So in case it isn’t already obvious, I pretty much suck at trying to relay my experiences of life in France. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, it’s more that I don’t know how or what to share exactly. I’ve read quite a few of those ‘I’m an Anglo who moved to France and here is my memoir of the stuff I went through’ type of books, so I have an idea of what people expect to hear. But I must be much more boring than those authors’ coz I just don’t feel like my life is anywhere near as entertaining as those books.
One example I can share, is the experience of cooking for a bunch of French people. One of the books referred to above shares the author’s experience preparing meals for her first dinner party. Her memoir recounts the anxiety she felt and in turn, how terribly the whole episode went. I completely understand and share her sentiments about cooking for French people because it really can be daunting (my mother in law was an exceptional cook and the thought of preparing food for her scared the living daylight out of me!). Not all but some French people can be quite particular about their food and they are not afraid to share their thoughts. They will discuss their meals over the table and talk about what they like/dislike about it or suggest how the meal could be improved. They expect at least 3 courses, which can also be trying, particularly as they’re quite picky about having a diversity of foods throughout the meal. So in theory, you should try not to provide the same vegetable, type of meat, dish (or even colour or texture!) twice in a row. Clearly this creates a predicament when there are left-overs and I have witnessed firsthand, the stress of someone having to deal with leftovers!
I have got used to this practice. How could I not after living with a Frenchman for 8 years? But it has taken all that time to come to an understanding and appreciation of it. I come from a humble background where you simply appreciate the fact that someone has cared enough to feed you. It is not your right to sit there and philosophise or whinge about what you like or don’t like about the meal. You certainly wouldn’t tell the cook how they could improve the dish! And while it’s not overly exciting eating the same vegetable (or colour, or texture) twice in a row, it’s not the end of the bloody world! If you like the meal, you can obviously pay your compliments to the chef but otherwise you keep your mouth shut. To do what the French habitually do, is to be a ‘humbug’ or just a plain old nuisance. If you were to dissect the meal piece by piece it would be hugely insulting and you would be seen as rude and unappreciative. In any case, these are things that happen in France. Makes me think twice about taking the hubby to the Marae! (Jokes! He’s already an old hand at helping with the hangi thanks to the uncles’ for taking him under their belt).
So it is understandably nerve wracking having to cook for a group of French people. But I have done so. In fact I’ve cooked for the matriarch of the family and a couple of weeks back, I found myself in the situation of having to cook for 8 people! But I didn’t and don’t feel the need to write about this because I just don’t know how interesting I can make it. I admit to having felt a wee bit anxious when I was asked to cook the meals. But I do enjoy cooking, so I accepted the tasks, went about preparing them and next thing you know – they were served! In the case of making dinner for Grandma, she was quite impressed, even relaying my efforts to others over the phone. In the case of the other 8, everyone tucked in and my father in law said ‘bravo’. C’est tout, that was it. I don’t know how else I can make it interesting without exaggerating the truth because while I am super proud of myself, I guess I’m not interested in making it into something it’s not. It wasn’t worth celebrating nor was it a travesty. So you see, people have encouraged me to share my ‘amazing’ (always superlatives, never mundane words) experiences but I honestly feel like my life in France and the things I do are not glamorous or newsworthy enough to share. If it happens to be entertaining or interesting, I can honestly say it’s by pure accident!
I guess another reason that it’s difficult to relay my experiences in France is that I just can’t be bothered analysing everything I do. Anyone who knows me well can attest to me being excellent at over-analysing and pondering things that need not be. So it would be easy to compare and contrast my experiences in France with what is considered normal in New Zealand. But for me, that really is not the point of living in France. Unlike many people who move countries on a crazy whim or because they’re in love with the idea of a country, I didn’t pack up and move to France for sh**s and giggles. The primary reason for moving overseas was to be closer to my husband’s family. Following this, is the opportunity to familiarise myself with my hubby’s culture. Both of these things happen to be in France. So my ultimate goal is to integrate as much as possible into the way of life that exists in this country so that I can enjoy it and make the most of opportunities. In order to do this, it is necessary to accept that certain things simply exist as they are and there is absolutely no point in comparing, contrasting or critiquing all of them. These are probably the essential ingredients of a good story but because everything is still new for me, my attempts would just turn into a big whinge.
