Moving Abroad: Scouting Trip Preparation

What makes a place feel like home? As we prepare to move abroad, my partner and I plan a scouting trip to our new potential home in Annecy, France.

As we prepare to move abroad, my partner and I are taking a preliminary scouting trip to our new potential home in Annecy, France. I sat down with Em to talk about our hopes and worries for the trip, and discuss some of the things we want to accomplish during the visit. The transcript below was edited for clarity and length.

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Tess:

So we’re finally going to back to Europe after how many years?

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Tess:

So we’re finally going to back to Europe after how many years?

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Em:

Eleven years!

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Em:

Eleven years!

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Tess:

It has been a long time.

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Tess:

It has been a long time.

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Em:

It has been a really long time.

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Em:

It has been a really long time.

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Tess:

But we’re not going for a vacation this time. So what is this all about?

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Tess:

But we’re not going for a vacation this time. So what is this all about?

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Em:

We are going to Annecy, France on a scouting trip because we think we would like to live in Annecy. But before we one-hundred percent commit to that, we want to stay there for a month to really know what it is like to live there, what it would be like to work remotely from there, understand what type of neighborhood we want to live in, and understand type kind of lifestyle we want to have while we are there.

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Em:

We are going to Annecy, France on a scouting trip because we think we would like to live in Annecy. But before we one-hundred percent commit to that, we want to stay there for a month to really know what it is like to live there, what it would be like to work remotely from there, understand what type of neighborhood we want to live in, and understand type kind of lifestyle we want to have while we are there.

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Tess:

So why Annecy?

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Tess:

So why Annecy?

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Em:

Annecy is a city that we have visited before – we traveled there in 2011. It was the last stop on our trip through France, and I think we both fell in love with the city because it has a lake, it has mountains, it is very close to Geneva, close to other cities and countries in Europe. Right now, we live in Kansas City. There are no mountains. There are no natural lakes. We are not close to many other destinations. When we thought about where we want to live and what paradise means to us, our paradise probably has lakes and mountains.

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Em:

Annecy is a city that we have visited before – we traveled there in 2011. It was the last stop on our trip through France, and I think we both fell in love with the city because it has a lake, it has mountains, it is very close to Geneva, close to other cities and countries in Europe. Right now, we live in Kansas City. There are no mountains. There are no natural lakes. We are not close to many other destinations. When we thought about where we want to live and what paradise means to us, our paradise probably has lakes and mountains.

Annecy's Picturesque Alpine Backdrop
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Tess:

Beyond lakes and mountains, what are some of the things that you are looking for in a new home?

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Tess:

Beyond lakes and mountains, what are some of the things that you are looking for in a new home?

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Em:

I want to live in a city and a country that prioritizes people. I want to be in a place where I can step out of my house and walk to a grocery store, walk to a pharmacy, walk to anything that I might want to do.

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Em:

I want to live in a city and a country that prioritizes people. I want to be in a place where I can step out of my house and walk to a grocery store, walk to a pharmacy, walk to anything that I might want to do.

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Tess:

You want to immediately have a baguette in either hand as soon as you leave the house.

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Tess:

You want to immediately have a baguette in either hand as soon as you leave the house.

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Em:

Yes! I would like a baguette and croissant within a block, s’il vous plaît. That’s very important. And I think it’s also going to be nice for us to experience a different culture, and learn a new language. But living a lifestyle of walking or biking is something that we have wanted to do for a very long time.

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Em:

Yes! I would like a baguette and croissant within a block, s’il vous plaît. That’s very important. And I think it’s also going to be nice for us to experience a different culture, and learn a new language. But living a lifestyle of walking or biking is something that we have wanted to do for a very long time.

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Tess:

Is that something that you feel like you can’t really do in Kansas City?

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Tess:

Is that something that you feel like you can’t really do in Kansas City?

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Em:

In our neighborhood in Kansas City we can walk to certain places, but the infrastructure is not necessarily inviting. Sidewalks are crumbled. There is a small store half a mile away with limited selection. There are handful of restaurants in walking distance. I want to live in a neighborhood where there are people on the streets at all hours of the day and night. A place that is bustling and feels safe so that I can go about my day, run errands, and not have to walk beneath an unlit highway underpass to get anywhere.

