Why Living in France is Like Marriage

Keep scrolling down for my reflections on why living in France is like marriage.

Today I’m taking part in an expat blog hop. What’s that, you ask? I was only dimly aware of them myself until recently, when blogging pal Steph decided to organise one. A number of expat bloggers agree to take part and write a post today about anything at all to do with their life as an expat. Readers can then discover the other blogs through the links at the end of this post.

Writers Abroad anthology

We’re also offering prizes/freebies to people who leave a comment. One lucky winner on this blog will receive a signed copy of Foreign Flavours. This is an anthology of short stories and non-fiction pieces, published by my online, expat writing group Writers Abroad. It’s full of tastebud-tingling tales about food, drink and cooking from around the world. I have two pieces in there: a short story set in Corsica and an article about Corsican cuisine. Please leave a comment below and a name will be picked at random out of a hat. I’ll contact you via email if you’ve won.

I should have added that, for those who don’t get here today, you can leave a comment up till midnight CET on Wednesday 25th April to be eligible for the prize draw.

Without further ado, here’s my tongue-in-cheek contribution to today’s expat blog hop celebration.

Why Living in France is Like Marriage

Dr Johnson once described second marriage as, “The triumph of hope over experience.” Moving to France after falling out of love with England could be described in similar terms.

Courtship

Rural Idyll

First, there’s courtship. You’ve found the house – it was basking in the late spring sunshine with the cuckoos calling and the bright green oak leaves rustling in the breeze. Of course, it was love at first sight. Now comes the delicious anticipation of sunlit days and balmy evenings, spiced with the frisson of yet unknown but legitimate pleasures.

Honeymoon

Caylus Fête

Then there’s the honeymoon period. How long this lasts depends on your particular disposition. But, as far as France is concerned, everything is new and wonderful, to be savoured with voluptuous enjoyment. There are so many things about rural France that you never experienced in rural England: the lack of traffic jams; the restaurants where you can eat a five-course meal for 12 euros and still have change for Le Figaro; the quaint but engaging neighbours; the daily buying of bread; the fêtes; and the wine bought at the local cave for a few euros.

Disenchantment

Wintry Landscape – February 2012

Then disillusionment seeps in, like a draught through a badly-fitted window. Why didn’t anyone tell you how cold it can be in winter and how much you would have to spend on heating? Why do you have to produce your grandmother’s birth certificate to effect the simplest of administrative tasks? Why don’t the shops open between 12 and 2 o’clock? Why don’t the artisans turn up when they say they will, or even supply an estimate for the work? Why is the language so difficult? Why do the French always wait till everyone has arrived before serving the drinks? Why is it so different from England, when the two countries are only 30 miles apart?

It’s even more disappointing, though, that you can now get Marmite and Bisto in the supermarket. Surely, that’s not what we came for. But what did we come for? Doubt now sets in with a vengeance. It’s at this point that thoughts turn to divorce, to scuttling back to Blighty, to our first love, to what we were brought up to comprehend, even if we don’t like it.

Reconciliation

Viaur Valley – autumn colours

But then you start to realise that you have become deeply attached to this difficult companion. So, onto the final phase – reconciliation. Even if aspects of French life and the closed book that is the French psyche are bewildering, would it be any better back in England? Would we be happier sitting in traffic jams on the M25 or the M6? Would it be better shopping at Tescos than at HyperU? Would David Cameron be any more sympa than Nicolas Sarkozy (or the yet-to-be-tested François Hollande, if he gets in)? Would the English winter be more bearable than the French variety? And would the idiocies of the British nanny state be any more palatable than those of the modèle français?

There is no perfect place to live on this planet. Wherever you choose to call home has its downsides. But, like marriage, it’s not a bad idea to make a thorough acquaintance with your intended before taking the plunge.

Participating blogs below. Happy blog-hopping!

