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Posts tagged ‘Expat’

Epilogue: 14 days gone…and it is Groundhog Day again

Golden_Colorado_Howdy.jppI have been staring at my computer all afternoon knowing that I have to write, but not knowing what to say. We have now been back in Colorado for 14 days. It could be 14 years. It is amazing how quickly one can fall back into old habits and routines and how easily a former life seems to slip away. Some days I feel like my life in France never was.

Coming back to Colorado has been like being Bill Murray’s weatherman in the great existential film Groundhog Day. While I have changed immensely, I have been dropped into a life that hasn’t changed at all and I feel like I am living in a sort of Nietzschesque state of eternal recurrence. It is as if I am residing in an alternate universe on a parallel train track never scheduled to intersect the French life I left behind. What bothers me the most is that while I can intellectualize my former life in France, I am having a really hard time feeling what that life felt like, and I am slightly terrified that I will lose that happy girl who lived in that stunning city and felt like she could do anything.

Don’t get me wrong; being back in America is easy on so many levels. I am having a ball chatting up everyone on every subject. It is great to be back in a friendly land where the customer is always right, service is given with a smile and wink and everything is AWESOME. People are so nice here, and you can quickly become BFFs with your waitress over a 90-minute meal, or be ready to exchange Christmas cards with your Verizon/iPhone sales rep after a couple of days battling the “home office” and their quirky rules.

I no longer have to look up vocabulary and practice phrases before I go to the doctor or vet or hardware store. If the shopkeepers dare to give me lip, or sneer or roll their eyes (not likely) when I order or have a question, I can easily give it right back to them using adult words, not toddleresque French or tears. If I order a vegetarian meal, no one looks at me like I am an alien with two heads. Everyone here knows what quinoa and chia seeds are and how to pronounce them correctly, and I have found mean-lean-green juice on offer on more than one menu.


The postwoman is super pleasant and super efficient. There are even these nutty grocery workers called baggers, who are actually trained to carefully bag your precious food items instead of throwing them down the conveyor belt as if they were bowling for bucks. Xcel, the Colorado version of EDF, will cheerfully let you and your family light up and heat your house after a simple 2-minute phone call without even considering asking you for proof that you have a bank account or a signed lease. The water meter man is free to stop by whenever he likes and doesn’t need you to stay by the door all morning long, meter reading in hand.

Yep. Life is easy peasy, nice and breezy in the U.S. of A.


So why do I miss France so much?

Would it be masochistic to say I miss the challenge? That I miss not knowing what to expect? That I miss being kept on my toes and discovering new people, places and things every day? There is something to be said for being the odd-(wo)man-out, and for the strong friendships forged as you struggle together against the tide.

I do miss the myriad of cultural offerings, the artisanal bakeries, the Seine, my vélib and feet as my sole source of transportation and our cozy apartment life where it was harder to hide behind closed doors. I miss the architecture and human-made splendor, the tiny cars, my Pilates studio and the French dedication to esthetics, beauty and perfection. I miss fantastic window displays and spending the afternoons licking them. I miss being around people from all over the globe with different ideas and realities. I do NOT miss being from the “greatest country in the world”.

I do miss making mistakes and being forced to learn new things and being forced to live. I miss the tiny triumphs of simply making it through the day or even just making it through an hour. Am I crazy to miss the bustling city vibe of that big, but small foreign town that I called home for three years? Maybe I am crazy, but still, I miss the smells, the sounds, the days, the nights, the tastes and textures, the language, the laughs, and those yummy French leeks. Of course I miss my sparkling tower. Mostly I miss my friends.


I have gone from a humming city of 2.34 million, to a teeny town of 19,186 folks, living their straightforward lives and cowboy dreams.

I suspect that this transition will continue to be tough, but it is a First World problem, and I am determined to spin it in a positive direction. We all have our Punxsutawney Phils and never-ending Groundhog Days, and I have promised myself to try to see my old life with fresh eyes and not fall into a rut or take the easy path.

Please check in as I figure out small town life and empty nesting, try to come to grips with American values and politics and hopefully find a little bit of la belle France in Colorado.



No. 365: France, je t’aime–au revoir et merci

France_je_t'aime.jpgAs I sit here waiting to board the plane, butterflies in my tummy and anxious doggie on my lap, it is time to say au revoir to France and this blog. It seems like just yesterday when I sat down to figure out how this whole blogging thing worked, and now it is 365 days later, and I am writing my final post. It has been a great ride and one I feel very privileged to have taken.

