Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Boats along the Seine in Paris
It's been about 3 months since I left France and returned to the US, giving me a bit of time to reflect on my experiences as I readjusted to my old way of life.  While it might sound strange, after having lived abroad for 9 straight months, you actually undergo a sort of reverse culture shock when you come home.  You'd think that it would be rather easy to just slide back into your old routine, but you just spent 3/4 of a year getting really good at adapting to life elsewhere, and now you get to forget all that and transition back into your home culture.  

Basically everything changes...

1. My primary language shifted from French back to English.  While you might think that this would be a relief, I spent about 2 weeks searching for specific English words to use in conversation when my French words would be the first to come to mind.  My friends and family would find it humorous most of the time (myself included!), but it could be frustrating knowing I had the means to express what I wanted to say yet it would mean nothing to the people I was conversing with...which is basically the same problem I had when I first returned to France, yet in opposite languages.  For example, I was trying to explain the beauty of Paris' many parks and gardens to my friends from back home, and ended up saying "Paris has such beautiful jardins" (French for 'garden', but in this instance I said "jarred-ins"...whoops!).  While this isn't a huge problem and ultimately doesn't last for long, it's still a strange feeling to have to search for your words in your mother tongue!   

A cool marble hallway in Versailles
2. Social cues are different here.  After having perfected the art of avoiding eye contact with strangers (lest you care to be constantly cat-called in the street), upon returning to the US I realized just how friendly Americans are, always offering a friendly smile and greeting even to those they don't know.  While this is just one of a myriad of examples, basically the way you go about handling many of the social situations you'd encounter over the course of a day is quite different between our two countries.

Rooftops in the village of St-Emilion
3.  Food and drink.  Most days in France I wouldn't start cooking dinner til 7pm or later and finally sit down to eat a leisurely meal around 8, and back at home we eat quite regularly at 5:30.  And boy, do I miss my French wine!  There's no such thing as a $3 bottle of delicious wine back here at home, and it certainly isn't acceptable to drink it all throughout the day (especially on your lunch break at work) like it is in France...America has some catching up to do in that department!

A delicious tower of macarons
4. Things are open on Sunday! While Sundays in France (and most of Europe, for that matter) are truly days of rest - as nothing is open! - the US treats Sundays like any other day of the week.  You can get your grocery shopping done, buy some clothes, and even might have to work on Sundays here.  Gone are the days of lazing around the house and strolling through the park, we've got things to do on Sundays.

Strolling through Place des Quinconces in Bordeaux
5. The US leads such a sedentary lifestyle.  As I didn't have the luxury of having a car of my own in France, I spent lots of time walking to get my errands done.  Need a few things at the grocery store? You'll be walking.  Going to the movies? Better get walking.  How bout picking up some stamps at the post office?  Lace up those sneakers.  Got a week's worth of laundry to do?  Have fun hefting your laundry basket into town!  That being said, I definitely got in shape by getting everywhere on foot, but I sure do appreciate having my car at home, especially when the weather forecast isn't favorable.  In Forbach, I lived real close to the town center and most of the things I needed were all clustered together, whereas in Westfield I would surely have to walk for hours to get all my errands done as cities in the US are much more spaced out.

Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris
6. The French work to live, while Americans live to work.  (This was probably one of the hardest things to go back to!)  In France, the work week consists of a mere 35 hours, and full-time workers are guaranteed at least five weeks paid vacation.  My job was only part time (12 hours per week) and I enjoyed 8 weeks of paid vacation time.  That means I worked an average of only about 36 hours per month...crazy, huh?  Back at home, I had to kick it into serious overdrive. Here, I work 2 part-time jobs, putting in about 25 hours per week working customer service at a grocery store, and then waitressing for around 12 hours on the weekends.  So basically I work as much in one week as I did in an entire month while living in France.  The French really know how to enjoy the finer things in life, and it'd be nice if we had some more time in our week here in the US to do the same!  

Obviously, I could spend all day expanding this list, but these are just a handful of the larger cultural adjustments I've faced!  Travelling in general is really eye-opening as it not only gives you first-hand insight into other cultures, but gives you a chance to reflect upon your own culture as well.  Sometimes you see things done in another country and wish that it was like that at home too, and other times you decide that you prefer how things are done where you're from.  The best advice I could give anyone is to simply keep an open mind.  Different things aren't necessarily bad things, and you'll never know what you might be missing out on unless you go out on a limb and try something new.  

Place de l'Hôtel de Ville in Paris
With all that being said, you're probably wondering what my overall impressions were regarding my 9 months abroad...

Did I like living in France? You bet!  I can wholeheartedly say France is my "home-away-from-home," a land with a beautiful language, chock full of culture and gastronomic pleasures.  Day-to-day nuisances aside, I'd move back there in a heartbeat.

Did I like my job? Some days were better than others, but I went into the job knowing I didn't want to be a teacher for the long-term, and came out of the job feeling the same way.  That being said, my job afforded me opportunities to meet and work with a variety of new people, gave me a free place to live, and paid me enough to do some serious travelling.  Let's say it was a means to an end!

Would I do it again?  The jury's still out on this one.  I ended up with a pretty sweet set-up, getting a fully-furnished apartment in a town with a train station (a.k.a. a way to get out!).  Some people I met weren't so lucky, struggling to find a place to live and then paying through the nose to afford to stay there, or essentially being stuck in a tiny village with no easy way to travel from it.  I'll be eligible to re-apply for the program again next year, but unsure as to if I actually would want to take that all on again.
All in all, it was a whirlwind 9 months of working, travelling, meeting new people and making lots of new discoveries - and I wouldn't trade it for a thing! Time will only tell where the wind will take me next...car la vie est ailleurs!

One of Musée d'Orsay's giant clock windows


  1. Very nice and beautifull images you posted in here, and good writing as well.

    Turkey Tours

    1. Merci beaucoup, Edgar! Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Hi

    My name is Joyce, I am a marketing executive at expatfinder.com which is a leading expat information and services website.

    I saw on your blog that you are and expat. I wish to interview you to further share some of your tips. The questions are mainly about the housing, the daily life etc.
    It just takes 5 minutes (or more depending if you have lots to say :)
    Of course, if you accept we can add a link to your blog or some of your website. 
    If you are interested to participate at this project, please send me an email at interview@expatfinder.com.