Next to be interviewed in my Expat Living interview series is fellow Canadian, Deborah from Franco Mum who lives in Nice, France with her husband and adorable son.
Deborah from Franco Mum.
I’m a Canadian expat, former ad-exec who decided to give away almost everything and set off on a mid-life European adventure. 11 years and a decade of on-again/off-again drama later, now happily settled and living with my NZ husband and beautiful 3-year-old son in the pastel-coloured, seaside paradise of Nice, France. I often head to Monaco for work, which allows me to drive on one of the most beautiful coastal roads on the planet *on my scooter*, blond hair flying out from my pink helmet.
Where Are You From?
Hamilton, Canada and lived in Toronto 10 years before heading out on adventure.
Where Are You Living Now? How Long Have You Been There?
Nice, France. Have been in Nice/Cote d’Azur for almost of 11 years.
Stay! This feels more like “home” than Canada ever did.
What’s Your Story? What Made You Decide to Take the Big Leap and Leave Home?
I was a bored ad exec, looking for some adventure, Always dreaming of mountains and seaside, I quit my job, gave away all my ‘stuff’ (that wouldn’t fit in my parents cellar) and headed to Monte Carlo to work as a nanny. Friends and family thought I was nuts, but it turned out to be the most rewarding, challenging, amazing thing I ever did.
Do You Ever Miss Home? What Do You Do to Cope?
I never miss home, although I do miss the Canadian wilderness from time to time, especially in autumn! Oh, to hear the call of the loon. For the first few years I really missed Starbucks Coffee to-go, which is admittedly pretty awful compared to a real Italian cappuccino. And I craved some decent sushi – although Nice is finally starting to catch up with the sushi trend (welcome to the year 2000!) I used to miss the convenience of Sunday shopping and 24 hour supermarkets/drugstores, but now when I go back, I’m overwhelmed by the big box stores and shopping malls. I hate it a bit more with each visit.
How Do You Blend in and Be Accepted by Locals?
Oddly enough, I found a close-knit group of Canadian expat girlfriends, and we all got on so well, that it really helped me to feel as though I had a “family” away from home. Several year later, having a child has really forced me to integrate more with the locals, even if it’s just to have a chat with another mum in the playpark. I’m sure once my dude is in school next year, I’ll be chucked into the normal french life full on. But I’m also sure he’ll be fluent before I ever am.
How Do You Stay in Contact with Loved Ones?
Video Skype, best thing ever. My parents would be heart broken without it and my son is raised with video relationships with his cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents. It really does keep us all a lot closer.
Did You Have to Learn a New Language? If Yes, What? How Did You Go About Learning the Language and How Long Did it Take You to Become Fluent?
Being Canadian, we’re obligated to learn french in grade school, but it’s just the basics and quite frankly, once you’ve graduated you never have any need for it unless you move to Montreal (brrrrr!).
So I came over here as pretty much a beginner, but over the years have gradually learned the language pretty well simply by living day-to-day life — not as easy as it sounds, as Nice and Monaco have such a great expat community and you could easily live here without learning the language. But why do that?
I make a point to try and read one or two newspaper or short magazine articles every day, just to expand vocabulary, improve grammar and keep up on local current events. I’ll try to muddle through a conversation entirely in french, even if the other person speaks English (unless it’s medical). I’ve got a long way to go!
I learned basic German the same way when I lived in Hamburg. I can’t bring myself to watch French television though and I’m grateful for my Sky TV British freesat channels!
What Has Been the Most Shocking Thing You Learned About the Local Culture?
I’m rarely shocked by the local culture, but I am still shaking my head over their “swimsuit” laws in the municipal pools. Men are forbidden to wear swim-shorts (i.e. boxers with the swim lining). They are only allowed to wear lycra speedo-style swimsuits (budgie-smugglers or the slightly greater-coverage lycra shorties). No exceptions.
Imagine my shock when both husband and baby son were asked to leave the local pool because they were wearing their ADORABLE matching Kiwi swimsuits. The pools have vending machines with cheap-o swimsuits for exactly this reason! They say it’s for “sanitary reasons” (i.e. so the fellas can’t wear their shorts around all day, and then dive into the pool). But still … I can’t tell you how many expats fellas I know who refused to go to the pool (hubs included) because they wouldn’t be caught dead in a Speedo.
Your Number One Tip About How to Live Life as an Ex-pat.
Be brave, don’t take the easy road, and embrace the differences or they will drive you nuts. It’s not supposed to be ‘like it is at home’.
What Do You Love Most About Living Abroad?
I love and appreciate the European charm. Most Europeans I know speak a minimum of three languages. Different cultures are literally no more than two hours flight away, and I’m 45 minutes to the Italian border (hello greatest coffee in the world!). Commerce is mostly boutique-driven, restaurant quality is superior (quantity is less) … and it’s astounding that so many people still buy there produce at the open markets, and their meats from the butcher. There’s just something “authentic” about day-to-day life.
Why do I love living in the Cote d’Azur? Three words – sun, sea and mountains … it’s often said that in winter you can ski all day, and then head to back the coast and enjoy drinks at the beach afterwards. It’s all true.
What Has Been Your Best Experience to Date in Your New Home?
A few years ago I met my Kiwi fella at a pub. He proposed in Positano, and we married the next year at the local Mairie, in front of our closest friends and family. That was, unequivocally, the happiest day of my life. And a year-and-a-half later we welcomed our son, born in the seafront Lenval hospital (where Angelina Jolie also had her twins).
Since then my little Private Personal Assistant business has taken on a couple of new and interesting projects and clients… but I won’t do any name-dropping here!
So I guess you could say that my best experiences are just piling on over the last few years – I’m a lucky lady.
Did you make the move solo? Or are you with a spouse or significant other, other members of your family, or friend(s)? Tutto solo! Tout seul! All alone! Didn’t know a soul out here.
What Do You Do Work Wise? Did You Have a Job Before You Arrived or Did You Look for Work When You Got There? If You Didn’t Have a Job, How Did (Or Do) You Land Work?
I initially took a position as a live-in nanny over the internet – a job which I promptly lost after 2 weeks! I found a placement agency in Monaco, and did some ad-hoc babysitting jobs until I was offered a new live-in position. Over time my nanny work evolved into English-tutor jobs, which eventually opened the doors to finding work as a private personal assistant (once my language skills became passable).
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