Approaching Year Four – The Expat Experience

Well, I stopped blogging here since early last year, but a series of spammy notifications reminded me that this blog is still here. It also reminded me that an update may be in order.

When I look back at my pre-prep expat experience and my first three years abroad, I am reminded of the saying that it takes 5 years to fully adjust to life in a new culture. I can say for certain, at least in my own experience, that the first three became progressively easier. And that’s a damn good thing, too, because that first year was harder than anything I’ve ever lived through to the point where I wasn’t sure I would live. It’s something that friends and family will never be able to understand in depth. Only fellow expats really get the anguish that can come with an overseas move and all the outer and inner shifting involved.

I won’t rehash things I’ve already written about in those first two to three years. Rather, I’ll talk about the transformations of self that took place in the later part of the third year. From the bewilderment and complete disorientation of year one, to the depression and emptiness in year two, there arose a growing resolve in year three to stop resisting and accept everything.

Somehow, by some grace, I pulled myself up by the bootstraps. I fully resolved to cut the cords to the ghosts of my old life and my old self once and for all. I surrendered to the emptiness. I came to love the emptiness, in fact. I started to appreciate my situation, that I had what often felt like endless time to myself and an abundance of privacy, surrounded by nature. I began to use rather than fight against it all. I spent time doing yoga and more and more meditation. I pushed myself to experience things alone. I took pleasure in simpler things like preparing healthy food. And I gave thanks more and more for the fact that I answered to no one. My still-fairly-young marriage began to improve, too. We were laughing more. I was having more loving thoughts and appreciation for him, and that was being mirrored back.

Slowly but surely, things started to change of their own accord. But I couldn’t have rushed it. I couldn’t have controlled it at any point along the way. My only job was to allow and trust it. The expat life is its own process.

Now, so much has changed, and it seems as if by magic. I’m living a life I never, ever expected and truthfully enjoying it. Some outward manifestations of my internal change are that I became a yoga teacher, we got adopted by a kitten (despite my allergies), we have a new car (ba-bye stick shift and no air con!), I’m wearing glasses now, and my hair is short! I hardly recognize myself. And that’s a good thing, actually.

There was a part of me that simply didn’t want to be reinvented. But the expat life demands it. So, I’m grateful that I wasn’t “afraid to die” so to speak. It’s really no great loss. I tried to tell myself it was, that my life before moving to France was so perfectly wonderful. However, spending some time reviewing old journals helped me to see that the perfect life I was nostalgic over wasn’t so perfect after all. I had a lot of the same problems and feeling states back home. It wasn’t the outside world that needed to change. I did!




Everybody Do the Expat Limbo!

The day steadfastly approaches. Article 51 is about to be ratified. To give you an idea of the significance of this debacle, here’s how it leaves my husband and I in limbo:
1) My entire right to live here and work in France and travel within the EU is based on my marriage to an EU citizen
2) Stuart’s right to live and work here is based on being a British/EU citizen too; at least he can always return to the UK (just not necessarily with me as the foreign spouse!)
3) Stuart’s state pension is protected under Britain’s EU agreements; will they now change the rules?
4) Our income is primarily pound sterling which may plummet (as it has) or rise in relation to the euro. Who knows?
5) Depending on what decisions are made and how long they take to make them, we will not only not know our rights, we won’t know our options.
“They” say it is complicated. “They” have no idea! In a world where Brexit will never happen, Trump will never be president, US Citizens with the “wrong” religion are questioned before being allowed to enter their own country, and immigrants with valid visas and no crime history are refused entry, the only certainty is that nothing man-made will ever make sense.
Am I worried? No. Not really. Why worry about what I have no control over? But it does suck quite a bit…and we’re just one example of millions.

The French Health Care System: Carte Vitale

I’ve been writing recently about the wonderous ease of the French Health Care System, hailing it for the way it functions. Today, the “wonderous wheel” has ground to a halt. I feel like I’ve just woken into yet another bureaucrazy nightmare. I’ve written about several of those on this blog, sad to say.