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Em:

In our neighborhood in Kansas City we can walk to certain places, but the infrastructure is not necessarily inviting. Sidewalks are crumbled. There is a small store half a mile away with limited selection. There are handful of restaurants in walking distance. I want to live in a neighborhood where there are people on the streets at all hours of the day and night. A place that is bustling and feels safe so that I can go about my day, run errands, and not have to walk beneath an unlit highway underpass to get anywhere.

Bike, walk, sit, stroll, run, nap, boat, see, and be seen on Annecy's delightful lakeside promenade.
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Tess:

It would be nice if we didn’t have to cross a highway to pick up a loaf of broad or a bottle of wine.

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Tess:

It would be nice if we didn’t have to cross a highway to pick up a loaf of broad or a bottle of wine.

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Em:

Right.

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Em:

Right.

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Tess:

Are there other things that you’re looking forward to in Annecy or in France that maybe aren’t possible in Kansas City?

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Tess:

Are there other things that you’re looking forward to in Annecy or in France that maybe aren’t possible in Kansas City?

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Em:

Kansas City is in the middle of the United States, and there are not a lot of cities to visit that are close by. There are other cities that are driving distance, but they might take eight or twelve hours to reach. And I really like the idea of living in a country where in one or two hours you can be in a major metropolitan city, or you can hop on a train and within several hours be at the beach. I’m looking forward to not having to own car and not having to drive everywhere we want to visit. So we picked a region that, while it is at the base of the Alps, it is still much closer to the ocean than Kansas City. And close to other countries. We can take weekend trips or day trips and experience so many different places without owning a car.

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Em:

Kansas City is in the middle of the United States, and there are not a lot of cities to visit that are close by. There are other cities that are driving distance, but they might take eight or twelve hours to reach. And I really like the idea of living in a country where in one or two hours you can be in a major metropolitan city, or you can hop on a train and within several hours be at the beach. I’m looking forward to not having to own car and not having to drive everywhere we want to visit. So we picked a region that, while it is at the base of the Alps, it is still much closer to the ocean than Kansas City. And close to other countries. We can take weekend trips or day trips and experience so many different places without owning a car.

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Tess:

Are there any everyday things that you are expecting to be different in Annecy compared to your life here in Kansas City?

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Tess:

Are there any everyday things that you are expecting to be different in Annecy compared to your life here in Kansas City?

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Em:

I am very much looking forward to going outside and being next to the cleanest, most beautiful lake in Europe, and being able to see mountains in the background. I am looking forward to walking amongst buildings with a thousand years of history, and just being in a place where there are always lots of other people walking around.

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Em:

I am very much looking forward to going outside and being next to the cleanest, most beautiful lake in Europe, and being able to see mountains in the background. I am looking forward to walking amongst buildings with a thousand years of history, and just being in a place where there are always lots of other people walking around.

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Tess:

So you’ve got beautiful scenery. But do you expect that you will live your life differently because of your new setting?

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Tess:

So you’ve got beautiful scenery. But do you expect that you will live your life differently because of your new setting?

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Em:

Yes. With regard to my work life, I will be working remotely for a company in the United States. As someone who is not a morning person, I am very much looking forward to being able to sleep in, not set an alarm, wake up when I want, go to the boulangerie, get breakfast and a coffee, run errands, and then start my workday in the early afternoon. And I can work into the evening since people in France often eat dinner later than in the United States anyway. So I am looking forward to working the hours when I am most productive, and not having to set an alarm ever again.

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Em:

Yes. With regard to my work life, I will be working remotely for a company in the United States. As someone who is not a morning person, I am very much looking forward to being able to sleep in, not set an alarm, wake up when I want, go to the boulangerie, get breakfast and a coffee, run errands, and then start my workday in the early afternoon. And I can work into the evening since people in France often eat dinner later than in the United States anyway. So I am looking forward to working the hours when I am most productive, and not having to set an alarm ever again.

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Tess:

You told me before that part of this trip is making sure that this place that we think we want to move to feels like home. How do you know if a place feels like home?

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Tess:

You told me before that part of this trip is making sure that this place that we think we want to move to feels like home. How do you know if a place feels like home?

