27 April 2009

Some things don't change

One thing you can say about MétéoFrance: when it starts predicting rain, you can count on it being consistent. Again today, they say, rain, rain, rain over the whole western half of France (and showers over the eastern half). We expect rain this afternoon.

Even though it never did rain yesterday. In fact, late in the afternoon the sun came out and I sat outdoors for more than an hour, throwing the ball to Callie. Walt taught her to bring the ball back the other day by giving her a treat each time she did it. It took less than an hour for her to get the idea. So now it's more fun for all of us.

These are cherries. I remain optimistic
about their prospects, despite the weather.

It's hard to keep your spirits up when the weather turns on you. It takes just a few days to get used to bright sunshine and warm temperatures. The funny thing about French weather, at least in the northern half of the country, is that from April to October, as soon as the sun comes out, it feels warm and pleasant. As soon as a cloud covers the sun, you feel a chill.


Actually, the same thing was true in San Francisco, and even down in Silicon Valley when we lived there. As soon as the sun goes away — at dusk, for example — there's a chill in the air. Even on the hottest afternoons in Silicon Valley, you'd have to move indoors by the time the sun set because it was too cold to enjoy sitting outdoors, and there was nearly always a chilly breeze. San Francisco was worse, because summertime fog is a daily occurrence. It was nearly always cold in San Francisco, in other words, and the heat stayed on year-round.


Happy here, though, that I am. Happier than I would be in other places I've lived, I think. We have a beautiful place to live, with privacy, wide open spaces, and room enough for a nice garden. It's quiet. People don't meddle in your private life. The scenery is beautiful, the food is great, and the neighbors are friendly and accommodating. We don't have so many close friends — it's harder and harder to find close friends when you get to be 50 or 60 years old. Other people have their own lives, and so do we. Most of our neighbors are older than we are and have their own extended families to occupy their time and energy.


I read several expatriate blogs. Most of them are written by Americans who are living in France. Some of them take on a fairly negative tone when it comes to what it's like to be a foreigner here. People miss American food, friends, weather, and culture terribly. They can't say something good about the American things they love without turning it into a string of negative comments about the near-equivalent in France. They can't stop comparing... or complaining.

Some call French people "the Frenchies." They fall into stereotyping, as if all French people were the same. They judge the entire population on the basis of the few people they interact with or observe. That's a recipe for failure when it comes to feeling like you are a part of the culture and society around you, and finding happiness here. When you say "the Frenchies," you are implicitly setting yourself apart and you are expressing a negative, dismissive judgment of all these people who, in your mind, aren't "like us." And there's just a short distance between "not like us" and "not as good as we are."

Local lilacs

I think I understood long ago that France is an entire world in itself, and, as they say, « il faut de tout pour faire un monde » — it takes all kinds to make a world. You have to keep reminding yourself of that reality. Gross generalizations about "Frenchie" behavior, appearance, attitudes, manners, habits, or intelligence are just that — generalizations. Abstractions. You have to take each person you meet as an individual, whatever the person's nationality or background.

Apple blossoms

Often I feel like the negative feelings that expatriates develop about the surrounding culture and population have very deep roots in the individual expatriate's psyche. Somebody once told me that people often seek in vain to find geographical causes or solutions to their psychological problems. I wonder if these unhappy expatriates would actually be happier if they returned to America (or England, or wherever). I'm sure they would miss France. But you have to wonder why they stay here. I know, life is complicated and you don't always feel like the option of going back home is the best one. Sometimes it isn' t even a possibility.

A big tree in the woods out back

I guess too that commenting, even negatively, on the stereotypical French person, situation, or way of doing things has a certain entertainment value — or at least the blogger thinks it does. There's a fine line between, on the one hand, astute observation and analysis of the society and individuals around you and, on the other, setting yourself up as a perpetual outsider examining every detail and foible you observe with a critical, even cynical, eye.


