And not just the ones you left behind but the new ones you will invariably encounter in your new life (not in the sun – I live in Normandy) here in France.
By the way, you decided to move to another country not your friends or family. They were probably perfectly happy with the status quo and perhaps bear this in mind when the dynamics of your friendships change. One of my favourite quotes is “the only thing that is certain in life is change”. This is very true but it also rings true that most do not like change one bit. Nope. Not at all.
Even myself, the one that thought yeah let’s go! Brexit, an age cut off for our eldest (he was 13 we couldn’t wait any longer) and George Michael dying on Christmas Day – I’m not a great fan of change either. Had I had my time again and a massive crystal ball I may have well stayed put but where’s the fun in that?! It is easy to do the same thing and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s a comfort zone for a reason and who doesn’t like a comfort zone?! Mine is out there somewhere and I shall collect it one day..
If you want to read more about what prompted our move – you can read it here.
So when you decide to up sticks and move yourself and your family to a different country, it can be somewhat unsettling for those people left behind. It can also make people evaluate their own lives and all that that brings.
For instance, a friend of mine had several people she held dear to her move in the space of a year. Her sister moved to New Zealand, her best friend moved to Wales, another to Gloucestershire and then I pipped up “we’re moving to France”. That’s pretty tough when everyone else around you are making quite life changing decisions. It does make you reevaluate your own set of circumstances. What are you doing? Should I move? Why is everyone leaving? What do I want to do?
You may encounter naysayers who feel very threatened by a move maybe because they wish to do something similar. It may provoke feelings of things they wished they had done or want to do. It can make some people feel very uncomfortable especially if it comes out of the blue.
People might ask you very reasonable questions as to how you will manage and how the kids will be etc. Actually expect a shed load of questions. Like you’re meant to know all the answers! It can be a bit exhausting as you are answering the same things and it can all be quite negative. For instance, I was told “the French are kicking all the Brits out”. Mmmm that’s helpful. Thanks for that.
In any event, they can be rest assured, that all those thoughts would have crossed your mind prior to them asking and putting your house on the market. And you still made the decision to go! Others will just be super excited for you.
You may become very (or not!) popular prior to leaving. People who were too busy to meet up before now want to see you. You may even feel a bit nostalgic for something that isn’t actually the reality. How often did you see your friends and family when you were in the very same country? The amount of people who have said “we never saw them” and “we see them more now than when we lived in the UK”.
So in that respect it is easy to leave. In fact, I think its fair to say that lots of people living in Normandy have some sort of fractured or not a close relationship with family. Not all but a high proportion which makes it easier for them to move. Think about this if you are very close to friends and family. Is this really what you want?
Once you’ve moved, relationships will change. You won’t be hearing the day to day chit chat and will miss great chunks of peoples lives. Unless of course you are speaking everyday or regularly.
People in the UK are always super busy, can’t find the time and Facebook has become the platform for keeping in touch. I don’t know about you but when was the last time you actually phoned someone? Not only that, I do have a French land line which you can phone for free from the UK. But I have never received a call from anyone in the UK on it! I have phoned friends (vice versa) and family from here or using whatsapp or facebook messenger but it is infrequent.
Wow you must be quite an arse I hear you say. Well then most people living here or who have lived abroad are – as they will tell you the exact same thing. You see it’s very easy to keep in touch via facebook so no one really feels the need to do anything other than like, message and it is exactly the same as if you were in the UK.
Although it feels different in that you can’t actually meet up for coffee. There is no popping around anymore. There are people that I would message via facebook that I have (guilty as well) messaged since I left 2.5 years ago! Granted we were exceptionally busy in the first year and a half. Until you do something like this no one can fully appreciate that you are not living your life like you did before.
I didn’t have to prepare a conservation with the doctor before I went in, telephone call , parents evening etc and I never had to fill in a tax return and work out all the paperwork. So I did forget birthdays. I missed my friends children’s birthdays twice in a year. Not exactly a shining example on ‘how to be a good friend’.
It’s getting easier now as we feel much more settled but yes – out of sight out of mind on both sides of the channel.
Also when you do make a return visit those people that were busy before are still busy. There is an element of well we can’t drop everything just because you’ve decided to show your face. Again many people will tell you this. I have one friend that says “oh I don’t bother asking them if they’re free anymore – I just turn up on their doorstep!”. Another said “my friend gets annoyed if I stay somewhere else but when I do visit they have to go out and have about 30 minutes to spare.”
