I've always been a sucker for memoirs about living in a foreign country. I've read expat stories of house restorations, fledgling wineries, restored olive farms, love stories and horror stories. If you are interested in going on a little armchair adventure here are a few of my favorites.
Click on the book to open a link on Amazon.com.
And finally, my next read...
Kristin Espinasse's story of an American woman who fell in love with a Frenchman and moved to Provence to start a new life. This book is a compilation of her popular French Word A Day blog, and the first of a series of books she has written about life in Provence.
My daughter likes to know the odds. "On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is this move to France?" she asked. A few weeks ago, I'd say it was a "6." It was an idea that seemed to have legs. This week it has moved to a strong "9." We've met with realtors, told most of our friends and family, and started serious research into visas, shipping, pet transportation and schools.
It is rather frightening how quickly an idea transforms itself into a reality. It really does look like we will be moving to France this summer, which is at the same time exciting and terrifying. There is so much to do, and much of it to be dealt with from afar while I am working in NY. My brain is overflowing with to-do lists that wake me up at 2am demanding attention.
The biggest challenge will be the selling of our home in Los Angeles. It is full of 17 years of memories, and even more full of the stuff that a family gathers and saves over the course of nearly two decades. What do we sell, give away, ship or store? There are certain to be things we can't bear to part with, yet can't take with us to France.
I see some stormy times ahead, but I see an amazing opportunity as well.
My wife goes through cycle of excitement and uncertainty. She is excited to see new places and experience another culture, but most of all to be together as our children approach the ages that will soon see them leaving home. She is uncertain about cutting ties with what is safe and familiar, and with what feels like home. We've been fortunate to live in a part of southern California that is truly a community. We are close to our neighbors, who are loving friends, and can always be relied upon when we need them. For the most part our families are not near us, so the impact is slightly less immediate, but we both have aging family and being far from them will make it even more difficult to stay connected.
Opinions amongst friends and family range from envy to surprise to bewilderment. Most are supportive and make promises to visit us in Provence "one day." Of course some will, and most won't, but for those who make the adventure we can promise a warm "bonjour" and a glass of local wine.
One of my most important tasks is to locate a school for my children to attend in the Fall. They are at a tricky age--old enough that learning a new language will require effort and will no doubt be frustrating for them at first. In California they attend a Steiner School, and luckily there is one in Avignon, not too far from where we will be living.
I cannot imagine how people made moves like this before the age of the internet. The resources that are at our fingertips is truly astounding. While searching for information about the Steiner School I stumbled upon a blog from an American woman whose children had attended the school. We exchanged emails and then talked on the phone, and she reassured me that it is a wonderful school with a multi-cultural student body that would embrace foreign students and ease the transition. Many of the high school children have even spent the last year abroad studying in the US, and have come back fluent in English.
Of course, while it is our goal to assimilate into French culture and learn the language, we also realize that major life changes come with major emotional challenges as well. When you are a kid, it helps to cope with change when people can understand you.
There's no question that no matter what happens, this is going to be a great adventure that can only make our family stronger. If it doesn't kills us.
“Just show me the plan.” That was my wife’s reaction to my recent idea of moving our family to Provence. Spontaneity is not one her character traits, especially when it comes to life altering decisions. Apparently “Sell-Everything-and-Move” does not constitute an actual plan.
The reaction of my children was, very much like my children, complete opposites. My 16 year old daughter just wanted to confirm that we would be in the countryside within some proximity to sheep. She likes sheep. My 11 year old son (who had been camping on a school trip and had no idea that this idea was being discussed) proclaimed, “Isn’t this a little extreme?”
My idea of selling our French adventure as a reality television series was not met with enthusiasm. If you are a reality television producer and interested, please contact me anyway.
It turns out that there are a multitle of details to attend to when it comes to moving long term to another country. There are issues with visas, insurance, taxes, bank accounts, pets, schools, cars, housing, etc. etc. Oh, did I mention that none of us is fluent in French?
I decided that a little more research was in order. This idea isn’t completely unprecedented. Peter Mayle and Francis Mayes aside, we actually know real people who have done this. So I got on Skype with our friends who moved to France for a year. That was four years ago, and they have yet to return, nor do they have any plans to come back to the United States.
