On Gossip, Misunderstandings, and Explanations

communicationI put myself in a difficult situation two years ago. I posted something on Facebook knowing that it might be misconstrued because of the timing and content. I thought I had been careful. I considered who would see it before posting it, and I thought I was in the clear. I wasn’t. Someone who I hardly knew saw it. She not only saw it, she shared it with a mutual friend, but someone who isn’t even on my Facebook friend’s list. I’m afraid she misrepresented me and the meaning of my words, because despite it not being a comment directed at anyone in particular, it was easily interpreted as such. Her sharing it resulted in me becoming the topic of a conversation in which I was not included…all based on assumptions and misrepresentations. I know she didn’t intend to cause harm, but harm was the result.

When I learned of this whole unfolding, at first I felt slightly embarrassed that I may have hurt anyone’s feelings. I was kicking myself for my carelessness. But then, I just got really angry. Whose right was it to share anything I posted to my friends? Whose right was it to then discuss my life, and why I might have posted it, all without checking in with me to see if it were the case? Gossip and I have never mixed well. I am always shocked to discover anyone is talking about me with others. I mean, what’s the fascination? Or is it simple deflection? If one is talking about others, one’s own messy personal life remains out of the discussion?

After this unfortunate incident, I had visions of news of this spreading through the small group of which I was a part. I imagined myself the subject of their speculations. It turned my stomach; I didn’t want to be talked about. I especially didn’t want anyone drawing erroneous conclusions about my motivations or feelings, all based on a rumor. I had a small window of opportunity to clear the air. Ironically (or if I’m honest, perhaps intentionally, life swept in and other things came up, closing that window, making everything even worse because it now appeared that not only was their perception of my post confirmed, it seemed I truly wanted nothing more to do with these women. While that wasn’t true when I wrote my post, it slowly became true for me once my trust was broken.

I asked myself many questions in my effort to process the event. Do I place myself in their company again? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Am I simply moving on and enjoy different company? Do I bring up the issue and attempt to iron out any grievances and misunderstandings? I’ve long since let the matter pass, somewhat unresolved.

But I have learned some things, the most obvious being to take more care with what I post on Facebook or elsewhere. I had to even debate with myself about writing this post! But I’m a writer. This is what I do. This is how I process. Maybe my only failing was in letting it all slide, ignoring my power to change the outcomes. While I can’t always prevent others from taking things I might say personally or in the wrong manner, I can do what is necessary as soon as possible to correct their perceptions. Maybe I should have confronted things immediately, including my anger at my privacy being betrayed. Live and learn.

I’d love to hear from others how they feel about gossip. Do you consider it normal, neutral, harmful, cultural? Have you ever been the subject of it? What was the outcome? Thanks for sharing!

Approaching Year Three – 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 ears. Rather, I’ll talk about the transformations of self that took place in 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!

 

 

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!

Shopping Reversals: An Expat Issue

baskets full of groceries clipart

When I first got to rural France, grocery shopping was a big disappointment. I came from a city with several natural foods stores, and I had very good eating habits. Coming here, though, my choices were severely limited. There weren’t as many organic foods available and finding decent gluten-free anything was a chore. Eventually, I scouted out some essentials and eventually found a couple of bio shops, but they were positively nothing like what I had been spoiled with in the states. With so little to choose from, my diet has become less diverse and not quite as healthy (but I’m working on that).

Recently, I took a short trip to the UK to attend a weekend event. Oh! The food available! From every nation! And the grocery shopping! Unreal! When I walked into Waitrose, I was in ecstasy and downright goofy with happiness. It was sweet grocery heaven. I was actually singing “Heaven, I’m in heaven and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak. And I seem to find the happiness I seek, when I’m shopping at the Waitrose down the street” as I walked up and down the aisles…mostly just looking.  It made several people look at me funny, but hey, my joy was THAT great. I was just so happy to see so many things! But as it was only my first night, I only need to grab some dinner and get back to where I was staying. So, I merely browsed with delight, really, wondering if the crowd around me had any sense of appreciation for the marvel that spread out before them.

lady shopping at grocery store clipart

My weekend event was all day and quite intensive. I barely had an appetite to eat during our lunch breaks and wasn’t all that hungry come dinner time either. So with great frustration, despite being surrounded by every possible type of restaurant on the face of the earth, I didn’t get to sample much. I didn’t really have time for any other shopping either although the stores were incredibly seductive. Where I live now, I count such a great deal on the internet…even for staples like decent toothpaste and epsom salts. Mind you, I’ve never been a big shopping person. In fact, I’ve always hated it. But living full-time in a shopping desert made me really appreciate all that was tempting me in London…right there for the buying.

Interestingly, when I found myself at a Whole Foods on my last day, in another rush to eat and get some things to take home, I found myself too overwhelmed. I was so unfamiliar with it all, and I didn’t know what I wanted. Ironically, I caught myself longing for my little local Intermarche and found comfort as I scanned the aisles and found French products! How’s that for reversal! Has living in rural France ruined me for life???