No one is expecting people to stop living their lives but a degree of flexibility is required. Also I’ve found people do expect you to go to them. Well, ordinarily there are lots of things to do and we have already travelled to get there in the first place. So its not always easy to drive around all over the place visiting people who may or may not have time to see you. It does help if they can come to your base.
I know someone who is going back for a week and has made an itinerary to see people. That is never long enough but you don’t want to outstay your welcome either. Many do not have homes there anymore. It rarely is a relaxed chilled out affair when you go back.
On the flip said, most are more than happy to come to see you in France. Funny that! More than happy to stay, be shown around and have plenty of time for that. So, if you want to see friends or family it probably is easier for them to come to you. Equally, you also have things to do and this is also a problem. Now my sister always speaks of the “3 day rule” in that you should never spend time with anyone (asides from your partner as you have no choice!) for more than 3 days. As people are on holiday at yours they believe you should also be. Stay up late, leave the ironing, school run etc etc. We aren’t on holidays unless we are on holiday! We have work and all the normal stuff that you have in the UK but we re-arrange our schedules so you feel like you’re on holiday.
Only this week a couple told me “we’re exhausted (they had broken the 3 day rule they had 5 days), we’ve had friends we never saw that much in the UK and this is their 5th visit in 2 years. We spend more on food, petrol and are tour guides. Their stuff is everywhere and they drink so much and want us to join in!”.
I am a member of a very popular mums group in France and many members on there (especially those that live in the heat of the South) have some stories of blocked septic tanks, increase in costs, lack of understanding and actually they are people they might have had a curry with once a year! These people come out for 10 day “mates rates” gite holiday or worse just a holiday. They then have all the awkwardness of who pays for what. One member said they have simply said no to anyone that wants to visit.
And finally, friendships here are all a bit weird. I have spoken about this before but you can’t really make friends like you did in the UK. I don’t actually know why but I do believe there are petty jealousy’s going on.
More than anything though, there is a very small pool of English speakers to choose from and this is your main problem. Think about your average school playground and the amount of mums you are actually very good friends with from a class of 30. I had 3 children so that’s potentially 90 friends. However, I would say I had 5/6 people that I really clicked with and vice versa. Perhaps another 5/10 people who I would happily chat to and go out for a mum’s night meal with.
The pool here is not even 20 so in real terms you haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance. Add the fact that the vast majority are retired it doesn’t really leave you a lot of choice. The bar is raised very, very low. I mean there are probably people you would actually cross the road in the UK for that you might be an acquaintance with here!
Then you have people who can disguise their intentions by merely being from the same country. We should be friends (unspoken) as we have that common bond. However, these people only want to be friends if there’s something in it for them. Sad but very true. If you are of use to them and this has proven time and time again, then you are deemed to be a ‘friend’. You’re get invited around and fairly soon it will become apparent as to what is required from you and your spouse. After that you will be dropped quicker than a hot potato.
It’s not all cloak and dagger. There are genuine pressures on people here that they would not have faced in the UK. Maybe they struggle heating their home, struggle financially, struggle with paperwork, the language, not liking it here or their relationship has broken down and they have no support. Some people have been burnt by all of the above and, understandably, are not inclined to be making ‘friends’ anytime soon. You will hear “I don’t like the English” or “I keep myself to myself” this is the reason why. Another Normandy lifer told me “it’s hard here as you make friends or think you have and then they leave and go back to the UK”. You’ve invested all that time and energy and then they’re gone. Another friend of mine that lived in Hong Kong said the exact same thing.
I have written more about “The Wild West Of Normandy”. I think you just have to be very aware of all the above and if you think you will have the same friendships you did back home then I think you may be disappointed.
Having said all this, I do have good friendships (yay!) in the UK and thank gawd (see above). They really are essential for your new life abroad. I probably message my sister(s) more than I ever did for general chit chat and a link back home. I will also make the time (infrequent I know but I do message a lot) to phone friends to catch up. I also have a few good (stretching to approx 5) friends here who again are essential. They totally understand frustrations and procedures. You can merely begin to recount a visit to a dentist or where ever and you will immediately get a reassuring nod and tea and sympathy.
Friends are great but foes are not and you need to have your wits about you. I would say focus on yourself, your immediate family, children and loves and try and grab a French friend. This is a whole different post entirely as catching one can be very tricky.
I would love to hear your comments on this one, please feel free to share below or on the facebook page.
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