The Beauty of My Life in France

I wrote this over a year ago. I chuckle when I read it. Now, I’m rolling with the laundering punches, hanging my laundry like a French gal. I can find where I’m going. Today as I look out the window at the snow covered Alps and the rolling, steep hills of Southern France, I’m thankful for my life here. It hasn’t always been that way. My joy here has been hard-earned. But I’m convinced that despite my own bits of depression in moving away from home, God has planted me here and caused our family to bloom in beauty.

With that in mind, read my culture-shocked view of our beautiful lives in France:

We accomplished one thing today. One.

But through it all, we’ve seen snippets of God’s grace—a young boy who helped translate for me as I tried to enroll our kids in school; a woman at the French electric company who spoke blessed English with a smile; and our friend Todd helping us locate said electric company in the middle of Grasse, a city of 100,000 with wildly narrow streets named after French people I can’t pronounce.

Today our accomplishment was measured in a piece of paper—a glorified electric bill that, apparently, is the key to life in France. Without this elusive paper, it is impossible to secure a phone, a bank, a life. So, we are on step one of many, many steps—culminating in Internet access, hopefully in a couple of weeks.

Life here is slow. I marvel at how very similar the French pace of life mirrors its maddeningly long washing machines. How I long for a Whirlpool that gets the job done in less than forty minutes. Try two and a half hours! For entertainment—since we have no TV—our children take turns sitting in front of the washing machine in our kitchen (yes, kitchen) and watch the laundry spin aimlessly around. Perhaps they will spot a sock, or a pair of jeans, or a wayward stuffed animal. The suspense is killing me.

The wash cycle stops every once in awhile to pause and reflect on its washing task. Three minutes of nothingness—no revolutions, no soap introductions, no whirling—just reflection. And then it revs up again for another few minutes of tossing. This goes on for so long, my children have begun to lose interest in the inevitable slow revolutions of socks and unmentionables. Oddly, the dryer does the same thing, only there is no clear door to watch the clothes tumble. After spinning for another hour and a half, they are warm but damp. No wonder everyone here hangs laundry.

I am learning just how impatient Americans are in this crucible called laundering. I want my clothes clean and I want it now. I want to be able to stuff more than seven items in the belly of the washer. I want to be able to do all my wash in just one day. It will never happen.

As if to teach me patience, I was greeted yesterday in our tiny villa’s front courtyard by some happy flowers I remember from home: impatiens. Dressed in coats of red, pink and coral, they seemed to reprimand my impatience. So, I stopped and looked at them, realized they were dry and coiled inward, and doused them with water from a hose that took me ten minutes to figure out. My dear husband said “It’s simple—just turn on the water, hold this part firmly, and twist this gray part” which I did, spewing water everywhere. Today, it took me another ten minutes to change the name on our mailbox.

I think I’m allergic to France. I’m testy, needy, tired, confounded, embarrassed at my primary school French. Just today, I looked at my arms, discovering a hive-rash populating my hands, forearms, elbows and upper arms. My arms are allergic somehow and I don’t even know how to find Benadryl.

But I do know how to find my village. I can locate a baguette. I can buy fromage. I can say Bonjour and Merci with all the other tourists peppering Southern France this time of year. The shopkeepers have a tired look about them when they hear my Americanized accent and seem to long for “la rentree” when all the pesky tourists pack up their Peugeots and head back to rainy London.

I, too, am looking forward to “la rentree” because it means a bit of stability for our family—the swing of schedules, school, and rhythm will return to our family. Life has been a series of transitions for us the past six months. All I want to do is unpack our things when our container comes mid September, sit on the couch, and breathe a bit. I want to cook with my motley collection of pots and pans, eat on my dishes, and tuck the family in between our sheets.

And in that I will dream of home—of twenty tasks accomplished in one day, of washing machines that spin behemoth loads of laundry at lightning speed, of arms without rashes, of everything familiar.

With my bread and cheese and breathtaking views of the Mediterranean, though, I think I’d rather stay here in the adventure of it all.

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