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0:00 Why Did You Take A Break From Social Media/Your Blog?
0:50 What Have You Already Learned As An American In France?
01:20 Who Have You Met In Paris?
01:37 Why Are You In Paris?
01:55 Would Your Family Still Move to France If You Could Do It All Over Again?
02:19 What Have You Needed to Survive as a Family?
02:44 Your Number One Rule in Your Family
Why did you take a break from social media/your blog the last 3 months?
Our arrival brought a lot of new change. We needed some time to acclimate, adjust, and develop a rhythm – or somewhat of a rhythm because we are still dealing with unexpected curveballs daily. Not posting has been a discipline for me if I’m honest. I greatly enjoy staying connected with others and like many, I can find myself going to social media in downtime or in moments to spare to see what’s going on.
Thus, it’s a new forced habit to put family schedules first. From taking kids to their school and sports destinations with aggressive Parisian drivers & a sprawling public transport system, Linda attending her new French school, endless errands that are simple in the US but more adventurous in France, and helping translate the barrage of school emails, the days have been full.
Add to this my own French learning. Although I have some background in French, I now have 3 online tutors, slowly bringing me along to develop my capacity. Living in France, I need to speak French, and speak it well. With whom do I speak French daily? Well, not only with the French, but also with those living in Paris from other countries. This list includes Francophone countries, countries where French is an official language, like Martinique, Belgium, Ivory Coast, and Senegal. But our list of acquaintances also includes non-Francophone countries like Venezeula, Georgia, Korea, Lebanon, and China, where people have better French than English as they have assimilated into life in France.
Thankfully, the church we are serving currently and the one we will plant in the near future in Paris will be English speaking. Since our arrival, I have even been able to preach, in English, several times at our host church. My French is not quite good enough to preach, but it is very useful for building cross-cultural bridges, networking, and connecting people to French churches.
All to say, we want to share and share regularly. We’re grateful for all our partners and friends, old and new. We want people to see our family life in Paris and life in France in general. So look out for stories and adventures from our first 3 months on social media or here on our blog. And hopefully for many of you, we will see you in person too. We hope you will join us in keeping pipelines connected from Paris to the United States.
Why have we taken a break? Since the day we closed on our house in Mississippi, 24 hours before we boarded a plane to France (yes 24 hours!), it’s been a crazy sprint every single day. As a self-professed procrastinator the first 40 years of my life, I’ve found new energy after 40 in conquering fears that used to paralyze me. Stay tuned for more in future devotions.
So getting stuck in a French parking garage on a Saturday night at 8:30pm? I push fear aside, put on my problem-solving cape, and get our Venezuelan friends to help translate, all the while eating my dinner out of the grocery cart. My oldest child is in the wrong grade his first 6 weeks of French public school? I march up to the school with determination and very elementary French, knowing French administration is notoriously difficult and abrasive, and push fear aside, using a big, persistent, very American smile that won’t accept no as an answer. Graciously, I meet some wonderful French people in the school administration who help me get things moving in the right direction (it still takes 6 weeks), to the shock of even my French friends.
I take the wrong turn on the French highway, realize I have no gas and it’s luckily 10 km to the next gas station (you can’t find a gas station at every exit like the US) but still can’t figure out which gas to pump because, yes, even that is different than the US. I push fear aside and hold up the line of cars asking several French people for help in my embarrassingly simple French. As I am exiting the gas station, a French couple stops me to be sure I am ok and didn’t have any problems – another unusual encounter, I am told, especially for someone who doesn’t speak good French.
The list is endless – faith over fear, courage over cowardice. What did I discover? On the other side of fear are opportunities of unexpected grace, getting what you don’t think you deserve or what you don’t expect to receive. We will share some of our favorites in upcoming posts. All to say, I have seized every day as a huge mountain to climb that can be addressed 1 step at a time with no time to waste on feeling disappointed, surprised, or sorry for myself.
My kids are watching me navigate a whole new culture and whole new language without the self-assuredness I projected in the United States. As I am learning alongside with my children and my husband, our skill set as a team is expanding exponentially (go Team Tate!), we need, even depend, on each other’s gift set in ways I would have never dreamed. It’s already a grand adventure.
What have you already learned as an American in France?
It’s only been a few months, and already, several lessons have been learned. I could say – “I’m learning the lesson of what I took for granted” or “I’ve become more thankful for all I had in the United States.” What are these? The convenience of having work, home, and school within a 2 mile radius for several years, having friends and family close by, and simply feeling a sense of rootedness and place.
