From the Vault: Confessions of Parisian ‘Expat Dating’

What can I say sometimes other than ‘this expat life is no joke’! I know from the outside people see the glitz, the glam, the travel, the benefits, etc., but from time to time, I think it is good if we all ignore that part for a bit and turn our attention to some of the more difficult moments. Yes, I know, this sounds boring but it needn’t be. In fact, most expats you will meet have a wicked sense of humour and humility. We might not have started out that way but cultural barriers, linguistic errors, removal from what we know and who we know, and multiple social blunders have stripped us of our sense of cool. We learn to laugh at ourselves. With this spirit in mind, I’ve decided that from time to time, I will dig a story out from ‘the vault’ and share with you my sometimes bumpy ride as an expatriate.

 

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Our first apartment in Paris – that’s us on the balcony. It was our home for 4.5 years (Paris, 1er Arrondissement.

 

Back in 2006, when I was a newcomer to this whole lifestyle in Paris, I was the queen of social blunders. I made mistakes. I mouth-kissed people who were attempting to do bisous (or cheek to cheek kiss greeting as is customary in many European countries). I drank coffee with my dessert (mon Dieu!) and I stumbled daily in navigating Parisian life. I had a certain flair for making a mess of things! I would call home and be told it can’t possibly be that bad. My impression was that it was hard to conjure up feelings of sympathy for people living la vie en rose!

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La vie en Rose

But Paris was, well, Paris. It is tough city to relocate to. I was 29, newly married to an Englishman and kids were not on the agenda yet. How do you make friends at 29 years old?  When you are a kid you can walk up to someone around your age in the park and ask if they want to play. As an adult, that takes a very creepy and inappropriate twist. So, I went on, what I call, expat dates. We weren’t looking for love, we were looking for company.  I met other expatriates living in Paris and we tested each other out. Could we? Would we? Should we be friends? Do we have enough in common beyond ‘we aren’t French’ to keep us together?

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Looking out at the world below. Paris circa 2006.

Sometimes this worked and sometimes it was a big fail. I remember one that went so horribly wrong that when I ran into the woman a few months later in the street, I hid behind a smelly Parisian garbage can. Yes, I was a wildly mature adult living the glam Paris life! She had been the angriest person I had ever met and I felt, at the end of our lunch, that I should have charged her for a counselling session. She hated Paris. HATED it. Lots of people have anger towards Paris but this was something else!

Shortly after we ordered wine and lunch, it started.

“Why would you move here? It’s awful.” Uh oh!
“It smells.” OK so this can be true sometimes.
“Parisians are the worst people ever.” No, they are grumpy and angry and VERY self-important sometimes but they are not the worst people ever.
“Don’t even try to get decent tea here.” I didn’t try this and wasn’t bothered about it, either.
“The restaurants are awful.” OK this was NOT true. There were some dodgy places but that happens everywhere.
“You will never fit in here.” Hmmm…partial truth?
“You will need to diet to live here. You’re a bit big-boned.” Thanks.
“French men are pigs.” I have never dated one, I can’t speak to this claim!
“France will suck all the life out of you.” There’s plenty still kicking around in me.
“You smile too much for Paris. They’ll hate you.” Yeesh!

You get the picture, right? This went on and on and on. She spent 90+ minutes trying to convince me to get out while I could. Like it was an easy option to do so! If I tried to counter with ‘but aren’t the pastries to die for?’ she would shoot that down or remind me I’m a bit fat for Paris (this was PRE-kids, remember!!). Negative Nancy was in the house. I decided that even if I was having some real homesickness for maple-flavoured anything, strangers that greet each other on the street and an easier time getting my point across, I was going to ditch our attempt to become friends and make my way in the city on my own.

Ditch this attempt is exactly what I did. I tried to wrap up our lunch early and I thought she understood my need to leave when I said something like, I must visit the toilet and when I get back I will need to pay and head out. Clear, non?  When I returned to the table, I saw that she had ignored this and ordered another round of drinks. I panicked! How could she possibly have more to say about hating Paris? So, I did what all mature adults do. I threw 40Euros on the table and ran out of the restaurant without saying a word. I know she called my name but I was done. I didn’t want to live in Paris with her words in my head and heart and I wasn’t adult enough to say that.

