When I moved from Missouri to Marseille, France, I thought it would be for just a school year. But then my teaching stint turned into au pairing for the summer and then back into another teaching stint. So all in all, my original plan to stay from October to April drastically changed. And now I’ve been in France for a year and a half. For years, living in France has been my dream, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss life in the U.S.A. France is becoming more and more like home, but sometimes being far from my home home can be difficult. Here’s what I miss most about the U.S.A. while abroad and what I bring to France to remind me of home.
In America, I’m know as the girl who loves France. And in France, I’m known as the American girl. And sometimes it’s frustrating that I don’t completely fit into either culture; I feel stuck somewhere in between. I’ve adopted many French ways of life and conduct my life en français, but I can’t change the fact that I spent several decades of my life in America. And nor do I want to. Our upbringings and home cultures make us who we are, and that’s not a bad thing. I love my life in France and don’t plan on moving any time soon, but sometimes I miss Missouri and my life back in America. (I started a Facebook community for current, former and aspiring expats to be able to discuss all these things and support one another.) Here’s my humble attempt of creating a mix of my home and adopted cultures.
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Yes, France is a global culinary capital, but sometimes I’m craving a fat cheeseburger on a gluten-free bun from Culver’s. I didn’t realize how much food makes me feel at home — or completely out of place. Some of the foods I miss the most from the U.S.A. are Mac n’ Cheese, peanut butter, Oreos but especially Mexican food.
Oh, and American style coffee. The French swear by espresso, and despite all my time living here, I just can’t get on the espresso train. I love black coffee, and I especially love it iced. But not only is black coffee not the norm here, but also iced black coffee takes dedication to find.
I’m also gluten-intolerant, which might as well by the 8th deadly sin in France. Bread is literally everywhere in France, and I do mean everywhere. As a whole, it has been way easier to eat gluten-free in America. Although eating gluten-free in France isn’t impossible, it’s certainly a hassle. In France, it can be seen as rude and excessive to order food with modifications. Even when I explain that I have a gluten allergy, I’m often met with a disgruntled and/or bewildered server.
How I bring America to France with food
One of the best ways to bring your culture abroad is to share it with locals. I’ve made kind, supportive friends here who love swapping cultural moments. I am a major fan of brunch, and that’s starting to pick up speed in France. I love suggesting brunch with friends and sharing my recipes for pancakes or coffee cake.
As for my coffee hankering — nay, dependence — I purchased a carafe like this one and a plastic Melitta pour-over cone and voilà. I make my coffee at the beginning of the week and pop it in the refrigerator. I’ve been able to find places in Marseille that will make an iced americano, café frappé or cold brew, but I like having a less expensive option at home. I love bringing Caribou Daybreak or Kaldi Highlander Grogg roasts from back home.
On extra hard days where being an expat feels lonely and frustrating, I like to treat myself to a burger. In Marseille, they have several Steak n’ Shake locations, and as simple and silly as it sounds, going for a cheeseburger and milkshake makes me feel more at home.
Coming from a country with 300-something million people, I am blessed to be able to find American brands in France. I’ve had luck finding American brands at Normal, where I found Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce; Monoprix’s foreign foods section; and online at My American Market.
When I moved to France, I was big into The Bachelor. But herein lies the problem: The Bachelor wasn’t available for streaming in France. Oh, what to do! And my Netflix options in America aren’t the same as in France. I also like keeping up on my local news back in Missouri, but many of these local news sites aren’t available to French readers. And Rakuten, the cashback plugin of my dreams, didn’t work in France.
How I bring America to France with TV
But I had heard of this magic thing called a VPN, or a virtual private network, that would allow me to watch my American shows, and I decided to try it out. And since I made my account with ExpressVPN, I haven’t looked back.
Here’s how ExpressVPN works. You pay about $8 per month for the service, and you download an app for your computer or phone. You simply open up the app and change your computer’s location to the United States, even though you may be in France or India or China. Activating your VPN is as simple as that! Once I changed my computer’s location as if it were in the U.S.A., I could access The Bachelor because my computer “thought” it was in the States. I didn’t have any major problems with my computer speed, and I was able to watch The Bachelor no problem. ExpressVPN works with Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO and many other online services.
