Last year, we made the decision to move to France after a crazy exhausting year hopping back and forth (mainly for me) from the Philippines to the United States to France to Sierra Leone. Ten months ago, we finally did it and ended up in Strasbourg, a lucky coincidence because when I visited the city last year, I fell in love with everything about it. But before the fairytale of living in this amazingly beautiful historic city, there was the comedy that came with the move.
First off, moving countries, do not recommend it. Hate it. Never want to do it again (but probably will, at some point). I have never belonged to the Marie Kondo way of life. Everything I own brings me joy. I literally keep and still wear clothes I’ve had since high school (though not a hoarder!). But moving, I’ve discovered, really tells you a lot about yourself. And I’ve discovered that I am ruthless. As I was the unemployed one by the time we were winding down our stay in the US, I made Craigslist my bitch and cleaned out our apartment to the point that we looked like we had been thoroughly robbed two weeks before we left. It also brought me the realization that the couch was actually an camper van sofa (in hindsight, no wonder that couch was a horrible shade of brown and that it was too small to even fit me!). It also allowed me to meet amazing people who gave us brand new ideas about our old furniture, like the lovely man who wanted to buy our coffee table because he was going to make it into an iguana cage for his girlfriend, and promptly sent us the photo of this gem of an idea (not that we were asking to see this treasure).
It also made me realize how acclimated I got to Boise and how safe it felt. Now when we first started getting rid of stuff on Craigslist, I had this very Manila fear (i.e. “I’m going to be alone! In the apartment! While people are looking at the table / sofa / bed! What if they are murderers!”) and my very practical French husband looked at me patiently and said “but they need to come into the apartment anyway to pick up the furniture.” Back home in Manila, I don’t think I would ever willingly invite strangers into my house. I didn’t even know my neighbors or cared to know them. But after several incredibly nice people, including old grannies who gave me cookies and wanted to know every single thing about the adorable short Asian girl who worked in Ebola land and had a French husband, my guard was down and I was pretty relaxed about letting people into the apartment. It never occurred to me that there would be people who would think that I would be murdering them instead. My favorite encounter was an Afghan man who didn’t want to come up to our apartment (because it is such a murder house) until I picked him up in the parking lot and he could assess that he could take me in a fight (I’m five feet flat. Of course, he could). After a few weeks volunteering at a refugee resettlement agency, I’d like to think I was pretty good at picking out accents, so just rolled with it when he said he came from India (he was obviously not). I didn’t say a word when he finally admitted he came from Afghanistan but just sympathized when he said Boise was scary (I think he was mistaking it for Baltimore).
Secondly, there was also the little known process of registering as an emigrant of the Philippines that I had to go through. I’m pretty well traveled and have been since I was a year old. But I am a stickler for rules and find it difficult and annoying as hell to travel as a single Filipina (there is a class somewhere that all Immigration officials worldwide take where they are told to hassle any single Filipina woman because they may be a) a domestic worker, b) a mail order bride, or c) out to marry a rich white dirty old man), so I wanted to do things right. So I dutifully went to the Commission of Filipinos Overseas and attended a half day seminar on living abroad.
Now this seminar is probably incredibly interesting to someone who has never traveled abroad. They give you useful tips like “so there are four seasons in other parts of the world... like winter. So expect snow and cold. But colder than the airconditioning in malls!” In a sense, I really appreciated it for trying to prepare hapless Filipinos who were traveling for the first time. I even appreciated the fact that it delved delicately into the possibility that there were people there who could be sex trafficked or duped into something they were not prepared for.
But I have also never looked for profiling so much in my life! I would really like to say that several full passports, a pretty good education, being well-read, etc. etc. could have gotten me the stamp on my passport without literally sitting through a mini sex-education class (“So do you know about birth control? Condoms? You don’t have to have kids if you don’t want to!” led me to wanting to melt into a puddle on the floor so I could escape the room). I’m also sure that the 70 year old Filipina married for 40 years to a nice old Italian gentleman could also have done without the sex education talk.
Thirdly, there is something really jarring about moving from the United States to France. I think that culture wise, there is something fundamentally different between Americans and the French. While I tend to think Americans are direct and straight to the point (and a little bit loud about it), my experience of the French is unfailingly polite, courteous and a little meandering. When in Boise (not so much the big US cities), it would take me 10 minutes to extricate myself from the small talk of the cashier in the grocery store, the French are pretty politely disinterested in you. The latter suits me just fine as I’ve never been a huge fan of the long “hello, how are you, how’s your mother / father / husband / wife / children / neighbor, oh how about that weather” conversations that I constantly find myself in when in various parts of the world. My experience in the US has been the long conversations about nothing truly important but just the overwhelming friendliness and niceness of people; while in France, I feel like there is an utter dislike for small talk and the preference to discuss the meaning of life. (This is obviously an oversimplification so don’t take any of this against me!)
So moving countries. Wonderful amazing experience I care never to do again and the experience that just keeps on giving (stay tuned for even more wonderful stories).
Abbi is a petite human, blogger, amateur photographer, permanent humanitarian, avid traveller, culture addict, giant bookworm and impossible foodie.