But for me, I would add it’s realizing not just what we had, but also how a big part of my life was bent on obtaining or striving for what we had. It moves past the general sense of providing for family in necessary income or work and more towards building my own little kingdom with my ego at the center. I know I’m alone in this. It’s easy for me to be focused on the white-picket fence, dream home, or perfect bubble to raise kids and establish your family reputation. These are all good things, don’t get me wrong. Yet I can see how easy it is to be inordinately focused on such good things without realizing you are, and even saying you’re not. And in my case, I saw it was to the detriment of my family’s own inner life, meaning I was less in tune with my family rhythms as a father and husband in the United States than I would prefer to admit.
Here and now in France, it’s become more about surviving first, hoping to thrive later. And I’m learning perhaps the real thriving lies in the surviving. When you have to work together to make basic things happen, it does build a team spirit within the family and we really grow together.
I’ve also learned the majority of my relationships in the United States were people pretty much like me. There were differences, yet really they were in the 40-60 yard range to use an American football analogy image, a sport I am missing quite a bit. For example, Mississippi State versus Ole Miss (it is Egg Bowl week!), but we have much more in common than otherwise. True cross-cultural relationships, not simply peripheral associations, will stretch you.
Here I can’t simply talk about American sports to make a simple connection with other men. Why? Because a majority of them – ones I have met in the last two weeks from Malaysia, France, Brazil, Martinique – don’t follow SEC college football or MLB baseball (my favorite and very foreign in Europe) or deer hunting. I have to work harder to find common interests, so thankfully, I still have my love of books and films to rely on, but even those I may have to do some stretching.
Stretching, as any athlete will tell you, is meant to be painful. Yet it also makes you more elastic, able to run longer and do more, with less injury. So stretching, in all its forms, is good for me, good for us. But it’s something I have had to learn because it does not come naturally for me, it’s harder for me – more than I want to admit – but more fruitful than I imagined.
As I stated in the YouTube video, we came to France knowing we would leave some comforts of the United States. We sold our house in the United States, one we had renovated with new floors, new kitchen, new bathrooms, to settle in a small French guest house built in 1667 with thick stone walls, tricky electricity issues, and 2 bedrooms and 1 living space. Even our host, after looking at pictures of our US home, commented, “You left all that to come here?“
When you discover there is only one closet for all 5 family members, ingenuity kicks in. After nearly 3 weeks of unpacking and re-arranging, I discovered a simple system to avoid the searing and persistent yell, “Mom, where are my clothes?” In a house small enough that everyone has to be quiet for a Zoom call and 2 TVs can’t run at the same time without a lot of noise interference, you start picking up books to read. When traffic is incredibly unpredictable and constant in Paris, you discover your oldest likes taking the public bus back and forth to school and prefers it over being driven. For our youngest, it’s a scooter ride to school that he relishes and I squeeze a good 20 minute brisk walk in the mornings and afternoons for school pickup.
A lovely new friend, a Dutch American who has lived in Paris for 20 years, shared a key to adapting to France, or anywhere that is truly foreign to you. Don’t spend all your time comparing what is different to your place of origin. Comparison is the thief of joy. Instead assess the good, discard what is irrelevant, and find a way to manage the bad.
I realized in moving to Paris I need to focus on people, not things. The little guest house will never be as clean or convenient or as cosily furnished as my home in the US was, but is that really important? I could spend all day cleaning a 400 year old house to my standards, or I can drop the scrubbing brush to go to an International Women’s tea and meet women from Korea, Ukraine, and Germany, who all speak better French than English and generously offer insider tips and encourage my language learning.
I could commiserate about my material annoyances and efficiency expectations with other American expats over a cafe latte, because complaining about how different France is from the US is an art form in Paris. Or I could hop on the metro to meet the American Association of Women in Europe, on Avenue New York with a view of the Eiffel Tower, and introduce myself to American women who are “lifers in Paris”, Americans living long term in France, even one American lady who has lived in Paris for over 60 years! I leave with a bilingual baking cookbook tucked inside my purse, along with an incredibly useful guide for families navigating a bilingual education. Yes, we are headed down that road of being a bilingual household.
My new baking cookbook answers already time-consuming struggles like the earth shattering question of “What is a chocolate chip called in French?” because they are not readily available or “How many tablespoons is 80 grams of butter?” because butter isn’t sold in convenient 8 tablespoon packets. I love the philosophy of this baking cookbook and the spirit of this AAWE organization: the French don’t have to be excluded from the wonderful world of American culture (delicious cookies), but as Americans, we can cultivate a thriving bi-cultural community in Paris to build bridges and make deep friendships.
We are not living in a fabulous French apartment, speaking French fluently, or do we know all the quick ways to get things done. In the United States, I didn’t realize how much of my to-do list or stress in life in the United States revolved around making my life as smooth as possible so I could function in auto-pilot and not have to think. I think this is true not for just Americans, but anyone who lives in their country of origin. We expect things to work a certain way that feeds our comfort and convenience based on the monoculture we have always known.
