Four years as Expats in France

2015 Hamori family photo
Our little family at the skatepark
  1. Happiness, gladness or joy is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. A variety of biological, psychological, religious and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources.

My life is dedicated to find my personal sources of happiness. To know what I love and not to simply go after what everyone else says is supposed to make me happy. It can sometimes be tough to set yourself apart, and to go after what honestly makes you happy. Following the sheep to the all inclusive resorts are fine for a while, but for me it was really the off and beaten track spots that got me excited about travel.

Some people find contentment going after their ideal career, striving at something difficult and mastering it! Perhaps your dream is to purchase a weekend house on the lake, or ski chateau for the weekends. Maybe you want to travel the world with a backpack. It doesn’t matter what your dream is, the point is to strive for the things that could make you happy.

One thing that I know for sure, for me money doesn’t equate happiness. It does for some people and it can even free up the time to help you search for what makes you happy, but spending money as therapy was never my thing. I don’t need much more than the basics to be content.

If you are wondering what makes you happy, answer this question. What feeds your soul? Happiness starts by being consciously aware of what makes you happy and working towards your goals. My dream was to spend more time with the children by being home before and after school everyday, perhaps I dreamed of eventually working from home to ensure my availability for them. I wanted to live in a warmer climate, and to start a business and a life that I could really get excited about. It was a tall order. However, once clear about my objectives, it was amazing how quickly the path to success opened up before me. Good things come to those who wait, although for me, great things came when I started to pursue my personal goals.

August 2nd marks four years leaving Canada to find a new life in Europe. With just a suitcases in each hand, we left with little more than ambition and dreams. We started in Budapest Hungary where we tried to find a business start-up. Sadly the economy and the situation in Budapest then, was that of a country just joining the EU with a few political issues to iron out before we felt comfortable enough to live there.

Our long bumpy adventure eventually led us to a small town in the south of France, between the city of Narbonne and the city of Beziers called Capestang. Such a charming village, located directly on the Canal du Midi on the brinks of becoming well-known as the town where you can still find true French life. With her cheek to cheek double kiss culture, and deeply rooted community, the citizens are fiercely protective to hold on to their culture. The local government still manages to keep the village rooted to family values. The community is safe with many free festivals to enjoy year-round and the close-knit group quickly accepted us. As our children became more and more French, they become deeply entrenched in our French life. They are known, loved and taken care of. This was part of my dream and this is what I found for us.

I have learned through this process (because it is process to make so many changes in such a short period of time) to slow down and to catch my breath after running our swift Vancouver (North American) pace. I had been working since I was 14-years-old, full-time or more since the young age of 18. As I jumped off the treadmill of the rat-race, I had to learn to turn off the negative inner dialogue telling me to be more productive, to go back to work with all the other sheep. I had to change the way I was conditioned to think, and about what I wanted from my life. It was very hard to stop working. Every ounce of me wanted to slip back to the old ways; working hard and long hours day in and day out. This was my comfort zone after 25 years of working my tail off. That was my normal. For me, I needed to switch my focus from chasing the proverbial dollar, which I was conditioned to think was the the-all-end-all, to something more profound, like fulfilling some dreams and to pursue my own internal happiness.

I chose a polar opposite. City life in Canada was busy, and I wanted to be closer to my children as they grow into teenagers. I wanted a small community that Daniel and Angelina could call home. A place they felt as though they could always come back to after university or when they had families of their own and could rely on the fact that it will always be there and relatively the same. This was a constant I grew up with in a small town on Vancouver Island, or when I visited my family in Hungary and when we moved to White Rock BC, we were hoping for the same childhood for our children. Yet every year we were being introduced to a new set of neighbours, new teachers in the elementary school where my children attended, a new boss at work (for me every three years), and eventually all I craved was some familiarity.

All the change keeps you on your toes. To have the same boss, would be ideal. Imagine getting used to someone’s behaviour and being able to predict what comes next. Keeping employees off balance is a way to keep them productive, uncertain, not too comfortable. The world did not seem sane to me; it was moving too fast and seemed schizophrenic , and along with it, the communities seemed to be flawed. This constant fear of not knowing what was around the next corner, the added stress brought on by employees and our school systems, would stop people from settling down long enough to root. It seemed that the family element of making childhood friends had disappeared from the fabric of society, replaced by a superficial fake version of closeness. We had to pretend, because no one was ever around long enough to really get to know one another.

I wanted more from my life than just looking the part. I wanted it all; the connections, the stable job, the good teachers for my kids, the community that had my back… but where would we have to go to find it?

