Getting used to France
Getting used to living in France was like giving birth, except way more painful, went on for way longer and didn’t come with cool things like bigger boobs and prettier hair. But, at the end of what really did feel like a two-year pregnancy, I gave birth to a very nice life. In those two years, I had time to learn French ( When I came here I knew exactly two words: quatre and avec. Try to make a sentence with that!), start and quit three jobs, get a fourth, which eventually led to meeting my second husband ,and decide that I could probably live here for a while after all.
Some of the things I struggled with were:
1) Meals that go on for hours. Seriously! Minimum three hours for any lunch and don’t get me started on the dinner parties, which are an institution in this country! After so many years, the meals have become a pleasure. The food is heaven here and I love sitting, talking, eating and drinking wine, for hours with people I love. Still, it was something I had to get used to and it took me years to get there.
2) Having to kiss hello and goodbye to every person in the room at every gathering! I still get caught trying to sneak out of parties without doing the kissy thing to each of the 40 people present. I generally get a pass because I’m American. Thank God, because I am not a very touchy-feely person.
3) Needing to know whether each noun is feminin or masculin before opening my mouth to speak. I still get noun gender mixed up and even when I do know, I don’t always use the right article. I’d much rather just get the idea out. It was a major problem, though, when I wanted to buy a pack of cigarettes. I could never remember if it was Un or Une so I just asked for deux and skirted around the whole issue.
And last but not least in the lineup of things it took me years to wrap my head around was people smoking in restaurants and train cars (When I arrived in the ’80s, EVERYONE smoked. Me included, but not in enclosed spaces). The smoking issue solved itself. Smoking in enclosed areas is no longer allowed here either. Whew!
Surprisingly enough, the language was the least of my difficulties. A couple of weeks of full time classes and a trial period where I just sort of threw out English vocabulary with a French accent when I didn’t know the French word, and I was able to communicate enough to work. You’d be surprised how often it works to use an English word with a French accent. Ask me sometime to tell you how some of my friends loved teaching me cuss words without telling me they were rude to use. I didn’t mind. It made everyone laugh and I was funny for the first time in my life — but it did lead to some awkward workplace situations.
I don’t regret for one minute having jumped through the door that was opened for me and led me here. I have changed jobs a few times and raised a nurse, a musician and an artist with a wonderfully weird French man. Child rearing is a governmental priority (at least it has been until now.) Lots of financial aid and, for the moment, it’s still possible for both parents to work and find affordable childcare. My French friends will probably say I’m crazy, but compared to what my American friends and family tell me about how things are done on the other side of the pond, I feel this is true. This is one of my favorite things about France, with the five weeks of paid vacation for everyone, and the food. I honestly don’t believe we could have raised our children so easily with our financial situation as it was.
So it was worth the eleventy bazillion or so hours I’ve spent sitting at tables eating delicious food and drinking wine and the three million cheek kisses. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!