Living Abroad: What does ‘Starting Over’ really mean?

“Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go but rather learning to start over.”

-Nicole Sobon, author


“I heard you are moving to Switzerland! How great! You get to start over!”

Innocent comment, I know, but one that I have heard a lot lately. Starting over. Over from what? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to go completely psychobabble on you about a simple statement that I’ve probably uttered over the last few months myself, but what I AM going to do is point out that, to me, I am increasingly finding this to be a bit of a questionable comment.

Perhaps I’m cynical. Perhaps I’m a jerk. But, just maybe, perhaps I’m not.

When I hear ‘start over’ I can’t help but wonder what the person saying it saw in my life that needs a re-do. Sure, living in Paris is NOT what anyone who hasn’t done so assumes. It is hard. The French are not always culturally compatible to how I was raised. I still cut various cheeses in the wrong way. I resent that person who shows up inexcusably late to parties keeping everyone from enjoying snacks (love me some dried out appetisers!!) because culture dictates no eating until everyone has arrived. I still live in fear of saying goodbyes and doing the kiss-kiss at an event with lots of French people. Giving bisous to a large group of people I don’t really know will NEVER be comfortable to me. Somedays, I would rather sneak into a shop and get what I need rather than announce my presences with a bonjour to the staff. I don’t always know what day I want to eat an avocado on and don’t know how to answer my guy at the local marché. I miss having a proper-sized freezer to freeze off meals in and buy in bulk. I would like my coffee with my dessert sometimes! However, missing things and awkwardness doesn’t necessarily mean it was such a fail here I need to start again, does it? Start over? Start fresh (are we leaving stale)? Re-do the last 10 years of my life?

What moving really provides us with the opportunity to live another version of this same life but in an environment that fits us a bit better. We will be the same people. We will still be foreign. Our happinesses and problems will follow us, give or take a few. My husband will still grumble when the dog wants only him to take him out at 7am for he wouldn’t dare interrupt my sleep. My kids will have homework. There will be school drama. There will be making new friends. There will be the all-too-familiar pain of Expat life of missing old friends. I will still need to make dinner every night. The wheel keeps turning. We are not blind to this.

So, when I express my excitement to leave Paris and move to Switzerland, I’m not necessarily saying that I would change the last 10 years. Paris was my home. Paris is where I had my children. Paris is where I met some amazing people.  Paris and I learned to have some fun! But, like dating in university, Paris and I were not compatible for the long-haul. I know that but I also know I don’t need a re-do from it. Paris helped me figure out what I need in life. Paris helped me see how capable I am. Paris helped me learn to fight back and value my opinion. Paris helped me learn to be friends with all kinds of different people and learn it is OK to love someone and not necessarily have that much in common. Paris helped me. Paris also taught me that there are people I don’t need in my life like I thought I did.  I don’t need to ‘start over’ from that. What I really need is to take that with me to our new home, our new life, and apply it.  I have lived in Paris for too long for it not to have changed me and to think I can just move down the road, dust that off and be someone different is silly and unrealistic. In moving, I am taking ALL of the previous versions of myself with me…I hope Switzerland is ready!

Photo credit: Fotolia

Is it April Fool’s Day or Poisson d’Avril?

To make this post make some sense, I will remind readers that I was born and raised in Canada. My husband was born and raised in England (with some exceptions like France and Germany for shortish periods of time). My juniors, Miss M and Buddy, were born and (thus far) raised in Paris, France. Suffice it to say, there are moments when our cultural ‘norms’ clash big time.

Today is April 1st. For myself and my husband, we know this day as April Fool’s Day. For my children, this day is known as Poisson d’Avril (literal translation: April Fish). Both days revolve around jokey behaviour where someone is out to make a fool out of someone else. Not an entirely awesome premise for a ‘celebration’ but one all of us have inherited from our forepeople.  For my husband and I, the idea is to tell a believable joke and then expose the fools who believed it. For my children, the idea is to tape paper fish to other people’s backs. Say whaaaaaa…?? Yeah, I know, it was weird for me at first, too.

However, I thought I was doing well at bridging the gap between what my children understand and what I understand the 1st April to be about. I was wrong. Take this conversation this morning:

Me (to the juniors): I have something really important to tell you guys…I’m pregnant!!
Buddy: What???? That can’t be true! Is this for Fish Day?
Miss M: But it’s not a fish, right maman? You can’t be pregnant with a fish…!

And so the conversation went and my joke fell flat.

Quite clearly she is correct. I am not pregnant with a fish but I appreciate her need to clear that up for us. Let’s call this one a big fat cultural fail on my part.

It’s not easy raising kids in a cultural that is distinctly not your own but we do give it a valiant effort…even if that means having conversations about humans pregnant with fish.

In doing my research about our upcoming move to Switzerland I have learned the Swiss LOVE April Fool’s Day (will have to report back from the trenches what they call it in a year’s time). In fact, they love it so much they seem to still pride themselves a prank that dates back to 1957 involving trees and spaghetti. I will need to up my game, and clarify the rules a bit, before next year rolls around! Until then, enjoy April Fool’s Day wherever you are and make sure you check your back for some Poisson d’Avril 😉

Poisson d'Avril
Poisson d’Avril

Photo: DR