I think not yet, but I wonder what will happen if I stay here much longer!

Getting My Hands Dirty

Like many expats, finding myself in a strange land with none of the same resources and friends has inspired me to try new things. I recently tried my hand at ceramics at Les Bidoux, an art studio near Riberac, something I hadn’t done since I was child of around 10.

I had no idea that it would be so rewarding. Just getting my hands in the cool, earthy clay was a very pleasing experience. Slapping the hell out of it wasn’t half bad either, a move required to get the air bubbles out. (Marvelously therapeutic! But I won’t tell you who or what I thought about in that process.)

Jessie Mooy is the artist that runs the studio. I count myself truly fortunate to have her in my neighborhood…well, near enough. She’s not only very knowledgeable and helpful, she’s also an inspiring artist and turned out to be a kindred spirit. When I was considering taking the course with her, it was once I saw her website and artwork that I became truly excited. Her pieces are amazing!

I spent a month of Tuesday mornings with Jessie and two other women in the studio, driving about an hour each way. It was totally worth it. We all got on well and enjoyed one another’s company and artistic process. Dutch, English and some French was spoken…mostly English, though. Jessie always treated us to a tea break in her garden too which was nice…especially as the weather was just turning warmer.

mugnpot 2 better I think I really wanted to make sculpture right off the bat, but the teacher suggested that there were some basic techniques I needed to learn first. So the first thing I made was the little blue cup by pushing my thumb into a ball of clay and then using a manual wheel to shape it. outside one1 (Medium)

Afterwards, I learned to coil which resulted in the mug pictured here with an unintentionally-but nonetheless-ergonomic handle just right for my hand. It is a small thrill to drink my morning tea out of something I made myself!

For my third piece, I jumped right into sculpture; that resulted in my little fairy and snail statue which now sits on my front steps. Are they perfect? No. Does it matter? No. The fact is, I had fun. And I even want to do it again.

My husband and I joke now about my 100 mug, but of course, I got a lot more out of the lessons than a mug. I got to meet some lovely fellow-students, got to feel in control of something at a time when my life was feeling completely unrecognizable, learned a bit of technique and more importantly, discovered I wasn’t all that bad at it.

Pourquoi les Américains? Allow Me To Explain…

Turnaround is fair play! For years, American musical theatre goers have been singing, “I Don’t Understand the Parisiens”. Here’s the adorable Leslie Caron as Gigi:

Now, the Parisiens (or more generally, the French) are all “a-twitter” and asking “Pourquoi les Américains…”

I thought it would be fun (and hopefully not too depressing) to respond to some of their questions. So here goes…

Zee Française demande:

Pourquoi les Americains font pas l’effort de parler un minimum français quand ils sont en France alors que les français le font aux USA ?

— C.A Civil War soon † (@MarieL_Winixon)

Zee Americaine répond:

Because a lot of the time, when we DO try and speak French, the French person we’re talking to just comes out with English…or the English person across the room takes care of it for us. I doubt a”minimum” of French would ever satisfy anyone for long anyway. If we’re not fluent in a year, we apparently have a motivation problem…so I’ve heard. I know for a fact my doctor was not impressed with my ability to say “merci” during my full-blown panic attack, which by the way, was precipitated by a French lesson. Truth is, we expect the French to be more worldly and know a bit of English. Think of it as a compliment.

Zee Français demande:

Zee Americaine répond:

I’m so glad you’ve asked this question, Gogo! Consider it a science experiment brought to you by the bastards of adulterated food, coming soon (and actually already having infiltrated) a French grocery store near you. But it isn’t too late. Fight to ensure your country remains free of Monsanto and sugar as an additive in everything. Stay away from the American slop known as soda pop, white bread, and processed burgers. It may actually be too late, though. I see a lot more fat people in the grocery stores these days, their carts piled high with Coke, chips, and American brand names only a fool could love…and a McDonald’s in every city.

Zee Français demande:

Les afro-americians ont vote a 95% Obama. Pourquoi? Parce qu’il était chinois? Qui choisit en fonction de sa couleur de peau déjà ?

— Roland Mac Dana ﻥ ‏@skinnmacdana

Zee Americaine répond:

Um…who the f&#* else were they going to vote for? McCain/Palin? Romney/Ryan? And hey, they’ve been smart enough to disassociate themselves from Carson. So it can’t be all about color, dude.

Zee Français demande:

Pourquoi les Américains ne voient que des images made in US, que 93% n’ont pas de passeport et pensent être les rois du monde libre? Ploucs?

— HappyMan974 @HappyMan974

Zee Americaine répond:

Zee Français demande:

Pourquoi les américains votent Trump ?

— MBS @MattBSteer

Zee Americaine répond:

Pourquoi les francais votent Le Pen? Because many people the world over are incredibly ignorant. Ignorance doesn’t have a nationality.

