Living abroad and learning to navigate through a new environment and to assimilate into a different culture is exciting, fun, frustrating and as time-consuming as any actual full-time job would be. For one year and seven weeks now we have been splitting our time between one Central American and one European country. Since neither of our new countries utilizes either of our two native tongues, our daily lives have become much more adventurous. One is rarely ever certain about anything, so if you scare easily or need well-established parameters to define your comfort zone, don’t do this. Statistics indicates that 50% of US citizens, who moved to Costa Rica return within two years.
For myself I can honestly say, heck, this is nothing new. This is not the first time in my life, that I chose to skipper through a foreign maze, where seemingly dense hedges obscured my connection to known cultural landmarks. After all, following my peaceful and unremarkable childhood in Germany, I abandoned all reason and left my sheltered ivory tower life, when I strapped on a parachute and landed feet first in Fort Worth, Texas, to marry my American cowboy. And with him lies the difference. Even though my English knowledge back then amounted to not much more than an uncomfortable amalgamate of Shakespearian drama and scientific terminology, in him I had a guide, a teacher, a mentor. And soap operas, of course, very useful educational tools!
Back then, my husband provided all the knowledge required for both of us to function in daily life. It was his home environment and he reigned supreme. First in Costa Rica and now here in France, we’re both fish out of water, floundering and flapping, gulping for air. Costa Rica was entirely unknown territory for me, as I had never been South of the Border before, with the exception of a 5-day visit on Cozumel once, a quarter century earlier. The incredible sensory input permeating oneself in such a sun-drenched Central American location was completely disorienting at first. The fact alone that the sun rises around 5:30 h and sets by 18 h every day of the year, dictates major adjustments to an entirely different rhythm of life. We were and are very fortunate that many Ticos speak excellent English and that a close-knit expat community kindly offers a great deal of help in navigating through bureaucratic road blocks. France is a different kettle of fish altogether.
Yet a different language, a different culture and another monumental and monumentally different bureaucracy. We are still at the very beginning of grasping the ins and outs of managing to live “wie Gott in Frankreich”, yet we’ve accomplished to take a huge step closer recently. But first let me explain the godly reference.
Being back in Europe brings me closer to remembering my German roots, and thus little German proverbs tend to pop up, like the above, which means to live well and enjoy the pleasures this remarkable country has to offer, often specifically referring to food & wine. “Leben wie Gott in Frankreich” has the same meaning as another popular German expression “Leben wie eine Made im Speck”, which translates to “Living the life of Riley” [literally, like a maggot in bacon]. When searching for an appropriate idiom in American, I read today that the Gott in Frankreich thingy has been in use for quite some time. A collection of aphorisms published in 1653 attributes the saying to Emperor Maximillian I. HRR [1459 – 1519] This is a screenshot of the cover of the Apophthegmata. It’s housed in the Bavarian Staatsbibliothek.
But back to our little victory. We have recently applied for coverage under the French national health insurance system, the Sécurité Sociale l’Assurance Maladie. The process reminded me a little of our application for residency in Costa Rica, since our marriage licence, an American birth certificate and our pension income statements had to be translated & apostille certified. The whole process did move along a little more swiftly than in CR, thankfully. I had my initial visit at the SSAM office on February 6 to learn about requirements and so forth. Over the weekend, we studied the forms and found an authorized translator, who did his stuff by the 21st. We then submitted our official application for health care coverage on Tuesday, February 24. Since then, we’ve not only received the temporary forms to use for doctor visits, but I’ve actually been to our new family physician for help with my allergy induced sinusitis. Her consultation of 45 minutes, including reviewing my blood panel and other information from last July, cost me 23 € 00 cash ($25), of which the l’Assurance Maladie will reimburse 70%. The pharmacy charged me a little over $7 for prescription antibiotics and some pain killers, the bulk of the drug cost is charged directly to the agency. So for my doctor’s visit and medication we paid roughly $15 out of pocket. There is no monthly or membership fee, it’s your tax dollars at work. And yes, we are paying taxes. And why, you ask, does this constitute a victory? Because this whole action, including but not limited to my doctor’s visit (“now open your mouth wide and breathe deeply in and out”), went down in French. Have you ever scrolled through the many pages of the website of the Judicial Administration of Greater Bordeaux in search of a translator for our specific jurisdiction and for American documents? It takes perseverance and Google. I’d be a dead fish without Google!!
There’s still one issue to clear up. The title of today’s post. Living here in Saintes keeps me tremendously busy. I try to exercise a little, walk a little, when my bum vertebral column allows, do some online French lessons, etc. Then we had weeks of bathroom renovation upheaval, which was quite absorbing. We also like to take drives and visit châteaux, restaurants & distilleries in our area, this is after all Cognac country! I take numerous snapshots of this and that, but I don’t seem to be able to muster the discipline to edit those pictures and write posts for you. I’m sorry to say, I’m having too much fun. So shoot me.