tiistai 11. huhtikuuta 2017

Time for new goals

The village where I work: L'isle sur la Sorgue

It has been one year and nearly 1 month since we arrived to France and I started this journey of adaptation and building a new life. When we hit the one year mark, I was trying to evaluate my progress and decide if I had accomplished a decent amount of things. Had I improved enough my French? Had I pushed my boundaries hard enough? Or had I avoided stepping too far from my comfort zone? At first I felt like I was exactly the same as when I first arrived. Time seemed to have gone by so fast that I could possibly not have made much progress in anything. But when I really thought about it, I remembered last summer:  working on my first job, going to French lessons, fighting with the administration and preparing our wedding. And then in the autumn I attended a receptionist course, followed by a successful internship. 

I have certainly been pushing my boundaries. I wonder though if my impatience, perfectionism and need to get everything done right away played a part in creating my burn out at the end of last year. I am not a religious person, but on some level I'm always looking for signs to guide me in life. And I have believed that by following one's intuition and putting in maximum effort, the universe will reward you.  A lot of things happened that made me question this perception of life: the hotel of my internship betrayed me, Pôle Emploi told me I had abandoned their course and I was humiliated in a job interview for my French. I was hit hard because they were outcomes of three things that I had been aiming to get right for several months. In the end everything I had worked hard for seemed to fail and I was left with the question: now what??

It was time to take a deep breath and do absolutely nothing for a while. I did crochet. I played video games. I drank wine. Then I took the decision to stop trying to get a job that would make sense with my degree. I accepted that I am not a super human and I just cannot pick up where I left off in Finland. We started looking for manual jobs such as fruit picking, factory jobs and dish washing. As I mentioned in one of my recent posts, I had a job interview in a restaurant where the boss looked like a captain of a pirate ship. Well, I got the job of a dish washer there and I have now been working a few weeks. The contract is for the season and this will help us to achieve an other goal we have set for me: enrolling in the University of Avignon to study French. I have come far by myself in terms of learning the language, but it's time to get to the next level. The whole academic year costs about 2500 euros and I intend to save up that money, shift by shift, by washing dishes.

My first year of being an expat has taught me this: if the first plan doesn't work out, just re-evaluate the situation, set the goal and start working towards it. 

maanantai 20. maaliskuuta 2017

How living in France has changed me

And how meeting my French husband has changed me. Let's remember that before I fell head over heels in love with him, I would have told you that I have no desire whatsoever to visit France or mingle with its people. Shame on me for having been so prejudiced, but needless to say, that's no longer the case! Having lived now in this country of baguette and cheese lovers (and having become one myself), I do notice that slowly but steadily me and my lifestyle are experiencing quite a metamorphosis. 

"I could never speak French"

Prior to meeting my husband, I had had ONE French language course at school. All I remember is that me and my friends could not stop giggling and laughing out loud at how bad we were. We wanted to be good and on paper we were okay, but it was the actual speaking part that felt impossible. I was obsessed about trying to pronounce the French 'r' properly. All the throat sounds and nasals were also unattainable at the time. The language of love is hard on the mouth! You have to literally retrain your mouth to be able to produce all the new sounds. I have proven my old self wrong and I am now able to tell people that you can learn to speak French. It takes time for the mouth to learn the new movements and develop the muscles, but eventually anybody can do it. A key for me also was to find the best way for me to pick up the language. I get very bored if I have to study from a textbook. Even researches have shown that it is not, in fact, the most efficient way to learn languages. Obviously just being physically in the country where the language is spoken helps enormously, but you can still fail. My best tip is to always listen even if you don't understand. As a human being you have the natural ability to learn by observing. By active listening and observation, you will learn even without realizing it.

"The French are rude"

Yet another crushed prejudicial thought I used to have in the past. Ask me now, what I think of the French and I will tell you how they are actually some of the most polite people in Europe. They will be rude to you though if you do not follow some basic rules of common courtesy: 

1. Always greet people (in French).
2. When addressing people, always start with French language even if you know only a few words. When they see you tried, they will feel more comfortable to try and speak English.
3. Don't forget to say Merci and s'il vous plaît.

What makes the French so great for me is their humanity even when they are on duty and the rules would advice them to do otherwise. The foreigners who have visited Finland know all too well how the Finns will not make exceptions for anybody as "the rules are the rules." In France I have several times been saved by kind people on duty who were willing to help me despite of everything. Once I was getting on the bus and wanted to buy a ticket from the driver. He told me it is not possible as the tickets are available only inside of the station (it was quite far). I told him that he was probably going to have to leave without me then and I started to make my way out of the bus. The driver called me back and made me a sign with his hand to get back on. The ticket would have cost 8 euros and this man broke the rules to make my life easier. This would never ever have happened in Finland!