So we chose France, one of the remaining places that hasn’t bent down to the North American lifestyle. One of the last places I came across during my travels that might stay the same long enough for my children to have an ideal childhood.

I switched my preoccupation from making money and buying things to enjoying my new French life. I made goals to become part of my community. I reached them and I made more goals. Which included lovely things like making foie gras from scratch at Christmas time, and yummy delights like macaroons. I love my ‘hanging the clothes to dry’ lifestyle, which includes sunbathing, a garden, star-lit evening swims, champagne aperitifs with friends and late evening meals under the light of the moon. I have learned to enjoy the goûter or afternoon snack, a custom that seems ideal for those with low-blood sugar between lunch and dinner. I also enjoy the taste of fine wine. Now, I don’t just chug a glass back for the sake of a good buzz to ensure a good night’s sleep. I also am enjoying the little moments in between while watching my children grow. I seem to savour each and every one of them and I adapt to my new slower paced life.

Of course I had to find an income that let me stay home. I had to go back to school and really push to get us the homestay job. I had to utilise all our connections to make it happen, but happen it did. Alfonz had to go back to school too. But it is funny how much energy you have when you love the path you are on, and how productive a family can be when they are happy.

But it is not always easy. Of course there are the little idiosyncrasies of small town gossip I detest, but I tell myself that it in every small town in across the world. Some friendships haven’t stood the test of time. But hey, this is a new culture, one that I still don’t fully understand. And I have to be open to all experiences in France including the negative ones. It is all part of it. Perhaps we are still an interesting novelty to some, and people are curious. When they realize we are about as normal as they come, they may be disappointed. After all the ‘American’ stereotype doesn’t play true in our case. Gun toting, ignorant to other cultures, lacking curiosity, loud and boastful, overly generous, filthy rich, materialistic, racist…   Hey, that’s their problem isn’t it! And of course we are not American at all, we are Hungarian Canadians who haven’t our own set of stereotypes to distinguish ourselves from.

There is also much to accept about France when it comes to the time it takes to process things both mentally and physically. Change is often slow, and new things are not openly accepted. But even this I have stopped rolling my eyes at, and learned to shrug my shoulders and say ‘C’est la vie’, because at the end of my day when I tuck my beautiful children into bed, I still think I am the luckiest person in the world.

Occasionally it does get lonely, although I am rarely alone. 6 kids are with me for 20-28 weeks per year. But, I still miss hanging with my friends in Pajamas eating popcorn. If I went back to Canada my friends probably wouldn’t know me anymore, or I would slip back into my old obnoxious self after a few glasses of wine and all my hard work on my inner self would be lost. I dare not go back yet, not without the language, not without truly understanding what I have gained… although it is not Canada I miss.

Canada too has changed. Like old lovers, sadly we have grown apart. It is nice to see you, I wish you well but I wouldn’t actually want to live with you again. It is the same with Canada and me. I love knowing you are well, I will visit but living with you again would be a hard change to make after Europe.

What I won’t compromise on.  I couldn’t give up my local fresh grown foods; meats or produce, and the no GMO laws. I am so used to the many countries that border France that we visit, it would be hard to go back to Canada which is isolated and expensive to travel from. Knowing my neighbours next door is a luxury that I have become accustomed to. Free schooling, free health care and above all the socialist society that has got my back. I don’t miss keeping up with the Jones’. I don’t miss how close we were to America and the insanity that is churned out from the south daily. Here it is about the things money can’t buy. The simplistic life from 50 years ago. I won’t compromise my traditional family life, not for anything.

There are things that are still very hard for me. Which brings me to the dreaded topic of my progress with the French language. It seems that the more I learn the less I know. The more I speak the less I am understood. It is frustrating for someone who talks so much to keep my thoughts to myself. I often want to tell people my ideas, my goals, to have them understand me and know me. I simply sit back and listen and go home and try to put the words together for the next time the conversation might come up. It is a slow going immersion.

On occasion when the moon, the sun and the earth align perfectly and I find the exact vocabulary to match the conversation taking place and I contribute. On these rare blue moon junctions I feel energized and fortunate to have moved here and to have learned so much in only four years. I am humbled knowing the smallness of my former life, and only regret not starting sooner. I feel the vastness of what I don’t comprehend and continue seeking a greater understanding of my life and what I want my legacy to be. For now, I am exploring, searching for what makes my family and me happy. It is the pursuit and not actually happiness that makes you happy.


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