From Texas to Lyon - Meet American Expat Jessica

Published: 14 Mar at 10 AM
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Filed: Interviews,France
Jessica was born romanticizing gypsies and nomads, with a love of travel in her heart. This love has taken her on vacation to places like China, Central America and the Middle East, as well as having lived in Mexico, Costa Rica and three different regions in the U.S. She is currently freezing in France, where she hopes to finally find a home to grow roots. Meanwhile, it’s a great location to explore all of Europe easily and cheaply, and her next trip is taking her to a brand new continent. Her mom is coming to visit her this month and they are going to Morocco. Also, she has a slightly unhealthy obsession with men with mustaches. Jessica's blog is titled Chez Babette (see listing here)

At the ultra-contemporary Confluences de Lyon. Unfortunately he’s not real!
At the ultra-contemporary Confluences de Lyon. Unfortunately he’s not real!

Here's the interview with Jessica...

Where are you originally from?
This is never an easy question for me, but it should be. I can easily claim to be “North American,” as my dad is Mexican, my mother Canadian, and I was born in the Motor City/Motown (Detroit). As an adult I made my home in Texas (the most “foreign” of all countries so far!) before the most current place, France, having lived in Vegas, Costa Rica and Mexico along the way.

In which country and city are you living now?
Actuellement, I live two hours south of Paris in the Rhone-Alpes Region, a one-hour ride to Geneva, in France’s third largest city, Lyon, and on a good day a view of the Alps.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
So far 2 ½ years, and for as long as France will let me, because I am still in love with the lifestyle, wine and cheese even when the bureaucracy wears me down!

Why did you move and what do you do?
I love traveling; I adore new challenges; I thrive on change; I am a restless nomad full of wanderlust; I had an idea of France as an idyllic, fairy tale country where I could make dreams come true! And why not try to learn a new language?

Did you bring family with you?
I came here with the hopes of founding a family – to fall in love and raise bilingual children…

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Practice makes perfect. I’ve traveled all my life and have lived in other cities and countries since I was eighteen, so this transition wasn’t very difficult. I think, however, it is really because I knew what to expect in terms of culture shock and language acquisition. Not to say that it was always a honeymoon!

Lisbon Sunset from the Santa Justa Elevator on New Year’s Day
Lisbon Sunset from the Santa Justa Elevator on New Year’s Day
Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
I didn’t follow the advice I give here and slipped too easily into my own comfort zone, thus, I ended up socialising mainly with other expats primarily because we share the same experiences and a feeling of camaraderie. The problem there is that expats generally move, so I lost a lot of the friends I made when I first arrived. I did purposely search for an apartment with French roommates, who did help me to meet French people and practice the language, and we’re still friends even though I no longer live there.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
  1. You must try the regional food at a local bouchon, but only in the winter. It’s heavy and fatty and filling, but delicious on the cold days between November and March (yes, that long!) Cheesy and potatoes raclette or the variation tartiflette; blood and intestine sausages soaked in hot wine; quenelles; a good Cote du Rhones wine.
  2. Rent a car and tour the beautiful Beaujolais countryside where some of France’s favorite wine is produced. At the vineyards, you can sample the wine along with some of the local charcuterie (sausage and meats) and cheese.
  3. Explore the traboules of Vieux Lyon, some as old as the 15th century, secret passageways where the silk makers of the 18th and 19th centuries protected their textiles. Stroll along the cobblestone streets and window shop.
  4. Take in an opera or musical event at the ultra-contemporary Opera de Lyon, where the performances are always top-notch and the architecture is shocking and a direct contrast to the ancient France that surrounds you.
  5. In the summer, rent a Velov for less than one euro and bicycle around the city, then stop for a swim at the outdoor pool on the banks of the Rhone River before relaxing on the grass by the water or at one of the peniches (a boat-café) for an evening cocktail.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
There is such a genuine appreciation for enjoying life among the French that I really admire. People take the time to share lunch with colleagues and dinner with family, to sit and enjoy a coffee, to take walks with friends on Sundays. It’s a way of valuing the simple pleasures in life.

Learning how to fish at Ambergris Caye, Belize
Learning how to fish at Ambergris Caye, Belize
How does the cost of living compare to home?
It’s expensive! I think France might be one of the most expensive Western-European countries!

