June 30, 2011

A Charmed Life?


When I traveled to California for my nephew's wedding last October, something happened that really made me think.
At a 'meet and greet' event before the big day, I was introduced to a member of the bride's family. As soon as she realized who I was she said, "Oh, you're Aunt Jenny* from France! I hear you lead a very charmed life."

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

I plastered a big smile on my face and responded with the appropriate, "Very nice to meet you. Yes, I live in France," all the while thinking to myself, "A charmed life? Is she joking?"


A charmed life.

I thought a lot about that statement over the next few days and it made me wonder if that is how people perceive my life? Simply because I live in France? Does she think that I loll about the swimming pool all day, eating bonbons (or maybe cheese) and drinking rosé, without a care in the world?

It's a nice, romantic way to look at it, I guess. Though definitely not my reality.
I have to be honest, (and I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but here I go)...even though it is a beautiful, charming and delicious place to live, la belle France is also quirky, tempermental and a heck of a lot of hard work.

Which doesn't mean that the effort it takes to live here isn't worth it.
It is!

Though I do find it amusing when people think that some kind of "charmed life fairy," for lack of a better term, simply tapped me on the shoulder one day and decided to transport me to the life in France that I'd dreamed about since I was 20 years old. If only!
Like I was just sitting around, waiting for her to come along and make it all happen. Like I've never had to fill out a piece of paper or complete a dossier. Like I haven't worked my butt off to live here.

Olonzac Market

In a nutshell, we have a normal life. With ups and downs, with easy times and hard times. I work during the summer tourist season in a hot, stuffy office with no air conditioning. We live in a modest village house with no garden, no courtyard, not even a balcony. And no, we don't have a swimming pool.
Our car is 9 years old, as are a lot of our clothes, and we live on a moderate budget. Lke many of you, I imagine.

There is a  difference though...we've chosen to live in a foreign country - a country that we were neither born nor raised in - and as an added "bonus," we get to do it all in a foreign language.
Also, we've had to ask for the privilege to live where we do. Over and over.

The key word in that previous paragraph is chosen.

Some might say that we're gluttons for punishment. Believe me, we aren't.
Because in the end, every hurdle we've had to overcome, every hoop we've had to jump through, has been more that worth it.

I don't know if I would call it a charmed life. It definitely isn't the life for everyone. In fact it isn't the life for most.
But it is a good life, and a happy one. And I wouldn't change it for the world.

*my nieces and nephews are the only ones allowed to call me Jenny! Pin It


helen tilston said...

What an interesting and thought provoking post Jenny. It is curious how people make such remarks. I can understand why they feel this way. It is because of your positive attitude and finding the joy in the non material objects which seem to amaze the less positive folks. You have said it you would not change your life for the world and that means a very happy and contented person. May life always be great for you.
Helen Tilston

Anonymous said...

Amen! This holds true for a lot of things, be it living in France, working with food, (check, check) or what have you. To my friend home who are envious of my abroad adventures, I usually reply with something like "Yeah, but you have a house. And a car." The grass is always greener, I guess.

* There is a very short list of people allowed to call me "Cammy." :)

Veronica said...

YES! I know just what you mean. My pet peeve is "Oh, you are so lucky to live in France!". It wasn't luck -- like you we chose it and then worked hard to make it happen. And we still do have to work, every day, in order to earn our living and provide for our eventual retirement. I love it here (or rather there, I'm in Spain at the moment!), but life is not one long holiday.

Lost In Cheeseland said...

the common expat struggle - I've often heard "Lindsey, your life is so glamorous!! I mean, you live in PARIS!" and I can't help but think.... if you only knew.... past the glittering Eiffel Tower and perfectly manicured park lawns and into the dirty supermarkets, administrative offices, doctor's waiting rooms, and rat infested metros (I've even see a rat in La Grande Epicerie!!), glamorous would be the last word out of your mouth!

I think it's natural for people to maintain this romanticized image of Paris because people love escapism and fantasy. What fun is the truth?

Bienvenue chez French Girl in Seattle... said...

Very interesting post indeed. Grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. Could it also be that blogs often present an idealized vision of life? Gorgeous pictures, funny anecdotes, adventures... What's not to like, eh? I admire you for being realistic about your life in France. Good and bad days, good and bad experiences, but overall, it seems, a happy life. As a French import in a small suburban town outside of Seattle, I can certainly relate. If anyone told me I have a "charmed life" I would probably react exactement as you did ;-) Veronique aka French Girl in Seattle

Murissa Maurice said...

Well we all envy you somewhat, to various degrees, since we are paying attention to your blog posts (for those of us who are not living in France) and try to live vicariously through you - good and bad. I appreciate how you reveal the cons and do not make it out to be a fairy tale like some people imagine it to be.