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Em:

That’s a really good question. I think a place feels like home if it is full of the people and places that I want to visit on a regular basis. A place can feel like home if it is easy to get around. If it is a place where there are things to do – arts, culture, recreation, and all of the shopping that I could ever want. Home allows me to be close to what make me happy. While we chose Annecy, I do think that there are a lot of other places in the United States or in the world that we would enjoy living.

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Em:

That’s a really good question. I think a place feels like home if it is full of the people and places that I want to visit on a regular basis. A place can feel like home if it is easy to get around. If it is a place where there are things to do – arts, culture, recreation, and all of the shopping that I could ever want. Home allows me to be close to what make me happy. While we chose Annecy, I do think that there are a lot of other places in the United States or in the world that we would enjoy living.

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Tess:

Are there any other contenders that have been competing with Annecy for your final choice on where to live?

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Tess:

Are there any other contenders that have been competing with Annecy for your final choice on where to live?

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Em:

We looked at many different cities in the Netherlands. We’ve never been there but we have taken many “google vacations.” The Netherlands are very bike friendly, very pedestrian friendly. They have a lot of the things that we would want to do. One of the biggest drawbacks for us is the language barrier. Neither of us speak Dutch and while most Dutch speak English, we wanted to make sure that we lived somewhere that at least one of us knew the language a little bit. Also, the Netherlands are further away from mountains and the Mediterranean, which are places where I hope to spend a lot of time.

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Em:

We looked at many different cities in the Netherlands. We’ve never been there but we have taken many “google vacations.” The Netherlands are very bike friendly, very pedestrian friendly. They have a lot of the things that we would want to do. One of the biggest drawbacks for us is the language barrier. Neither of us speak Dutch and while most Dutch speak English, we wanted to make sure that we lived somewhere that at least one of us knew the language a little bit. Also, the Netherlands are further away from mountains and the Mediterranean, which are places where I hope to spend a lot of time.

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Tess:

Are you visiting or comparing any other cities during this scouting trip?

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Tess:

Are you visiting or comparing any other cities during this scouting trip?

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Em:

We are taking trips to Geneva, Lyon, Grenoble and perhaps a few other cities around that region to understand if Annecy is really the right place for us. We did consider Lyon at one point, and I think we could be very happy there, but it’s not next to mountains and lakes and not as close to all of the outdoor activities that are at our doorstep if we live in Annecy or Grenoble or closer to Geneva.

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Em:

We are taking trips to Geneva, Lyon, Grenoble and perhaps a few other cities around that region to understand if Annecy is really the right place for us. We did consider Lyon at one point, and I think we could be very happy there, but it’s not next to mountains and lakes and not as close to all of the outdoor activities that are at our doorstep if we live in Annecy or Grenoble or closer to Geneva.

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Tess:

What is on your to-do list for this trip? What are the things that you want to make sure you accomplish while you are there?

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Tess:

What is on your to-do list for this trip? What are the things that you want to make sure you accomplish while you are there?

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Em:

In addition to taking day trips to other cities around Annecy, I think we really want to do our best to live like local residents for the month that we are there. That means we are not going to prioritize tourist activities. We want to explore neighborhoods we might want to live in. We have lots of different self-guided walking tours that we are going to take to experience all the different neighborhoods of Annecy. It’s going to be very important that the neighborhood we choose is close to all of the amenities like grocery stores, pharmacies, and services, and also is a place that is easily accessible. If one of us is not feeling well, we don’t have to walk very far to get necessities.

 

We also want to understand what is like to use public transportation. Can we take a bus throughout the city and get to different destinations easily? Would our apartment be close to a bus stop? What is it like to take the train to smaller cities around Annecy or the larger region?

 

I think it will also be interesting to learn what kind of food or personal care items are available. I imagine that much of what we are used to in the United States can be found in France, so we can get an idea of what kinds of things we will be buying and eating while we are there.

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Em:

In addition to taking day trips to other cities around Annecy, I think we really want to do our best to live like local residents for the month that we are there. That means we are not going to prioritize tourist activities. We want to explore neighborhoods we might want to live in. We have lots of different self-guided walking tours that we are going to take to experience all the different neighborhoods of Annecy. It’s going to be very important that the neighborhood we choose is close to all of the amenities like grocery stores, pharmacies, and services, and also is a place that is easily accessible. If one of us is not feeling well, we don’t have to walk very far to get necessities.