Copyright © 2011 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

1.Steve Bichard. com 2.Expat Alien 3.Books Are Cool
4.Life on La Lune 5.Runquiltknitwrite 6.Out and About in Paris
7.frenchimmersion 8.Older Man Younger Man 9.Grand House Adventure
10.Parlez Vous Loco? 11.The French Village Diaries 12.The American Girls Art Club in Paris
13.HJ Underway 14.My French life @ The Good Life France 15.Paris Weekender
16.Paris Cheapskate 17.Country Skipper 18.un homme et une femme: Lancelot Tales of Paris
19.Victoria Corby
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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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53 Responses to Why Living in France is Like Marriage

  1. Isn’t the blog hop a great idea!
    I enjoyed your marriage analogy too…though in my case after twenty odd years i decided on divorce and ‘remarriage’ to Costa Rica, where, thanks to having had the experience of France I think I’ve avoided the honeymoon period and have settled into the sort of jogging along phase of things.
    I never thought I would catch myself thinking that there is comparative corruption…

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    • nessafrance says:

      The blog hop was great fun and I discovered some lovely blogs along the way. I think people who move around between different countries as an expat are probably able to short-circuit some of the other aspects of settling in after the first one. Unless you have to learn a new language, of course, in which case you’re back to square one!

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      • Don’t! I’m having to learn Spanish!

        Oddly enough I can do admin things without too much bother – and it’s good for me to have to look up laws and suchlike before toddling down to the appropriate office to sort out what should or should not be happening. I suppose it’s a fairly restricted vocabulary.

        It’s when someone springs conversation on me out of the blue that I flounder…

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      • nessafrance says:

        Good luck with the Spanish. When I learned it to a very basic level about 20 years ago, I didn’t find it that difficult, already having French and some Italian. The problem was that I kept switching into French or Italian! And, of course, I’ve forgotten it all now.

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  2. Evelyn says:

    Hi Vanessa….just catching up on emails after a 5 day visit to Provence. Which was fab, BTW! And the sun was actually out which it wasn’t here in the Lot while I was gone. I don’t have time to do a blog post on being an expat, but I think the blog hop idea is really fun! I will be checking out the other blogs. I didn’t do so well being married (twice!) but I’m doing a whole lot better being married to France! I love it here; it’s my heart home…bureaucracy and all! My American friends are amazed when I tell them the only thing I miss about the States is my family!

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    • nessafrance says:

      Hi Evelyn, I’ve been following your Provence adventures and admiring your great photos on your blog – you’ll find a couple of comments there. AND you saw the Millau Viaduct, which we still haven’t. (Hangs head in shame). Well, I’m on my second one (marriage that is). You’re still in time to enter the draw for the book, which closes at midnight CET today. I’m sure we will do the blog hop again: everyone seemed to enjoy taking part and it brings bloggers and readers together.

      Like

      • Evelyn says:

        I actually saw the Millau bridge because of YOU! I read your review of the Thirza Vallois book and she talks about the bridge. So I knew I needed to see it (plus my brother told me about a special on TV he saw on it) It’s an amazing structure. I would advise anyone to make the effort to see it and to drive across the Aveyron area. It is spectacular…very different from the Lot. Provence was wonderful, but you and I know a secret…our part of France is just as pretty, just as interesting and historic, and has a whole lot fewer tourists, making it the perfect place!! Shh…don’t tell anyone!

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      • nessafrance says:

        We saw the bridge while it was being built but only the gigantic pillars. We’ve not yet seen the finished version (note to self: must do it soon). I don’t know Provence and can’t compare but I do agree that we live in a wonderful part of France. Let’s keep it a secret!

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  3. Suze says:

    Hi,
    Very nice blog. And funny enough, though I’m not an expat, I gave up an urban US life for a rural New England one, probably 30 years ago… and find that for many locals it takes 3 generations before anyone actually belongs here…language skills or not!

    I write a little cycling blog and love travelling in France. This blog hop is a great idea, thanks! You’re in the Pyrenees?

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Hi Suze,
      Thanks for your nice comments. I can imagine that rural America probably operates in a similar way to rural France – you are considered an outsider even after several generations.
      France is great for cycling since there’s so much spectacular scenery and some challenging routes. We’re in the Midi-Pyrénées region but in the northern part so quite far from the mountains themselves.

      Like

  4. Another great post, Vanessa – always enjoy visiting here for the lovely writing and detail. And now I have some more blogs to visit!

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    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Deborah. I had great fun yesterday discovering some new blogs.

      Like

    • Evelyn says:

      Hi Deborah…I’m a reader of Vanessa’s blog and read about your book, The Lantern, there. I just want to tell you that I bought it and read it. It was delightful! Well-written with just the right amount of suspense. Interesting characters.I love Provence, but I don’t always love how people write about it. A lot of people tend to romanticize it, but your novel hit a good balance between its beauty and the hard reality of village life there before it became a tourist mecca. I think the part that was most interesting, though, was your ability to describe scent and fragrance so evocatively. I think of all our senses, smell is the hardest to describe. Well done!

