How’s Your French? The amount of times I was asked that when we first arrived – I cannot begin to tell you! Invariably it was asked by someone who had very little French. Although this information was only volunteered after I had to explain my level of language ability. Like ‘French’ was a person or something, enquiring about its general health and well-being. Now funnily enough, I am of the opinion that if your French is of a poorly nature, is unwell, a bit sick then the same could be said for you as well.
Now I appreciate that there are folks out there that do not give a jot that they can’t speak French. It has no bearing on their mental well-being or indeed their enjoyment of living in France whatsoever. But I do genuinely feel that it could have an impact if you are susceptible to anxiety or depression and I’m going to tell you why. So strap in.
Firstly, I am not an overly anxious person. But I’m not 100% care free by any stretch of the imagination. I try to manage any anxiety or worry by putting steps in place on matters that I can control. For example, I was worried about the kids schooling so I did a huge amount of research prior to moving to try to minimise my worry and riskOmeter. That said I can over research things which can have the opposite effect you’re trying to avoid. Trite inspirational quotes are all very well but you tend to nod, go yeah that’s me and then immediately revert back to self.
I used to be more of a worrier than I am now. I think it’s only natural when you have kids etc and it’s also healthy to have a certain amount of worry and concern – it’s there for a reason. But as I’ve gotten older I’m a bit more chilled about things – even life changing decisions. It’s not the end of the world until…..well, it’s the end of the world. Blimey even I can do a trite quote.
It’s when it becomes irrational or is constant or it’s for everything then it becomes a problem. I’m also, believe it or not, quite risk averse (well I was prior to our move!) so these are things to consider before moving to France and to bear in mind when you are here.
Now, I’m sorry if I’m tarring all men here and Mr Normandy would not agree with this in the slightest. He is very keen to be fluent, but there are lots of men who are quite content to let their other half do the French side of things. You often hear how “the wife is much better than I am” at communicating. So it’s kind of left to them to deal with the nitty-gritty. This can be said of same-sex partnerships as well.
If you’re coming as a couple, then please don’t rely on your other half to do the speaking. This will piss them off no end and there’s a real danger of it affecting your relationship. Yes, one of you will take longer than the other but it’s all in the effort. No one got fluent watching BBC Iplayer, Sky TV every night and talking English all day everyday except for “bonjour” “merci” and “deux baguettes svp”.
So how does it affect your mental well-being? Well, prior to moving you’ll think – I’ll pick it up as I will be living there but it’s not as easy as that. You will still have to put in a huge amount of effort and speaking is the last thing that arrives in your fluent kit bag. So, even if you’re not overly anxious or a worrier, having to negotiate your way around French systems could make you that way.
France and only having a limited grasp of the language is great when things aren’t going wrong – but things do go wrong. For example, your car will have problems, need it’s MOT, insurance, breakdown, meetings at school, a&e visits – these are normal things that can stress people out in their own language. Now try doing it without being able to articulate “my car’s broken down” and not understanding or being able to say your vehicle registration (why god why did they give me a plate with two E’s in it?!), where you are, explain the details, policy number oh and here’s another number you need to call and what’s your number?
Your confidence can take a pounding and it can be very easy to curl up in front of BBC Iplayer and only make calls if you absolutely have to. But it’s not going to help you in the long run.
I’d like to just point out that Mr Normandy has chimed “well how often does your car break down?” okay good point but you get the gist.
There were moments, when we had moved into our second rental property (where there was no internet or mobile reception), that the thought of phoning up Enedis to explain that we needed a permanent supply etc made my heart sink. The same can be said of other phone calls I had to make. Make them I did but there were times when I couldn’t sleep at night, going over in my mind what I needed to do and how I was going to do it. I wouldn’t have had this in the UK – I would have just jotted it down on my things to do and not given it much thought.
The same could have been said when I went to get my tyres changed (3 times in total), when I went to a&e (although I didn’t have much time to prepare for that sometimes this is better) or that sinking feeling when I had to phone to say our windscreen was cracked.
I had to give my registration number (this took a few attempts – me and the letter E don’t get on) and phone another number (listening to rapid numbers becomes easier), phone back and arrange a rendez vous to get it sorted. Or when I had to keep going back to the garage to find out what was occurring with the turbo. These are just a few examples.
Can you see that the more comfortable you are with the language, the more likely it is you’re not going to suffer from anxiety or even depression? That’s because you’ll be used to chatting to people and being able to articulate yourself. You’ll start thinking “I’ve got this!” and you’ll also get to a stage where you won’t bat an eyelid at sorting things out and even better you won’t even have to use google translate and spend 20 minutes preparing.
They don’t mention this on a new life on the continent do they? It’s all about the food, the lifestyle and the view. None of those things are going to matter if you are finding managing normal daily chores to be hard work. You can’t live off a view although you could possibly just get pissed on wine all day……in that case disregard all the above.
Oh aren’t you cheery tonight Mrs Normandy I hear you cry. Well, I did say strap in but unbuckle yourself as Mr Normandy’s take (as ever) is the reverse. Mr Normandy thinks, because people tend to do whatever the hell they want here, that this could actually relieve any anxiety or depression you may have had outside of France. Because you could, in theory, never talk to a French person and hang out in the British community or pay someone to translate things for you. The fact you are living in a stunning setting with beautiful scenery and the bird song sounding like a BBC recording to get you to sleep may well make you incredibly chilled out.
Oh and don’t forget “The Roads”- oh we do love the roads don’t we. You can drive for miles with no traffic, no hassle and the sense of freedom you have is second to none. So, there you have it from Mr Normandy’s point of view – this post is totally pointless!
Ignoring Mr Normandy for a moment – I did, however, come across a great Vlog. You know a fancy blogger who videos it rather than writes. Maybe I should take that up but urgh no I couldn’t face seeing myself on-screen. It was from a young American girl who had moved to France as she just fell in love with it. However, she promptly fell out of love with it. Her reasons were quite amusing if not true e.g she had a work visa but it took her 4 months to be allowed to work. When it was her lunch break and she wanted to go to the bank, she discovered that the bank was also shut! So she couldn’t do any of that admin stuff outside working hours or at lunchtime. Also their financial income was becoming strained. Not only that, she re-evaluated the reasons why she had chosen to move to France in the first place. She discovered that the benefits were not outweighing the negatives. And finally, she had existing anxiety that started to re-surface. She would wake up crying during the night over administration matters that she had to get sorted.
If you couldn’t give a jot (and I mean this nicely and not in a judgemental way) then you will have no anxiety or worry with regard to the language barrier.
However, if you want to:-
Communicate and know that you can get things sorted
Think on your feet and not have to use google translate
Not factor in time preparing for a visit to the doctors
Then make the effort to learn the language as much as you possibly can. It does take time but you will get there in the end.
For some handy hints on how you can do this read my blog post here.
If I’ve missed any tips then please feel free to mention them in the comments below.
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