"I eat just a sandwich or a yogurt for dinner"

To be honest, despite of everything else, this is one of the biggest lifestyle changes I have made after moving to France. In Finland we are not used to eating a big family dinner that lasts for hours and includes everything from starters to dessert. During the first months that me and my husband were accommodated by his parents, I gained easily 1 to 2 kilos weight per month. The French start their dinner with apéro around 7 pm and about an hour later it is time for the main course accompanied often with wine. In the end, before the dessert, the cheese box will be fetched from the fridge. The length of the whole dinner can vary from 1 to even 3 hours. Despite of the first shock and my sore butt muscles, I have grown to appreciate it as a great way to keep the family close and everybody updated on what's going on in each other's lives. I have also become dependent on the apéro. The whole experience is just not the same without it! Especially now that the weather is warm and we can have glasses of rosé and snack on olives in the garden.

No more heavy makeup

The company makes one alike. My husband used to always tell me how he finds that girls in Finland wear tremendous amounts of makeup. When we moved to France I started to understand what he meant: the French girls use a minimal amount of foundation and nobody has fake nails, hair or eyelashes. In Finland most girls don't stick to their natural hair color either, but in France anything unnatural is not considered chic. I used to wear twice more makeup and I have even stopped dyeing my hair. My whole approach on beauty has changed as the true key to the French chic is simplicity. Now I can even spot a foreigner on the street based on how much makeup they are wearing! Less is truly more for me these days even though I am yet to reach the ultimate level of chic as for social meetings in restaurants and bars I am still the one wearing the most makeup.

Greeting is obligatory!

I seriously think now that failing to greet someone is a clear sign of hostility. And I come from Finland where it is normal to pretend you don't know your work colleagues or class mates when encountering them in public places. In France you will say bonjour to a big bunch of people that you would never even look in the eyes in my home country. If you pass someone on the streets and your eyes lock: say hello. If you step into a doctor's waiting room: say hello to everybody. Even when entering a restaurant you can greet the people in the neighbor tables. And when you leave, you'll wish people a good day. When we moved to our current house, our neighbors used to never greet us during our brief encounters. Not greeting your neighbor in France basically means: "I hate you." Now they have changed their mind (after deciding apparently that we are not after all a bunch of thugs) and they say bonjour when passing by.

In collaboration with:

Living in France

maanantai 13. maaliskuuta 2017

Job hunting & the long way home


It's been a while and I think it is time for a little life update. I have been mainly working on myself and most of all: feeling better. As I mentioned a while back, I have finally quit the nasty cigarettes and that has been helping me to feel stronger both mentally and physically. Of course, there are the symptoms that come with quitting, but the coughing, shortness of breath and old cigarette taste in the mouth just enforce the feeling that this is the right thing to do. Yay! Apart from that, my husband and I have made it a habit to go have a walk every morning right after waking up. And you wouldn't believe what a huge difference 30 minutes in the fresh air moving your body can make. We have so much more energy and especially for me it has been a big mood booster. Not to mention that it helps with weight loss! Which brings me to my new diet...I have been more consistent with my meal times and with what I actually eat. Before I might eat my first meal of the day sometime in the afternoon (too lazy to eat), but now I take care to get all the nutrition I need in the day. I also focus on following in general the principles of clean eating. All that is going great, but I must admit my biggest struggle is with le vin!! Wine is life, but I'm working on that haha! And I do also love the apéro, but now we eat vegetables with a dip instead of chips and bread sticks :)

When it comes to work..I had another interview today and this time in L'isle sur la Sorgue. I have recently been looking for just simple jobs to do while I'm working on my french. I'm bored of staying at home and slooowly leveling up my language skills. I want to do at least something and also preferably be left alone considering my french for now. So I applied for a dish washer's position and after today's interview they will let me work one day as a test with them. Basically after the first day I'll be fired or hired. The hard part is that they have a loot of customer places and I'm expected to be done with the dishes at the same time as everybody else is done with their work. Also, the boss looks like he could be the captain of a pirate ship. Sometimes my life really surprises me...