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Do bad days happen in Paris? Yes. Yes they do. However, in my 10 years living in Paris, I fully admit that this never stopped being an amazing sight to behold!

I avoided a phone call and text from her over the next couple of days. I felt awful and I had done something unforgivable. I know that and learned from it. To her, I’m sorry for my own behaviour. In truth, she was my sole expat dating fail on an otherwise pretty perfect record. However, I was too embarrassed and freaked out by our lunch date gone wrong to try again for a while, so I got a dog. Not just any old French froufrou, teacup sized dog. I got a black labrador retriever. We named him Leni and he went everywhere with me. He became my best Parisian friend for a while and together, we ventured throughout the city. He dined in Michelin starred restaurants, went into Gucci, Louis Vuitton (he was about 20kg too big for that early 2000s dog bag everyone had) and had his photo taken with countless tourists. He made me get over my shyness to explore the city and for that, Leni, I thank you as you were invaluable to our lives in the French capital. I eventually made amazing friends, had kids and life in Paris became a lot more settled but Leni never left our sides. Except for the time he jumped in a prostitute’s van in the Bois de Boulogne. Perhaps that will be my next confession From the Vault…

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Leni and I walking in the Marais

Photos: Jennifer Hart

Repatriation: Anxiety, Stress and the Problems with Going “Home”

Dear Readers, Friends and Fans of Domestic Bliss Abroad,

I wanted to take a moment to talk to you about an upcoming project I will be launching in September 2016 on repatriation. I will be looking for participants (you can remain anonymous) to give first-hand experiences, anecdotes and insight to this often glossed-over part of our lives.  There will be a questionnaire to fill in and additional stories are voluntary yet very welcome!  Just as our lives are varied around the globe, I’d like to hear back from as many people in as many different places as possible.

Repatriation seems easy on the outside as moving ‘home’ should be seamless, right? But as many expats know depression, reverse culture shock, saying goodbye to new expat families, exclusion, grief and marital troubles often accompany this process. Coupled with friends and family back home frequently not understanding what you are going through, repatriation can alienate returning expats in a way they did not imagine. I want to explore that topic WITH YOU and put into words things that need to be said but often aren’t.

If you are interested, please send an email with the subject line Repatriation to jennifer@domesticblissabroad.com including a brief overview of your expat life.

I will be in touch soon to update you as the project develops.

PLEASE pass this along to anyone you think needs their story told.

Thank you.

Jennifer HART
Domestic Bliss Abroad

 

Friday Featurette: Have A Story To Share?

Are you an expat? Traveller? World Citizen? International? Do you have a story or photo journal to share about your experiences living life on the road less travelled? Would you like to be featured on this blog as a guest writer? If so we’d love to hear from you!

Starting in June 2016 I will be posting Friday Featurette featuring, well, YOU! The longer I live abroad (in my 11th year now) the more I know how much we need to share our stories with each other. Help each other to know we aren’t alone and gain experience from those that have been there before!

Topics can include:
-expat life/experiences
-family relocations
-long-term travel (i.e. not just a weekend spent somewhere, you must really have a feel for a local culture and impressions about how it changed you)
-multilingual experiences
-Foodie-inspired international topics
-original recipe and culinary/cultural explanation (i.e. your take on a traditional dish where you are currently residing)

Your idea pitch only needs to be a few sentences long. As an option, you may include a photo added to help me visualise how the post might look. The final text needs to be between 500 -800 words and include hi-resolution photos. You must also include a bio and any social media links (i.e. twitter, Facebook page, instagram). Your material will be credited and owned by you and hosted by Domestic Bliss Abroad.

If interested, send me an email at jennifer@domesticblissabroad.com

If you have previously syndicated/published an article elsewhere and want to reuse it, we can still discuss this. Changes may need to be made to fit different audiences but I’m willing to hear what you have to offer!! 🙂

Photo credit: Fotolia

Living Abroad: What is an Expat?