  1. I think it's dangerous to generalize about people who generalize. I use the word "frenchies" both on my blog and when I'm speaking to friends but always with affection. I complain about administration but who doesn't? I've chosen to make my life here and so any negative comments on the French could easily just be about frustrations anyone could be going through in their daily life - whether stateside or abroad - and should be taken with a grain of salt.

    So if all of a sudden I'm lumped in with those who use negativity to make more entertaining writing that is a generalization.

    I do happen to agree that it is useless to complain about a country all the time and to stereotype its people but I don't think I should feel the need to defend myself or even that you should feel the need to defend this post, I see where you're coming from but I just wanted to show you where I am coming from lumped in with the other expat bloggers.

  2. Wow, Ken, you sure opened yourself up for retorts on this one! Next time stick with politics and/or religion (smiley face here).

    But, good for you, your post is beautifully written, thoughtful, and insightful and spoken with real authority on the subject.

    My only comment is that it's sometimes difficult to ascertain the intention of a writer when something is taken out of context. For instance, with my very best friends we feel free to horribly insult each other knowing that we mean no harm. We are just acknowledging and exaggerating each other’s human foibles for humor.


  3. Perhaps people soon forget the reasons for leaving their original country. As bad memories and frustrations fade, new ones take their place but these are of France. Nowhere is perfect. Maybe it would be nice to maintain a foothold in both as I know many English do, but then you surely never know where you belong at all. I sometimes feel expats feel guilty about deserting their country and have to grumble about France to ease their guilt.
    I think you might have offended a few folk, Ken, but the truth hurts sometimes. You obviously love France so much, "warts and all".
    You are also very brave to stick your head above the parapet in this way !!

  4. I use "Frenchies" in an affectionate way as well. It's like the French calling us "ricains". Using your logic, that would be pejorative as well.

    And geez, my post on the BBQ was not meant to be negative in any way whatsoever, it was just recounting a nice night out with friends. And to be fair, even the Frenchies there all agreed that American BBQs are generally better than French ones. It'd be like if I was a French person in the US eating home-made confit de canard - it just wouldn't compare to the American version. Like I said, the French do some foods better than the Americans and vice versa - it was definitely not a case of saying "the Americans do everything better."

    Just because we live in France doesn't mean we have to turn our backs on the US, or that we can't appreciate American cuisine from time to time.

    And in my case, obviously now that I have nothing tying me to France, if I was unhappy here or didn't like France, I would LEAVE. But that's not the case. And I don't think it's fair to insinuate that I (or anyone else for that matter) have only met a "few" Frenchies - isn't that then lumping all expats into one category? I spent five years in the middle of nowhere surrounded by French people (and in-laws) and no foreigners. Not to mention that all of my clients are French. That adds up to a fair number of people.

    It really seems to me that in this case, you're the one trying to see negativity where there really isn't it any.

  5. hmm, contentious post apparently :) I was born in Britain, live in France, and I blog. But I would *hate* to be called an "expat blogger". I am not an "expat". This is my home, and "the Frenchies" are not strange foreigners -- they are my friends and neighbours. Of course there are aspects of life in France that can be annoying, but you can say that about anywhere. Living here means you get to appreciate the good stuff and complain about the bad stuff, just like everyone else :)

    @Ksam, fwiw I read your post on the BBQ and it didn't at all seem to fall into Ken's category of expats complaining about "Frenchies". You just pointed out that in general Americans are better at BBQs than the French, which could well be true -- they are two completely different food cultures. I didn't get the impression that you therefore considered Americans to be superior to the French in every respect. But I have come across blogs that correspond to Ken's description. I can't remember which they are, because I don't read them :)

  6. Thanks Veronica - that makes me feel better, that's how it was meant to be taken. But if you read the comments Ken left on that post, he unfortunately did not. At first I thought he was just kidding, but now I realize he was serious! That's the problem with blog posts - you can intend them to be written one way, but people can take them totally the other, depending on what mood they're in and what's going on in their own life.

