midwest, where space is taken for granted. I’ve had to get used to small spaces, small distances, small people, small clothes and small shoes!
When I arrived, I could count the number of French words I knew …and this is a stretch… on two hands. Language was tough, as was the French penchant for paperwork. But I really look at both as a great, big, fat challenge!
I’ve also had to learn that it takes longer to make friends here than in the states. Americans are more open and gregarious than the French. It was disheartening at first, but little by little…
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in France? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
No, I wasn’t fully prepared. Can one ever be? But, as I said before, the discovery has been what has made this all worthwhile.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Mine have mostly been with language and my errors. For instance, one day I went to the doctor because of a pain in my upper leg, and tried to describe the problem. As he laughed, I knew I’d made another error…but what? It turns out I told him, “My buttocks are evil. How do you find them?”
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in France?
- Take copies of ALL personal papers, birth certificates, bank statements, etc. You are going to need many of them as you go through the process of getting your Carte de Sejour (residency card). And start this process as soon as you get there. It can take a long time and that card is necessary for so many things. You’ll want it as soon as possible.
- Don’t bother bringing 3 pairs of high heels. Walking on cobblestones will ruin both your feet and your shoes.
- Leave electrical appliances home and buy them here. But bring your favorite, squishy pillow. Aside from its comfort and familiarity, you’ll need it to cry into when you realize you didn’t make that one necessary copy or after you’ve twisted your ankle in those dumb shoes!
How is the expat community in France? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
No, it’s been easy because there are usually organized groups, like the AAGP (Anglo-American Group of Provence). Also many areas of France have a branch of the AVF (Acceuil des Villes Francaise) comprised of volunteers who can will help you make your way around. This group is not specifically for English speakers but they generally have English-speaking volunteers and offer activities and language classes.
However, for the first several years I was not eager to spend time with other expats. I find that it’s harder to learn the language and really integrate when spending a lot of time with others like me. My main goal was to become a part of France, not separate myself from it.
How would you summarize your expat life in France in a single, catchy sentence?
Delicious cheese and fabulous wine are a great cure for all that ails you. As long as you have elastic-waisted pants.