17 January 2015

A Trip Into Paris and Expat Thoughts

Pops and Me on top of the Arc de Triumph

Before Christmas, we took a family train trip into Paris. In less than two hours, we are in the middle of one of the grandest cities in the world. It is a privilege that makes me marvel. I utterly adore being able to be in such an environment. 

And it is important to remind myself (ourselves) of elements such as these. Because much of our days are just straight-up challenging. And as a mother, challenging not just for myself ... but worrying over all that my kids are experiencing. Are the "Paris" moments enough? Enough to make all of the daily difficulties worth it? 

Lucette and Jane, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance

Before we even left the States, Pops and I did some reading up on the stages of Expatriate-hood. It's a very real thing for people transplanted out of their native environment and into a new. Language, culture, geography, food, shopping, driving, social communication, homesickness ... all of these things come into play. But like many things in life, knowing it and experiencing it are different beasts.

We've now been here for 5 months. We get lots of well-meaning questions like, "So, are you guys fluent yet?" Oh mercy. So. Far. From It. It's almost demoralizing how far from fluent we are. Even though we can step back and see marked progress from when we arrived, it's just still super difficult.

In front of the Hôtel De Ville, deciding to land-skate, because the lines were too long for ice-skating. 

Now, can I interject to say ... we're okay! Life isn't falling apart at the seams and we aren't caressing maps of the States and weeping to the melancholy sounds of Kenny G. But. It has to be okay for it to still be hard for us. We aren't acclimated yet, a "groove" doesn't exist, we are confused all the time ... and we are choosing, as a family, to be good with that. 

I recently saw a graph that marked out the stages of expatriate adjustment. We've barely arrived, so I don't have full perspective, but I'd say it seems pretty realistic. In a nutshell, there is the Honeymoon Stage (2-6 weeks ... weeks!), Culture Shock (6-8 months), Gradual Adjustment (1-2 years), Competency (2-4 years), and "Mastery" (5-7 years). 

Uh, yeah. We are 1.5 - 3.5 years away from Competency. Not mastery, competency.

 Lucette and Peter noticing something surprising (I can't even remember what!)

However, somehow seeing these statistics is oddly comforting. It would be strange for us to be any more comfortable or competent than we are. We are just a goofy American family fumbling through each day, happy to enjoy the beauty and magic of living here and trusting in the Lord to get us through all of the small, yet Herculean tasks of life ... like talking to the plumber when there is water leaking from the ceiling ... or figuring out French light bulbs ... or asking the butcher for a paper towel because the ham hock he gave you is dripping blood on your sleeve but he has to politely correct your grammar, have you repeat, and then go get a paper towel for you.

In front of Notre Dame de Paris

When we first got here, everything was so new and fascinating, it balanced out the smack-in-the-face of the language difficulties. It leveled out the feeling of having an invisible American flag above our heads, announcing the fact that we were weird and didn't fit in.

And I laugh now at thinking I spoke French "a little bit" when we moved here. Uh, no. I think I can speak about 10 times better now, and if someone asked me today if I speak French, I would chuckle and say, "hardly at all!" And those French school lunches! So exciting at first, and now it is balanced out with the mandatory "goopy cheese" and extreme suspicion over any dish with the word "tête" ("head") in it.

But we are also finding ourselves to be assimilating ever so slowly. When we first arrived, Pops announced, "I will not be wearing scarves." Um, yeah. He wears one every. single. day. I think he got three for Christmas.

In the above photo, Pops is in front of a Metro sign. Though he himself was, perhaps, in a bedraggled, tourist state, he declared he had found his "style icon." His style icon? Is this my husband talking? The man who thinks black athletic socks can take you from work, soccer, poolside, and then to a wedding?

Peter and Pops on the Pont de l'Archeveche, the "Love Lock Bridge" 

The children are navigating school and learning what to reserve their energy for and what to just not care about. We are learning how to rely on each other in new ways and support each other's deficiencies. A favorite meal time conversation starter is, "What embarrassing thing happened to you today?"

Sometimes I feel guilty about complaining or trotting out all of my "you won't believe this" stories. It is not lost on me that I am living the life I have literally dreamed of. Sure it's hard, but shoot. You're living in a farmhouse in France! How hard can it be? Get over it! 

But even when life is just as you would have it ... it can still be kick-in-the-bum hard, no?

Jane and I take a "selfie" while waiting for lunch

Yet here we are. In all it's glory. Indulge me, if you would, if sometimes I feel the need to unload. It's important for me to chronicle the joys and blessings, yet some of the beastly bits seem important too. Someday, we'll look back on this time and like stones of remembrance, recall all that God has done for us ... in all of our circumstances.


  1. Anna, you shouldn't be thinking of apologizing for complaining or unloading - it's all fascinating to me, and I'm sure everyone else, too. Such an unusual experience you're having; and you express it so well and your photos are so good... You can't just be talking about the good and the positive.
    You're living your dream on the one hand, but we know that dreams are dreams, and not reality - the reality is going to be different, and harder. As long as you have each other for support, that's what will get you through. I suppose your kids are doing better than their parents - they must be picking up everything more quickly. Their brains have less in them. :D
    I looks like you'll be there a few years? One day you'll suddenly realize that you're French, I imagine. I hope it comes soon for you! :)

    1. Thank you for this encouragement! I didn't realize how much I would appreciate it!

  2. Oh how we've all enjoyed your beautiful posts! You are a fantastic writer and your photography is incredible! I'll hop onto our computer, click on your favorited (Of course) website icon, and am oh so pleasantly surprised to see what ''other mommy" has posted! What fun! love, E
    Challenges will never cease to challenge us, as I've learned. We'll always love you, even if you feel like a slug would make faster progress. Keep up the good work; we're ever so proud of how you've endured the hard things and have shared the joy of the wonderful ones. God bless your week to come. : )
    Love from us crazy Crows.

    1. Whoopsee! That oddly-placed 'Love E' was my mother, thinking I was done. Ha!

    2. Ah, thank you dear Crows. You make my heart smile.

  3. Sniff. I loved this post. I miss you and am so proud of all of you. STRONG Rascals!!!!! You will talk about and remember your amazing adventures forever!!!

    1. Thank you, D! Yes! In Christ I am STRONG! I have to be reminded sometimes!

  4. I laughed about Pop's "style icon". I guess that's a natural progression there. I so appreciate your honesty, Anna. God will remind you why He has you there. xx, Farrah

  5. But he's wearing orange pants!

    1. So true! Pops has an American body that he has to fit into European sizes! He was in desperate need of a second pair of pants and we found these on a clearance sale at a Gap in the Portsmouth ferry docks. Desperation will cause you to even like rust colored pants! (But ... I actually think they look nice on him!)

    2. They do look nice. I was just more surprised at those than at the scarf.

  6. This had me laughing. I'm so happy for you, bumbling missteps and all. What an amazing adventure.