  7. Ken

    Looks like your fruit trees are well ahead of mine - I would say by 4 weeks or more. I have a noisetier de Turquie and the buds are just coming out.

  8. have u read The Geography of Biss? The author (Weiner is his name...harhar) questions if where u live makes u happy, or unhappy......a good read.....now in paperback.....I would be blissful living in france i think....and there was no chapter on france.....

    i hope y'all get all the rain outta the way now before my trip to paris next week...haha

    (staying away from the seemingly touchy topic altogether...yikes)

  9. @Ksam: I hadn't read the comments. Some of them do seem a tad chauvinist/excessively generalized based on their own experiences, but I don't think your original post was.

  10. Milk Jam, I certainly wasn't trying to lump anybody together or target any particular person. I don't see negativity everywhere! Well, maybe I do, but don't we all?

    And KSam, you're right, people interpret blog posts, like e-mails, in various ways, depending on the mood the (we) happen to be in when they (we) read them. BTW, some in Brittany might be slightly offended to be told they live in the middle of nowhere -- like some in northwestern Minnesota might be LOL! There are definite advantages to living in the middle of nowhere, I can attest to that. Born there and live there now, I guess.

    Veronica and Jean, thanks. I do love France warts and all, as I love America warts and all. It's just harder to say "oh, these Americans, they are all crazy" when you are one of them. When you are one, you know that we aren't all just alike. Blogs are for daily thoughts and those were mine for today.

    The Beaver, our fruit trees are farther along than I thought they might be in late April. Please send positive vibes for May and June.

  11. Hi Ken

    You have been quite ambitious with all the new garden plots. My friend and I want to start a community garden of sorts. Since I live in a condo and don't have any yard to speak of (good thing since my husband hates yard work) we are going to dig up a plot on my husband's business property. We were hoping to get it in this year and be able to plant, but I think all we can do this summer is prepare the plot. It needs to be tilled, de-rocked, amended with peat and since I can't buy horse manure at the grocery like you (by the way I got a big laugh out of that) I have to make arrangements with my friend who owns horses and I see if we can get her horse poop! Yikes that's a lot of work for 2 old girls. I'm trying to drum up some help from some men (ie NOT HUSBANDS) that would enjoy the benefits of home grown produce.

    I hope you will be showing us the bounties of your harvest. The cherry trees look like they are ready to bend with abundance. Will you can or freeze your produce and fruit? It looks like if the weather is good you will have plenty to get you through next winter.

    I am going to my friends house this morning where we planted a garden to get spring lettuce and spinach. I am going to make salmon tonight for dinner to serve with the fresh produce. It's like eating pure vitamins! BTW do you bathe Callie everyday? That little girl is beautiful!


  12. Melinda, predictions are for good weather starting this coming weekend. Good for you... and us. I'll have to look for that Geography of Bliss book.

  13. Hi Linda, good luck and bon courage with the garden. I have collected 2 wheelbarrow loads of rocks out of our garden plots this spring -- and that's after tilling them twice a year since 2004 and pickup up rocks every time!

    I could tell you enjoyed the idea of being able to buy horse poop at the supermarket. And it is true, here.

    Callie gets two baths a day, most days. They aren't full baths, but are a good spraying off of her legs, belly, and tail after each walk. Only on days when the ground and grass are completely dry, or completely frozen, is a bath not necesary.

    With excess cherries, should excess there be, I will make confiture. Freezing them would also be an option if they really produce. Or putting them up in alcohol for long-term preservation.

  14. Now I understand not having raised beds in your "potager". I am amazed at the amount of plums you are going to have. Do you know what kind they are or what color?
    Funny about one of the comments. My sister in her countryside house made a barbecue "improvised" out of an old wheelbarrow. In summer we barbecue sardines that are "out of this world". As a present, I want to bring back a "real" barbecue from the US (probably Webber) since they cost less here than in France. I wonder if the sardines will taste the same. Sometimes it is better not to fix something old that "ain't broken". Maybe be after the extra charge for shipping and custom, I might just give her the money. Do you guys have a barbecue? what kind?

