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Upon our arrival in France, I knew we would face a litany of challenges. I did not know from where they would arrive or what they would entail. For an undetermined season, change would be our constant, surprise our friend.
My first challenge was driving. I knew we had a car loaned to us for a season. It was a manual, a stick-shift. Even after learning to drive on a Ford pick-up with gear shift on the wheel, I had not driven one for years. In preparation, I tried to rent a manual car in the US the weekend before we left. The US car rental agency informed me they no longer carried manuals. Regardless, I would not be intimidated. Instead, I was excited for the challenge, thinking it would all come back immediately.
I did not anticipate the roads, curves, hills, and other Parisian drivers. Pot-holes of Jackson, Mississippi, thankfully, were no more. They were replaced by one lane roads, round-abouts, new “right of way” rules, and honking as a work of art.
At my new wheel, I did not last long.
Our first full day in France, appointments were scheduled. We had much to do and no time to lose. Our life in Paris needed to be set-up. To do so, we had to drive places.
Maybe I would have fared better driving alone. Or I might have kept pushing through and made a bad situation much worse. Regardless, Linda was with me. After a few minutes (three minutes would be pushing it), hope had turned to anxiety and then to fear. Cars were piling up behind us. Steep hills were ahead. There were brakes, clutch, start, stop, and then shaking. Choice words were exchanged. As soon as we could, we glided down a hill to park on the first side spot we could find.
Even exhaling, it was definitely not an ideal, marriage moment. I was trying to show her early competence upon arrival and instead, everything (car too) was tilting toward a lack of confidence on our first day.
The rest of the story did smooth out. Our appointment got rescheduled for the next day. I had some driving lessons from the owner that afternoon. We saw it was not a lost cause. Bad things happen though, when you mistake 3rd gear for first. With such knowledge and time driving around parking lots, I got my bearings. Two plus weeks later, I’m still driving the same car with more trust regained in our marriage.
Shifting gears even getting a bit smoother too.
This is a first example of our move, change, getting acclimated, adapting, pivoting. It may seem like a small challenge. Yet it was an initial instance of adversity. And adversity is really reality. It’s how you handle and deal with it. Navigating such small things is indicative of larger ones: those dealing with patience, making adjustments, forbearance, humility, and determination. And there are many life lessons to be learned from shifting gears, knowing which ones to use, and which ones to use them on.
We are learning or re-learning all those as we embrace challenges that may seem small yet loom large, every day, as we make this place our new home.
My first challenge in France didn’t seem so difficult on the outset. I was smart enough to enlist some church friends who spoke fluent French to accompany us to a large grocery store. It was 7:00pm. I knew I needed help navigating labels and aisles and would be a bit slow to get around. On a Saturday night, the energy was as busy as a Walmart in Ridgeland, MS.
My first caution should have been our good friend encouraging us to check out 30 minutes before closing (8:15pm). Little did I know that closing means the employees have left the building! By the time we discovered we took the wrong escalator down to the underground parking garage, and had to go back through the store to get to our car in the other garage, the entire shopping center had shut down.
I forgot about those grey shutters they pull down in front of storefronts to mark “Go home”. But I knew that meant trouble for us. What do you do when you are stuck in an underground parking lot with a couple hundred euros of groceries from your first grocery run in France and no vehicle at hand? I so wish I had taken a selfie as I started eating through the groceries in a very non-French fashion because it was my first meal of a long day.
The one thing I can respect is the French take their work hours seriously. The legal length of the working week is 35 hours in all types of companies. The working day may not exceed 10 hours. Furthermore, employees may not work for more than 4.5 hours without a break. Even though people sign contracts for 35 hour weeks, it seems people work more than that; but still, the ideal is legally enshrined.
So much for the 24 / 7 culture of America I knew we would lose moving to France, but it really jolts you when you are used to picking up here and there at odd hours of the day or last minute. When grocery stores are only open from 9:15-Noon on Sundays, and we are at church during those hours, I know we have arrived in a cultural tide we are swimming upstream against.
At least now I understand why everyone was literally running to their cars after we checked out from E. Leclerc as we naively strolled downstairs to find our car. They knew better – the French were headed home. Work was over. Leisure and social activities are prioritized. Perhaps we Americans can take a cue for better work-life balance. Can we be more efficient with limited time and take a hard stop to enjoy leisure? Hard stops for pure relaxation have always been challenge for me (and not at all for my fun loving husband & oldest child), so perhaps I need to be immersed in a cultural milieu that forces me to rethink rest and relaxation. I am up for a better perspective on relaxation and recreation.
We have so many fun first impressions to share, so stay tuned. You are heightened to nuances and differences when all around you feels foreign. The flip side is curiosity is peaked and intrigue keeps you on your toes. It’s an adventure!
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