7 Questions: Kate from the Midwest


We’re originally from the Midwest. Sixteen years ago we fell in love with Ireland decided to pack up and move, buy a big pink house and do a B & D (Bed and Dinner – I don’t do breakfast). A year later we moved and the fun began. Life intervened (a job in the US that I could do from here) and we moved to Andorra. After seven years of living in the mountains we decided we wanted to be back on flat land and moved to the Vendée, France. It was our intent to do GÎtes. Unfortunately, after being received with much enthusiasm, permissions were not forthcoming (French agricultural politics can be a nightmare). We didn’t need such a huge property, so we sold and moved here, to the Lot et Garonne. We have a big, old, stone farmhouse that we are ever so slowly turning into a proper house. For fun I have a food blog and a menu planning website.

1) What made you pack your life into a bag and become an expat?


There were two reasons – the first, nice reason is that there is a big world out there, waiting to be explored. We can do and see so much more of Europe by living here; we can get to know the people and the cultures. Living in a different environment expands ones knowledge of life and other peoples in a way that is hard to explain to someone who has never done it.

Second, the not-so-nice reason – we wanted to get away from the escalating violence in the US. I may have my bag snatched in Barcelona (no, I never have) but I won’t get knifed in the process.


2) Can you think of a single moment that occurred while living as an expat, which made you completely change your viewpoint on something you strongly believed in before you became a traveler?


No – I’ve never had that sort of ‘romance novel’ moment happen to me. I can tell you that, over the course of getting to know some of the older expats whilst living in Andorra, I have gained totally new insight into war – in particular, what it was like living during WWII. I also learned how very little I was taught about either world war when I was a student in the US. That is a shame. Without learning from our mistakes we are bound to repeat them. I was embarrassed at how ignorant I was on such an important even if the last century. And when I talk to ‘knowledgeable’ Americans they only know one side of the story.


3) Besides the obvious language barrier, what is the scariest aspect of settling in a foreign country?


Trying to remember that in an emergency one dials ‘15’ not ‘911’. (Or is it ‘17’?)
I was never scared…. worried on occasion when faced with the mountains of paperwork, but not scared. We always had an interpreter available, both in Andorra and here in France, which, even if not used, is a great help.


4) When people ask you about your experiences as an expat, what’s the one memory you always share?


Being an expat in Andorra is totally different from being an expat in France. Andorra had a very tight, very active expat community and one was included immediately. Here in France, in the country, that’s not so. Being invited to the neighborhood / family (one and the same) Bastille Day picnic in the Vendée made us feel so welcome – and introduced us to country life. And being invited to the local farmer’s daughter’s wedding…. Wow, what an event! Here, in the Lot et Garonne, there are periodic ‘social’ events in our village – which is about 5 km distant. There are Quiz Nights, Hunter’s Dinners, Mushroom Walks…. Everybody participates, locals and expats; grandparents and young parents with babies in tow.


5) Do you ever find it difficult to connect with the locals of the country? If yes, why? If not, why do you think it’s been fairly easy to connect with them?


The biggest problem, as it were, is the French take very good care of their friendships. Most people have their family fairly close by, then their school friends, followed by the work friends. Most of them really don’t have room in their lives for more than that. (I’m talking about the country, now, where we live. I’m sure it’s different in the cities) While we, as Americans, generate a certain amount of interest, and everyone is very nice and very friendly, it’s hard to get past that stage. In the Vendée we lived in a little hamlet, and it was easier. Here we are more isolated so it takes more effort to get out and meet the locals.


6) What hard to get items do you wish could be overnighted from back home?


Jolly Ranchers (a sour hard candy) and Green Tabasco Sauce. But I’m well supplied at the moment. We had a family reunion here in the spring and that was the price of admittance.


7) Besides being able to live in another part of the world, what has been the greatest benefit of becoming an expat?


Travel: Living in France we can drive to the south of Spain for the beaches and to Germany for the Christmas markets.

Meeting other expats: The conversations around the dinner table when you are with people who lived and worked in Singapore, Kenya, Nairobi, New Zealand, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow…. one learns a lot about the world from first-hand experiences.

Meeting the locals: I have no idea why it takes so long to learn that sitting around a table at an outdoor cafe, eating moules frites, drinking wine and spending the entire afternoon doing it is a perfectly acceptable way to spend a day – any day. I try.

You can check out more from Kate on Twitter, @katethyme, Thyme for Cooking http://thymeforcookingblog.com/, and Easy Gourmet Dinners http://easygourmetdinnersblog.com/.

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