After the interview I made my way to the train station of the village. I noticed there were men driving with a big ass tractor back and forth the train rails and I was just there guessing that they will give way to the train once it arrives. There were nobody telling us otherwise anyway. Well, there I am waiting and I spy a japanese adventurer looking quite lost with his big backpack. I get an itch to chat with him in japanese, but I feel shy so I decide to mind my own business. I hear the announcement for my train and make my way towards the rails, but...the tractor is still making mayhem there. My instinct tells me that this is again one of those things. You know, there is a crazy arrangement that nobody tells you until you ask the dutiful, hardworking employees of the place. At this point I find out that the japanese dude is two inches from my face and tries to ask something without realizing that he is talking half english, half japanese. I get so nervous that I just stare him mouth open, because I want to speak japanese, but I'm looking so hard for the words. Poor man takes this as a rejection and apologizes in three different languages. I finally get my shit together and explain to him in japanese with a french accent (??) that it seems like we'll not be having any train arrive today. I ask at the counter and find out that there's a bus actually arriving in two minutes to take us instead. At this point I feel like such a genius as I maneuver the situation in three different languages, making sure that the japanese adventurer also finds to his destination. 

When the bus finally came and I had specifically told the dude where I'm going, what followed was a veeery long trip home. As the bus arrived to my village, I pressed the "stop" and was expecting the driver to slow down at any moment: okay...stop there...oh, maybe the next one,..there? no?..fuck...we are out of the village. So I made it all the way to Avignon in the end until I was able to get out :D There I became a victim of the "works today, tram tomorrow" mayhem and found out that the bus line that used to go to my village leaves from a different (unknown) stop these days. In the end I had to alert my father in law to graciously come to save me. Instead of a 15 minute trip back home, I was finally at my house 4 hours after the interview 😆😆😆

So that's what's up! See you soon!

Ps. The cats are doing well also. Manu brings us lots of birds and rats as gifts and Noki enjoys his comfy indoor life ^^

tiistai 21. helmikuuta 2017

5 things to expect as an expat

A lot of expat stories start with falling in love. I have always been one not to hesitate making sacrifices in order to make things work out. In a lot of ways I didn't know what I got myself into when I decided to start a new life from a scratch abroad. Here's my top five of the things I got a slap straight in the face from!

1. You will make a lot of papers. A lot. And then some more.

I had heard rumors that France is the promised land of bureaucracy, but how bad can it really be? Right? I'm glad I had no idea of the battles we were yet to face, when I first started this journey. The process goes somewhat like this: search what papers are needed, obtain all documents, get the documents officially translated into French, pay 50 euros (at least) for the translations, send the documents, they get lost on the way or at arrival so you'll just repeat all the previous steps. When the file finally reaches its destination, prepare to hear that you will actually have to obtain about 20 documents more. If your choice of host country is France, make sure you have a local to help you with all the legal hassles. Even with a French by your side, the process to have everything legally in order takes an average of two years. 

2. The culture shock is no joke

I told myself that, come on, I'm moving 'just' to France. It's in Europe! How different can it be? I was so wrong. Culture shock touches every single person. No matter the destination or where you come from. Try to prepare yourself mentally for what's to come. This way you'll not be like me, who realizes in the middle of the crisis stage that turning your life upside down might actually have some mental consequences. There's not much you can do to avoid experiencing the symptoms of a culture shock to some degree, but you can be warned by educating yourself on its effects beforehand. Read other people's experiences of living in your future host country. Start studying the language as soon as you can (if you don't master it already). 

3. People don't understand your struggle

This goes for people back at home as well as for those who you meet in your new country. You are making a lot of efforts to build your life: learn the language, get a job and build social connections. You think you deserve some compassion and people surely want to hear about your struggles. The reality is that many will think that you do not have the right to 'complain' for the choice you have made. People who have never done something as difficult as trying to start over in another country (many cannot even move away from their home town), can't sympathize with what you are going through. They say things that are shockingly unthoughtful. I will never forget how one person told me two weeks into my first visit in France: "You know, you will never learn French if you don't speak it." At the time I hardly knew any French and I was just working hard to learn it. You can't just simply speak a language if you have no idea how to put a sentence together. This is just one example of people not having any idea of what it is to be in your shoes. If I told this person the same about my native language or English, the answer would be that I am being completely ridiculous.

4. The world is no longer the same

When I lived in Finland I used to think very differently about a looot of things. I used to think we have this and this thing going so great...and now I might think the complete opposite. Travelling broadens the mind, but becoming an expat can turn the world upside down for you. In Finland I was never particularly into politics, but now if you asked me, I would say that if you don't care of politics you must be quite a fool. France has enforced my belief in fighting for your rights even if the odds are not in your favor. Even though I have absorbed a lot of french believes and characteristics, I'm still all the time pointing out things that "would never happen in Finland." At least nothing seems to be black and white anymore.