  15. Love your photos, Ken. That lilac is so lovely!

    Milk Jam, I hope you don't mind if I steal your great line, "it's dangerous to generalize about people who generalize." Maybe a tendency to stereotype is built into our genes...

    I've never been an expat in France, but I can tell you that I felt like one when I moved here which is a small town in Alabama.

    My first friends were non-natives, preferably Yankees. There seemed to be lots of racists here, or at least my imagination told me they were.

    Everyone was related also. We bought a car late one night and the next morning I went to a tennis lesson where someone stopped me to say "I heard you bought a car last night." Gosh, I about fell over! This woman, who I didn't even know, was the car dealer's sister. There are few secrets in a small town.

    One thing I was careful to do was NEVER criticize Alabama or my town in front of natives. I would however let off steam with my ex-pat, er Yankee friends from time to time.

    BTW I have learned that most people here aren't racists, but I know a few. I like what you said about treating each person as an individual, Ken. That may take time and as we get older many of us get kinder.

    Vive la difference, it takes all kinds to make a world and luckily there's room for us all here (I think I've said this before)

  16. OK, Evelyn, Alabama, sure, I can understand, but France? LOL!

  17. Hey Ken,

    All my near ancestors and living relatives hail from Northwestern Minnesota except for a few who found it too crowded and moved to Western North Dakota in search of the Middle of Nowhere. Hard to find a good Middle of Nowhere these days. I think you've found one of the best.


  18. Many thanks for this post! I often have the same impression of negativity from anglophone-in-France blogs--it's so good to know I'm not the only one. This is also one of the reasons I've stopped keeping a public blog: I found myself complaining out of solidarity, even when what was bothering me had nothing to do with living in France as opposed to elsewhere.

    On the other hand, you're very right that humor and condescention are often a question of nuance, and that the interpretation of that often depends on the reader. I also think you have a better perspective, having lived in France, left, made your life elsewhere, and returned on your own terms. Perhaps some of the negativity of us young(er) folk is fear of not being able to make our dreams grow here among all of the unknown and often suprising obstacles.

    It's raining here, too, but curiously good weather for walking home from work.

    Your plum tree is further along than mine is, too. At least, I think mine's a plum tree. (Experience with fruit trees before the fruit is ripe = 0)

    --Rebecca (ex trente-trois-mille)

  19. Ken

    We are having good weather these days ( last yr at this time we still had snow on the ground) and it's going to be 28C today at its peak and all the fall bulbs that i have planted last Sept/Oct are coming out - I have not lost any to the weather or those pesky squirrels. I have already spread my corn gluten against "les pissenlits" , the lawn is raked and I have to wait for another 4 weeks to reseed some areas that have been damaged either by the salt that is spread by the city or rabbits.

    Hopefully the nice weather that I am enjoying now will come your way . I don't mind the hot weather so long my plants get a boost :-)

  20. As someone with dual nationalities and about to become a serial expat, I think it is up to anyone on the the receiving end of a national stereotype or nickname to decide whether it is offensive or not. The deliverer of such terms may assure that it is meant in friendship, but in my experience, underlying that is an intent to patronise and irritate. Very few national nicknames are not tainted by negative resonance for the people they are used to describe.

    Personally, I dislike being referred to as an Antipodean, and very few people even bother trying to disguise Pom as anything less than an insult. I'd be surprised if Americans really appreciate being called Yanks or Septics, and I think the best that can be said about the term 'Frenchie' is probably that it is better than calling someone a Frog.

    With regard to the guilt involved in being an expat, for me it has nothing to do with deserting 'my' country. Countries don't mean much, but people do. The guilt is to do with deserting family, and gets worse as time goes by.