But when we drop ourselves into a foreign culture, all those presuppositions are thrown out the window. So when we arrived in France, and I can’t figure out how to marry a small refrigerator with very hungry 14 year old teenage boy, it means our recipes or snacks will have to change. A large (not even super size) bag of chips is far more expensive in France than the US, and I can’t stop by the grocery store once a week to load up on super-size quantities that don’t exist in regular French supermarkets.
Funny enough, as a Christian, I shouldn’t be surprised daily that my life isn’t running smoothly. In our worldview, we expect things to be broken because we already know a little piece of heaven in unattainable on this earth. Our joy is not connected to things or circumstances, but a person who died and rose again. A person is at the center of our truly radical faith, and that means chasing after people, hearing people’s stories, encouraging people in their burdens, pointing them to the deepest sense of joy is the real key to this life’s joy.
We have purposely decided not to live in an American bubble in France, only speaking English 98% of the day, sending our kids to American or English speaking schools, or only connecting with English speaking foreigners. You actually can survive in Paris with only English! But for us, you still miss meeting 80% of the people in Paris and so much of daily French culture associated with the French language. So we are trying our best to immerse ourselves in French culture – even the long days in France – all the while straddling what bi-cultural really means.
As an American, I have learned we can never take for granted our most valuable resource: our communities. People matter. Finding out people’s stories and their lived history helps us build better communities. I hope we Americans never lose sight of our greatest asset and continue to find ingenious ways to invest in people, just as our family is trying to do here in France.
Sometimes we give up a little comfort, endure a little convenience, see things in a new way, and sacrifice for the greater good. When I strip away a lot of my comforts, I can see more clearly – and I hope I don’t lose this clarity as we continue to settle into France.
Would you and your family move to France if you all could do it all over again?
Finally, would we do it all over again? The decision to come to France, the Covid halt, waiting, then opening up, the moving frenzy, arriving in a sprint, and now the daily challenges of new home, new language, and new way of seeing the world. I’m tempted to say yes immediately, but I want to be honest.
Initially I say yes because there is some second-guessing, pondering what you leave behind, and knowing this changes the trajectory of your life, family, and future.
Consider all I miss in the United States, I still say yes. I say it not because of a sense or a feeling of a “call”. I think that word can be overused in Christian circles. The word describes being impassioned on a mission to share the gospel in a specific place that God has “called” you. Our “calls” from God are often substituted easily with our own personal desires or self-interest, and unfortunately, there are lots of bad local church experiences to attest to that. Instead, I tend to think our family is in France because of a combination of things like opportunity, risk, intentionality, direction, curiosity, endurance, and simply seeming to be right for our family in this time.
So definitely yes, after considering my natural interests and how God has wired me and my family. All of it, even from the beginning. Because I know none of it happened by chance and all of it will be used for good.
Yes, yes, and yes I would do it again! This move has been a seismic shift in our family dynamic. As a stay-at-home mom, a special needs mom, a homeschool mom, and a pastor’s wife for the past 14 years, I have lived in roles that are often under-appreciated and overworked, and I know many others who feel the same even if they don’t fit in those 4 boxes.
My family has had to re-arrange priorities with my commitment to dive deep into French this first year. Burdens have to be shared. Nothing is beneath anyone to do or help with. Newsflash to a Christian household: we are all servants.
The best way I can explain this is with an illustration. After attending a women’s welcome event on a school night from 7:30-10:00pm, because most evening events start late in Paris to accommodate working women and most women do work, I returned home to an extra plate of food reserved for me, candle lit, kitchen cleaned (this is before we installed a dishwasher mid-November), laundry folded, kids ready for bed, school bags packed and clothes out for the next school day.
I felt like my mother had made a surprise visit, because the thoughtful details showed a tenderness of heart. John Hugh had accomplished it all with a little help from the kids.
We all want to be noticed, to be remembered and we all have different ways that make us feel loved. As I am lacking a skill – in this case French language – and I need to go to language class, I love seeing my family collapse ranks and pitch in as a team. I have always been able to manage a lot of plates in the air at once, but what is the purpose if I am not raising other leaders and multiplying the effect?
I will never trade how much my family has chipped in to do the tedious, monotonous tasks that keeps a family of 5 humming along in in a new culture with a new language in a small house and plenty of new “inconveniences”.
Thankfully, all of my children would say the same. They are enjoying their new life in France, and although they miss speaking English and some American culture but mostly speaking and listening to English all day, they would do it all over again!
Stay tuned for our next YouTube video: “How Are Your Kids Doing?”
Thanks for reading!
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