The Emotion of Adventure

Every now and then I read a comment about French Fried from someone who just doesn’t get why people move abroad. Usually it’s language related. “People who move to a foreign country without learning the language first deserve all they get,” or “No one would ever move abroad without learning the language first. It makes no sense.”

What they don’t get is that moving abroad (and I’m talking about voluntary decisions here, not ones forced upon you by a need to find work or seek asylum) is an adventure. And adventures are largely emotional decisions. Yes, you plan. Yes, you try your best to learn the language. But … adventures are opportunities with a short shelf life. Delay too long and they’re gone. That foreign dream house is sold. You get sick. A parent dies. The price of your house collapses or your currency tanks.

Life never stands still. Which is why of the hundreds of Brits I’ve met in the 17 years I’ve lived in France, only a handful are fluent in French. Most struggle by as we do, or are a lot worse. It’s not that they don’t want to learn the language, it’s that they’re not immersed in it. Their children become fluent in a matter of months. Those with a job where speaking French is essential and constant, also pick it up quickly. But the majority of the rural expats – who are either retired or self-employed – don’t need to speak French. They watch British TV and the only times they meet anyone French is when out shopping or chatting with their neighbours. And when you live in the country, you don’t have that many neighbours and often the nearest one is half a mile away.

So we muddle through with the language. We pay for language classes. We buy the books. We improve – slightly – but two or three hours a week aren’t really enough. And there are so many other jobs to do. A lot of expats – the ones starting up their own businesses or renovating a ruin or trying self-sufficiency – find they’ve never been so busy in their entire lives. Time is something they just don’t have any more.

Which all adds to the adventure. And it’s not just language. The decision of where to move and what kind of house to buy is another where emotion can easily take over. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s walked into a house that – from the agent’s prospectus – didn’t look that promising. The location wasn’t as good as House A, the number of rooms was less than you wanted, the picture of the outside didn’t look promising… And then you walk inside and suddenly it feels right. Some unexpected feature – a fireplace, a staircase, the beams, the layout … the feel. Something that says, ‘I can be happy here.’

I had that when we first visited our present home. The house was little more than a single room shell. It was uninhabitable, the windows were smashed, and it would never from the outside be a pretty cottage. But when I walked around to the back and saw the land – the rocky tors, the rolling fields, the orchard, the woods, the towering distant greenery of the Bois de la Voix d’Ete* I knew. This was it.

*The wood of the voice of the summer – now that’s a name for a wood.


Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
An Unsafe Pair of Handsa quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?
Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.
What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth.

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The Emotion of Adventure — 4 Comments

  1. Sometimes when I’m talking with my kids about my own lightly checkered past, one of them will look at me with incomprehension. “Why? Why did you move?” (Or go out with that guy, or decide to write a book, or do something that seems odd to them.) And the answer is always: “At the time it seemed like the right thing to do.”

    I wouldn’t get involve now with some of the guys I dated when I was young and gormless. I don’t know that I’d be able to decide to quit my job to go to Clarion, with no idea what I’d do when I got home again. Everyone chooses the adventures that seem right to them; they just don’t think of it that way.

  2. I think you need a certain amount of confidence/trust in the outcome – it might be rough now, but it’ll be alright in the end. And it helps if you have a Plan B to fall back upon – parents or life savings to bail you out. Right now, I will be moving out of the place I intended to stay for a very long time – this is entirely my landlord’s idea, and it came completely out of nowhere – so I have no plans other than ‘put everything into storage because I have absolutely NO IDEA what happens next’. And part of me thinks that I should make something of it – look for a job abroad, just me and a backpack full of stuff (have I mentioned how much I love ebooks? I don’t worry about putting all my books in storage, because I won’t – I will have hundreds of them on me, my preciousesss) and part of me knows that if I fail, I’ll have a hell of a time to get back to even where I am right now – which isn’t exactly a life of luxury.

    And I suppose the more resources you have – an expat community of people who *know* what the difficulties are, who can point you in the right direction of resources and tell you how to navigate a strange burocracy, the easier it will feel.

    • I’d say that optimism is a blessing when it come to these life changing events. Most expats tend toward the optimistic, maybe you have to be to get up the courage to leave friends, family and culture behind. And it certainly helps when the unexpected comes along – as it frequently will in a new country with new rules and arcane traditions. The only downside to optimism is the allure of over-optimism. The ‘everything will sort itself out, so I don’t need to worry about a Plan B’ gamble.

      But having met a number of optimists and a number of pessimists, I have to say that, even in the midst of disaster, the optimists have the better the time. It’s the best defense mechanism against all that Fate can throw at you.

  3. I didn’t think about it until your post, but that seems to have largely been the case with a lot of families who came from various places to here, both when I was growing up and now: the older generation had a tougher time with language, and the younger were soon fluent. (And many times if grandparents were brought over, they stayed with their home language.)

    Immersion can be tough to achieve as an adult, but that’s what it takes to make that leap to another language.