Using a VPN keeps your online activity private. And if you’re in a country that blocks access to Facebook or Google, you can bypass this censorship by changing your computer’s location. It can even help you find cheaper flights since companies don’t always show the same prices to all customers. If you’re a sports fanatic, having a VPN can allow you to watch your sporting events if they’re not available where you’ve moved.
Having earned a journalism degree, I still like to keep up on my local news in the United States. But many of my local news sites in Missouri are blocked in Europe. My ExpressVPN account allows me to access these news sites. I also love using plugins like Rakuten, which helps me earn cashback from my online purchases, but it’s blocked in France. With my VPN, I’m able to use Rakuten sans problem. If it’s not clear, I am a big fan of ExpressVPN, especially since it’s the same price as two Starbucks lattes per month.
When people ask me what I miss most about the U.S.A., convenience is my boilerplate response. Everything is closed on Sundays. France is still insistent on using the old-fashioned mail system and is hesitant to make the switch to digital. Life moves at a much slower pace here.
It was quite the shock to go from driving my Nissan everywhere to taking public transportation everywhere. For me, the thrill of public transportation eventually wore off. It’s exhausting to always have to conform my life schedule to the bus’, especially when I live in an under-serviced area. And truth be told, this has and continues to be one of the most difficult adjustments.
How I bring America to France with convenience
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to fit convenience into my suitcase next to my gluten-free Funfetti cake. But I’ve done my best to adapt to a slower pace of life while still finding ways to be my efficient American self. For example, I do most of my grocery shopping as online order and pick up at Carrefour. That doesn’t sound revolutionary, but in France, I’ve found it to be way less common. Online grocery shopping saves me loads of time and helps me stick to my budget.
I also spend a lot of time on my feet and on the bus. And I can’t change that, but I’ve tried to find ways to make this time more comfortable. I ditched the high heels and have invested in some quality, comfy sneakers and booties. As for my commutes, I always pack my earbuds and have started reading on the bus on the way to school. (I’m currently reading Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund.)
Friends and family
Obviously, one of the hardest parts of moving abroad is uprooting your life and leaving familiarity and comfort that we’ve created with our family and friends. It’s difficult and just downright sucks moving to a place where no one knows you. And all of a sudden, there are three flights and an Uber ride between you and your bestie. I’m looking forward to my family finally being able to visit me for the first time this summer. (Thanks, Covid — not.) But in the meantime, I’ve found a few ways to keep these people close to my heart while abroad.
How I bring America to France with loved ones
Thank goodness for FaceTime! That’s an easy answer to be able to chat with friends and family. But with the time difference, it can be tricky. As a rule of thumb, I like to block out Sunday evenings for phone calls with people back in America. The time difference is manageable for everyone since most don’t work on Sunday, and I’m often preparing for the week ahead and not out with friends on Sunday nights.
My apartment is also sprinkled with evidence of friends and family. I love printing 4×6 photos and decorating my refrigerator and bedroom with fun memories and people I love. You can easily print out your photos and get them the same day at Walgreens and CVS. My mom also made a Shutterfly scrapbook with our favorite family Christmas memories, and I brought this with me to France.
My dad also started writing me weekly letters, and that’s been a special way to keep in contact. I also love mailing out postcards to show my loved ones where I live and to remind them that I’m thinking of them.
Creating a third culture
One of the questions I get the most is what I miss most about the U.S.A. And it’s true: there are quite a few things I miss from food to lifestyle. But there are so many things I love about living in southern France like taking road trips in southern France and going on weekend trips to Bordeaux. If you’re an expat anywhere in the world and want to be a part of a community of people who discuss culture shock and support one another, join my expat Facebook group.
No, I don’t completely fit in while in France and honestly neither in America. But there’s something beautiful about creating your own mix or a third culture. What do you miss most about your home country? Tell me in the comments.