Most of my French adventures have been positive and energizing. But one part remains difficult: leaving my friends in the United States.
One of those friends recently (and suddenly) lost her partner after many years together. Living 6,000 miles away, I wondered, how could I express my condolences? How could I comfort her? Or at least, how could I reassure her that her difficult moments would get easier?
The Constancy of Change
Since I’m a writer, I composed an email sharing some of my experiences of being widowed 17 months earlier. I forewarned my friend that changes, large and small, would be the order of the day. For a while, it might seem that the only constant was change.
I confessed that the only things that remain the same from my life before Dick died are that I still floss my teeth before I go to sleep and I still brush my teeth in the morning.
Of course, my friend may not experience as much change as I did. After all, I multiplied the amount of change I had to deal with by moving to France. Having voluntarily decided to switch cultures, I can’t, in good faith, grumble about the magnitude of the changes.
Not Complaining—Just Noting for the Record
The new sewing machines I use are quite different from the ones I used to have. I work on a different computer now. Half the time, the internet sites that I google are in French.
The news—instead of reporting what’s happening in Nevada County, Sacramento, California, or even the United States—focuses on international developments. I might read about the drop in a value of the English pound or the difficult situation the people in Lebanon find themselves in. Or how Swedish people may have to deal with inflation. Or the impact the rise of the far right in Italy’s election will have on the European Union.
The clothes I buy aren’t the same as what I wore in the rural area of Nevada County. The ingredients I find on the shelves at the supermarket don’t have the same names and sometimes aren’t even what I thought they were. Surprise!
I don’t drive anywhere. I don’t have a car. The nearby tram and buses are free for seniors like me. Instead of driving, I walk with my little cart to the supermarket. And given the small size of my kitchen and cupboards, I don’t stock up like I did when I went to Costco in Roseville and had a huge pantry in the garage.
My house is about one-tenth the size of the house that I lived in before. My cozy downstairs living area combines an entrance, kitchen, dining area, living room, pull-down guest bed, and full bathroom with shower.
I have one refrigerator instead of three. My stovetop has three burners instead of five. I use an induction heating surface instead of gas.
Because of limited space, the upstairs rooms have multiple uses. For example, my sewing room doubles as a bicycle exercise area. The bedroom has enough space for my bed, one dresser, and one closet. My office, which I frequently share with Expresso when he works at home, has even less space than my sewing room or bedroom.
Food and Eating Are Different
Meal times are different too. Instead of dining at a predictable 6:00 p.m., which Dick and I enjoyed, dinner is at 7:30, 8:00, 8:30 p.m., or even later, depending upon the day. Lunch is around 1:00 or 1:30 p.m. instead of noon. Breakfast fare is typically bread and coffee. On a rare day, perhaps a pastry but seldom if ever eggs and bacon.
Eating alone is rare because eating together is important in my adopted culture. Whatever time the evening meal is scheduled, everyone is expected to show up. Moreover, if we have to delay dinner for one person because of soccer practice or a gym workout, we wait. It is more important that we eat together than be dictated by the clock. And we all eat the same food.
My front and back yards are miniscule compared to the five acres at my old home in Nevada County. Instead of a private residence, I live in a gated community with about fifty other families. And instead of being in an older community, I’m surrounded by first-time home owners with small children.
Even more dramatically, I no longer see tall cypress and pine trees on my property and in the surrounding areas. Today I see grayish-green olive trees with their twisted trunks.
And instead of an outing at Lake Tahoe with gorgeous mountain views, I go to the nearby Mediterranean for an afternoon walk at the beach.
I’ve listed all the changes and adaptations that I’ve had to make (and am still making) not to complain but rather to show than human beings are adaptable. I joke with my French friends that as a little girl, I always wanted a dollhouse. Now I live in one.
My sewing machines are better than the ones I left behind. My internet is far faster than I’ve ever known. Service from utility companies is amazingly responsive, especially so after having to deal with frustrating AT&T for years.
And the cost of utilities, especially phone service, is quite modest. I can call any of my friends or family in the United States without any additional charge. And medical expenses are beyond modest.
Some of my prescription drug costs are so low that I do not even submit them to my US medical insurance company for reimbursement. Why? Because the drug costs only $3 and the insurance company’s deductible is $20.
As with all changes large and small, there are pluses and minuses—then more pluses and then more minuses. And however we feel about the adjustments, life goes on—as it will for my friend who lost her partner and as it has for me.
“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” H. G. Wells was right about that.