OK so I have a boyfriend back home but this long distance (and I mean LONG as in 15,000km) relationship is taking a toll on both of us. We can never find the time to talk on Skype because of the now 10 hour time difference. But even if things are going well, I'd still be literally alone here. In France. In a non-English speaking country.
Before I left I had lots of people tell me I was brave and courageous for doing what I was about to do. That is, pack up, leave everything that was familiar to me (family, friends, house, city, country, language, monetary system, weather, etc) and go to a foreign place far far away where I basically knew noone, had no house (just one tiny room), did not speak the language well, was not familiar with the monetary system and the weather was going to be far far colder than anything I was ever used to!
Well I've been in France almost 2 months now and yes it has been hard but I believe that anything in life that is worth doing is hard! But 'hard' is a relative word. What's hard to one person may not be hard to another.
Well please indulge me for a minute while I point out the things I founded the 'hardest' so far:
* Internet, or lack thereof
At the beginning I did not have proper internet. Because I live in a school in a dorm (an 'internat') almost every single site was blocked. Even innocent ones like my bank. Then when I finally found a way to access all the sites, Facebook was still blocked. That, and I've had the constant problem with uploading pictures (to ANY website). It's amazing I've been able to upload a pic for this post! Not having internet when you are bored out of your mind and already feeling disconnected to your former life was one of the most depressing situations. Yes, it's true!
* The shop opening hours, or should I say, closing hours.
I am not used to all the shops being closed on both Sundays and Mondays and lunchtime every day. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the 'lunchtime' that they are closed are not the same for every shop. It can vary anywhere from 11:30am to 2:30pm and in between. Given that I work every day except Monday it's a struggle to find the time to even do basic chores like grocery shopping and banking and going to the post office. I have the middle of the day free but then during the middle of the day I can't do anything! ARGH.
* Walkability or lack thereof
The fact that I live in a smallish town that is incredibly hilly making it not that walkable. In fact, everyone drives. There is a bus which I take but it only comes roughly once an hour and when it's late it is a pain if it's a cold or rainy day (which it has been lately). Not having a car was one of the first thing which made me depressed after I realised I basically couldn't go anywhere without one. There is not a big variety of shops in the town centre ("centre ville") so one has to go elsewhere except it's a nightmare to get to without a car. I actually contemplated buying one but then I changed my mind as it's too expensive and too much of a hassle. It's expensive because I only know how to drive an automatic car and most cars here (and in Europe) are manual and I don't feel like I want to learn it from scratch (nor do I have the time or patience).
* Paperwork! ("paperasserie")
Yes I had heard of it and prepared myself for it but oh là là... it's painful. That's all I'll say on that subject!
* Not being able to make friends easily
Because it's a small town of less than 15,000 people it's been hard for me. I come from quite a big city (4 million people) and I know how to meet people and make friends in big cities with the means of various websites but in a small town... there seems to be... rien.
* Not having the comforts of home..
..like, um, a TV, a couch, a living room, a kitchen (yes, unbelievably I have no kitchen, just a microwave and a small fridge), a bathtub, a laundry. Gosh I miss having a washing machine the most! I am sick of washing my clothes by hand (in my bathroom sink!) and waiting forever for them to dry. I don't even have space to hang them in my room so they hang in the bathroom. Luckily the heated towel rack comes in handy for that.
I would say those were the hardest things. At least all the ones I can think of for the moment.
Now for the GOOD things about living here
* The Food!
It's true what they say about the food in France. It's wonderful, it's delicious and it's so affordable! The food in Australia is good but it's really expensive. Even basic staples in the supermarket cost heaps more than in France. Let's not get started on the difference in price for cheese, bread, and salads! They are soooooo cheap in France. It's a joy going through the supermarket and seeing what goodies they have (however it is also a bit depressing at the same time realising I don't have a kitchen to make anything decent to eat).
In every town (however small) there are LOTS of them! (that, and pharmacies, beauticians and hairdressers!) I love the smell that wafts out of them, I love that they are open longer than most other stores (in fact, some don't close during lunch time!) and everything is just so delicious and beautifully made. I have my fave, which is the largest one in town and everything is just beautifully displayed. They also have a noticeboard in there which is handy. I may put an ad in there for English lessons when I work out my schedule.
* The Language
It still sounds wonderful and sexy to my ear! And one of the big bonuses about living in a small town is that you are pretty much forced to use French. Nobody (almost) speaks English! So I was really thrown into the deep end there. And I think I have definitely improved. I speak much faster than I did before and I'm picking up new vocab every week.
* The Architecture and Scenery/Landscapes
Both are SO different to anything I see in Australia. Every time I take the train somewhere (almost every weekend) just looking out the window makes the time pass really quickly and it always takes my breath away. It must definitely be a case of the grass is greener, because one of my French friends currently living in Australia tells me that he thinks the scenery in Australia is more spectacular! haha.