 

We also want to understand what is like to use public transportation. Can we take a bus throughout the city and get to different destinations easily? Would our apartment be close to a bus stop? What is it like to take the train to smaller cities around Annecy or the larger region?

 

I think it will also be interesting to learn what kind of food or personal care items are available. I imagine that much of what we are used to in the United States can be found in France, so we can get an idea of what kinds of things we will be buying and eating while we are there.

Planning Self-Guided Neighborhood Walks in Annecy
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Tess:

Is there anything that makes you nervous or gives you anxiety about living in a new country?

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Tess:

Is there anything that makes you nervous or gives you anxiety about living in a new country?

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Em:

Of course I am going to miss family and friends, but with the pandemic we have been apart for so long that it has become easier to stay in touch with video and phone calls. It will not be so much of a change as it might have been a few years ago. I think the biggest challenge for me is going to be the difficulty of learning a new language – of learning French. I started learning French from scratch four months ago, and while I am making progress, it is slow progress. I think it’s really important for me to become fluent. I know that won’t happen right away, or even in the first year or two, but it’s important for me to make friends with locals, to speak French, and learn about their customs. I lived in Spain while I attended university. I spoke Spanish reasonably well while I was there. I was able to get around, but I didn’t make a lot of good friends in Spain. I didn’t have that connection with the people. That’s why I think it’s really important to learn the language, so that we have an opportunity to fully participate in the culture. And it’s for practical reasons too. If I need to take a drivers’ test, I want to be able to understand what the instructor is saying.

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Em:

Of course I am going to miss family and friends, but with the pandemic we have been apart for so long that it has become easier to stay in touch with video and phone calls. It will not be so much of a change as it might have been a few years ago. I think the biggest challenge for me is going to be the difficulty of learning a new language – of learning French. I started learning French from scratch four months ago, and while I am making progress, it is slow progress. I think it’s really important for me to become fluent. I know that won’t happen right away, or even in the first year or two, but it’s important for me to make friends with locals, to speak French, and learn about their customs. I lived in Spain while I attended university. I spoke Spanish reasonably well while I was there. I was able to get around, but I didn’t make a lot of good friends in Spain. I didn’t have that connection with the people. That’s why I think it’s really important to learn the language, so that we have an opportunity to fully participate in the culture. And it’s for practical reasons too. If I need to take a drivers’ test, I want to be able to understand what the instructor is saying.

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Tess:

We’re planning to meet with a relocation specialist during this scouting trip. What sort of things are you hoping they will be able to do for us?

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Tess:

We’re planning to meet with a relocation specialist during this scouting trip. What sort of things are you hoping they will be able to do for us?

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Em:

I hope that they will be able to help us find an apartment. In France, if you want to rent an apartment, you need a bank account. And if you want a bank account you need a telephone number. And in order to get a telephone number you need an address. The reputation of the French bureaucracy is that everything is a bit complicated, so we are hoping that we can work with someone or connect with someone who can help us through those challenges so that we can become established. I think we can also use some help in understand the best type of visa to seek. We will be working remotely for US companies and we want to have the flexibility to stay in France. If we love it there and want to stay longer than a year, we want to have the type of visa that will allow us to settle down and make our home in France.

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Em:

I hope that they will be able to help us find an apartment. In France, if you want to rent an apartment, you need a bank account. And if you want a bank account you need a telephone number. And in order to get a telephone number you need an address. The reputation of the French bureaucracy is that everything is a bit complicated, so we are hoping that we can work with someone or connect with someone who can help us through those challenges so that we can become established. I think we can also use some help in understand the best type of visa to seek. We will be working remotely for US companies and we want to have the flexibility to stay in France. If we love it there and want to stay longer than a year, we want to have the type of visa that will allow us to settle down and make our home in France.

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Tess:

Apartment, bank account, phone, visa. These are the big things to get sorted. But we’ve also talked about how to manage some of the little things too. In France, do we weigh our produce the same way in the grocery store? Will we have to tell the pharmacist our life story to buy medicine that we can get on the shelf here in the US?

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Tess:

Apartment, bank account, phone, visa. These are the big things to get sorted. But we’ve also talked about how to manage some of the little things too. In France, do we weigh our produce the same way in the grocery store? Will we have to tell the pharmacist our life story to buy medicine that we can get on the shelf here in the US?

