Well as it goes with blogging it’s been far too long, and since my last post far too much has happened in our lives to not share here. The TL:DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) version is that we got our visas to go live in France for a year and as I’m writing this we’re on the plane en route to Annecy.
The last 6 weeks since we arrived back in Orlando have been wonderful. We got to spend almost all of it visiting family, stayed with my folks for about a month out of that 6 weeks which was great for everyone, and had much needed time to think, plan, and get ready for this monstrous trip. Figuring out what stuff you’re going to take with you for a 12 month trip, and how to fit it into 4 bags is a challenge I don’t want to repeat anytime soon.
No doubt that this year will hold a lot of exciting adventures, probably more than it’s fair share of both fun and learning along with trying times and “growing” experiences. There’s a few things that we’re particularly excited about, and a handful that we have more than a little apprehension about.
Living in France is kinda like the Major Leagues of being an expat. There’s:
- The language. With my decent knowledge of Spanish it helps a lot with things like sentence structure, understanding masculine/feminine, and conjugation of verbs (all of which are entirely different than English), but the vocabulary is pretty much all different. Actually there’s a lot more true cognates with English and with Spanish. We’ve all been trying to learn some French for the past few months ever since we made the decision we wanted to take a shot at living there, but like a lot of things we could’ve done better. Learning the language enough to get around won’t be hard…what will be hard is learning it well enough to really connect with people and make friends. I figure it’ll take 6 months of real, concentrated effort. But, I place it #1 for a good reason. It’s really important for all of us to be happy and get a lot out of the next year.
- The Culture. French people are understandably very sure that their way is the right way. There’s very little room for discussion as to how to cook things, when dinner should be (between 7:30 and 8:00), how children should be raised, what constitutes appropriate attire, and how ones lips should be pursed when something doesn’t 100% meet their exacting standards. Nobody will tell you that the French suck at any of these things, so it’s fair that they’re pretty demanding when asking that people meet their mark, or they’ll get the dreaded shoulder shrug.
- Living In a Foreign Country. Haven’t done it before, unless you consider SoCal a different world which I’d totally understand. But honestly there are tons of little things that are so different between our culture, language, customs, and way of life than the French. I think we could live there for years and still be outcasts to a certain extent because we’ll never be truly French, but as much as possible we’d like to really blend in and immerse ourselves in their world. Speaking the language, cooking the food, understanding the wine, talking politics, and having a real appreciation for their heritage. It’s all part of the deal, and while it’ll be exciting to learn I think it’ll also be one of those things that wears on you after a while.
The things we’re most excited about are too numerous to list here, but a short list includes:
- Traveling. We’re less than an hour from two giant airports that will allow us to go anywhere in Europe direct, for less than $50. Geneva is the home of EasyJet and Lyon is a large international airport in its own right. Both of these have massive reach and will let us take a long weekend trip to Rome, Amsterdam, London, Moscow, Croatia, Greece, or anywhere else that we want to go. In the coming year I’d like to take 10 trips. If we don’t I think we’ll miss out on one of the major advantages of the trip.
- Learning another language. For all of us, and the kids most of all, being truly bilingual is an asset that we’ll take with us the rest of our lives. If we can all learn French well enough to pass whatever sort of exam there might be to be considered fluent then it will be one giant leg up on the world. With a bit more work we might just add German to the list, then we’d be able to communicate with about 1/2 of Europe. Not too shabby.
- Learning to Ski. Annecy is at the foothills of the alps, and right around the corner are some of the best ski villages in the world. Chamonix, Mont Blonc, La Clusaz and others are just an hour away from us and offer world class skiing. The kids will actually go skiing as part of their school…how neat is that? It’s up to Amanda and I to be able to keep up with them on this one I think.
- Learning to cook French food. I’m the biggest foodie of the family, and just can’t wait to learn how to really cook like a local French person. Their food is really unique. On one hand it’s incredibly rich and flavorful, but on another hand it’s absolutely balanced, healthy, and simple. As with most things the artistic side of this is to achieve this balance easily and with “grace”. On my ‘todo’ list is to take a cooking class in Annecy. Maybe around the end of the year I’ll do it, once I’ve had a few chances to screw up the classic dishes, and hopefully will be able to understand what the hell they’re saying.
- Learning the Wine and Cheese. Until you’ve been there to see if you really have no idea. To say to someone “which kind of goat cheese do you want” or “tell me the kind of white wine you want to pair with this lamb dish” sounds like a sort of obvious thing. Dry, Buttery wine, or “What do you mean, I just want Goat Cheese!”…but there’s so much more to it than that. The French take their food really seriously, but they take their wine and cheese uber seriously. The intricacies and nuances of both probably couldn’t be understood in a year of just studying one of them, but I hope that I’m able to give both of these enough time and attention to understand which way is up at least.
- Amanda and I growing. We’re nowhere near newly weds, which is great because I think this experience will challenge us as a family but also bring us a lot closer together. The initial isolation of things, and figuring out everything from how to buy a car, to what’s appropriate to bring as a guest to a dinner party, to where we should vacation, to how to meet new friends in a foreign country will take a lot of the challenges of every day life and amplify them. And the fact is when it comes down to it we just have to figure all that stuff out. I have 100% confidence that we can, but I also know that we’ll have times when it’s really damn hard. Getting through that and learning how to communicate, plan, and understand our family better will be a really rewarding experience. It’s last on this list, but is probably the 1 thing that I’m sure will happen, and am most excited about.
We promise to write a lot more here on the blog now that we’ll be back in Europe and experiencing all these wonderful things. For now, Bon Voyage!