      Like

      • nessafrance says:

        I’m sure Deborah will be very pleased to read your comments. I’ll pass them on to her by email in case she doesn’t get back to read these comments.

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      • Deborah says:

        Thanks to Vanessa’s hat-tip I’m back to read – thank you so much, Evelyn. I do appreciate your comment and, of course, I’m delighted by your reaction to the book. Now I’m going to come over to visit your blog!

        Like

  5. Expat Alien says:

    This is a great blog – very creative. I enjoy all the lovely photos on your site. You must live in a beautiful place!

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks for your nice comments. People are often kind enough to mention my photos – I always thought I was a rather indifferent photographer, but maybe I’m getting better. And it is lovely down here.

      Like

  6. Happy blog hop and nice to meet you! this has been a great opportunity to read people’s blogs that have been in France for awhile – i keep waiting for that reconciliation period 🙂 I guess that’s when France becomes normal life… Looking forward to reading more! Best
    Kristen

    http://manandwomaninparis.blogspot.fr/

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      It’s always good to read other people’s blogs and get their perspective. There have been quite a few Paris blogs in this blog hop, which have enabled me to see the capital in a new light.

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  7. Great post! I’m an expat in Brussels (and Brittany for holidays!) and even 15 years in, swing between disenchantment (the bureaucracy) and reconciliation……. but I’d never go back, so yes, it is a commitment like marraige (and sometimes just as trying, or just as satisfying!)
    Can’t wait to see and read the book, I’m keeping fingers crossed!
    ps feel free to pass by my french blog at http://thebeachhousefrance.wordpress.com
    😉

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  8. When I think how much better my french central heating works than my english I shudder at the thought of returning. Luckily I have found that Northern Frenchies all arrive on time to an evening ‘do’ so we get to have a drink fairly soon after our arrival, though disconcerting how they also all leave at the same time – midnight. I’m glad I experienced that at someone elses house first time or I may have been defeated by paranoia. Lovely post!

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, down here the time of arrival is a flexible commodity – hence the time we had to wait an hour for the latecomers to turn up to a party. Well, c’est la France!

      Like

  9. Julia Stagg says:

    Totally agree that you need to know your intended…but your fête looks far tamer than any I’ve attended!

    Like

  10. A great post and an interesting site. I will be back for more. By the way, if you don’t like the winters here, try a winter in Canada, Northern Ontario or Northern Alberta or BC, then come back and winters in France will be a “cake walk”…

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    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks for your comment – hope you are enjoying the blog hop. Re the winters, we skied once at Lake Louise at minus 25C. The next day it was minus 40C(!) but we didn’t ski then. However, the Canadians are prepared for it and the buildings are constructed accordingly (like the continuous shopping mall at Calgary where you never have to go outside). I agree, though, I don’t think I’d like to live through a whole one in Canada!

      Like

  11. Great analogy 🙂 It’s so true! I’ve always thought the first three months in a new place are great, because it’s just like a vacation and everything is so new and fun. Then, reality sets in and you realize that you don’t (yet) have any good friends and don’t really know how everything works either. Finally, you come to grips with the new place, enjoy the good sides and learn to deal with the bad ones. Never thought of it as marriage, but I can see your point 🙂

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      I think it took me more than three months for the reality to set in after moving to France, which is why I suppose I came up with the marriage analogy. Having been here 15 years I am definitely in the reconciliation phase!

      Like

  12. Mary Kay says:

    You caught my attention at 5-course meals for 12 euros! I’m definitely living in the wrong place. On the upside, the stores don’t close between 12-2 in Paris. I guess, as you so correctly point out, that there isn’t any place on earth that’s perfect.

    And now I’m going to ask a very American question – I’m familiar with Marmite but what is Bisto?

    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    Happy Expat Blog Hop Day!

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      12 euros is only at lunchtime – for some reason it’s more expensive in the evening!

      Bisto are gravy-making granules. You just add hot water and it’s ready. I’ve never used it but I daresay it’s a useful standby if you’re in a hurry.

      Hope you have been enjoying the blog-hop.