My heart is full of gratitude for every minute of our life in France, the good, the bad, the ugly and the great. One of the greats has been discovering this creative community of fellow bloggers and readers, and feeling a connection to you. Those moments of feeling, “Hey! I get that,” or “Wow, I feel your pain, joy, embarrassment or excitement,” or, “Yowzah! That’s super cool.”

The best part of being part of this cyber community has been learning something totally new or feeling something I never felt before, and secretly wishing I could be there with you. There are so many imaginative and kind voices in the blogosphere. Thanks for sharing your stories, photographs, art, brilliant words, and generous comments.

Donc, au revoir for now. Don’t count me out. Check this space in the near future as I am sure I have a story or two in me about the next stage of our adventure: empty nesting, maddening Americans, reverse culture shock, small town ramblings, large portions and deep-fried food, and of course, return trips to la belle France.

Who knows, maybe I can even come up with 36.5-things-I-love-about-Colorado?

See you on the flip side. Au revoir et merci bien.




No. 359-360: M-F and Hélène: the ladies who (make) lunch and (sometimes) spit wine

MF_helene_1.jpgSome of my most cherished memories of my time in France are from the kitchen. I was fortunate to learn about and taste all sorts of global cuisine prepared with love in the homes of remarkable women from all around the world. I was also lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend many delicious days shopping for fresh ingredients at the marché and then learning how to prepare them with the lovely Marie-Françoise and a great group of friends. Yes, when pressed, I would have to say that M-F’s approach to real French family cooking and hands on learning marks some of my most memorable days in Paris.

While in Paris, I also had the great fortune of meeting the marvelous and slightly mischievous Hélène, wine aficionado and friend. Not only has she taught me to appreciate good (and not necessarily expensive) wine, she has also taught me to appreciate life as it comes, warts and all, and to always strive to be in the moment. Those afternoons we spent nose in glass, swirling, slurping and spitting wine and strolling along the Seine were some of the best.

Here’s to my culinary friends:  the ladies who (make) lunch and (sometimes) spit wine.

Vous-allez me manquer.



MF_helene_chablis.jpgChin chin!

Marie Françoise and Hélène (perfectly bilingual) also cater private dinner parties, wine pairings, birthday and  graduations parties in Paris. For more information contact:

No. 358: Lost in Translation

I am a bit stressed tonight, and could use a laugh. Maybe you could too with Monday looming large? This short, and by no means exhaustive, sampling of ridiculous and cringe-worthy things we have said in French over the past few years should make you smile.

Au restaurant:

  • Out with an international French-speaking crowd one evening, and after finishing both my starter and main, and desperate to make polite conversation, I turned to the Swiss woman next to me and whispered, “Je n’ai plus femme.” (I no longer have a wife), rather than, “Je n’ai plus faim” (I’m not hungry any more). It would have been better to say, “J’ai bien mangé.”
  • Coming down the stairs from the loo at another resto, a young French gal asked me where the bathroom was. I told her to “Montez l’escalier et roulez à doite,” (go up the stairs and roll to the right), instead of “tournez à droite”. At least it made her smile.
  • Constantly struggling with pronunciation and distinguishing between words that sound alike (to me) in French, I have asked for “connard” (the mother of all swear words) instead of “canard” (duck) when ordering my plat principal more times than I care to remember.


À l’hôtel:

  • Staying at our first French bed and breakfast in the Loire Valley, the adorable elderly owner came by to ask if we enjoyed our breakfast and if we wanted more to eat, Superman confidently told him, “Je suis pleine”. The proprietor was stunned to learn that Superman was pregnant.
  • Hastily leaving our hotel room to catch a train, I grabbed a bag of rubbish to throw in a bigger bin in the lobby. The cleaning staff was in the hallway, so I handed it to them and said, “C’est pour la pourboire.” (It’s for the tip), instead of saying “poubelle” (trash can). I’m guessing it is the worst tip they have ever received.


Faire des courses

  • When buying cheese for a dinner party one afternoon, Superman asked the formager if it was possible to sleep (coucher) with the cheese, instead of cut/slice (couper) the cheese. He must have wondered just what us Americans get up to at home.
  • Getting ready for Superman’s 50th birthday party I ran to the corner wine shop and asked the vendeur if I could have “three chilled bottles of champignons” (mushrooms) instead of champagne. Thankfully they were out of fungus that night.
  • Button and friends were out looking for a gag gift for an 18th birthday party and decided on a flask. Not knowing the word for flask, they checked Google translate and came up with “ballon”. They went from Tabac to Tabac asking cranky old Frenchmen, “Vous-avez des ballons?” (Do you have balls?)
  • Picking up a few items for dinner at the local Franprix one day, the cashier asked me if I needed a bag, I politely told her, “Non merci, je suis un sac.” (No thank you, I am a bag.) It was a bad hair day.
  • Trying to exchange an expensive item at the hardware store that was the wrong size, Superman was asked why he wanted to exchange it. The French words just weren’t coming, so rather than telling the salesman, “J’ai changé d’avis.” (I changed my mind), he told the salesman, “J’ai changé mon cerveau.” (I changed my brain.) Don’t you wish you could do that sometimes?


