Winter blues is a common thing, but in southern France? I wouldn’t have believed if I didn’t feel it for myself. I came from grey Vancouver Canada, where the winters are long and wet and I never felt sad when summer ended. Probably because it didn’t last long enough to get used to it… but seriously, I have never felt sad in the winter. In fact I love winter with the rain hitting the windows, curled up under blankets by the warm glowing fire, and sipping warm tea.
There are a few things on my mind…which could explain my bought of SAD.
Have you ever started something so amazing and when it was over you were left thinking, what now? I think I may be at the huh, what now stage of moving to France. I did everything I set out to do and then some. I love France as much as I thought I would…
But.. there is always a but….
How long does it actually take to assimilate to a new country?
It has been two years and three months and we patiently try to make things easier on ourselves but often get bogged down in the bureaucratic system, red tape, paperwork, and the word ‘no’.
Winter brings less work for people in the tourist industry with a lull in visitors to the region. To keep distracted I join different activities; The International Choir of Capestang, French class and volunteer.
Choir is a distraction, but it doesn’t necessarily help to become part of my Capestang community and often feel separate from my village. The locals have mixed reviews about the mainly expat choir; although the quality of the choir has improved vastly over the last few years. Lately, however, the choir increases my ability to sing and I find myself pushing my range. In turn, that builds my confidence in other areas of my life. I am not willing to give it up yet and use it as a pacifier during all the crazy things going on in our life. A little routine never hurt to get out of the blues.
Classes have been a huge help in improving my conversational French. I am a good reader but lack the self-confidence to talk in public. I struggle and freeze mid sentence and apologize for my appalling French. It is getting embaresssing when I talk well at times with people and others not a word comes to mind. Could be learning a new language at age 40 that’s the issue. Alfonz and I truck foreword, not ready to throw in the towel yet.
Volunteering for the political campaign has pushed me to learn French faster as I am surrounded by the French residents of Capestang who speak only a few words of English. My friend who is running for Mayor has a strong comprehension of English (probably the most well-educated person in Capestang-just saying) but he runs the meetings and doesn’t have time to translate. I have managed to get used to being in a full room of strangers and slowly have said a few words here and there. Before familiarising myself with this group, I built up such anxiety before attending meetings. I often wonder why I get myself into uncomfortable situation. Travelling this far outside my comfort zone has always proven beneficial and I will see this through. Especially, when I believe in the campaign. Capestang is a fabulous village, ready for big changes and I want to do my part. We picked Capestang out of the entire United Europe to live in, as did may other expats; we can’t all be wrong.
Healing Our biggest problem has been my hysterectomy. It left me blue, kicking my hormones out of balance for a few months. Now that I am feeling stronger with more energy, I want to fight to assimilate to France. I feel it is time to master the language, figure out how to get things done and above all else, commit.
Medical System I worked hard last year. My official on the book job was a way to get on the medical system so my family can live here reassured that we are taken care of in case of an emergency. When I got ill, of course we needed to take advantage of the services offered to French residents. I had my operation and went to their equivalent of the unemployment office to tell them I’ll be off for six weeks mending from surgery, making it impossible to look for winter work. So they unplugged me from their system and transferred me onto their disability system. The train of thought was, you can’t be on Employment benefits when you are unemployable. When being ill you generally go straight on this system.
What I find funny (not haha funny but that’s a weird colour for cheese, kind of funny) is that I have received no compensation instead they transferred me to another system and I heard nothing from them until today. I am already supposedly back looking for work but apparently I have to prove to the government doctor that I was sick. He wants to officially look at my file. It seems straightforward to me, I had an organ removed, the gynecologist gave me six weeks to recover and now I can search for work again.
Getting on either system took 12 trips back and forth to the UI office in Beziers, countless doctor visits in ten different places for the correct documentation and each time photocopying every document for each office.
And the clincher, I haven’t benefited from either system and wonder why do it at all? I was told that when you are sick you must register with medical and inform them and you get 100% coverage during your hospitalisation. True enough, whir in hospital it was all covered.
It is a frustrating system to work with even for the French and trust me we have good friends to help us through the paperwork. The worst part is reading online how most expats leave around the five-year mark. Why is that? Could it be that becoming part of France is difficult? Not moving away from my friends and family, or even being sick and needing surgery, but dealing with the system. It all leaves me reeling.
So why stay? Today I ask my self over and over again… why did we decide to move here? My stomach aches just looking at the letter from the government doctor. I thought; what now? what next? what letter did I forget to dot? The questions raced through my mind. Anxiety doesn’t help with recovery either, I don’t think. It is bad enough my husband picks up the slack. He physically gets ill on the drive to any government office knowing the answer is always no. No, no, no! I actually hate the word ‘no’ since moving to France. In Canada I never took no for an answer, there is always a way, you just have to find it.
Today, to me, France is the equivalent of a four-year-old child’s phase of always saying NO as they throw themselves on the ground. It takes skill to get them to change their mind. You talk softly and say but that’s not the way it is, and you try to help them understand. I would never get upset or angry because then the nos gets stronger. I actually feel sorry for them. Occasionally the child will understand you and changes his mind even though they are not happy about it. These are winning days and 1 in a dozen. I am a mom, I know.
Over lunch my friend asks me, what makes you stay when you feel like running home? Two reasons I stay.
First, if I go back home without the language I would never forgive myself for not finishing what I started.
Second, I have to wonder if the way I feel has anything to do with my hormones after surgery. The combination of bad timing and a few bumps on the road to success does not equal evacuation plan. I have to give France a fair shake. I have to give France the opportunity to know me as a French speaker before I can judge.
And lastly I remind myself every single day, no one sent us an invitation to live here. It was our choice.