I have always loved that "old style" architecture. Who doesn't? It's what makes Paris so special and beautiful. Going to ANY French town is like going back in time 2-300 years ago. It's so wonderful. I curse all the cars because they ruin the picture perfect scene. I am also fascinated by all the windows on the buildings.
In Australia we don't use shutters over the windows but they are used everywhere in France and in Europe. Also, in France they tend to have smaller and narrower windows and they put flowers in front of their windows. Now that it's much colder most of them are dying but when I first arrived there was rainbows of colours everywhere and my heart just filled with joy looking at the simple beauty of a window display :)
I have always loved water for as long as I can remember. I don't play any sports but I love swimming and snorkelling. Whenever I sit on a plane or a train I have to sit next to a window. I just love looking out the window and looking at the scenery and water (if there is any). I live near one of the main rivers of France, and I have seen some other rivers and lakes and once again, they are so different to anything I've ever seen in Australia. I do miss not seeing the beach but I haven't missed it that much since it's too cold now to go to one anyway.
* Ease of being able to travel to different cities and countries
Definitely one of the reasons I wanted to come, I admit! It's a pain to travel within/around Australia and to/from other countries due to the extremely large distances we're trying to cover. Also, in Europe the cities are much closer to each other. Every weekend (almost) I've been discovering all my nearby cities. I like that I have seen 'uncommon' cities and not just go to Paris like every other tourist on earth!
On that note I should also mention the train service. It's so comfortable and it's easy for me to buy the tickets online and pick them up at the station from a machine (no queuing!). There were a few weeks of hell with the famed strikes (about the retirement age) where only 1 in 3 or 4 services were running :( but luckily that's over now.
* Politeness of French people
I have never met a nationality of people who are so polite. I will ALWAYS get a "pardon" whenever someone gets in my way or bumps into me. Without fail. Even from kids and teenagers. Even when they are 2 metres away from me and have not touched me. Even if there is the prospect that they MAY get in my way, I get the "pardon". I try to be as polite as I can and it's just a habit now to say Bonjour or Salut to everyone I deal with. Also I hear Bon Appetit often. A stranger will even say that to me if they see me eating. Then of course there is the bise (the cheek kiss) and the farewell greeting. My head gets a bit muddled up on that one! Will I see them again? (ie au revoir or not), should I say something else? salut, ciao, à bientôt, à la prochaine, à demain, à (day), à ce soir, bonne soirée, bonne nuit, etc... The possibilities are endless!
* The pros of living in a small town
Apart from the language thing mentioned above, another con is that people really are friendlier. After I went to visit bigger cities I actually found myself feeling a bit 'scared' (which is crazy considering they are still WAY smaller than Sydney) and wanting to come back 'home' to my safe, comfy, small and homely city. I feel incredibly safe here. I imagine crime is very very rare. I never see or hear of anything. Even graffiti is rare.
I have met some nice people in the town such as my Bank Manager. He has been absolute angel for me, even trying to help me by speaking English to me. I can call him or email him for any problems regarding my account and when I go into the bank he always seems happy to see me. That sort of thing would NEVER happen in Sydney (or any big city!)
The Librarian. The first (and only time) I went into the town library she talked to me for ages and was really interested in finding more about me and then telling me more about the town.
My Keycutter (cordonnier/shoemaker). I had a long saga (which I'm not going to mention here as it's too personal and maybe boring) where I ended up going back to him 5 times. The last time I was going back to get a refund (as the key still didn't work) but he told me he had fixed the problem and cut me a new key. I tried it and it worked. He went to a LOT of effort for me and I really appreciated me. He also started asking me more about myself (which kind of 'proves' they are trying to form a more friendly bond with me I guess).
The Bus Drivers
There are maybe 4 in total and 2 that I see all the time. They know me as I catch it all the time and I get on/off at the same stops. Early on, when I wasn't sure of the route yet I asked him where the stop was to get back (after I was about to get off) and he pointed in some vague direction and I still wasn't 100% sure. He said, "Don't worry. If you can't see it and I see you on the road. I'll just pick you up." I couldn't believe it!
Another time there was a big street fair (that I didn't know about!) so the main roads were all closed and the bus was doing a shorter route. I didn't know this and stupidly sat at the bus stop outside Carrefour waiting (for what would be an eternity for a bus that would never come) until a stranger came up to me and asked if I was waiting for the bus and that I should go 'over there' instead!
I guess anyone that I see on a regular basis would come to know me after a while and become more friendly towards me.
That's all I can think of for now, but I'm sure there are many more pros and cons. Luckily the pros totally make up for the cons :)