Updated: Sep 10, 2019
Moving around the world, as I do, I know all about the stress of packing up the house again and again. It's not everyone's cuppa tea and requires some strength of character, I can tell you.
Moving 'lock, stock and two smoking barrels' is normally, initially, very exciting. Of course it is, especially if it's the big dream move. I mean, how could it possibly go wrong? This move is a choice you made and you should be happy? Right?
But what happens when the boxes are unpacked, the adrenaline stops pumping hard and the moving admin is finally done? What then? Suddenly you are in a routine with a different rhythm and language. It's all a bit foreign and unfamiliar?
How do you make friends and take care of you?
You must take care of you too. Absolutely!
If moving with young children, you are bound to meet people at the school gate and through your children's friend making. I remember these days fondly. It was all so much easier then.
Moving abroad without children, is completely barren of these opportunities, sadly.
Often as women, we are suddenly left behind as the Hubby waves goodbye each morning for work. Not always the way in France. Many of you have moved as early retired couples and embark on a renovation together you lucky beans!.
Although increasingly, I am noticing the man or woman of the relationship, still working abroad, leaving one part of the relationship with the job of managing the project or business. This is my lot in life. Those bills have to be paid.
Renovating or doing business together, as a couple, can be a really steep learning curve. It may not be quite the love story you thought it would be! Hang in there, it will get better.
Whichever way your dream move works out, it can still become very lonely. One day you just realize you have no one to call and don't speak to another human being from 9/5, maybe longer. Suddenly the dream doesn't feel that dreamy after all.
I believe any move, no matter how much it is wanted, is extremely stressful. Just getting to the point of finally shutting the door on your old house and walking away, you've come a long way and achieved so much already.
Settling in takes around 2 years. If you last 2 years, you are less likely to go back to your old life. The moving in bit takes about 6 months. After that, most of the moving admin is sorted. So it's between the 6 month point and the 2 year point that the dust settles and you need to make it all work.
How do you make friends and take care of your self?
Firstly, I recommend you do get on the internet. Find a like minded group and find out what is going on in your area. That's why I built 'UnFrench Wives'. A selfish act, I know!
Once I knew I was going to live rurally in France, alone, I knew I would need an anchor. So I set about building the community I would need to survive! Of course I didn't realize just how popular it would become or how many friends I would make because of it!
Once you've gotten a handle on whats going on out there, start with a language class. Then join in anything you can within your commune. Using those developing language skills is the key to integration. A lot of us do struggle with French. I suggest we all keep trying together. We will get there in the end, I hope.
Driving. I've never suffered driving abroad nerves. I've driven all over the world and to me a car is a car and a road is a road the world over. I appreciate that it can be scary but the sooner you get on with it the better. One can't live rurally and rely on public transport or the other half. It's a dangerous game to play.
You need to be able to get around town and have a modicum of freedom. Then you can venture out to join expat clubs and attend functions without fuss. Be independent ladies!
My personal 'move to France' story was so very rocky. I hit all the problems one could. Living alone rurally, I found the village to be very unfriendly towards the British. That was very unexpected. My experience was in no way was a match for the success stories I was hearing. It hurt a little.
I got ill and needed an operation and further emergency treatment. The rental whilst unique and very pretty suffered many maintenance issues. At one point sleeping became an issue due to the squatting critters in the roof space. The boiler guzzled 700 euros of oil per 6 weeks. 'The Fosse Septique' became an angry monster, to be feared hidden in the garden, often erupting in the downstairs loo.
There is so much more to tell ,but I'm finally healing and moving forward, thankfully
In essence it wasn't an easy year and it was a lonely year.
I think I felt ashamed, sad and confused that it hadn't worked out for me. I know the odds were stacked against me but you guys seemed to be making it work with bells on, so it must be my fault, right?
I was set up to fail. Too ill to be left alone in the Norman countryside. You can't imagine how scary it was to have to drive myself to hospital one morning, to be admitted to a ward where no one spoke english. I've never felt so completely out of my comfort zone in my life. It took my husband 3 days to get to me from Saudi. I was very traumatized.
I didn't have one close friend or neighbour at that stage to call.
I've learnt a lot from my year in France and actually, it hasn't put me off going back and trying again and a lot of that is down to UnFrench. I have made many friends. Followed their journeys. Learnt how to integrate and how to ask for help. Worked out how to play the game and join in.
I also realize that whilst Normandy is incredibly beautiful, rural living is a different beast in winter all together. I love land and so my choice of rental this time has taken some finding. In France, there's rural and there's remote. This time I will not be opting for remote.
In the end it doesn't really matter, that the Wreck is still sitting there waiting to be made good again. This journey to a life in France, will take as long as it takes and I don't need to measure it against anyone else's French Dream.
My point is, you will survive. You will adapt eventually, just give it time and effort. You will simply get there in the end, your way.
One thing to remember is that you are not stuck where you are. I always fall out with expats that insist you must do everything French, the French way. You must not pine for home and the familiar? Nor must you buy imported goods from your home country! aLL Ballerdash and Piffle. Do it your way! Book a plane or ferry ticket, go home and say Hi. Do a supermarket sweep and feel better.
No one ever said you had to stop loving the land you came from. Your heart is big enough to embrace the world my darlings.
One thing I do know, is we all grow from the experience of being an expat and or immigrant and often those that criticize, are the one's that have never tried.
We must try and sometimes we must fail, get back up, dust ourselves down and start all over again.
As an UnFrenchie, I must ask you to offer the hand of friendship where you can. Don't sit smugly in your clique ignoring the newbie. Take a few minutes out of your busy life to welcome them and offer some guidance. Take time to smile and say hello, won't you?