Avec le chien:

  • When walking Taz we are always asked, “Is he a boy or a girl.” When we first arrived in Paris, Superman often responded gaily, “Je suis un garcon!” (I am a boy!) As if it wasn’t obvious.
  • And last but not least, the first time we went on vacation without Taz, I diligently wrote the French family detailed instructions on how to care for the little guy. This of course included a recommendation that every morning when they take him out to carry with them “deux sacs de merde” (two bags of shit), instead of two “poop” bags. Curse you Google Translate!!!


If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying, n’est pas? I hope you had a good chuckle.


No. 343: Papa Francesco


I have had so many remarkable experiences during my three years in France, but one of the most memorable and awe-inspiring moments happened this summer in Rome while I was serving as a short-term nanny for a dear friend’s 4-year-old daughter and I was included in a private audience with Pope Francis. I took this “job” not because of the papal possibility, mais parce que j’adore mon amie et sa fille, and I always jump at the chance to spend time with them. The prospect of meeting the Pope was appealing, but I did not actually think it would happen.

But then it did.

As you may know, I was raised in an extremely liberal Catholic church (oxymoron, yes) during Vatican II, when Catholicism was (in some ways) being rethought, rejuvenated and adapted to the modern world. There was this whole exciting movement to bring the Church back into the realm of hands-on social justice and working for peace. Of course then Ronald Reagan came to power, and the USA began our slippery slide into supposed “Christian/Focus on the Family” values and the Catholic Church did a complete three-sixty turnabout, and gave up on Vatican II.

That is when I left the Catholic Church. Which is not to say that I haven’t been to mass in 25 years. I have. Which is not to say I don’t pray. I do. Which is not to say I am not spiritual. I am. But, I have been sorely disappointed in the leadership of the Catholic Church for decades.

That was until Argentinian-born Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Papa Francesco on March 13, 2013. He chose Francesco/Francis to honor Saint Francis of Assisi, who describes as: “a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a mite of self-importance.


Throughout his cleric life Pope Francis, “has been distinguished for his humility, his concern for the poor, and his commitment to dialogue as a way to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and faiths. He is known for having a simpler and less formal approach to the papacy, most notably by choosing to reside in the Domus Sactae Marthae guesthouse rather than the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace  used by his predecessors…and he (also) favors simpler vestments void of ornamentation…” plus he has a wonderful, genuine smile, and he loves le foot.

source: Saint John's University

source: Saint John’s University

In my opinion, this Pope has potential, and possibly lots of it. Papa Francesco is the first Pope from the Americas, the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere and the first non-European Pope since Pope Gregory III in 741—1,272 years ago! A non-Eurocentric Pope—now this I love. (Another fun fact in his favor: before starting his seminary studies, Papa Francesco worked briefly as a nightclub bouncer.)

So, by the time the hope of meeting Pope Francis became a reality, I was pretty darn excited. When the day came, we were finally forwarded all the papal protocol. What to wear? Dark colors, covered shoulders. Kiss the ring, or shake his hand? Either, although shaking his hand seemed to be his preference. Take pictures with the Swiss Guards? No, no, no. Except if you have a bambino. Does the Pope accept gifts? Yes. Many in our audience brought books, prayers, and small objects. Can a curious and precocious 4-year-old survive 4 hours of waiting, hundreds of steps through glorious rarely seen Italian galleries, and a 45-minute audience? Yes. Thank you Haribo gummy bears and good parenting from her maman.

The whole day was astonishing. From the moment we stepped into the Papal Palace and began winding our way up the marble staircases through the art filled halls, graced with gilded ceilings, mosaic floors, and Michelangelo frescos until we finally arrived in the splendid Hall of the Consistory, I felt like I was in a dream.

I also wished I was walking those stairs and hallways with my own faithful maman and my loving, no-nonsense, fierce Catholic Busha. I was deeply moved by the experience and Pope Francis’ remarks on religious freedom. I hoped these two strong women who are no longer with me were looking down from above and smiling at me. And with Francis at the helm, I ended the day with a smile and a feeling of hope about the direction that the Church may be moving.



mais parce que j’adore mon amie et sa fille: but because I love my friend and her daughter

To read more about what Papa Francesco had to say to our papal audience from Saint John’s University, click HERE.