      Like

  13. Deb says:

    Good luck with the book, looks to be just my sort of book.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks. We published in November last year. I should have added in the post that all profits go to a charity called the Book Bus which aims to improve literacy rates in developing countries. We’ve been very pleased with the sales so far.

      Like

  14. Janine says:

    Absolutely with you all the way on this one Nessa! I’m at the reconciliation stage – if we had a counsellor it might have helped but as soon as I realised that it was impossible for a French person to say ” I don’t know” or ” I am wrong” – particularly if they work in a) tax office b) bank or c) any other similar job I got on a lot better. Once you know this you can adjust your approach and entente cordial is resumed. Great post and been lovely hopping with you today, Janine

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      A lot of it is about cultural attitudes and, as you rightly say, once you have got your head around them those things become a little easier. Hope you have been enjoying the blog hop – I’ve found some great blogs that I didn’t know about.

      Like

  15. Alyson says:

    Oh what a good idea, Vanessa. I hope the blog hop goes well. I’ve been through these love/hate relationships with most places I’ve lived I think, and I generally decide I love them most just as we are leaving.
    No need to put me in the draw – I have a copy – but it is an excellent book to anyone reading this.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks for your comment, Alyson. As I said, nowhere is perfect and the phases one goes through seem to be remarkably similar wherever you choose to live. Familiarity and contempt, perhaps? I’ll keep you out of the draw but thanks for plugging the book.

      Like

  16. They don’t serve the drinks until everyone has arrived?? Horrific! I’m staying right here in Blighty where one needs as much alcohol as possible before one can dream of striking up a conversation with strangers.

    Best wishes Vanessa, great blog.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Hi Mollie, that is the custom here, yes. We were once at a party for about 50 people where no drinks were served until everyone had turned up – we waited about an hour for the laggards. That’s one aspect about which I can’t say “Vive la différence!”

      Like

  17. JillB says:

    Very well put. I can relate to most of that Vanessa, although I never went through the disillusionment stage. Having said that The French custom about serving drinks drives me mad. Luckily mon cheri is never shy and usually makes unsubtle (but charming!) jokes about dying of thirst until he gets one. On my own I’m far too polite, and suffer. Keep me out of the draw, please. As you’d exepect I already have a copy.

    Like

  18. hello Vanessa,
    love your piece today…it’s beautifully written….and makes me want to hop over the border and visit France sometime soon!

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Hi Helen, I will be popping over to visit you today. Thanks for your nice comment. Yes, do hop over the border and if you ever hop as far as SW France, do let me know.

      Like

  19. I must confess we have a fitted carpet in our bedroom – it was cheaper than proper floorboards, well that’s our excuse anyway, and it’s lovely. Our French friends think it’s really unhygenic though. They’re also amazed at the very English levels at which we set our heating and say it must be due to our British tolerance of the cold.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      I also have to admit that we are thinking of carpeting a room, but only to hide the ghastly floor tiles that don’t go with the rest of the house.

      Like

  20. Steph says:

    Brilliant post Vanessa! I so sympathise with the disenchantment period and mutterings about divorce!! I see you got the link OK. Sorry, I was out shopping this morning and couldn’t reply to your email. Thanks so much for taking part in the hop. It seems to be going well.

    Like

  21. Just popped over to give my support to a fellow hopper.

    Like

  22. susancarey says:

    Love the analogy Vanessa! I think I did it in reverse. I hated Amsterdam when I moved here and since then have been going through a slow process of falling in love with the city. I moved to be with my Dutch husband which perhaps makes the starting point quite different.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Interesting that you hated it to start with. Glad you have changed your mind! As a Foreign Flavours contributor I don’t know if you want to be entered in the draw for the book – but am happy to do so, please let me know.

      Like

  23. Hello and nice to meet you via the blog hop! Loved the post – makes you think how daft we Brits are as we all think of French winters being warm and sunny, until we first experience the CHILL! I now find carpeted, centrally heated UK homes so stuffy and hot when visit for Christmas I get all headachy and can’t wait to get back to my bedroom that hovers just above freezing! Would love to win a copy of the book – Food and France in one book, perfect!

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Hi Jacqui, nice to meet you too and thanks for visiting. I will be hopping over to you today. Yes, I regard fitted carpets with horror these days. Could do with it being just a bit warmer, though! I’ll make sure your name goes into the hat.

      Like

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