    In the interests of lightening up, I agree with Bill that one can tease good friends way beyond the limits of good taste, and it's a great laugh. It's one of the tests of deep friendship, but is also a game that must be played in private, with people you are very sure of.

  21. Susan, I appreciate your comment. Rebecca, yours too.

    Susan, I don't personally like being called a Yank because "Yankees" in American means something entirely different. What is a Septic, though? I'm feeling offended just reading the term, LOL. I share your guilt about the feelings of having abandoned family. That gets harder as we all grow older. And I also agree with you and Bill about that kind of teasing being something that is fun in private, when you are sure of your relationship with the person or people you are sharing such teasing with.

  22. Nadège, those plums are little red ones as pictured here. And we have two barbecue grills, one French and one American. I'll post pictures.

  23. I agree with Susan. Being an "ex-patriot" myself, countries don't mean much for me, but surely people and roots do.

    Most often, I do indulge in teasing my friends too, but sometimes I'm not sure they understand what I'm driving at.

  24. At the risk of not being controversal, I'd like to book Walt who's obviously some sort of dog whisperer, for an hour to train Lulu to fetch a toy and actually give it back. We've been at it for months! She just wants to play tug and run around with it. There again at least she chases after it and picks it up, our last poodle (Dusty) would just look at you, frown and say "pourquoi?"

  25. Ken

    You will have the definition of "septic" here:

  26. Linda, good luck with your garden idea! Sounds ambitious and great :)

    I haven't read enough blogs with people seeming to be complaining about France, so I don't have a comment about that. I can say that I have never liked the "ricain" word or the "Amerloque" phrase. I don't know why, except that I feel like they are packed with a definition of Americans that isn't great. It might be my self-consciousness reading into it. As for the term Frenchie, it sounds pretty friendly to me, and there is a French woman living in Minnesota who calls her blog "Une Frenchie dans le Midwest". :)) She recently wrote the cutest post about all of the things she loves about Americans and American life, and it was stuff that I've never thought of before as being different than France.


  27. Must admit that I cringe every time I hear the term "Frenchie," mainly because I know one person who uses it in a not-so-nice way.
    From my observation, most of those who fall under the category of Expats in France with blogs who complain about living in France from time to time, are the ones who live here because of love/marriage, not because they chose to move here because they love France and the life they would have here. Maybe I'm wrong?

    Just last week I listened to someone shred the Languedoc to bits - the food sucks, the cheese sucks, the people are idiots, etc. (they did like the wine though). These people own a vacation home here and I really wanted to tell them that if all they could do was complain about the area, then maybe they should sell their house and stay home where everything is obviously "perfect." (oops, getting a little bitchy there, sorry)

    I have to say though, that French bureaucracy is one of those subjects that usually deserves complaining about. They have definitely come through for us, but have made our lives a living hell from time to time. One has to vent, you know? :)
    Not that it would be any easier being a foreigner in another country, however!

  28. May be as a point final?

    "Sans liberté de blâmer, il n'est point d'éloge flatteur."
    Beaumarchais in Le Marriage de Figaro.

  29. Well, I was going to write to Judy to say I agree with her that the term Frenchy or Frenchie doesn't seem particularly offensive to me, but Loulou has said she's not so sure. Some people use it derisively.

    At any rate, it's not the term that matters. It's using a term at all and separating yourself from the surrounding culture that can become a problem. It's the stereotyping.

  30. When we lived in Washington, D.C. I was a faithful reader of Art Buchwald's daily column in the Post. I loved Buchwald's take on so many things -- particularly his very funny columns about California. Then we moved to Southern California and Buchwald's SoCal columns weren't funny any more. They were true. I yearned to tell Buchwald to cut the crap; all Californians (of which I had come to count myself) weren't shallow ditzes.

    Some people are simply not born in their native countries, but are lucky enough to discover them later in life.

    And my plums are already about half an inch in diameter. But then, I'm a ditzy Californian who thrives on traffic hell [g].



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