The challenge of moving abroad

Meet Julie Pose, who recently arrived in Paris from Scotland. The transition hasn’t been easy but she has discovered more than she could have imagined!

Moving abroad can be quite an adventure. It brings with it the process of making a new life, new habits, new faces. It’s not all rosy, as my post about my first months here shows, but it’s far from rubbish either.

One thing that feels like a big bit of learning for me is my perception and experience of family and friends. It was really, really, really hard to leave my Scottish family back in Aberdeen when we left, not just for me and my relationships with everyone, but also the relationships that I saw between my husband and daughters. Since my eldest was born, my dad would pop into the house on his way to and from work. When the girls were babies, and he was working either super late at night or super early in the morning, we would find a Sainsbury’s bag hanging off the back door, stuffed full with croissants and pain au chocolat, a thoughtful and generous nod to my husband’s nationalist weaknesses.

So coming to Paris meant putting all of that on hold for a while. Instead, I’ve learned that family isn’t found just in our family. It’s also found in friends.

After my youngest was born, he went through a phase of bringing me in an apple turnover (or chausson pomme, for you French aficionados). Lovely, eh? And he brought me one in every single day. Every. Single. Day. I swear to god I started to have an accumulation of uneaten turnovers stashed in the bread bin. Now, let me be honest, I took great pleasure in scoffing the stash, but good grief I thought if I saw a turnover again I’d trample it.

But the reason I’m speaking about this is to say that my family, their attention, proximity and love was an enormous part of our lives. Leaving it felt absolutely stupid. Why would we leave a closeness and familiarity that was so lovely? My brother and his family lived just a 10-minute walk from us, my parents a 20-minute walk and my sister at a distance enough for it to feel quite exotic to go and visit her (15 minutes in the car!). Our little lives intertwined. Regular gatherings for birthdays and barbeques. Thinking about it even now, two and a half years later, makes me sad. I miss it. I miss those years.

So coming to Paris meant putting all of that on hold for a while. Instead, I’ve learned that family isn’t found just in our family. It’s also found in friends.

Now, this is quite the revelation for me. I’ve never had many friends and I’ve been best friends with someone since I was around thirteen. Time passes between us where we don’t talk, see each other, kind of forget about the bond that is there until we are back in touch again and then BOOM! Ah brilliant. We get on fantastically, it’s like we’ve never been out of touch and it’s easy, honest, open and full of love. But this friendship is, as I see it, a lot like family. The relationship with all my family, and especially my sister, is like this. Whether it’s famine or feast, the foundation and undercurrents of the relationships are solid and I revel in the feeling of it all.

New friends though? Ugh. I’m rubbish at all that stuff. I’m rubbish at speaking about the superficial. There’s a reason why I’m a psychotherapist. I like the deep, hard, murky stuff and I’m not afraid to talk about my own or be with others in theirs. I’m also very honest and really, at the end of the day, the best at being me rather than anyone else I maybe should be. All of this combined makes meeting people for the first time feel a bit….well…shonky. I often leave a situation, such as a networking event, thinking oh my good grief what a pillock I am and pleasantly facepalm myself all the way home. Did I really say that? Was that honestly a good idea? Grooooooooooooan. I’m such a twit.

Except this is something that living in Paris, this time, has taught me. That the feeling of trusting the foundation and undercurrents doesn’t have to be made of blood or a lifetime friendship. I’ve learned, through laughs and tears, heartache and joy, that new friendships can be just as deep, meaningful, important, maddening and rewarding as those old familiar ones.

Something different happened for me here with friends. In those first moments of meeting them, I was aware that there was the whole social and superficial layer that is, quite frankly, necessary to guide me in the new-face-unknown. But with each person, who I am now proud as punch to call my friend, I did something new. I stayed me. I might have even said the crap that I normally just think out loud sometimes too.

‘I said “you’re finding this all just too hard, aren’t you?” and she started to cry. Big, heavy tears fell and for a moment everything was real and raw. I saw someone who was struggling, just as much as me – trying to tread treacle and smile without sinking.’

The first time I met my Canadian friend, well, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. We met each other in coffee meet up in a Starbucks in the 6th. We ended up being three new mums to the area and the meetup organiser. It was 10 am on a Monday morning and I’d been in Paris for just a few weeks. I knew no one and I was struggling. I had to pluck up the courage and do something about being so bloody lonely, so I signed up for the coffee and went.

We were sitting next to each other. We were all chatting about what schools our children were going to, what monuments we had visited, what was good to do in Paris with children, all that kind of stuff. I turned to the lady next to me at one point. I felt crap. I was having to make such an effort and I was feeling so lonely and miserable, finding everything so bloody hard that chatting about it all as if it was charmed and glorious was just making me feel worse. I turned to her and I saw in her eyes that it looked just as hard and awful for her as it felt for me. I said “you’re finding this all just too hard, aren’t you?” and she started to cry. Big, heavy tears fell and for a moment everything was real and raw. I saw someone who was struggling, just as much as me – trying to tread treacle and smile without sinking.

“We’ve agonised over not having a clue what people are saying”

We’ve been close friends ever since. We’ve compared notes on how bollocks it is to live here, to not fit in, to be the silly foreigner treated with pity, contempt and disdain. We’ve agonised over not having a clue what people are saying, not knowing what the customs are and not knowing our droite from our fecking gauches sometimes. But we’ve also languished in iconic cafes, spotted French celebrities from a distance and danced in the aisles of Marks & Spencer’s to the Anglo tunes and labels on the food. We’ve laughed at the French and then laughed at ourselves. We’ve spent hours agonising over our own expat experiences and those of our families. We’ve also spent hours in chemo and doctor’s appointments, waiting for test results and willing the cancer to just fuck off and go away.

Boom! There’s a circumstance that’ll test the bones of you and your friendship. Make it or break it. It made ours. I stood in the street with her one day, after the diagnosis, and cried. I just wanted it all to be taken away from her. Life had been hard enough on her already, I didn’t want her to have this. If I could have taken it away from her I would have. But I couldn’t. So I cried instead and she cried too and we hugged and then we laughed and I felt a love for this lady that felt the same the moment I saw the hurt in her eyes over the Monday morning coffee.

I took a chance in being me, facepalm worthy moments or not, and I was rewarded with family in Paris.

There’s another moment that happened here which has also filled my heart and memory with the good stuff. I was singing in a café one evening – a wee concert made up of me on vocals and guitar, and two other guitarists. All acoustic and all for the fun. I had said to my friends that I’d be singing that night and cordially invited them. It was a Friday and, bear in mind, all of my friends are mums. Well. Every single one of them turned up. They were all there. Each one of them had made the effort, and in some cases absorbed the expense of a babysitter, to come over to the 14th and hear us perform. I remember one moment, sitting back on my high stool and looking around the café. Along with my friends were my family, some of my daughter’s classmates and school mums I was beginning to know. The café was full of people I cared about and seeing them showed me that maybe they might just care about me too.

Suddenly I didn’t care so much about the singing. That wasn’t the best thing about that night. It was having my Paris family all gathered together, all around me and me being in the wonderful place of being with them all. Thinking about it now, it reminds me of my old family gatherings that I left back in Scotland. Everyone I love, all together. It’s those moments that leave my heart full.

We are family. I got all my sisters with me. Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.

Julie writes about her experience of adjusting to Paris life on her blog called The Scottish Woman. For more heartfelt tales of her reality please go and check it out.

Thankyou for sharing your story with us Julie

Love MLP