5. Your relationships will change

The truth is that expat life shows you which of your relationships are worth keeping and which were rotten from the beginning. The tricky part is that your experiences will surely change you in one way or another and in the other hand, life keeps on moving forward back at home also. Other ties will be enforced, others broken and some will just feel no longer the same. But it is all okay. Everything happens for a reason and you will find the people that will belong in your life.

keskiviikko 15. helmikuuta 2017

Le culture shock

To be honest, I have never really considered culture shock as a thing that could happen to me. That's how all mighty I see myself! Still, it happened to me in Japan and I have finally admitted that I am dealing with it right now. More specifically the second stage. It goes by many names: the crisis, negotiation, frustration etc. all which describe very well my feelings right now. 

The stage before the crisis is called 'honeymoon' and you just basically enjoy all the new experiences and everything seems great. Little by little you realize anyway that you didn't come here to be on a vacation and things start to feel less exciting. The crisis stage kicks in when we are dealing with big or small challenges on a daily basis. On the long term this just gets tiring and we start to reject the host culture. Our perception of our surroundings is negative and we tend to compare things all the time to how they were back at home. It's common to feel frustrated, anxious, hostile, home sick and stressed. In this stage the expat often prefers isolation and being alone. 

If you have been reading my recent posts, it is actually quite obvious what I am suffering from. I was just so oblivious to it, as always. The good news is that this melancholy I have been experiencing is completely normal. This is just part of the process and there are other, better stages, to come. Since I'm dealing with a lot of anxiety and stress right now, I have made it a priority to take as good care of myself as possible. I have finally stopped smoking, started regular exercise and remarkably improved my diet. I stop expecting things to happen right now and accept the fact that things take time and it's okay. 

I'm so guilty of perfectionism that I just end up pressuring myself until I'm totally burnt out. If I cannot speak perfect french, have a great job and lots of friends right now, I can at least build confidence meanwhile by starting to show some love for myself.

torstai 9. helmikuuta 2017

About expat confidence & identity

I know this post will seem maybe whiny and dark, but I know there are many expats out there who are having similar feelings and it may help to find out that you are not the only one struggling. It is very important to keep it real.

When you decide to give up your life in your homeland, it is the start of a whole new journey that is not always easy. Many of us are surprised by just how much emotions the whole process rises in us and how it affects the ability to function "normally". We want to be brave and dynamic, but we might find ourselves suddenly feeling everything but that. In the beginning there is the positivity and the enthusiasm to do things, but we soon discover that in order to thrive like everybody else around us, there are so overwhelmingly many things to be mastered. The language (to get a job you basically need to be FLUENT), the manners, the humor, finding your people and getting the general logic of how things are handled around here. Those who haven't traveled don't always understand the general feeling of being retarded you experience when changing the country. Nothing seems to go right and you are like ten times more clumsy than normally. Even using the toilet can be a hassle (why is there no top rim? No toilet paper again? How do I flush this shit?) . You just feel out of tune and this feeling can last a surprisingly long time. Some things become easy fairly fast, but there is just always something. Expats get accustomed to awkward situations very fast already in the beginning of their journey.

By becoming an expat, you give up a lot of things that give you confidence and enforce the identity: your job, friends, family, hobbies, expressing yourself in your mother tongue etc. In the beginning I felt strong enough to meet new people and talk about myself, because I still had a strong sense of who I was. As the months passed, I noticed that I hadn't established any new friendships and my confidence started to shake. Every time I met a  new person and had a good talk, but nothing solid ever came out of it, I became more pessimistic. I felt that nobody wanted to take the time to integrate someone new into their life. Ugh, she's a foreigner and all. She speaks French so slowly and I ain't got the energy. They would use me to practice their English or just enjoy a one night of good time (sounds like dating, huh?). Now that one year has passed and I can even speak French I find myself still more fragile than ever. I am afraid to go out there and get my hopes high just to get them crushed. And in social meetings people ask you about your current projects and you just are there not knowing where to begin explaining your situation. Should I be honest or just pretend I got my shit together?  Sometimes they just ask straight if I am happy with my life in France. They already see that I am lost as fuck so pointing out the obvious isn't going to make things better. I need someone to call a friend, I need a job, I need to feel like I am a real person.  I am a woman who wants to accomplish and has had her own identity before. I want to talk about my ideas, which I know I have, but don't get the chance to say out loud in fast paced conversations. You just sit there, trying to follow the changing topics and feeling more invisible by every passing minute. You know that in your native language (or even in English) you would be actively sharing your thoughts and having a good time. 