 ”The loneliness of the expatriate is of an odd and complicated kind, for it is inseparable from the feeling of being free, of having escaped.”
— Adam Gopnik (Paris to the Moon)

In the last decade or so, the word ‘expat’ has rolled off my tongue more times than I can count. A short form of the word ‘expatriate’, Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a person who lives outside their native country.”  While this definition is true, to actually describe the life of an expat is incredibly difficult. I have toyed with whether or not to start writing a series here on being an expat as the internet is full of posts and articles already. After doing some quick searches, I became frustrated with two themes that popped out at me (this is definitely unofficial research): 1) Expats are living the high life in a luxury compound in some far, exotic place and, 2) Expats are miserable, suffering from issues of making friends and trying to fit in with locals.

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How descriptive are definitions when it comes to life experience?

Yes, there are many articles discussing the merits of expatriation and the downfalls with more finesse than that, but with the amount of annual lists of ‘best and worst places for expats’ being published these days, I thought it important to discuss ACTUAL expatriation. We they move abroad, expats are doing more than just leaving their life behind, they are gaining a new one (or many) in the process. They become exposed to differences they never knew existed. They learn things about the world they shamefully admit they hadn’t been aware of before. They change.  They also change how they view life ‘back home’. They see things in their native culture that might bother them. They see imperfections they didn’t see before. They see a place that they called ‘home’ for years from a different perspective. It can be scary to go through this process but it is normal and a balance between being from one place and being cultural enriched by another place is often found. This doesn’t mean expats all think their home countries are flawed. What it does mean, though, is that many find themselves no longer feeling 100% at ‘home’ in a place that they once were scared to leave.

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My junior world citizens running to the Eiffel Tower in their hometown, Paris.

With expatriation and all the changes that arise, expats often find friends and family back in their native countries unable to grasp the complete picture of what life their new life is really like. This should come as no surprise since they themselves were unable to foresee what their lives would be like once they moved abroad. Family and friends not understanding is normal and OK but it can cause frustrations, upset and misunderstandings. At this point, even those who strongly believed they wouldn’t move somewhere foreign just to make other expat friends, find themselves seeking others that ‘get it’. Expat friends often come on fast and strong. Someone I once knew, who eventually returned to her home country after a couple incredibly homesick years, told me expats can’t be choosey when making friends. I strongly disagree, but I will say the shared experience of leaving your native country and relocating somewhere vastly different not only tends to bond people together quickly, it can also trump other socio-cultural-economic differences which might have seen you not becoming friends with someone else if the situations were different. I don’t see this as not being choosey, I see this as sharing a mutual life-changing experience. Like new parents seeking other new parents to share their experiences with. It’s a needs-based relationship that plays an important role in an expat’s happiness abroad. Family and friends back home, don’t worry, we haven’t replaced you, we’ve merely added to our life and hopefully by doing so have stopped griping to you about things you don’t understand, such as why French bureaucracy is truly a mind-numbing experience.

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Lived abroad? Your life might look like this, too. The current state of my life: Foreign money. UK passport. Swiss permit. French driving license. Canadian birth certificate! All so confusing! 

Expatriation is scary. For some it comes with a clear end date depending on work contracts, visas, etc. For others, it is something more organic and undefined. When I moved to France, Mr H had 18 months left on his expatriation package. I moved there with the idea that in 18 months this might no longer be my home, therefore I struggled to really get involved in French life at first. I eventually got past that and made Paris my ‘home.’ Rather quickly, it seems, that 18 months turned into a decade, two Paris-born children, a labrador retriever and an eventual relocation to Switzerland. Along the way, I have learned that my home is where my children, husband and dog are. I have learned I can be both foreign and local at the same time. I have learned that expat life is definitely for me, despite the challenges and uncertainties it can sometimes cause.

I will be continuing this topic in the near future with subsequent topics that relate to expats and those out there who love us and miss us as we galavant across the globe. Stay tuned. I’m obviously not done with the expat train and therefore this topic is not done, either.

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia

Traveling and Storytelling Go Hand in Hand

I don’t know the right person to credit for the photo quote but it is so powerful I couldn’t help but share. It is incredibly true and I recently learned that my combination of traveling and storytelling is going to find a much wider reach!

