Slowly Feeling Settled…7 months in France

Easter Lunch 2022 

– Linda

I can’t believe it’s nearly 7 months since our arrival in France.  Easter has just passed and we had a great first one in France.  I never thought it would take our family this long to feel settled in a new country.   A simple example:  it has been a laborious process of getting  an administrative error on my visa straightened out.   When I shared my misfortune with other French people or foreigners, no one seems surprised.   7 months later, it’s finally fixed.  I have a valid visa!  You celebrate new victories when you are a foreigner in a different culture.  It was worth taking a picture & making a short video (see below!) to mark the moment.

What did I underestimate upon arriving in France?   I underestimated how much time mental and emotional energy it takes to adjust a family of 5 to a new culture, and not just a family of 5, but one with a teenager and a special needs child to boot!  A first trip to a French grocery store was a startling awakening that our children’s love of snack food and my desire to eat healthy food that trends on TikTok isn’t anywhere to be found, or at least not without 7 months of scavenging!

Instead of the diversity of international foods and health foods you can find available in the United States, even in Mississippi, the French have a very set idea of what good food is, and there is an extreme abundance of very particular choices:  cheese, yogurt, bread, wine to name a few.   That means Mexican food is an exotic, expensive treat.   That should make some Americans laugh!

So food is one area I will share more about, but the entire move has been a huge adjustment.  With a hungry 14 year old and a standard (small) European refrigerator, we were struggling with food choices for a while.  I had to convince my kids that pain au chocolat was not a legitimate dinner.

What else did I underestimate?   How much I should have invested in French language before arriving in Paris.  Yes, you can get by in Paris with English, but that works only if your lives are completely driven by English speaking communities, English speaking schools, English speaking friends, English speaking hairdressers, English speaking bakers, English speaking bankers… you get the idea.   Some communities and companies will insulate you in that bubble in France, but we didn’t move to France to mimic Americana in Paris.   French language is indispensable.

What has surprised me the most in our adjustment process?   How much I have loved learning the French language.   I have never been a Francophile.  As a little girl, I never dreamed of living in Paris.  I think I took a French class in 6th grade for 1 semester and I remember hiding behind the curtains before the teacher would arrive.  I spent a year in Vietnam after college to attempt to learn my mother’s native tongue and even my own mother thought I should have traveled to Paris instead of Vietnam because she felt French was a more sophisticated language.   The French accent, the French way of life, the French sense of fashion, beauty, architecture, and art has never enthralled me like it has others.   I have appreciated France from afar, but I would pack a bag to head to Calcutta or Kazakhstan or the Philippines if given the chance before France.

So I was extremely lucky to have one of the best teachers I have ever had in any language offer me my first true introduction to the French language!   For the past 6 months, I have spent 25 hours a week commuting to, sitting in, and studying for a French class.   I started at the very beginner level – learning the alphabet and how to say “I don’t understand”.   It has taken 6 months, y’all 6 months!, for me to get to a survival level in French – that would be A2 for the linguistically savvy.

The French language is so grammatically complicated.   You can’t wing it.  You can’t intuitively translate from an English sentence to a French sentence – even something as basic as “I can do that”.  I understand now why English speakers dread even going to a Parisian bakery.   You are so scared to communicate a simple order and watch all the impatient Parisians throw you an annoyed glance as you fumble and struggle to pronounce words you know you are butchering.

But 25 hours a week to attend language class is a part-time job on my part, and it has rocked our family dynamic.  I will be sharing more in piecemeal, but most succinctly:   when you have been a stay-at-home mom for nearly 14 years, you underestimate the burdens you carry naturally and effortlessly until you transfer them to someone else!   It wasn’t just John Hugh suddenly needing to be Mr. Mom for 20 hours a week.   It was debating how to homeschool our special needs child while I was learning French.   It was having 1 shower and 1 closet for all 5 people, and a much smaller home where bickering wasn’t sequestered to another room but intimately invading everyone’s private space.

Our little family of 5 has been forced to learn new survival life skills.  For example, burgeoning culinary talents for all 3 boys at their individual levels, and they are surprisingly very excited to learn.   Even basic emotions have needed a re-assessment while living in France. Whining has an undercurrent of selfishness or fear, but which one is it in your case?

You add the urgency of learning French or the exhaustion of listening to French all day, especially true for 2 of my children attending French public school, you are emotionally more tired just going through a normal day than if you were back in your home culture with your native language.

So why do I finally feel settled?   It’s the emotional maturity we have all walked through in the last 7 months that makes me feel like we are finally settling in.   We recently received some HUGE surprises that put more unknowns in our plate – stay tuned – but even with that, I don’t feel unsettled.

We’ve already given up some American habits or incoming expectations that were not sustainable for us in France.  For example, we have 1 car to share as a family, and gasoline is DOUBLE  what we spent in the US.  So we can’t divide and conquer kids’ activities like we used to in Mississippi or burn our tires to make a speedy 3 hour road trip for 48 hours.  We are completely interdependent, and that means everyone’s needs are as important as the next.  It also means we can’t sustainably live as 5 independent, selfish humans because for the whole team to move forward, any one member of the family is sacrificing at any given time – it just depends on the day!

I finally feel settled because we are learning to work as a true, interdependent, supportive team.   We are having the most honest conversations – even with a 9 year old – about what selfishness versus serving each other looks like in a foreign country, what disappointments can’t be brushed under the carpet or hidden, what easy affirmations are no longer available when you are the outsider at school or in your job area (nearly every French person is taken aback and extremely curious when we mention John Hugh is a pastor or we are here to start churches in France), and how anxiety is slowly growing into faith when the unknowns are too big to put into a well-worn path because you are truly feeling lost some days.

Perhaps best of all, it’s been a reminder that we, as Christians, are exiles in a foreign place on this earth, no matter where you live in the world.  It’s a more stark reality when you are in a foreign culture, but the theological truth remains true even if you are in your home culture.   I say to myself every day:  Don’t get too settled, don’t get too comfortable, don’t be too expectant – there is much work ahead and our comfort is not what matters most.  It’s not an easy lesson to learn as a protective mom, a security based person, a person who likes to be in control of my day and meticulously plan my life as I would see fit.  

It’s been a wild 7 months, but I wouldn’t trade it for a predictable, seemingly safe routine because I feel more content, more thankful, and I would cautiously hazard to say more relaxed than I have been in a very, very long time.  I can’t wait to share more!  I finally have more free time to participate in the blog.  Please keep up with us as we catch up on nearly 7 months of life in France.

A quick peek in our daily life or watch all our YouTube Shorts here.

School Drop-Off
When you take a walk in Paris
Finally Feeling Settled
Competitive Swim in France

15 second videos from our French Préfecture visit:  here, here, and here.

Thanks for reading!

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