Can you believe it? This weekend marks one year since we started our expat journey in France. So what has it been like as an American living in France for one year? Scary, challenging, exciting, and delicious are the first words that come to our minds. According to Jordan, “fortunately, I’ve been able to mask my emotions.” Get it, because we have to wear masks anytime we leave our apartment?
If I had to create a tagline for what the past year would be like, it would say, “France: the semi-prison that never ends.” I can’t take full credit for coming up with that tagline; the mayor of Paris said it herself when referencing the country’s 6:00 pm curfew. She’s not wrong, though. I’ll try not to mention the fact that we have been in a confinement-curfew hybrid for more than half our time in France.
First, Read our six-month expat update
Over the past year, we have had some incredible highs and not-so-great lows. Crying in a pharmacy to the pharmacist probably wasn’t my best moment. Let’s take a look down memory lane, shall we?
we visited 5 countries and almost 40 cities
We started off our expat assignment by flying to Bordeaux on our second weekend here to celebrate a friend’s birthday. It was there we got the news that France was entering the first lockdown. All public transportation stopped running. We waited at the bus stop for far too long, trying to figure out how to get to the airport and get home to Lyon. It was a scary and uncertain time. We clapped every night at 8:00 pm to thank the healthcare workers fighting against this unknown virus. It’s crazy to think about all we experienced in our first month.
We could only leave our tiny apartment for one hour a day within 1km. There was not much to do, so we mastered the boulangerie and started a new tradition of enjoying a chocolate croissant every Saturday. But let’s be honest, in the beginning, it was more than just on Saturdays.
We ended the first lockdown by renting the first apartment we looked at to have a sense of normalcy. We aren’t in a Haussmann-style apartment like I would have preferred, but we love our view of the river.
Warmer weather arrived, and that meant fewer restrictions. We had freedom. Each weekend we drove off to a new city in France, like enjoying Marseille for my birthday or finding solace in the French alps for hikes. When in Lyon, we spend our weekends enjoying long bike rides in the city, followed by beers on the Rhone river.
Borders were cautiously open. We explored more in France and raced off to Turin, Italy, so that Jordan could experience authentic gelato and pasta for the first time.
Jordan also went backpacking for the first time, and we woke up to stars and an incredible view of Mont Blanc.
My “funemployment” began the same day we jet-setted off to Norway for two weeks. We experienced both a polar bear and pods of orcas for the first time outside of a zoo or Sea World.
We spent the month searching for fall foliage, going on long drives and day hikes within France.
After three months, my “funemployment” ended with an impromptu week in Switzerland with no itinerary. We enjoyed seeing spectacular fall colors, biking through golden vineyards, and going on hikes. We returned home to Lyon to begin the second lockdown.
France is back in lockdown. Thankfully, I am busy starting a new job and have something to keep my mind occupied during the day.
Christmas spirit was low in Lyon, and going back to the United States no longer seemed like a feasible option. We searched for anywhere that was accepting tourists and decided to go there. This search took us on our impromptu trip for a week in the Maldives. It was a mental “break from COVID,” and we had an excellent Christmas snorkeling and scuba diving.
Our 8:00 pm curfew changed to 6:00 pm. We’ve recently found solace in the French Alps on the weekend and started a new snowshoeing hobby.
With a stifling 6:00 pm curfew raging on, we spent our weekends in the French Alps snowshoeing, eating fondue, and drinking wine.
It’s not the year we expected. It’s almost comical to look back at our first post and see how naive we thought we would travel throughout Europe on the weekends. Now, we aren’t sure if we will be able to experience that at all.
Regardless of what happens in the future, we have learned and grown a lot along the way. Jordan and I had only been married for 14 months before taking the leap and moving across the world together. I had been used to him often traveling for work or working late at the office, and I had drowned myself in work too. Enter the pandemic, and we spent an entire year without going a single night away from each other. Our relationship grew stronger, and for that, we are thankful.
My mom constantly reminds me how lucky we are to be over here as we are experiencing things that most don’t have the opportunity to do. She is correct; we are fortunate. We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn about the French culture and a new way of life. Below are some different things we have learned living in France for a year.