Maybe what she meant was that you lead a life in France and for this you are fortunate because the wine and food is a little nicer than American fare. Lifestyle is a little richer and this may make the working life a little easier to swallow.

I agree that her choice of words are poor due to naivete but some people just don't have the guts to take that leap and live abroad let alone travel. Perhaps underneath she is revealing a tinge of envy?

The Wanderfull Traveler

Mlle Paradis said...

thanks for the reality check (love the new banner by the way - it's probably been there for awhile, where have i been?)

well people make thoughtless offhand remarks all the time don't they? but v. good point that you wanted it, chose it, made it happen, and didn't come back with your tail between your legs. when i went first to france as a "kid" i was told that i was either brave or stupid. it's brave to leave behind everything you've ever known and a support system and trading it for the unknown. however beautiful.

bravo to being brave! and persevering! no free lunch, but delicious?

lisa said...

Wonderful and beautifully stated!

Nadege said...

I was reading the review for "la seduction" [how the french play the game of life] by Elaine Sciolino (journalist for the New York Times). Oh my goodness! Orli Low who reviewed the book for the LA Times doesn't hold back. I think a lot of french people might be upset by this book.
I think what is charming about your blog is that you just write about your life in France beautifully, highs and lows, your passion for good food (not especially french) and cheese. I loved my life growing up in France, I love it now in the US and who knows, I might love it too if I moved to another country? So what, if it takes some effort to make it worth it to live in France? As long as you are happy, IT IS WORTH IT.

Sara Louise said...

Some people's perceptions of our lives here in Le Sud (or Paris even, love Lost in Cheeseland's comment) crack me up. You're right, they think we just hang out in the sun all day playing pétanque and drinking rosé. Yes, we live in a beautiful place but so do people who live in Hawaii, Mallorca, and even San Diego! We still have work to do! Bills still need to be paid, the garbage still needs to be taken out. Some days are far far from glamourous!
And if I were you, I would have been so annoyed at her calling me Jenny! :-)

wcs said...

As The Charmed Life Fairy, I must apologize. I think I had called in sick that day. This explains the ups and downs and periods of normalcy you experience. The rest of my France clients, of course, are living in unadulterated bliss.

I did attempt to make up for my error by providing you with a vast array of spoiled milk products. My records indicate that you are happily devouring them, one-by-one, so I don't feel so bad. ;)


Maureen said...

When I left the states for Australia I had people saying similar things about what an easy life I'd have here. Life's what you make of it but nowhere in the world is there such a thing as a charmed life - unless you've just won the lottery.

Thanks for a lovely post.

Brunofrance said...

I was thinking - the only way she could have heard "you lead a charmed life" was through a relative of yours.

Kristin said...

Thanks for telling us your story! We all need to look at reality some times and not just dream away and think every other place than home is much better. Being thankful for what we have and where we live is a beautiful thing :) Happy Summer!

Kristin xo

Sam Mooney said...

The charmed life part is that you do what it takes to live your dream of being in France.

I lived in the Aude for 7 years, arrived with nothing and no idea how I was going to manage. Managed, loved it. Not all of it was good but I had dreamed of living in France since I was a child and there I was actually doing it. Wouldn't trade it for anything.

Now I live in Canada and have a fabulous grandson and another on the way. As much as I miss France I wouldn't miss this opportunity to spend lots of time with them and see them grow.

Right now I'm back in France for the first time in three years and I have a new dream - to be able to spend a few months every year here. I'll figure a way to make that happen.

That's the charm.

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

Jennifer, I understand and agree with the description of a 'charmed' life. To me, it doesn't signify some postcard vacationing repose. It signifies having the opportunity and courage to live one's dream, one's choice. I have many friends in America who are stuck, who have no options ... and who view my life as charmed. I have all (and perhaps more) of the realities that you do ... an old unfinished house held together more by bad bricolage than the updates I've been able to muster. I have a borrowed car, a limited income, I work 6-1/2 days a week in the attempt to build my business. I don't have vacations or new clothes or many nights out. My life is not easy, in fact many days it seems very hard. But I have healthcare, a lovely old stone house and budding business with potential. I have my garden, I live in a vacation destination. I have friends and clients and new countrymen who give me free language lessons daily. But most of all, I am living MY dream. somehow, someway. And yes I worked my ass off in the US (and continue to here) in order to get here, to achieve this. But many folks are working their asses off and still have not the choice. So yes, it is a charmed life and I am more than grateful.

vicki archer said...

How I understand your post....Our lives are only charmed because we have made the commitment, faced the challenges and fought with the French bureaucracy! Great post......xv

Chez Loulou said...

