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NewsletterDecember 2004

This month's newsletter is different. I'm sending you an article I wrote about living in France. The article is geared for those thinking about or already living in France.

Your place as an expat in the French experience.

Expats living in France can be divided into two general groups: those that live immersed in the 'French experience' and those that live on the perimeter of it. Those on the 'inside' live with French people, maybe a spouse or friend, they speak French on a daily basis, they live the French experience. Those that live on the perimeter don't have the opportunity to speak a lot of French or experience French culture up close and personal. They are expat couples or others that for whatever reason just don't spend a lot of time on the 'inside'. It is important to know which place you will occupy. Why? Depending on your place, daily demands will be different, dictating what you will need to be prepared for.

Those living deep within in the French experience, live on a daily basis without their culture of reference. They hear and speak a language that they don't think in. They have to re-learn such normal daily life habits as group eating and living. They have to change the way they do things at a very basic level. Something not all of us can do. Living this way is tiring and demanding.

Living on the inside is not for everyone, adapting is hard work. You must change, and do things differently. Example, for the French eating is a ritual, with the process written in stone. First the appetizers, then the main courses, followed with cheese and then deserts, Needless to say that's not what I grew up on as an American. At first this type of up close personal cultural learning is fun but after a while it's tiring. I ended up craving a meal in front of the TV, where I could eat, as I wanted. Something I rarely did in the states but felt driven to do in France: a kind of cultural statement.

Those living on the perimeter of the French experience, live within their culture of reference. They mostly hear a language they think in, experience a daily life known and familiar to them. What's difficult is constantly finding ways to bring in their native culture. These can be thought of as expats that want to live in France, but on their own terms. They want and need to have familiar cultural guidelines around. Satellite TV, friends, or even travel to their home country provide familiarity and comfort.

Those living on the perimeter still are touched by the French experience just at a distance. They experience French culture in little chunks and really don't see the 'whole.' Often they don't have head on collisions with French culture that someone living on the inside does. They don't for example eat as the French do but continue to eat according to their culture. Those outside the perimeter live in France on their own terms; those in the center live on French terms. Their living reflects the French lifestyle, not their home culture. They adapted their living to the French.

Sure it's not 100% but nevertheless it's a lot. They have had to almost in someway become French. Or at least adopt French ways. Maybe this is what they wanted a change or maybe they are like me. They have come to terms with living in France, found middle ground that they made into a home.

Of course it's not really black or white, you're not on the inside or the 'outside'. There is a gray area. Those close to the French experience still have their native culture and those far from it still must interact with the French on a daily basis. I'm just trying to illustrate there is a difference. Those living in France must adapt their way of living no matter where they fall on the French experience scale.

In conclusion, it's important for those about to move to France or those newly arrived to try and figure out where they fall on the French experience scale. Will it be close or far? Will it change often due to family, work or personal situation? What will be expected of you when you're on the inside? Will you need to conform to the group or can you be yourself?

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