It all started when several weeks passed, and I had yet to receive a reimbursement for a doctor’s appointment I had in early January. Reimbursements tend to happen fairly quickly, so I was getting concerned. Since I knew my French was not up to the task, I hired someone to help me out. images

You see, when I arrived here, I applied for my Carte Vitale as a dependent of my spouse. That process went fairly (and surprisingly) smoothly. But once I went into business, I was responsible for my own cotisations (taxes paid to healthcare) and no longer a dependent of my spouse. I never used my Carte Vitale that first year. Didn’t need to. I used it for the first time last year in the Fall. Ironically, I was reimbursed by check for a trip to my general doctor with no problem whatsoever. So why now all of the sudden was I not being reimbursed?

When my helper emailed me back saying I needed to apply for a new Carte Vitale, the card that coordinates the coverage, along with a copy of my translated birth certificate, I thought he might be joking. Birth certificate? They already have my birth certificate. That’s how I got the Carte Vitale I have now. But no. There was no joke.

He wrote: I just spoke to someone who works at La RAM. The Carte Vitale that you have worked last year when you used it – even though you had already registered as a micro-entrepreneur – because it takes them a certain amount of time to process the administrative change. They call this period a “temps de mutation”.

Damn mutants! Figures!

Turns out, the Carte Vitale I have now is no longer valid and still tied to my husband, despite the fact that it has my French social security number on it. Supposedly, it hasn’t been valid since opening my own business in January of 2016. Nevermind the fact that it has been OVER A YEAR, and they never mentioned anything to me this whole time. Nevermind that no one asked for anything in the correspondence that said, “Welcome to RAM.” Nevermind that I have an online account with them stating I am covered and that reflects my chosen general doctor. Nevermind that check I cashed with my reimbursement back in November.

No. Forget all that. Now I have to send them a translated birth certificate and my bank details. After some time, they will decide to send me yet another form I have to fill out and send with a copy of my passport with a new photo. After some time, they might process that and send me a new Carte Vitale. Seriously?????

So now, I am required to collect a pile of “feuille de soins” or papers that verify any medical treatments I receive in order to be reimbursed retroactively. Seriously?????

Ah, another day in the life in France.

Happy Anniversary to Moi: Two Years in France

Today marks a very special time for me. It was two years ago that I landed in France, newly shed of most of my belongings and all I’d ever known. I thought this would be the perfect time to reflect summarily on my experiences in these past two years.

Image Source: Flickr Photo by: Michael Wilson
Image Source: Flickr
Photo by: Michael Wilson

Year One:

Complete and utter disorientation. Bags always half-packed for home. Steadily devolving language skills brought on by overwhelming stress. Mountains of bureaucracy. Anxiety, depression, grief, loneliness, and despair. “Oh, God, what have I done???!” Inability to nurture self and relationships. Awkward dependence upon others and an unbelievably steep learning curve.

Year Two:

Dwindling bureaucratic challenges. Oscillation between optimism and pessimism, socializing and withdrawing. Rediscovering and redefining of self. Healing through turning inward. Knowing more of the language than I think I do and surprising myself on several occasions but still having zero confidence with it. Sick of being dependent, but still not able to do much about it. Trying to create opportunities and relationships; some take off, but most fall flat. “This will never work!” Every day I wake up, so every day I keep trying.

Year Three???

Well, I don’t know yet, obviously. But as I am still here, my intent is to dig my heels in, force myself to find more opportunities to integrate, do some things that scare the crap out of me, and refocus on the language in a more regimented way. To be honest, if it weren’t for the political situation in the US, I may very well have gone home by now where I know I can make a decent living and be surrounded by like-minded friends and community where I can solve all my problems IN ENGLISH!

But here I am, and here I remain, for as long as I do or am allowed, taking it one day at a time, dreaming a little bigger, using my energy in more effective ways, and simply remembering to practice gratitude, courage, resilience, and opening to possibility. Oh, and French!

A Post-Inaugural Philosophical Contemplation

Image Source: Flickr Photo by: Thomas Hawk
Image Source: Flickr
Photo by: Thomas Hawk

Last year, before the presidential election in the US, I was becoming fiercely political. I was right up there with the best of them, alienating friends and relatives on Facebook with my posts and comments about the candidates, the events at Standing Rock, and myriad other issues plaguing my country of origin.

