When you’re living in a gorgeous country and you like most things about it, it can be difficult to admit or acknowledge when things simply aren’t going well.
There are cultural differences between the US and France, but the ones that get you in trouble are the ones that aren’t as obvious and you don’t know about. The issue largely happens to me when the same behavior is assumed to have two completely different motivations in the two countries.
When these things happen, it’s easy to miss home. Obviously, there can be misunderstandings that happen in your home country too, but not usually over things that are normal behavior in your country. The problem here is when you do something completely normal and somebody is upset about it because, well, it’s not normal here.
My natural tendency is to gloss over these things. Usually, it’s small and passing, plus what right do I have to complain? I’m “living the dream” after all and I moved here voluntarily. I have a good job, live in a nice (albeit old) home and have even managed to make some friends.
There are still times when it seems like EVERYTHING is going wrong though. Such as:
- The spoken portion of my French lesson online made no sense, even though the written lessons are fairly easy. Am I *ever* going to understand spoken French well?
- My colleague seemed REALLY angry with me about . . . pastries?!?
- My friend had to cancel a trip with me after I’d already paid for a non-refundable hotel room.
- I couldn’t figure out how to pay my first electric bill because my “account balance” online was apparently only the most recent bill and I’d thrown out the original payment slip. I received mail demanding payment, but still with no clear way to actually PAY the bill!
- My very first brand-new car was custom ordered (this is normal here – you don’t really find huge lots full of cars) and the former employee who submitted the order put the wrong color. I am now driving my custom BLACK car, not blue. Really a disappointment to have your first brand-new car not ordered correctly!
While there is nothing major that went wrong, when it feels like many small things are going wrong due to cultural differences, language barriers, etc. it can be tempting to consider packing up and moving back. Just considering it put me in an even worse mood though.
Since I knew I wasn’t ready to return to the US, it was time to deal with the “blues” head-on! Here’s what worked for me:
- I met up with a new French woman and practiced French. Considering that I spoke no French at the end of 2015 and have only had 21 hours of formal lessons, I’m focusing on how much I have learned and can understand now.
- I spent time with French friends, which helped remind me of the many things that I love about living here (and about the future plans I’ve already made)
- I went for a nice long walk in my town. Over an hour of enjoying the sun and really looking at the various little houses, shops, gardens and other lovely things in the area helped! This is the source of the photos here!
- I spent time catching up with US friends also – strangely, it helps me feel more settled in my life here when I maintain my connections with the people I love back in the US.
- Since I love seeing new places and learning about them, I looked at my list of places I’d like to travel to in Europe and neighboring areas. There are at least 3 years worth of countries that will be much easier and cheaper to see if I live here – that’s good motivation to stay for me!
- I had a good conversation with my colleague about what was really going on – pesky cultural differences as it turned out. It’s really easy to assume that “you did X, so it means Y” when it actually means Z because I’m American or because he’s French. The same behavior cannot be assumed to have the same motivations or same meaning when you take it out of the cultural context. It’s an interesting learning experience for sure.
These are some of the same things that worked for me the last time – get some exercise, focus on the positive things about living in France, socialize with friends in both countries and cut myself (and the French) some slack when it comes to language and culture issues. If you’re also an Expat who is having a low moment, I hope these same ideas may work for you!