Living with the Unexpected

When your dad becomes a last minute tag-along on a French school trip to Greece due to French paperwork delays!


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Greece – Monday after Easter Sunday 2023

Rollercoaster of emotions – school trip to Greece


When you can’t get inside the French préfecture

Greece School Trip – with unexpected tag-along

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The smile & the pose say it all! 🌟🌟Great relief and joy he could join his friends on a school trip to Greece – all in French! After months of emailing, calling, standing in line to get a French document for him, and still not getting it, we were told on Good Friday he could not fly out on Easter Monday. It was a very sad 😕Friday afternoon after spending 4 hours on the phone with the American Embassy in Paris/his French teacher/school administrators.

🌟🌟 And then late Friday night- a little Easter miracle – the decision was overruled by a head administrator as long as his dad tagged along! So after a flurry of booking airline tickets and hotels last minute, he (and his dad) were soaking up the sun ☀️☀️in Greece while the rest of us endured cold rain in Paris. “Watching our children experience cross-cultural moments in a daily basis is a huge gift❤️”. – Linda


-John Hugh

Living in France has taught us a lot, probably more than we realize.  People ask me what the biggest challenge is – they always thing it’s the language.  No I say, it’s the simple logistics of living life, living here.  If anything, we have come to expect the unexpected.  It’s our new normal.  With that though, we have become more and more comfortable with the uncomfortable, being in uncomfortable situations, not knowing what ball will drop next, and not knowing what important document will come through.  C’est la vie et vive la France!

We realize many look at us or see us and can say to themselves: it must be nice to live in France, to live by Paris, to be pastoring or church planting there.  We get it.  Yet many of us, including myself, have grown up with romantic or idealistic images of Europe, whether France, Italy, Greece, Spain.  Many of these notions come down from history,  primarily 19th century ideas of aristocracy doing their “Grand Tour” of Europe.

From US Presidents (Roosevelts, Kennedy, Adams, Jefferson) to writers (Twain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald) to fictional characters (check out Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind to today’s Emily in Paris on Netflix), people have been captivated by old world charm, a slower pace of life, and the idea of working to live, not living to work.  Living here, instead of coming to visit for a few weeks or back-packing for a few months, means you have to acclimate and adjust.

Yet it’s important to learn when to push too.  And it’s definitely push, not nudge in Paris.  It is a challenge to constantly do the paperwork and filings and phone calls and long waits in lines – all in French.  And Linda has carried much of that burden.  To really get it, we’ve given this example to friends back in USA:  imagine you’re doing your taxes constantly, non-stop, through the year.  Then you start and do it all over again the next year.  Imagine that.  Our French friends say it gets easier with time, but we are still waiting.

The question is how do you respond to it?  For many people around the world, living in the daily anticipation of what’s next and being constantly uncomfortable is the norm.  It is life.  As Americans, we come from a comfortable culture in a comfortable society.  Perhaps too comfortable.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love history, particularly the 1930’s & 1940’s.  The War.  Veterans and people who lived through it – interestingly both in USA & here – categorize their lives around it.  Everything was either “before the war”, “during the war”, or “after the war.”  It was the defining point of their lives.  One consistent theme with all I’ve spoken to or read from is that they learned to become comfortable in some of the most uncomfortable situations.  Those who lived in London during the bombing blitz have shared with us:  “We truly lived with death.  Each day we would hear about someone we knew who’d died.  Each day we knew it could be us.”  So many back then were thrown into situations of constant anxiety, adaptation, and sink or swim situations.  Then after the war ended, many had been honed to face a barrage of challenges and unexpected situations.  They knew both the ability to adapt and the drive to persist.

We are not in their league nor are we facing such situations.  Yet everyone has to look for both wisdom and guidance from someone as well as to put things in perspective.  So we can be inspired by those who’ve gone through significant trials before.  We can encourage and be encouraged.  We look at all this as continued learning, honing, and growing.  We do like challenges.  There is a need for people of faith here who will commit to long-term stays in a post-Christian Europe.  So we are here and so we will be here.  A big positive is not a day goes by where we ever feel aimless, complacent, or bored.  It’s a challenge every day, and we prefer that.


– Linda

My life in France feels more hectic than my life in the United States.  I think the main reason is I am trying to squeeze learning French into my already full life.  But besides learning French, 3 other things contribute to feeling like every day is a sprint – even the weekends.

Community is More Spread Out

First, with more international friendships, our friends are everywhere in Paris.  Our community is not just one little corner, but spread out all over the city of Paris and its suburbs.   It’s not a quick trip down an interstate to meet someone – it’s a 20 min train ride + metro stop or a possible 20-40 minute drive around the suburbs.   We are slowly getting to know our neighbors and neighborhood as our French improves.   Thankfully our kids are making friends who live close by and we are finding friends we didn’t realize live within a 5 minute walking distance.  The challenge of getting from point A to point B dictates how much of my day goes.  In Mississippi, I could meet up with 3 different friends in 3 different locations in one day.  In Paris, it’s a full day to meet with one person, and the pace of life means they don’t eat a 30 minute lunch, but you will devote 2 hours to lunch and conversation.

Every Day is Unpredictable

Second, every single day something happens to me that I could not foresee – a wrong turn to a new area of Paris, a mistranslated document with new problems I just created for myself, a school trip document I didn’t realize the school administration would be so inflexible about, a post office that takes a 2 hour lunch break!    I am learning to ride the wave of unpredictability every single day.  Give me a curve ball, and I am thinking quickly on my feet and rolling with it.


French Bureaucracy Means You Can’t Procrastinate

Third, the bureaucracy of French administration gives me a new appreciation of American efficiency.  Last week, I stood in line for 5 hours outside the French préfecture to retrieve my visa and still couldn’t get in.   I realized I was in un-chartered territory.  I shared my conundrum with my fellow expats or French friends, and they all rolled their eyes and said, “French administration!”.  What was the solution to this inefficiency I asked.  The answer:  nothing!  You just have to learn to live with the fact that things are always in process.  If it takes you 18 months to get health insurance, no surprise.   If you haven’t heard back after sending your application on time to a government agency, you should get ready to persist and send emails and make phone calls until you demand an answer.    It’s starting to make sense why the French protest and move with their feet.  It’s starting to make sense why some French think a sign of strength is not backing down or that being nice can be seen as weakness.  If you don’t have the stamina and gumption, you could be waiting forever!


Learning How To Ride the Wave

I don’t know if I will ever be at the same capacity of efficiency as I was in the United States, but I am learning to slow down and enjoy the company right in front of me.  Finding time to rest and re-charge is the most important part of my adjustment to France.  Watching our children experience cross cultural moments on a daily basis is a huge gift:  our middle son trying to sing along in French at a Catholic baptism ceremony, our youngest son debating with me that he should take Italian over Spanish as his third language in school, and our oldest son learning about Greco-Roman culture in French on a recent school trip to Greece!

As we rebooted our lives with a move to France (selling our house in the US, having our kids embedded French school system, starting over with community and friendships) while both looking at 50 in the horizon (how did we get so old so fast!), I am realizing challenging logistics means I simply have to savor every single moment.  


No Complaining!

When we first moved to France in Sept 2021, I had one family rule that still stands:  no complaining!   Either you put effort into changing your circumstances or you release your circumstances to God, trusting His deadline is better than yours.  But no complaining – no procrastination – no avoidance!  My life is more hectic, but I am learning to be thankful for every second.



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