After the election, something happened to me. I became disgusted. But it wasn’t that I was so much disgusted with the outcomes and statuses of events (I was, but that’s not so important) so much as I was simply disgusted with the impulse inside that demanded I hold an opinion of everything. I was tired too…of being on the lookout for “critical information” to share and tired of scrolling through what others evidently thought was “critical information” too. I was exhausted of judging other people’s sanity, shocked by the sudden character changes, and completely wiped out by feeling disappointed in them. I couldn’t bear one more shaming, name-calling comment, even if it wasn’t directed at me and even if it was directed at “the other side”.

With such feelings came my decision to abstain from Facebook for a while. I’ve limited my usage to business and essential research. I’ve stopped personal posting and stopped commenting on friend posts. It feels antisocial. It feels like cheating, too, somehow, because the whole point of social media is to be…well…social. But it is something I had to do.

I have to say, my peace of mind has certainly improved. Is that because my head is in the sand or because I’ve found an entirely different sand box to play in? My new sandbox is the life in front of me here and now…the only one I really belong in and the only one in which I can really exert any change.

Maybe I’ve disappointed or even shocked some people with my withdrawal and apparent lack of concern. So many of my friends have gone…what’s the right word…fanatical? Ape-shit? Zealous? I can’t go there. I don’t want to and I can’t. The future is always unknown. Fear and anxiety can eat us alive if we let them. Anger and righteousness can poison our blood. So I’m practicing equanimity. I’m practicing doubt of my own certainties. I’m practicing being the observer.

That isn’t to say I wouldn’t stand up and defend either my own rights or the rights of another if the opportunity presented itself in my sandbox. I hope I would, even if it was dangerous. But creating a situation that doesn’t exist yet because it could…that’s just kinda nuts, in my opinion. Living as if the worst has already happened is certain to make it reality.

It isn’t that I don’t approve of certain movements or ideologies, whatever value my approval might hold for someone. It’s that I’ve chosen to bless both my friends and my so-called enemies. Why not? We all want what we want. Marching, demonstrating, power plays and fighting isn’t going to suddenly change that. Is the eternal solution to the difference of opinion oppressing the other? That is no alternative at all.

I simply can no longer identify myself within the small boxes we are permitted nor base my actions and passions on those lines; the division game has no winners. I’m a woman, but I don’t identify myself as a woman. I’m white, but I don’t identify myself as white. I’m not gay, but I don’t care if someone is. I’m not Muslim, but I can respect the Muslim faith. I’m an American in France, but I don’t think of myself as American or French or anything really. I’m a human (and even that is questionable on some days), and just like every other human, I want to live a life free of fear. I don’t want to waste my time having to be outraged at the fear others create. I just want to live and be free. How can that be possible if I myself want to impose my ideals and beliefs upon others? It is a very tight rope we walk, proclaiming a desire for peace and fairness while we make fun of and humiliate those that are different from us.

I feel for ALL people who are suffering. What people often fail to see is that the s0-called enemy is suffering too. I want for there to be wisdom and peace in this world. I want humanity to rise above itself and create a beautiful world.

Postnote: I just found this awesome video with Byron Katie, and it is so topical to this post and where I’m coming from that I had to come back here and share it.

The French Health Care System Part VIII: That Was Close!

I was supposed to have had an MRI the first week of January. As I started to think about it though, it wasn’t making intuitive sense to go through with it. I realized that my specialist might not share the views of my general doctor and think it was unnecessary. I also wondered if the heart specialist I was scheduled to see several months later would also want an MRI. The thought of having to live through the procedure twice was too much for me. So, despite the effort required to make the MRI appointment, I ended up canceling it.ah_ha

For the sake of the story, I’ll share the appointment-making process. I tried calling the nearest hospital, but they said they didn’t do MRI’s, so I called one of the hospitals in the larger city nearby. Somehow, I managed to communicate with the receptionist what I needed. Via email (and with several trusty online translators at my side), we coordinated paperwork. When I didn’t hear back a couple of weeks later, and with my specialist appointment looming, I emailed to enquire. Apparently, they had made me an appointment the week I’d first contacted them, but I never got the email confirmation! Good thing I checked. At any rate, my appointment was going to be the day before my specialist appointment, probably not soon enough to get the results to her. That was my first indication to rethink things.

