Chez Soi

Adventures of a Year Abroad



We went to California! And I got business class for the first time. They give you sundaes 😀


On the second weekend we got to go to my nephew Lincoln’s house to play for a bit. I’ve since noticed that the term “Chuck a’ bo” (Don’t ask) has passed on to Lincoln. His little brother, Wylie is pretty much still a lump though. But of course that doesn’t stop my dad from tickling him. I got to eat waffles and bagels which we annoyingly haven’t managed to find in France yet. I wanted to take their peanut butter back with us, but I took a bit and realized that it might be a little weird. Anyways, I liked our trip to California. I hope we come back soon 😀

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The Waiters

We are in the USA this week, our first visit since leaving for Paris. We’re marveling at the differences. Kiddo keeps trying to turn on the lights from the outside of the bathrooms (for those of you who don’t know, french bathrooms have the light on the outside…)

But also:

Temperature: 1 degree in Paris, 22 in California.
Salsa: nowhere, everywhere.
Sunshine: rare, prevalent

Curt says everything seems really big: Supermarket aisles are really big, so are products. (People also.) Our son in law has a 48 can box of beers in the garage, and we’re amazed.

And, the thing that I really noticed is how much the waiters say their name to us here. I hadn’t really noticed this much before I left but knowing a waiters or waitresses name is not appropriate or necessary in France. It struck me as overly familiar or something. Food service in Paris is a career. People take great pride in it, and they earn decent money, and so there’s not a solicitousness in the hopes of getting a bigger tip. It’s built into the bill, into the normal transaction. There was a great piece written up about the “notorious French waiter” while we were here, worth reading:

But the one thing California has that Paris does not?
Our Kids and Grandkids!!!! This one is saying, he’s on top of the world.

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Bi-Lingualism Changes Childrens’ Beliefs

In an interesting piece of research that my professor friend Tim Kastelle sent me, it turns out that learning a second language helps people know that your experience shapes you, and thus reduces stereotypes and prejudices.

It’s what one learns, rather than what one is born with, that makes you into whom you are. Interesting that I’m writing a book on a similar thread here in Paris.

I remember when we first got inspired by this idea to move abroad, and help Kiddo to have a more global mindset. A book a friend recommended helped us navigate a short sabbatical of 9 weeks. It was called “the Family Sabbatical Handbook”. It helped us navigate simple things like health care and how to set expectations with kiddo. But mostly it gave us some kind of roadmap so we didn’t feel we were trying to figure it out from scratch. We found several people who had done it before we did and they inspired us to keep going.

But one thing we’ve never needed to be convinced of is how much this is a good thing. To see anew, is a gift. For kids and for us old foggies.

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Falling in Love

I used to come to Paris for just a few days when I needed a mental refresh. I used to wander the seats, sit at cafes, fill journals with fresh ideas, and walk and walk as I heard my own thoughts more clearly. I fell in love with it, and who I was when I was here. It wasn’t just the food or the wines or the walking (all things worth loving) but that here I felt freer. Unlike other big cities, I was not afraid here, and it’s as if I could leave fear behind. Unlike other places, I did not feel alone here even when I was by myself.

It’s changed since moving here as a Family.

At first it was worrying about how Kiddo was transitioning. Then it was dealing with the new obligations and demands of setting up our place. And of course we brought with us existing worries and concerns about deadlines and commitments. But I remember what it was to fall in love here. With this place, with myself. And I hope we can find a way back — not just me, but us — with the act of being present and relishing every day for what it is — lovely.

An essay written as “Book of Home” here captured that early sense of being in love:

Here are some of the things that make falling in love wonderful:

the wild rush of feelings

the sense of possibility and potential, fettered only by a distant reality on a horizon

the glorious, unexplored territory, not yet homesteaded by domestic routine and minor irritations

It’s easy to lose the sense that love is a verb, as much as it is a noun. It is a choice. To say you will love “our place” is to say you will be present to it, to witness it, to explore it. To CHOOSE to be in love.

We appear to be coming around the corner on language and logistics. And have decided to stay for another year. Maybe soon, we can remember what it is to fall in love.


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Love Builds Up

As we all learn French, it’s clear that Kiddo’s immersive 9 hours a day in all-french school is paying off. His professors comment on how well he’s progressing, and last week he got an 18/20 on a french quiz. 2nd highest score in the class. And the only non-native speaker. It’s awesome to see.

Which is not to say he’s fluent, yet He still has to look up things, as vocabulary may not be exhaustive but he can basically do most things now in French. It’s quite an accomplishment to do in 6 months.

Curt and I are lagging behind (imagine that!) as we forget a bunch of things we learn and it seems not to stick as well. Kiddo has taken to correcting us. It doesn’t seem to bug Curt as much as it does me. At one level, I want the help but it also gets exhausting because at some level you have to try in order to get better. When both of them correct me word by word, sentence by sentence, the criticism gets to me, and I get pretty frustrated (when Sarah was here, it was 3:1 — oh what fun!).

The funny thing is when we’re in public settings, like getting seating at a restaurant, I’ll practice my french while all three of them hang back.

All this especially bugs me when I say something well (enough) for someone to completely understand me …He then says, “well, mom, another way you could have said that.…” As painful as I were peeling off my own skin. I’ve taken to clenching my hands to not respond out of the pain. It makes me not want to try. And to keep showing up, vulnerable, and trying means exposing oneself to all this criticism. I wish I didn’t take it that way. I wish I could see he’s really trying to be of help or to show all the things he’s learned. But the well has been drained from months and months of depleting experiences. I speak more french when away from the family now. And, when I finally get something right in French (not very often, mind you), I want to do the happy dance. The other day I bought a lipstick exactly the shade I wanted in all French, and I could have written a whole post on that joy. 😉

But we’re trying to work through this criticism-as-a-constant-thing.  This Sunday, I was struck by the phrase in a Corinthians lesson at the American Church in Paris: “Knowledge puffs up, but Love builds up.” We talked about this over lunch post-church — a little chinese place we stop by sometimes on the way back to our place — and, now, we’re all trying to stop focusing on proving our knowledge and more on the love we have for each other. Build each other up.