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Em:

I think all of that goes back to being fluent, or at least competent in French. If you go to the pharmacy and you aren’t able to communicate effectively what you want or need, it’s going to be a lot more difficult. Will people look at us funny or laugh at us? Yes. Will we be able to go to the grocery store and figure things out? Sure. But I don’t want to go around speaking English everywhere.

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Em:

I think all of that goes back to being fluent, or at least competent in French. If you go to the pharmacy and you aren’t able to communicate effectively what you want or need, it’s going to be a lot more difficult. Will people look at us funny or laugh at us? Yes. Will we be able to go to the grocery store and figure things out? Sure. But I don’t want to go around speaking English everywhere.

Produce Shopping Canalside at Annecy's Outdoor Market
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Tess:

I think there are surely going to be cultural things that we don’t know about, that we don’t know we don’t know about. And we’re just going to do a lot of embarrassing of ourselves. Recently we’ve done more research on living in France, and even now I can think back on our previous vacation visits and understand things we did that weren’t ideal. Something as simple as entering a store and not greeting the store owner. In the United States, everyone just wants to be left alone. Or something like saying hello a second time when you return to a place. Things that are polite in the US, but could seem rude in France. So I’m anxious about all of the social cues and subtle things that someone who is born in France has already internalized that we will be figuring out on the fly.

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Tess:

I think there are surely going to be cultural things that we don’t know about, that we don’t know we don’t know about. And we’re just going to do a lot of embarrassing of ourselves. Recently we’ve done more research on living in France, and even now I can think back on our previous vacation visits and understand things we did that weren’t ideal. Something as simple as entering a store and not greeting the store owner. In the United States, everyone just wants to be left alone. Or something like saying hello a second time when you return to a place. Things that are polite in the US, but could seem rude in France. So I’m anxious about all of the social cues and subtle things that someone who is born in France has already internalized that we will be figuring out on the fly.

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Em:

I think that’s a really good point, because as a tourist, even if you are attempting to speak a different language, and you make a mistake, you are probably never going to see that shopkeeper again. But if we go there and forget to say “bonjour” to the person in the store, they are going to remember that. And I don’t want to ruin a potential relationship with somebody. I have to know enough to recognize what is happening, apologize, and make sure that in the future we learn from our mistakes and fix it. I think it is normal to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes when they are learning a language or settling into a new culture, but it is going to be a little bit intimidating to faire la bise.

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Em:

I think that’s a really good point, because as a tourist, even if you are attempting to speak a different language, and you make a mistake, you are probably never going to see that shopkeeper again. But if we go there and forget to say “bonjour” to the person in the store, they are going to remember that. And I don’t want to ruin a potential relationship with somebody. I have to know enough to recognize what is happening, apologize, and make sure that in the future we learn from our mistakes and fix it. I think it is normal to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes when they are learning a language or settling into a new culture, but it is going to be a little bit intimidating to faire la bise.

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Tess:

To wrap things up , can you pick one thing that you are most looking forward to seeing or doing on this trip?

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Tess:

To wrap things up , can you pick one thing that you are most looking forward to seeing or doing on this trip?

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Em:

I think the most exciting thing for me is going to be finding a neighborhood in Annecy where I feel, “I love this place and I could live here.” That is going to be the most exciting moment. I am also very excited to travel again after many years off. It is going to be fun during this month of travel to visit other places and know that we are finally traveling again and seeing new things. And we haven’t been to Annecy in eleven years. The city has definitely changed a lot, so I’m looking forward to visiting the places we went before and seeing how it’s changed.

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Em:

I think the most exciting thing for me is going to be finding a neighborhood in Annecy where I feel, “I love this place and I could live here.” That is going to be the most exciting moment. I am also very excited to travel again after many years off. It is going to be fun during this month of travel to visit other places and know that we are finally traveling again and seeing new things. And we haven’t been to Annecy in eleven years. The city has definitely changed a lot, so I’m looking forward to visiting the places we went before and seeing how it’s changed.

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Tess:

Merci et bon voyage!

Tess Circle

Tess:

Merci et bon voyage!

The conversation continues!  Click here to see how we are doing after one week in France.

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