The never ending battle with the French bureaucracy has been also eating a lot of my energy and good spirit. I just now received a call from the unemployment office that they will not pay me for my receptionist course, because I have abandoned it without completing the program. I just can't anymore, seriously. I have been to every single lesson, I was never absent, I did my internship and I have filled and sent all the papers needed. Dealing with the French state workers is like trying to stay calm against a person who fucks up everything due to major incompetence and stupidity, but who you need to do the job in order to get something so essential. AND you can't complain anywhere or punch anybody or make threats or yell your lungs out. You need to accept all the false accusations and mind fucks and curve balls and just wait patiently (even if you are in serious financial agony because of them). It eats your moral to try so hard to get there, speak the language and work for your new country, but they just make it so damn hard.

All that being said, I still know that there is no other way, but to keep on trying and fighting. I will not keep on rolling in my anxiety, but it feels good to write it down. 

The photos of my wedding day are a great reminder of what this is all about. I am here to live with the man I love. The most important thing is that I have been lucky enough to have found my true soulmate and I get to live my life with him by my side. It's more than most people can ever achieve.

tiistai 7. helmikuuta 2017

When you wish you were french

I had a job interview today. Fun fact: I applied for the position already a year ago. For some reason they had dug up my CV from their archives and wanted to meet me. I couldn't have been more surprised when I saw my extremely ugly CV I had put together when I was still in Finland working in my guide job in Lapland. Anyway, I decided to give it a shot and prepared my updated documents for the meeting.

The whole interview seemed to come so behind a corner that the days before I didn't quite feel like I was really going to do it. I just had this vague feeling that I should maybe prepare a little to be mentally ready and everything, but my brain just decided that it'll be okay. My husband also told me that I was being paranoid and we should just speak these couple of last days in French to make my communication more effortless. 

I went to the interview looking as sharp as possible in my black pants and navy blazer. I had decided to be the most lovable and smart little Finn ever. My interviewer was late and I was waiting seated while observing their current employees doing their job. There is this type of women that usually work in the administrative office jobs of the state in France. I was seeing a lot of that type there and I was starting to feel uneasy. They look at you as someone who might potentially steal their comfortable position. As people passed, their heads turned and eyes caught a glimpse of me. Some smiled politely, others raised their eyebrows.

When my potential new boss arrived to call me in her office, I made a quick assessment of what I was dealing with: a woman in her late 50's, worked in her state job over 20 years, very strict, will cling on details, possibly insensitive and mean. I straightened my back, smiled and shook her hand. Oh fuck, lord have mercy.

What followed was more of a roast than an interview. She had hardly looked at my motivation letter apparently, because she thought I would be absolutely fluent in French. She is the first person ever to frown and twist her face in disbelief when I make an error in the language. My mistakes were not enormous so seeing her reaction was both amusing and frustrating for me. She continued roasting me on the history of Avignon. Not just the general stuff, but all the way into the specific years and historical events. Later my husband (who teaches history) admitted that even he wouldn't have known the answers and not even those who have lived in the city all their life. I felt like the focus was way too much in the details, which I could very well learn by educating myself for a few hours, instead of the big picture of me as a potential employee. When I finally got to mention that I have actually lived in Avignon for only 5 months of my life and in France a total of almost one year, her eyes became round and she went: "AAAAaaah! Now I understand! It all makes sense now. I must applaud you on your French language then!" After this her attitude softened a little, but I already felt like a total piece of shit to be honest. There was no reason, I know, since her overly specific historical questions and general roasting were totally unnecessary. Nevertheless, I am tired of feeling disabled by my less than fluent French language skills. There is a moment in every expat's journey that you just wish you were already one of them. The balls you need to deal with all the trials and errors. The shame and the feeling of not belonging, no matter how hard you try.

Her method of interview was to try everything to throw me out of balance. She asks me why I want the job and after my answer she tries to prove why everything I just said is not valid. She decides that I am actually applying for the management. Oh, this is not interview to be a manager? Oh, really? The job is part time and the salary minimum and there I was being interrogated as if I wanted to be the ruler of the universe. I never told her also that I would speak German. I understand it, but I do not speak it. Nevertheless she decided to test my German and I felt humiliated some more. Even though it was her fault for not listening to me.

In the end I told her that if they were to hire me I would make sure that I study everything there is to know about the city. I also had a moment of some crazy need to end the battle with epicness and I finished by looking her straight in the eye and saying: "When I want something, I always get it by working my hardest. I do anything to be the best in my work. That is a very Finnish quality."

Hahah. She will call me the end of the week if I was chosen. Well, I prefer to forget the whole thing and see what happens. My hopes are not too high. My CV is perfect for the job, but the interview was just way too weird. She also told me that the locals don't like when they hire foreigners for these positions. Great!