Perhaps this is the difference between me and the authors of the aforementioned books. I am not interested in bitching about the French. Nor am I interested in proclaiming how superior they are compared to Kiwis (many of these books has a theme along either of these two scenarios). That is not what interests me. What I do enjoy is seeing and doing, or at least talking about what I already know or experienced. Plus comparing and contrasting life between New Zealand and France runs the risk of over simplifying the various nuances that exist between the two cultures. I mean, I come from the Kiwi tradition of, ‘she’ll be right‘, so its just too easy for me to label everything the French do as fussy, precious and neurotic, or to use the lingo of intercultural studies: the French are way too high context for my liking! It would also be too easy to portray the Kiwi or Maori way as far more pragmatic, adaptable and efficient. But neither are particularly fair nor paint a complete picture. If you want an analysis with any integrity you really have to look at the whole shebang, which I can’t really be bothered doing at this point in time, at least not until I can be more objective and fair about things.
I guess the last, and perhaps more pertinent reason that I’m finding it difficult to relay my experiences could be that we simply aren’t living the life of glamour that is so often portrayed in films or books and perhaps are what people may be expecting to hear. Moving countries is REALLY expensive. There’s the time in between jobs which means a couple of months without pay. Then of course there are the ridiculously expensive air fares (I say ridiculous coz on this side of the world it’s possible to traverse the globe for a lot cheaper than it is from NZ). On top of all this, I was a student for the past 3 years which means that I don’t have any savings to contribute. Add to this the fact that the hubby and I had already flown to France unexpectedly in the few months prior to moving and one should have a clear idea that we have about $0.00 to splash about (when you convert this into Euros, its equal to about 0.00Euros).
Now this is by no means meant to be a pity party. Hell, I am happy to complain about a lot of things in life but lack of money is not one of those. As far as I’m concerned there are many people who have it far worse than I do and I’m not interested in patronising anyone, least of all myself. But it is a fact that moving countries is expensive and at present we don’t have any money to spend except quite literally on the bare necessities. So when people say things like ‘you must be having an amazing time’, I do wonder exactly what they mean. If you call budgeting on next to nothing and owning a bare fridge amazing, then I guess we’re having a freakin awesome time! Sometimes I had to laugh because until last week we had next to no furniture, so we were habitually watching TV on a blanket on the uncarpeted floor, something resembling a dog’s bed! We also had 2 crappy single beds pushed together to make an equally crappy double bed which kept splitting apart. But while this lifestyle is far from flash, c’est pas grave – it’s not terrible. Things could be much worse, in fact the last 6 months of 2012 were much harder than it is right now (emotionally, rather than financially). Besides, our situation is only temporary and we’re still happy, so honestly – no pity is necessary.
I admit I got close to the end of my tether the week prior to moving into our home, so it was almost embarassing whenever anyone proceeded to assume how amazing my life must be. It’s as if people have confused me with someone else, perhaps someone who would be wearing Jean-Paul Gaultier while sipping Champagne and hanging out at Cannes at this time of year? To be clear, you are not likely to EVER find me amongst the glitz and glamour of the Cannes Film Festival – I believe gumboots are far more functional than high heels and I am not afraid to wear them! (Incidentally, the South of France is looking much more like Wellington. Even the plumber told me I’m still in New Zealand!). But anyway, while there is no money, no glitz and glamour and I am close to converting to any religion that can teach me a sun dance, we have settled into our own home; we finally have our own car; we have a good bed and were fortunate to receive hand me down furniture and kitchenware (I honestly didn’t appreciate the value of a good bed or comfy couch until now!); we have finally received our documentation so I can be insured (by the state I might add!); we will hopefully be receiving the internet today; most significantly for me, my French is improving along with the confidence to negotiate daily life. I honestly don’t know if any of these things are particularly interesting to anyone else but they are important milestones of my life in France.
So I suck at relaying my experiences of life in France. And for my own peace of mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that rather than being exclusively about life in France, my blog is better suited as a platform for general musings and rants which will include my journey in France. Hopefully that will appease people who want to keep up to date with things in France but will also allow me to remain true to myself and to the subjects that I’m really interested in blogging about.
A la prochaine fois 😉
p.s. I had my first dream speaking in French last night! I’m not sure it all made sense….in fact, i’m never completely sure that I make sense when I speak French but YAY! For French dreams