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
It’s not a cliché - the bureaucracy of French administration is a nightmare! There is no such thing as customer service. Sometimes you’ll feel as if you are living in the 1950’s - there are very few online ways to get practical things accomplished.
If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Don’t listen to what everyone says about the French – keep smiling even if people don’t smile back! The French are warm and friendly and polite – you just have to get past the formal exterior – and that takes longer than most Americans are used to.

What have you learned from living abroad?
Having to adjust to a new culture makes you question what you’ve learned as “natural” from your own. I’ve learned to change my attitude, mellow. I am finally adjusting to this new life, challenging as it is. Maybe I am learning to take it slower, or to not take it so seriously. When you fall, you pick yourself back up. When you say the wrong thing, you correct yourself. When you are about to give up, you run until your legs give out. Because when you do, the prize gained from keeping on is a memory that will truly last a lifetime.

One of the winding rues of Vieux Lyon on a rare sunny day
One of the winding rues of Vieux Lyon on a rare sunny day
Have you committed any language faux pas?
More than just English-speakers use the word “cat” to describe the female anatomy. In German, muschi, like in French, chatte, can be both the proper name for cat and the dirty, highly sexualized term for a female’s anatomy. Without knowing this (yet) I tried to ask my boyfriend’s mother if her cats were male or female – a very normal conversation topic in America, right? Instead, it basically turned into me talking dirty to my man’s mother, with her responding in a very typically dry, uber-polite French way. This was our first meeting!

“Comment allez-vous?” Even non-French speakers know what this means. One answers politely, as in America, without going into detail about how one really feels. Appropriate answers: fine, good, well, thank you for asking. In French, it is simply ca va. I was asked this question, three weeks into my new life in France, at dinner with a very friendly French couple. Suddenly my mind was blank, as white as my face was red, and I blurted out, just to say anything, “Jessica!” Ever so polite, the couple hid their giggles behind their hands.

Impressions of France?
France, my new country, my adopted country, I am trying you on for size. Will you fit me? Here is what I have slipped on so far, what I have pieced together, trying to create a presentable outfit. Fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of having to speak at all, searching my brain for basic words like toilettes, saying si instead of oui. A delicious breeze at an outside cafe, leisurely sipping a cafè crème, a garcon with a waxed mustache. Ham and goat cheese on a crispy baguette; the vibrancy of a Sunday market, the frenetic rush near closing, vendors offering deals on kilos of unsold cucumbers and melons. A walk along two rivers that compares to the Seine; the warm welcome of a couple accustomed to children, used to daughters, and their curious grandchildren (Oscar, Martin, Victor), reading Tan Tan et Nana outside my door. Some things fit well, others are tight or just not my size; frustration and tears, but also hopeful joy, and excitement at possibilities just beginning to make themselves seen.

Wine is no cliché in France!
Wine is no cliché in France!
What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
The loneliness I didn’t expect, from not making friends immediately (see above). And now that I’ve been here for a while, I am beginning to feel less and less “at home” either here or back in the States.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Do everything that’s painful right away without fear of shame or embarrassment: go to every event you can find, alone if you need to, talk to strangers, strike up conversations, exploit friends for connections.
  2. Refuse to speak your native language even if you can only express half of what you really want to say. Take a language class if you have to (there are ones available for every budget.)
  3. The French value their language and communication in general. I cannot emphasize enough: Learn the language and speak it as often as you can and to whomever will listen!
  4. Don’t try to “fit in.” What may feel awkward now will make you unique later. Be proud of where you’re from!
  5. Get all administrative documents officially translated and have about five copies of each ready. Believe me, you will need it if you plan on staying for a while. This includes birth certificate, diplomas, divorce records, etc.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Chez Babette is my blog in which I explore the newest dart on my map, La France, where I’ve come because of this perpetual ache of wanderlust in my heart. “Chez” is a preposition that means to be at someone’s home and Babette is the nickname my mother gave me when I decided to try to make a home in France. I am trying to find a permanent “chez moi,” a place, and more importantly, a place within my heart, that I can finally feel comfortable enough to call home. I write about:
  1. Living as an American ex-pat in France.
  2. Navigating a culture that is not your own.
  3. Finding a home, the meaning of home, the importance of home.
  4. Poking fun at cultural stereotypes, myths and beliefs.
  5. Recording my adventures and discoveries in L’Hexagone.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Through the contact link in my blog. Come visit me!

Jessica blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Chez Babette has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Jessica, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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