Tag Archives: France

The homesick expat

On a mission to find a house in Amsterdam, real estate agents ask me the same questions. Why do I prefer old, dilapidated houses? And why am I moving back to the Netherlands after living abroad for nearly a decade?

I love being abroad. Every day holds an adventure, from a discussion with a neighbor about the proper color of baguette to a mountain trail on snow shoes. French principles and standards of behavior are different from Dutch ones and invite me to reflect on my own morals, from the legalization of prostitution to peanut butter sandwiches. The best thing about living abroad though is meeting extraordinary people who, like me, left their home country, like the passionate labor union organizer from Australia or the Texan nuclear scientist who is partial to wearing pink butterfly wings.

Nevertheless, recent experiences have tipped the scales against living abroad. I have realized, at length, the insignificance of existence while filling out forms, waiting on hold or standing in line for Swiss taxes, French insurances or a municipal manhole cover. But I’m increasingly losing my cool. Administration and bureaucracy are just as tedious in the Netherlands, but at least I know my way around the system.

Worse than any pointless paper hassle is my halting social integration. Foreign cinema, fashion and (up to a certain point) cuisine didn’t pose a problem; my marriage with a woman does. My French GP told me I can have sex with a man by pretending a penis is a very large clitoris. Civil servants, both in Switzerland and France, ensured me that my lesbian relationship does not merit the same rights as a “normal” one and charged us tens of thousands extra in tax. In the Netherlands, the fact that we’re two women together is not an issue. We’re just us.

As for the extraordinary people I find abroad: I will miss them. But I still have fantastic friends in the Netherlands, whom I have missed so much in the past decade. We have some serious catching up to do. It’s about time Spouse and I find the Dutch dilapidated house of our dreams.

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Bird on border

Every year 25 million song birds and migrant birds are shot in France. That’s more than in any other European country. In the Swiss canton of Geneva, on the contrary, hunting has been banned completely. So the bird who chose to nest in this letter box of a customs office on the border between France and Switzerland has made a wise choice. The text reads: “Bird’s nest. Don’t put anything in the box. Thanks”

More information: http://www.komitee.de/en/actions-and-projects/france/bird-hunting

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Minding my own onions

“Do you have your passport? And don’t forget to bring a sweater. It can be really cold in those airplanes.” Our French cleaning lady has taken charge of our household and our lives. She tells us off when we’re late for work, warns us for eminent dangers on French highways and always knows best where it concerns our household.

Others fuss over us too. Neighbors give me unsolicited advice about our hedge (“it really needs a trim”) and our garden (“is it meant to look that messy?”). The postman has showed concern about the design of the nameplate on our mailbox (“really weird”). Villagers informed me I walk my dogs too much (“just chain them in your yard”) and that I pick up too many of their droppings (“leave it!”). A complete stranger told me off for biking with my dogs. “Think of their little feet!” she yelled before she nearly caused a traffic accident. Interestingly, fellow foreigners have complemented me on my bike’s special mount that enables dogs to safely run along.

After a careful study of local meddling in this part of France I’ve come to the conclusion that approximation to Switzerland is partly to blame. Being quite opinionated, a quality that many French have, has become mixed with the Swiss tendency to overorganize. It affects the entire population. “Are you sure you locked the front door?” a ten-year-old asked me when she saw me leaving.

The trick is how to deal with these well-intended interferences with my life. “Mind your own business” (cela ne vous regarde pas) is considered rude and so is the playful “mind your own onions” (occupez-vous de vos oignons). But “i’ll manage” (je me debrouille) isn’t nearly strong enough.

Turning a deaf ear seems the best solution. “The kitchen should be cleaned twice a week,” our cleaning lady reproached me recently, “at the very least.” As she rambled on, I thought of raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens and anti-tank grenades. By the time I’ll leave our village I’ll be stone deaf.

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