Marry a Frenchman and you can get a Visa in 5 days.
At least that was my good fortune (marrying the Frenchman and getting the Visa quickly). After worrying for a year, and really anxious in the last two months after getting married via a French civil ceremony, I showed up at the French Consulate in Washington, D.C., handed over my documents, and received my Visa via the mail in 5 days.
Waiting to approach the Frenchman at the window in the Consulate, I was very nervous. Everyone seemed to have some complications–waited too long to apply for an upcoming trip; forgot documents; didn’t meet financial requirements; had over-stayed passport, etc. But I had everything in order, and as the spouse of a French national, the man took one look at my documents, had another lady review them, and told me he would get my back to France and my husband in short order.
Sigh. It’s over. And they stamped my application to get my carte de séjour. I’ll soon be a permanent resident with healthcare and the privilege to work!
I’ve been in France for one week and two days. Not long enough for a holiday; certainly not long enough to fully experience the country through the eyes of the native French.
But, I’ve come with the mindset of a resident, not a visitor, and the experience is already completely different from previous visits to this lovely country. Yes, I’ve tasted (literally and figuratively) many new things that would be equally accessible to the holiday voyager. I spent a Sunday afternoon on the beach at the Mediterranean wading barefoot in the sea and collecting coquillages (seashells). I ate Jol poissons–little fish that come from the sea–fried with eyes and tails intact. I had to close my eyes to pop them in my mouth, but they were surprisingly delicious. I watched flamingos on the marshes, fed bread to the Camarguese horses, and finally saw two foals of these chevaux unique to the Camargue region.
My first week in the country brought some unexpected challenges, which may seem obvious to others, but having visited many times, took me quite by surprise.
First there was the language challenge. My French is primitive, at best. And while my clumsy attempts to speak in the past brought me great satisfaction when someone could actually understand the idea I was trying to impart, they now made me self-conscious of my illiteracy. And the mental strain of translation began to wear on me after less than a week.
I was also surprised by my fatigue in general. At first I chalked it up to the six-hour adjustment in time; but that had never incapacitated me on previous visits. This time I nearly slept away an entire week. I came to the conclusion that the language challenge and trying to adjust to new foods, routine, environment, was wearing me out.
It’s different when you are visiting a place for a week or two. The new adventures are exciting. And while I still find this new life exciting, it’s more like moving to a new city and starting a new job in the States, with new friends, a new home, new co-workers, a new schedule; they all lose their romance for a while. Adapting becomes the body’s primary goal, rather than enjoyment.
For example, a trip to the supermarket (3 trips in the past week, so I can, with some expertise, comment on shopping in a foreign-speaking land) took me three times longer than it should have. Where do you find the garlic powder in a French grocery? The oregano wasn’t too difficult because it’s green, flaky and written origan feuilles in French. Curry is curry. Basil, basilic. But garlic translates ali, and my little Frenchman didn’t know garlic. And how much fat content is in this yogurt? Fortunately, I read French better than I speak it, and a few brands are the same, like the Greek yogurt I usually buy at WalMart. They actually had it here. But they didn’t have cream of mushroom soup for my potato soup recipe. I’ll have to improvise on that one. Many of these packaged foods and vegetables are unfamiliar to me. (We won’t even talk about the meats.) Even the images on the boxes are foreign to my U.S. born-and-bred eyes.
And so I’ve been surprised by the fatigue, the challenges, and at times the frustration, of trying to adapt to a new life in a new country. But then it’s only been a little over a week…
…and the sun streaming in through these open, enormous arch-shaped, old-world windows in my little French villa; hundreds of birds in this bird habitat singing their little French songs in the trees just on the other side of the balcony; the absolute tranquility of this morning as I drink a cup of French coffee and reminisce about the last week and listen to my Frenchman puttering around outside… this moment reminds me why I am here.
I’m behind in posts. I’ve been in France one week as of today. The week leading up, as you can imagine, was busy. So much to do.
I’ll catch up this week. I promise. For tonight (yes it is 10 o’clock in France; 6 hours ahead), I’ll just say, I had bacon and eggs for dinner. Yumm. The fact that after one week I am writing about American food should reveal something. It was welcome to have something familiar.
Sunday–5 days until France.
Friday, 15 of my dear friends joined me for dinner at a great local restaurant to say “bon voyage.” It was terrific! I felt so special to know that these beautiful women are my friends. Some are closer than others, but as I told them, collectively they have been a strong support group for me.
So I had an idea. I didn’t want them to buy me gifts. No room to pack them. So I gave each of them a gift. But rather than buying gift, I gave each of them something special that belongs to me; something that would make them think of me. I carefully chose each item and thoughtfully decided who would get it.
A doily that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. Where ever I’ve lived, it always has a pillar candle resting in the center.
A decorative clay vase I bought while traveling in Jordan.
A piece of pottery I made several years ago (during my primitive stage).
A tuscan-style vase and pitcher that I displayed in an alcove in my kitchen.
A hand-tooled leather handbag, antiquish, that always hung on my vanity mirror.
A necklace I bought in Jordan (for my friend who loves chunky jewelry and makes her own).
A print I bought in Paris.
A book, “The Elements of Style,” for my friend who is just starting her writing career. My favorite writing book. It was in my suitcase and ready to go to France. I can get another.
I was so excited to share these treasures with my friends. It makes me feel as though I’ve left a piece of me with them, so I’m not really leaving them. And I wanted each of them to know how special they are to me.
Bon Voyage, dear friends. You all better visit me in the French Riviera!