Zee Française demande:

Les américans font beurre de cacahuette confiture alors pourquoi pas miel ?

Dove@Paloma_srz

Zee Americaine répond:

Ah, finally! A really important question and an intelligent suggestion. Maybe I’ll even try that tonight for a snack. Sounds yummy.

I have a question. Why don’t the French capitalize nationalities?

Virgin Expats – Don’t Panic; You’re Normal!

In my last post, I wrote about how living in a foreign country felt a lot like I imagined a fish out of water would feel…sputtering to breathe, violently flopping and groping for life, longing for the simpler days of the fishbowl.

The more I talk to fellow expats, the more I realize that many of the feelings I’ve experienced my first year in a new land are all too common. There is some relief in that. Actually, there’s a lot of relief in that because at first, I thought it was just me. I thought I was losing my mind!

So I write this post for fellow expats out there, men and women, who shared my starry-eyed hopes of an enchanting life abroad only to discover that the grass wasn’t really any greener, just different. If you have been or are now experiencing any of the following, don’t panic; you’re normal!

suitcase-clipartDo You Regularly Experience Complete Discombobulation?

I am not exaggerating here (maybe a little). Some days I wake up and feel like my head in where my elbow used to be and my toes are in my ears. I drop things, break things, burn things, forget things, don’t know what day it is, and stare out the window as I try to make sense of a list of things to do that might as well be written in Klingon. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if I was by nature an airhead. But I’m not! I’m a highly-efficient, organized Virgo! These things should not be happening to me!!! But they do. It’s all part of the “fish out of water” package. Everything here seems to take 5x as long to accomplish and at least 2x the effort. Setting up a simple account online, for example, requires Google translate, a keen intuition, and prayers that nothing times out before you can hit the “validate” button…assuming you can find it. It’s exhausting and frankly unnerving. Thankfully, some days are better than others. I live for those days. On the rest, I can only surrender.

Do You Feel Isolated & Alone?

I’ve read even expats in major cities complaining of loneliness and feelings of isolation, so I can’t blame it entirely on the fact that we’re living in the middle of nowhere. But I suspect it doesn’t exactly help! The thing is, even when you go to a market or join a group or whatever, you still might have a sense you don’t belong. Faces are unfamiliar, and even those you are getting to know are still much more distant than your friends and family back home, who themselves are receding in a dreamlike fashion. When watching others engaging warmly, it can bring on pangs of nostalgic longing and sadness. Such feelings rise, sometimes stay a bit longer than preferable, but they always fade. Many say the trick is to just get out there and meet people. But even that is not always an easy solution. Add the language barrier to the mix, and in fact, that solution is often just another problem. Maybe the only thing for it is to lean into the isolation and see what’s there and what it has to teach us.

Does Paralysis Strike?

There have been days, weeks even, when I knew I had to do something like decode a letter from the bank or try to make an appointment not knowing whether or not my communication attempt would result in success or not, but I just could not take action. Sometimes, I would experience so much anxiety that I would go through a kind of mental paralysis. My mind would just stop working completely. It was like an advanced stage of the discombobulation I mentioned. I couldn’t possibly do anything more than sip tea and watch Netflix. I wouldn’t even want to answer the phone when it rang and deal with yet another thing I couldn’t understand. The inability to move is a horrible feeling.  But you know what? It doesn’t last forever either. Strike while you are able and rest when you can’t. No biggie (albeit a tad scary).

Are You Having Unpleasant Thoughts & Emotional States?

Loss of identity (who you were) and lack of identity (who you are becoming) is a delicate place requiring an abundance of self-compassion, stillness, and self-care. It is all to easy for an anxious mind to create all kinds of painful stories of blame, mistakes, bad choices, and loss. When doubt enters, expats can be plagued with loneliness, sadness, helplessness, grief, shame, and withering self-confidence. We always have more going on that just a move, too. I, for example, was grieving a parent and entering a change of life and in a new relationship on top of leaving everything else and everyone behind. The stress of so much change spiraled out of control sometimes resulting in depression and despondency that I seriously had to claw my way out of. I didn’t have a lot of help to do it either. Part of me was ashamed to reach out to friends and family who would only offer advice and/or worry. But they couldn’t understand; only someone who had lived it could possibly understand. I tried to get some medical help, but I knew going in they would just try and medicate me, and I knew that wasn’t going to solve anything. So, I did a lot of praying. I also found an expat counselor to talk with, and WOW was that enlightening. She made it all so simple. I was in a process that others have survived before me; I wasn’t alone. And then one day, watching a Star Trek re-run, I just made a decision to refocus…be like a Vulcan and take the reins back from my mind and emotions. I couldn’t have done it before then. When the time was right, it just happened. I stepped over some invisible barrier and new from that day forward, though it would be an uphill battle, it was all up to me. What was I going to believe? What was I going to think? Where would I put my energy? Who would I become? Getting to that point, however, took just about one year.

Are you an expat, virgin or experienced? Would you add anything to this list?