Hello. My name is Lee and I’m a Friends addict. How you doin?
Netflix, ever the enabler, allows me to indulge in my addiction to this icon of TV nostalgia as often as I please. Settling in for my evening of escapism (insert blankets and a fair amount of chocolate here), I am overcome by feelings of wistfulness for a simpler time: when 6 people could be in the same room without being on their phones and when interpersonal relationships didn’t include likes or swiping right. Yet when the credits role I am left feeling happy, because the serious life events that take place on the show are always punctuated with just the right amount of light-hearted moments and laughter. Moving to France, my very own serious life event, inevitably contained moments of sadness and despondency. I just needed to make sure that when the credits rolled after each day, I was left with a prevailing feeling of happiness. Thus my first blog article was born: tips I have gleaned from Friends that can be used to facilitate one’s transition and habituation to life in a foreign country. Humour me…
“Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you?”
When I think of things that are quintessentially French, their gastronomy is number one on my list. Picture the window display of a boulangerie-pâtisserie: artisanal, mouth-watering, almost too beautiful to eat (I said almost) pastries, cakes and macaroons; street vendors selling crêpes dripping with Nutella; a brasserie with a perfectly cooked duck breast or beautiful beef bourguignon on the menu. Ah, the famous French cuisine in one very delicious nutshell. But (why does there always have to be a but?), every now and again I would be ceremoniously presented with something that evoked the sentiments of Smelly Cat. Think frog legs or duck liver pâté. What are they feeding me? Now, if there is one mantra you need to fully embrace as a newcomer to a country, it is to try new things. I am not saying that every experience will be a pleasant one (insert my supreme dislike for raw minced meat served with egg yolk, aka steak tartare, here), but it will be just that…an experience. And each one will serve as another notch on your ever tightening belt 🙂
“Yeah, it’s like a cow’s opinion. It just doesn’t matter. It’s moo.”
Moving to a foreign country and learning a new language is no mean feat. Mistakes will be made. I’ll share the following example with you (I was spoiled for choice): It wasn’t long after arriving in France that my husband and I decided to treat ourselves to an evening out. “That’s nice”, you might say. At the time, I rather naively mirrored your point of view. However, I quickly realised that sweating profusely at the prospect of not understanding the waiter, deciphering the menu, ordering in French and putting up with the not-so-subtle stares from our fellow diners couldn’t quite qualify as nice. As it turns out, my fears were completely justified. When asked what I would like for my main course, I responded; “Je voudrais du poison (pronounced with a “z”) s’il vous plait.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realised my mistake…yip, I had ordered poison. A nice fillet of a substance that is capable of causing illness or death, on a bed of steamed rice. What I was meant to say was; “Je voudrais du poisson (pronounced with an “s”) s’il vous plait.” As in the cold-blooded vertebrate animal with gills and fins that lives in water. It took a couple more embarrassing incidences like this before I started taking them less seriously. More often than not, it’s the funny experiences that you learn the most from. So the next time your version of my poison/fish bump in the road comes along, remember: “It just doesn’t matter. It’s moo.”
Literally. As in, take a moment to look around you and realise that you are not alone. Through my French lessons, I have met some lovely people hailing from all over the world in exactly the same boat as me. I often wonder what it would be like to be a fly on the wall during one of our get-togethers. A multi-continental group, a United Nations of South Africa, the UK, Portugal, Venezuela and Spain established to discover new cultures, promote the sharing of experiences, provide support and foster new ideas about how to navigate integration into the French way of life. I joined a “South Africans living in France” group on Facebook and found the information sharing platform incredibly helpful and comforting. Through a French-English language exchange, I stumbled upon a treasured friendship and discovered that she too felt daunted at the prospect of travelling to English speaking countries. Yes, making friends in a foreign country is a challenge, but it is surmountable. Join a gym, take language classes, volunteer, or participate in local events. Pivot!
I am by no means trying to undermine the difficulty of integrating oneself into a new community, but it certainly becomes less formidable when every situation is approached with a sense of humour. So the next time you feel overwhelmed, consider the following sentiment from Monica: “Judge all you want to but, [points to Ross] married a lesbian, [points to Rachel] left a man at the altar, [points to Phoebe] fell in love with a gay ice dancer, [points to Joey] threw a girl’s wooden leg in a fire, [points to the box that Chandler is in] livin’ in a box!”
Maybe moving to a foreign country isn’t that bad?