La Vie en Noir

{PART OF THE MEA CULPA SERIES OF POSTS _ where I post things I should have written a long time ago… yeah…that’s on me. Apparently I reposted this in Dec 2019 during my MEA CUPLA series…but this one was tagged 2011 so it showed up not as a new post.}

{{{This is a post I apparently wrote in 2011, while living in France. Not sure if it was intentional, but I never published it to the blog. So here it is. Despite really wanting to edit it now, I left it exactly as I found it, except for one typo’d sentence that was really unclear. I decided to let my 2011 self speak for himself.}}}}}

So I’ve had two people comment that from the sounds of this blog – all is rosy in La France.  It’s probably true that I have at some level not sounded off about what bothers me more about living here. That probably comes from just by being an ex-pat in a foreign country you tend to bump into lots of others here as a non-native.  And if there is one thing that seems to come easy in that situation is all too often a rather scathing,  often unending, critique of the French, their culture, the way they drive, their bureaucracy, the schools etc. etc.

I have made a very conscious effort since arriving here to try to disallow myself from falling into that trap for two reasons:

  1. the French didn’t invite me here – I chose to come
  2. the French didn’t ask for my input – it’s their country

There are I think a number of mitigating factors that make living in France quite enjoyable.

One – we’ve lived here before – so we kind of knew what we were in for with some things.  We knew what to be prepared for, remembered what kinds of things tended to be annoying last time – and set our expectations accordingly.

The second factor is that while France is a very foreign place compared to Edmonton – it’s not the kind of place where I stick out like a sore thumb as I would in South-East Asia, or in Africa.  If you were to see me walking down the street – I would (at least I think) look no more out of place than I do back home. Perhaps a bit above average height – but that’s about it. We could be from here – and it’s not until people actually hear us speaking that they know we’re not from here. And even then – there are lots of expats etc living in the Grenoble area – so it’s not likely we’re the first people that someone has run into that does not have French as their first language.  There are lots of North African Arabs in the city, the Universities attract a lot of African and Asian students – so I imagine me being here is nothing like a tall white dude walking around downtown Kampala.

I think the other thing to me that makes a lot of the issues more tolerable – is that in a lot of ways the things that can be annoying – are often just massive pendulum swings of things that I find annoying about North American culture.

Here: the customer hardy seems right  – but back home I find “the customer is ALWAYS right” to breed a fake sense of appreciation by store clerks, lots of entitlement by customers, and a generally synthetic exchange between the two.

Here you seem to have to wait in line, all the time, for a long time, for no apparent reason – it is really maddening.  However, this causes me to think about how everything back home MUST be done as soon as possible, in the least amount of time, in the fastest possible manner – no matter what.

Yes- the bureaucracy here is astounding, the time delay and paperwork required to get anything done (we still don’t have our French health coverage etc – which we started applying for last September) is at times beyond what can be imagined. However, I have yet to meet a French person who does not share that frustration.

So yes, there are a  number of things that I find difficult about living here – but in all honesty a lot of it is not living here specifically – but being outside of my comfort zone, being in a foreign place, living someplace where things do not come naturally, my reflexes and instincts more often fail, and the obvious answer to me usually does not apply.