Hey, what did I say about calling me Jenny? :)
Thank you for such a sweet comment!

It always cracks me up how people glamorize the life as a chef. It has to be one of the most unglamorous and difficult jobs ever!
I promise never to call you Cammy.

Exactly! It wasn't just "luck" that got us here.

Chez Loulou said...

I know! If only they could see us scraping the dog crap off our shoes, huh?
And that rat story is disgusting!

Yes, overall it is a very happy life and I do tend to show the charming, quaint aspect of life in France. But no place is perfect, as I have to sometimes point out.

I'm happy that my readers get to live a little bit of France through my blog. It is a wonderful place and I love sharing it!
You make a very good point about the commenter. Thanks!

Chez Loulou said...

Mlle Paradis
Glad you like the new banner...it was taken at our local market last summer. Luscious fruit!
I think there were a few people who didn't think we would "make it" in France and I know of at least one friend who never thought that we would move here in the first place!
Now I can't imagine living anywhere else!

Mille mercis!

It is worth it! :)
I'm excited to read La Seduction. Looks very interesting indeed!

Chez Loulou said...

Sara Louise
Yes, we've had days of bureaucratic drudgery that would make most people go completely mad!
Now excuse me while I go and have a glass of rosé.

Charmed Life Fairy
How dare you call in sick on the one day that we needed you?!? Now I know who to blame for the mind numbing normalcy!
The cheese you're providing does slightly make up for it, but one of these days we will expect a nice lunch as well.
Love, Loulou

"Life's what you make of it." Very well put! :) Thanks!

Chez Loulou said...

Yes...and I think I know who it was...but I shall reveal nothing.

You're welcome and thank you for your nice comment! I think that (almost) every place has its charms, we just need to find them. And appreciate them.

Yes, we have done everything there is to stay in France over the last 8 years. And all of it was worth it!
I think your plans to live here for a few months of every year will give you the best of both worlds. Good luck! :)

Chez Loulou said...

I totally agree with you. I believe that people often don't think they have options or are afraid to take that first step to change their lives, thus when they see others doing it, they think they are "lucky" or that they live a "charmed life."
Most of the people I know who have moved here from another country work a lot harder to make a life in France than if they had stayed in their home country. They all have amazing passion.

I am also grateful to live in France. It has exceeded my expectations more than I ever could have imagined!
Hope you have a busy summer at your shop!

We have survived, and are stronger for it! :)
Glad you like the post. Thanks for stopping by to comment.

Jean said...

She is obviously jealous. And I agree with Veronica, luck has nothing to do with things like this. Except that if you are lucky enough to have the courage and strength of character to mould a new life for yourself in a new country.........
People only see the fluffy parts of anything. They are blind to the hard work !!

Virginia said...

I will be the first to admit that I think waking up in France every morning would be pretty wonderful. For those of us who live from one trip to the next, you do seem like a lucky lady. I've visited enough to realize it's not all piece of gâteau though! :)

I read your article in France magazine. I was proud that I "know" you. Well we bloggers start to feel that way.

Chez Loulou said...

Very well stated!

Thank you! Glad to hear from people who have actually read the article, other than family and friends!
Yes, waking up in France every day is wonderful. It is a fabulous place to live, especially when we aren't faced with any bureaucratic issues. :)

Cerulean Bill said...

Your comments remind me of my first trip to San Francisco, on our honeymoon. We were walking along downtown, admiring the buildings, listening to the cable cars, thinking about how great it must be to live there -- and then we thought Of course, these people have to go to work every day, they have to fight for parking, look for dentists.... Took some of the magic away.

Though not all of it, of course.

Dvora said...

I like the new banner, and I like your post. I live in a resort on the Mediterranean in Spain. And charmed it is not. I have all my work during the summer when I rent out two villas (one mine, and other my husband's). Because we are divorcing, I had no where to stay this summer so I've rented an apartment in the village for me and my two cats. I may be one of those for whom the grass is greener... because as soon as I can (post divorce and sale of house) I will take the cats and move to France. Why? Not because of the grass, because of the cheese!

Chez Loulou said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head. Spending time on vacation somewhere is never the same as living somewhere.
But it doesn't mean that the place you're visiting isn't a wonderful place! :)

I work during the summer tourist season too, because unless you're a winemaker, there isn't much work in this region. But it means that I have long winters off and that is a bonus.
I hope you get to France soon and that the divorce goes smoothly.
Glad you like the banner. Thanks!

BrandNewStudio said...


Anonymous said...

I just looked up charmed life because many tell me that I live a charmed life. And I find this nice story of your life in France--totally cool.

France and Europe are nice but nowhere near as nice at the Montgomery triangle.

Montgomery triangle is awesome!!