Can you be a stranger in your own country? That is something I have been thinking about several times lately. Also a couple of things things happened this week that made me want to explore this topic a bit further.
Europe versus Australia
Considering the fact we are planning to return to Europe after having lived 25 years in Australia, it is to be expected that we feel like a stranger and have a niggle of doubt here and there. Call it the fear of the unknown, apprehension, being unfamiliar or out of touch with habits and customs in Europe.
As Australia is a multi cultural society, you can expect a diversity of cultures, habits and ways of doing things. Australia is also an easy society. It is not hard to find your way around and it accommodates newcomers in a pleasant way!
I can remember a different scenario when applying for a national security number in the UK. It took me days to get it which surprised me a lot. I had to return home a couple of times because I did not have all the documentation necessary. It was extremely hard to find out in advance what they wanted.
Also in the UK there is no faster access for Europeans so I was in long queues together with any other stranger that wanted to get this UK identity. The staff in the ‘Home Office’ , where you apply for such documents, was neither helpful, nor friendly or welcoming.
Australia on the other hand was well organised and is ‘mostly’ very welcoming to strangers. We managed to open an Australian bank account while still in the UK. They organised the exchange from pounds into dollars and when we arrived out Medicare card, health cover was waiting for us. So money and health, probably the most immediate necessities were a piece of cake.
In the eighties in England it took my husbands mum, who at that time worked in a bank, to bend some rules and to facilitate opening a bank account for me and to get me a cheque book. It was not easy and without her I probably would not have gotten a chequebook. At the time chequebooks were the way to pay for things.
Being a stranger in France
After buying a house in France we expected to feel overwhelmed with a stubborn bureaucracy. A system where you have to submit 8 copies for everything you want to organise. That is what most people warn you for in France. I know now that those people have no idea. It is just hearsay!
Yes, the bureaucracy in France is definitely a factor to reckon with but in my experience, it is also extremely organised if you are organised yourself. We bought a house, opened a bank account, got a phone line and internet, utilities, insurance and registered with the tax office. All within a couple of weeks and all in the French language.
The only hiccup that I encountered was that my French bank seem to have lost my bank card two times over. Until a clever bank assistant realised that there were bank cards with my husband’s name. This was despite the fact that I don’t use my husbands name. I did tell them that when I applied but they still insisted on putting his name on it.
Obviously in France it not normal to use your own ‘female’ name in official capacities. The funny thing is though that Keith is not even a card holder of this bank account yet, as they need to ‘sight’ him in person before they activate him as an account holder.
Being a stranger and health funds
With the view on Europe our biggest insecurity is the health fund issue. How do you do that? I have seen ads in France that promote health insurance for expats who live in France. As Europeans we can be insured in France but you have to have a job to start it off.
Our first adventure in France may be a house sit, so what happens then when it comes to health insurance. For people our age it is important to have a decent health cover.
I am sure there is a way as there always is. I just need to find out how. This is where France is a bit stubborn. It is hard to find out about things but once you have sussed them out, it is not that hard provided you prepare yourself. I am good at that. I am extremely thorough!
Although all these things may appear a bit daunting, I also find it very exciting. The insecurity makes it interesting and once you have figured out how to do things, it gives you a real sense of achievement.
A stranger in France
I can recall feeling like that in Limoux in 2014 when I had to kit out the house we had bought as a holiday let. The house needed to be connected to utilities and internet. And I had to find people who I could rely on such as a cleaner, a handy man and a key holder.
I managed to do that all within a month. It was quite a thrill, so much that I rewarded myself with an upgrade for my return flight to Australia. A very sweet memory!
I am sure that all will fall into place once we are in Europe. There is just that little niggle of fear to let go of all the things here and head to unfamiliar terrain. Some may say: “but you guys aren’t a stranger. You are British and Dutch so it can’t be that hard”.
True, but we left in the late eighties and countries in Europe have changed a lot. They are not familiar anymore. We know our way around a little bit but that is all. Fortunately there is Google who has an answer to most things nowadays!
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