It was only a matter of time until a rough day hit! Prepare for a rambling post that you are welcome to skip!
Three weeks have now gone by with breathtaking weekends in Nice and Ireland (Belfast and the Coast) and the Netherlands (posts coming soon) so I can laugh about it and without reservation share it here, fully recognizing how my good fortune outweighs this one day.
I truly believe in radical transparency and hate the way that the Internet can often become a supremely curated view of life’s best moments only. Do you ever feel like everyone is always at a lavish bachelorette, mastering homemade cupcakes, and decorating their living rooms like Pottery Barn pros? I do.
And we’re all guilty of it – sometimes I know it looks like all I do is go on vacation.
Because, well, blog posts about how I can’t find or get help from a clerk to help me find cake flour (not all-purpose) in the grocery store [those cupcake posts create cravings] don’t exactly write themselves.
But I get that it’s annoying. And believe me, I get a lot of “well, must be nice” grumblings from people when asked about our adventures. But sometimes when I speak about our experience to others, they press me with questions like “but it has to be really hard, right?” (sometimes with a hope for schadenfreude I’m sure.)
Yet, over the last few months, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the mostly simple transition we have had – particularly as my husband and I often struggle with change. And, even though we struggle with it, we both really needed a change. We had faced some stinging disappointments in Philadelphia, our work/sleep/drink routine had become monotonous, and since we didn’t know what was next for us, the opportunity to move abroad came at the perfect time.
We should note that we have been very lucky as well – we have seen family and friends on multiple occasions, both here and at home in the last six months, which we are incredibly grateful for, and has no doubt made this radical change simpler.
But yes, at the beginning it was brutally cold, and there were frustrations around visas and temporary housing and renting our Philly condo and coordinating our shipment here, but overall? We were obscenely fortunate on the housing front, have been surrounded by friendly Americans to ask questions of and enjoy happy hours with, and have enjoyed the travel so much that even the frustrating moments of getting snapped at by a grocery clerk for not weighing my own produce before approaching the register (who knew!?) felt fairly inconsequential and all “part of the experience.”
Until my first French class.
I took Latin and Spanish in school and I was so looking forward to learning something new, and not feeling so helpless when approached in a restaurant or shop here. It felt like the last step in getting more comfortable in Geneva. A few expats had told me about classes at a nearby school that were very flexible – weekly, Monday-Thursday sessions and split up by level. Each week was a new crop of people and they were sorted beginners in one room and intermediate levels in others. I was waiting for the right time to get into a proper immersion class (more difficult than it sounds because of extensive travel and visitor schedules), so it seemed like a good opportunity to take a beginner’s class that was just one week to get my feet wet.
While it was titled “for beginners” – it was NOT a beginner’s class. In the group of 10, only one person was a true beginner who was hoping to learn days of the week and colors and how to ask for a nearby restroom. Everyone else had taken multiple previous courses or studied French in school.
As a result, we were immediately doing conversations with our neighbors. I asked to make sure I was in the beginner’s class – I was, and was forced into the activity. It was embarrassing introducing my partner to the room in a panicked stammer and just barely spitting out words that she had told me to say. The teacher spoke completely in French, and constantly was asking “ça va, Nicole?” – “it’s okay, Nicole?” – Mostly, no it really wasn’t ok because I had no clue what was going on.
I fully appreciated her not wanting to move on before I understood – but since I didn’t understand anything, I really just wanted to fly under the radar and try to soak up what I could in context.
But then, the worst happened. After a lightning quick review of numbers 1-100, the one other “new-ish” person and I had to go UP TO THE BOARD FOR A COMPETITION. People in the class shouted out numbers and we had to write them down as fast as possible and do math problems.
Those who know me will recall I am a humanities person – I am terrible with numbers. This is one of the reasons I married a CPA- we divide duties by strength.
I also have not gone up to the board to problem-solve since childhood, the memories of which still make me sweat and shake.
The teacher was very nice, and I don’t envy her position in trying to teach a class that was appropriate for people at ground zero, and the rest of the room, all perhaps not intermediates, but absolutely not beginners. Eventually they started to pity me and starting whispering answers when I was called on. It was humiliating.
I stuck through it, said “merci”, marched out, mulled on it throughout the afternoon, called my dad. I slept on it, and finally decided to tell the course to bill me for one day (they naturally tacked on a “registration fee” for reasons very unclear) and find the right French course for actual beginners. I initially resisted, feeling that all-American shame of quitting, but it was very clear that I was not going to learn anything, and I would only be holding the rest of the class up with the constant “ça va,, Nicole?” interludes.
To be very, very frank – yes, sometimes this is a difficult experience.
There are absolutely moments I wish I was out with my girlfriends or sitting out on my parent’s deck eating lobster and drinking margaritas. And there are times I have major FOMO watching Instagram stories of my friends at home.
But I also know that I was made for this experience and I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
I know that because I have become okay with being uncomfortable sometimes. Okay being alone sometimes, and showing up to things alone sometimes. I know that in order for this to work, I have to be open, and vulnerable, and compassionate. That I must be okay with getting lost. That I must be okay with a life without Amazon or Target, which means I can’t always find what I need and must adjust. Sometimes a victorious day means simply completing errands without issue, doing laundry without blowing up the building, and properly converting grams to cups in a recipe that doesn’t burn.
And when I don’t get it right, I must (in time) be able laugh at myself when I fall on my face, like I absolutely did in that classroom.
All that said – don’t worry about me- I fully know that I am fortunate beyond measure and I promise everything is fine! It took me little time to recall and recount my endless list of blessings and get over it. But much like I don’t
drink and text (just kidding I do that all the time) drink and organize my closet- I don’t post when I’m upset. Just serving some realness now that I’m fully recovered. Promise it’s not all diamonds and rose over here, but it’s so worth it.
If you were to ask me today: “ça va, Nicole?” I would happily reply: “ça va bien, merci!”
Wrapping up the melodrama and note we return to regularly scheduled programming in the Netherlands shortly.
And I promise I won’t EVER post something obnoxious on Instagram like “my Tuesday is better than yours!!”