The appointment confirmation email came with a long list of “fun” preparatory instructions. They weren’t all that difficult, but just reading them made me queasy. There was also a prescription for something to clean me out the day before, another reason to resist the joys of medical tests. I will never understand why one is told to take something chemical to do what something natural could accomplish just as easily. It’s the pharma-mentality, I guess.

Canceling turned out to be a good choice. The specialist I saw in Bordeaux didn’t feel an MRI was warranted. I’m SO glad I followed my gut feeling on that one!

At least I finally got to see Bordeaux. Since it’s an hour and a half drive, we went for the day. After parking and then asking a couple of people for directions, we had an indescribably horrible lunch (it happens) because the vegan restaurant we wanted to go to was closed for some “time off”. (How French!) I left my meat-infested salad on my plate and was told “sorry” by the waitstaff, but they weren’t sorry enough to take it off the bill. To be fair, they offered me another item off the menu, but by then, I had thoroughly lost my appetite. Fortunately, there was a fruit stand a few steps from the restaurant where I was saved by a couple of Clementine oranges and some Medjool dates.

We did manage to take in a museum and gallery before the doctor. I was thrilled to find that one of my favorite painters was on exhibit at the gallery. That was a stroke of luck that made up for lunch!


The French Health Care System Part VII: Summary and Next Steps

I feel like now would be a great time to summarize my experiences so far under socialized medicine. Bear in mind my lens is one that compares my fortunately meager-though-life-long experience in the states with what I am going through now in France. Also bear in mind I live in the countryside; no doubt an experience in a larger city might not resemble my own documented throughout these posts. Generally speaking though:

  1. Everything costs less.
  2. Care is more congenial though not necessarily punctual or private (or cutting edge–that said, my generalist seems very open to research presented).
  3. Prescriptions and necessary tests are generously bestowed.
  4. Wait times for an appointment to see a specialist can be just as long here as anywhere.
  5. There is no centralized system of information, it seems, so one just carries her entire medical history around from one appointment to the next. That said, it would follow that it is up to me and me alone to make sure anyone I see knows all the facts.
Surgeon Wearing Scrubs And Mask
Surgeon Wearing Scrubs And Mask

The most annoying things about needing medical attention here are the same annoyances everywhere…the appointments, the driving around, the waiting. Here, there’s the language issue. But there, there’s the exclusionary and excessive costs. Here, there’s a certain laissez-faire attitude, but in the states, there’s that impersonal assembly line. So far, this leads me to put socialized medicine way ahead. Will that hold true?

The next step for me is an appointment with a GYN, which I was finally able to make with one in Bordeaux, in January. (Hey, not bad! Only a month away!) She speaks English, and though I was recommended to a couple of others closer to home, the language thing definitely influenced my choice. Medical stuff is stressful enough without a language barrier. Besides, having tried to make appointments with others and not being able to get through on the phone, I was happy to finally get a human on the other end of the line and just book.

I’m still in the midst of making my MRI (IRM here) appointment at the nearest hospital that offers it. I had a truly ridiculous Franglish conversation with the appointment person via phone, and we ended up moving the conversation to email which works better for me. I had to fill out a questionnaire saying I had no implants or metal parts, etc, etc., and now I’m simply waiting to here back. I’ve heard that MRI’s can take weeks to get here, but maybe not so much again in the country vs. city. We shall see. Fingers crossed it all goes smoothly and with plenty of time before my doctor’s appointment in January.

UPDATE: Finally arranged the MRI. It’s a good thing I followed up because the receptionist said she had emailed me my appointment a week ago; I never received it! She claimed it probably went to spam, which it did not, so I don’t know what happened. At any rate, I have an appointment in January (so four weeks away), and thankfully, the day before my specialist!