I think the word ‘expat’ is a funny word. It literally means ‘to voluntarily be absent from home and country’. In that case I am a third degree expat as I have now left 3 countries before I arrived in France.
A bit crazy, don’t you think so? Does that mean I can’t find my way anywhere or am I just very adaptable and make a home wherever I land?
My ‘expat’ history
From The Netherlands, to UK, then Australia – even a short stint in Switzerland, and now France. Officially I belong to this group of expats however I really don’t like the name . I always saw myself as a resident in Australia. While I was living in London I never even thought about what I was. And now in France the likes of us are apparently called ‘expats’.
Why don’t I like it? Well, what comes straight to mind is Brits who live abroad but only want English things. Just think of the film ‘Shirley Valentine’. Good old Pauline Collins succeeds in making tourists extremely happy by offering them a full English breakfast. Right there in a Greek taverna on a pebbly beach, they want the full works. It made me laugh but also cringe…
There is this Facebook group ‘Nederlanders (Dutch) in Australia’ who chose to live on the other side of the world. And you know what they do? They spent precious time on dreaming about Dutch fast food and discussing where to get it Down Under.
I am guilty of never thinking about Dutch food. 25 years in Australia and not one ‘patatje, kroket or frikandel went through my mind and mouth. Actually I made one little slip when my visiting second cousin wanted a ‘broodje kroket’ and off course she found a supplier in Brisbane!
And you know what? I think the food in Australia is nice, fresh and diverse albeit a wee bit expensive. Occasionally I may have had a fleeting thought about Dutch cheese but the imported stuff we get Down Under is just not the real thing. I just made do with what Australia offers. By the way NOT the plastic bricks that Australia dares to call cheddar.
Now back to the expat thing. When I was looking for a house in 2014 I saw villages that were overrun by expats. Some so bad that the French locals avoided certain times and places in their own town. Sad but true. A pity as these towns had appeal, hence all the expats who live there!
What kind of ‘expat’ do I want to be?
I like France for what it offers in many aspects. I like to meet all kinds of people – French, English speaking and other Europeans. ‘They’ say it is hard to integrate in French villages. I can tell you it would be just as hard hard in Dutch villages. You will be tolerated and accepted but you are never going to be one of them. That is the same all over the world, even in true ocker Australia. And to be honest, does that matter?
Since we own our house I have met and befriended several French people. According to some they are all from other areas in France than Limoux and surroundings. Well, again does that matter? They are also French after all.
I am sure my authentic Limoux French neighbours in opposite, next door and around the corner of our house have nothing against me living there. They greet me, some help me tremendously and even have keys to our house. I will never be one of them and I am not trying to be either. I am just friendly, make effort to speak and learn better French and live the way they live in Limoux.
My first steps as an expat
During the last week I have joined a couple of expats groups and I have met some lovely people from a variety of countries. I like that but I will make sure that is not going to be my only network in France. And I am sure they don’t do that either. One of the things I have noticed in this area is that most imported people have made the effort to learn and speak French. Many of them had kids that grew up here and are french kids.
You would do yourself short by not being able to speak the local language. Still I have seen people complaining on forums about the life as an expat in France. It is not rare that they barely speak French after years of living in this country. Still they dare to complain that they could not integrate. Don’t make me laugh!
So to sum it up, here in France I am an expat because I have expatriated my home country voluntarily. For the rest I am a new resident of France who has come here to become part of the French lifestyle and enjoy this beautiful country. Anybody who crosses my path, from whatever background, will be part of that experience.
It is an adventure and I am looking forward to it a lot!
Feel free to sign up or spill something about your own experiences below!
Love to you all!