The Absence of Friendships
Some friends have disappeared as the literal distance increased between us. I get it. It’s easy to be “out of sight, out of mind.” We all have busy lives, and it’s hard to keep up with people you don’t see often. Communication is a two-way street, and I take responsibility for that. You guys see how long it takes me to respond to emails or comments!
But it can feel very one way when I’m still waiting on a text back from eight months ago. Other friends that I talked to daily have been radio-silent. It’s been tough coming to terms with the fact people I thought were there for me may only have been there because it was convenient.
Lack of Personality
In America, it’s easy for Jordan and me to have a lively personality. Jordan uses plenty of sarcasm, whereas I like to make plenty of jokes. We are both very direct in English, but even more so in French. But now, our French personalities are very bland. I’m sure the French could have more colorful conversations with a wall.
There’s no spontaneity. No jokes. No sarcasm. We can’t quickly make a comeback or insert a witty joke. Every conversation is pre-planned. When the conversation strays from the norm, internal panic ensues.
The organic conversations are primarily with our French teacher. I’ve lost count of the times she has said, “it was a joke,” as we look at her with a deer-in-the-headlights stare.
The worst question someone can ask us is, “do you speak French,” or a variation of this. Yes, we can speak French. We take private lessons twice a week. We aren’t fluent, and I think it was unrealistic to think we would be fluent within a year. Remember that time I said we’ve been in a lockdown-confinement hybrid for more than half our time here? The pandemic plays a part in limiting our opportunities to practice with locals.
There is also a difference between written French and spoken French. Just because it is written in one way, does not mean that it is spoken that way! There is so much slang and short-hand spoken in French. Just when we think we have it down, the language throws us for a loop. There’s a hilarious Instagram account that does short skits and makes fun of the complexities of the French language. Watch this one below.
Even though learning the language is hard, we consider ourselves conversational in French. Every week, our French teacher asks us to recap our weekend or talk about projects we are working on in our jobs. Jordan and I speak in French together every day and also text in French. We may not conjugate every verb correctly, but we can still have a conversation. But don’t ask us to speak French to you, because I’ll say no.
The Gold Standard
Europeans do not like anything artificial, gold included. The standard for gold in Europe is 18k. It’s purer, richer in color, and more expensive. On the other hand, 14k gold is the most popular type in the United States for its durability and resistance to wear and tear.
Unfortunately for me, my engagement ring is 14k gold. I lost a diamond in it last May and reached out to every jeweler in Lyon. I joke with Jordan that I’m scattering diamonds throughout Europe, as I lost a diamond in Germany in 2017. It’s now February, and my ring is still not repaired. Why? No reputable jeweler will work on 14k gold in France. Jewelers don’t sell 14k gold, nor do they have the tools to work on it. I’m scared to lose another diamond in it, so it stays safety stored away.
The water in Lyon is hard. Our appliances all need special filters or supplements to help combat the calcium in the water. There are special tablets we have to run through the washing machine/dryer combo. Salt is added periodically to the dishwasher. Our iron has a special filter. Now and then, our showerheads and faucets get clogged up. It’s a little thing and something we can easily manage. But not something we expected to have to do!
Food Transparency and Etiquette
While our time spent dining at restaurants is low (they’ve been closed again since October), we’ve observed some different standards we must share. When ordering meat, restaurants must disclose the country of origin. All menus will state the country for each different type of meat. No Taco Bell mystery meat here. The transparency is refreshing.
As Americans, we use our hands to eat a lot of things. Burgers, pizza, french fries, and chicken wings are staples you can pick up with your hands. Knives are rarely used, except maybe to cut the burger in half (then you can pick it up with your hands).
In France, diners pick up their knife and fork to eat all of these. No messy hands anymore! Jordan doesn’t care about the social norms; he’s against eating a burger with a fork and knife. But for me, I’m not interested in being pinned as an American so quickly. A fork and knife it is.
If you’ve been following our expat journey, thanks for sticking around for the first year. If you’re just starting to read, thanks for joining the party (and check out all our recent posts) We have only been living in France for a year, but we have already experienced so much.
Bring on year two! (Hopefully, this includes visiting the United States, having our families visit us, and being able to travel within Europe)