They had some good information on long term visa requirements, schools, housing, expat communities, and cycling destinations. It was all very doable, they said. “Come on over, you’ll love it. We have dinner parties on Fridays.”
“See,” I told my wife. “We‘ll have a place to eat on Fridays.”
I’m a firm believer that kids will adapt and make friends wherever they are. Kids show up, look around, find someone who looks interesting and ask “Do you want to be friends?” Done deal.
It doesn’t matter that they don’t speak the same language. All that matters is that they speak the universal language of kindness. And it doesn’t hurt if they have some cool American toys.
But back to The Plan. In a nutshell, this is my 10-step plan:
It’s not a complicated plan, really. What could go wrong?
* vespa purchase optional
I've dreamed of moving to France since the very first day we purchased La Maison Rose, our little house in France, over 12 years ago.
But dreaming and doing are very different. Life happens, and often I feel I've become a passenger on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, holding on with white knuckles and unsure what is around the next twist in the road.
But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Let's back up about 40 years. As a child born in Los Angeles and raised on a steady diet of sugary cereal, television, movies and theme parks, I think movies were as much a part of my DNA as the smog I breathed until my chest ached.
Hollywood does an excellent job of marketing itself, and nowhere better than in Southern California. The cliche is that everyone you meet in LA wants to be a director, a writer or an actor, but they most likely wait tables.
It takes a village to make a movie, but contrary to popular belief getting into the business isn't necessarily about who you know or sleep with. There is room in Hollywood for people who are passionate and work hard to find their place in the industry. Also contrary to popular belief, there is very little glamour involved in making a movie. The hours are long, egos are big, and the work can be physically and mentally demanding. But it can also be hugely rewarding.
I'm one of the lucky ones. I've been living the "Hollywood Dream" for the past 25 years, and it has brought me a lot of pleasure. I have a reasonable income, a modest home, and a loving family.
But following the Hollywood Dream comes with a Tiffany-sized price tag. Long hours, distant locations, and feast-or-famine freelance employment are not very well suited to a balanced family life.
Marriages in Tinsel Town don't last long, and you have lots of Facebook friends all pretending that life is grand when you know that they are actually bitter and miserable.
For the past five years there has been a steadily growing itch; a feeling that the life I've created for myself and my family, is just not living up to my expectations. It's that feeling you get in a hotel room when you are looking a photos of your kid's play that you couldn't attend and you think, "Really, is this all there is?"
Twelve years ago, on a crazy whim, we managed to scrape together a little money and we purchased a little house in France. It was meant to be our escape plan after the kids had left the nest. We rent it out, but unfortunately we rarely get to visit it ourselves. It turns out that France is a long way from Los Angeles (5,763 miles). Who knew?
Okay, now we are back to the present and my mid-life crisis. Perhaps men have middle-age crises for a reason. It's an annoying voice inside shouting, "Hey dummy, you don't have forever so don't screw this up."
The other day I started asking myself why I still live in southern California. Film has fled the state, the cost of living is ridiculously high, taxes some of the highest in the country, commuting is a nightmare, public education is terrible, and private schools are obscenely expensive.
The only real reason I could come up with was the weather. And sure, the beaches are nice but we never really go to them because parking is a hassle.
When I look out onto the Provencal countryside I am overcome with a sense of pure relaxation. It just feels "right." My brain somehow understands it. Returning to Los Angeles from a trip to France is like running out of hot water at the end of a nice soothing shower; shocking and very unpleasant.
I find myself trying to recreate the experience of living in France while I'm in LA. But it doesn't matter how much lavender and wine and sunflowers you surround yourself with, it never satisfies the longing for history, old stone walls, thousand year old churches and perched villages with winding cobbled roads.
And American Croissants are not the same. No matter how you dress it, LA is just not France.
So a few days ago a thought occurred to me: What if we moved up the escape plan a few years? Sure, our village house is small and the kids might have to share a room. But they're young, the scars will heal. It will mean downsizing, letting go of attachments to things, people and places we have grown familiar with. It will mean taking a risk.
But more than risk, it will mean taking a leap of faith that wherever we are, we can have a better life as long as we are together.
"Show me the plan."