As many of you know, I will be part of an upcoming anthology this summer entitled Once Upon an Expat. If you would like more information and to check out the authors of this amazing collaboration, please head on over to Canadian Expat Mom. The stories are going to make you laugh, cry, shake your head and make your heart warm. I’ve been getting to know the other women over the past couple of weeks and it has been such an amazing experience that I cannot wait to share it with all of you. I am proud of all of everyone that has worked on this book and I know you won’t want to miss out!! I promise to post a link to the book on Amazon as soon as it is available (June 2016)

For now, make sure you check out the above link and get to know the ladies behind the stories. We are an eclectic group and Lisa Webb has done an outstanding job bringing us all together. We are all so lucky to have her at the helm!

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That’s right, I’m one of them!

 

Photo credit: Unknown, Lisa Webb-Canadian Expat Mom

Once Upon An Expat…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

…and that is how the story starts!! I am back from vacation now and SO EXCITED to announce I am officially a contributing author in the forthcoming anthology entitled “Once Upon An Expat.”  Edited and organised by the fabulous Lisa Webb of Canadian Expat Mom, this anthology promises to deliver heart-warming, funny and realistic portrayals of the lives of regular expat women around the world, like me.

Did I mention how excited I am?????

For now all I can say is that the book will be available in June 2016 through Amazon. I will update as soon as possible with information and feel free to check out Canadian Expat Mom’s Facebook page for updates.

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2015: A Year of Change

An emotional sandwich of fear, anger, happiness and tears. It’s hard to sum up a year like this one…

Greetings those left of you reading this blog. I have thought of you and of writing every single day for the last month but have struggled to find words. To find motivation. To find the appropriate messages. I had scheduled posts that I pulled from circulation as I felt, in the wake of terrible global events, that discussing family travel, luxury and fine dining were not time-appropriate subjects. As former Parisians and the mother of two forever Paris-born children, I found it hard to focus on writing. Bloggers around the world started posting about their one weekend/trip to Paris and how they felt an ‘affinity’ to the city. Whilst I respect everyone’s need to grieve, I couldn’t jump on the immediate bandwagon I felt it had become. My affinity was stronger and it hurt. I didn’t feel relieved not to be there during the attacks, I felt guilty. People we know were hurt. People we know were at the places that were attacked. I struggled being far away when something happened so close to a part of my life. Paris drove me insane but after a decade of love, living and fun there, I can’t shake the feeling that she will always be part of what makes up the idea of ‘home’ for me and that she was hurting.

This year started with Charlie Hebdo while we were still living in Paris, crescendoed with our blissful move to Switzerland and came to a close with the attacks of November 13th. An emotional sandwich of fear, anger, happiness and tears. It’s hard to sum up a year like this one. There are some extremely strong markers of what is cruel, wrong and problematic with our world. As many of us are preparing for forthcoming celebrations or just ending our 8 days of light, the world is plagued with bombings, shootings, rape, child abuse, animal abuse and more. Terror reigns supreme and the culture of fear has many of us gripped and paranoid. This is not the world I want to continue to pass onto my children, or any other future generations.

We must fix our world. It is our burden and our responsibility. Peace on earth, goodwill to (wo)man. Could we please learn to put these words into practice more than 3 weeks per year? What if peace was a daily goal we all set for ourselves instead of something more commercial? I may sound like a beauty contestant but I truly do believe in the need for world peace. That said, I am a realist and know this will not happen if people believe the limit of their political action involves simply hitting a ‘share’ or ‘like’ button. We must all do more. More people, more involved – make this happen. Don’t send prayers. A whisper will never quiet a beast.

I didn’t want to just disappear as I wasn’t having writer’s block, I just couldn’t face writing when I was so angry. So, I would like to now officially sign off for 2015. I will be the first to admit that personally, this past year has not been all doom-and-gloom but I do think it would be amiss for me to pretend that everything is simply amazing right now. We are headed to the mountains to ski for Christmas then will be spending a few days with family and friends.

I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday period and a Happy 2016. I look forward to seeing what is on my mind a year from now but I will be back in January to continue the journey this blog was originally intended for.

Stay safe. Be kind. Help others.

Merry Christmas. Joyeux Noël.

Photo credit: Fotolia