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Accepting being an outsider

So many of us hear about the positive side of moving country: it broadens the mind, provides some great life experiences and is typically seen as an exciting adventure. All those things are true, but adjusting to a new environment isn’t always easy. Apart from the usual hurdles such as making friends and learning the local lingo, there’s one element of moving abroad that’s often brushed over: the attitude of the locals towards new arrivals can have a huge impact on both settling in initially and ongoing residence.

Wendy Hollands, 15/12/2011

Even the cows wear the local badge – a cross.

The Aravis region where I live can be less than welcoming to outsiders. The region sports its own coat of arms and flag, and many here would like to be reinstated as a principality, much like Monaco.

Although many locals are generous with their smiles and patient with my accent, the ones who frown, grunt or simply walk away mid-sentence as soon as they hear an accent never fail to hurt my feelings. However, I’ve discovered my own personal harmony that reduces that pain: acceptance.

Should locals accept ‘outsiders’ who pay tax and inject money into local business? Probably, but the acceptance I’m talking about is the personal acceptance that the locals’ attitude is unlikely to change a great deal in my lifetime. So what’s the point of wasting my time being annoyed by them? I’ve accepted that I am an outsider. I speak with an accent, and I am still not fluent in French despite my best efforts. On top of that, my upbringing is totally different to that of a child from the Aravis, with hot Christmas days ending with a dip in the pool, wearing the same school uniform as everyone else, and living just minutes away from one of the world’s most sprawling cities. Indeed, I’m not surprised that the locals don’t welcome people with such different values, beliefs and habits from their own. Since accepting this, life has been easier.

Now, when I get given change of 20 centimes in 1c and 2c pieces while the next person gets a single 20c coin, or the lady at the bakery refuses to make me a roll and then makes five for the family behind me, I shrug. I can be offended or I can accept the negative and embrace the positive. I’ll take a few croissants instead, and hand over my pile of small change, then eat my treats outside while kids out of uniform walk back to school after their two-hour lunch break. I’ll no doubt choose a different bakery next time.

I can’t help but feel that this acceptance could help anyone who has moved abroad as an adult and felt like an outsider. Yes, you’re an outsider. You’re not from there. Is it your accent or your style or your religion? It doesn’t matter. You’re simply not from there. The locals may show you, albeit rudely, that they recognise this too. They’re merely helping you narrow down your future circle of friends.

Some might say that’s giving in to prejudice, and it probably is, but the anger I used to feel didn’t better the situation and at least this acceptance doesn’t grey my day.

Wendy Hollands, 15/12/2011

The perfect cultural marriage of French and Australian: Ricard andstubby holders full of beer.

Even after living overseas for twelve years, I feel Australian to the bone. I wear my flag proudly for the Aussie cyclists who pass during Le Tour de France and I force plum pudding and paper hats on any French guests on Christmas day. I embrace the French lifestyle, but I haven’t given up my Australian heritage. Many of my local French friends don’t have the luxury of mixing two cultures. And at the end of the day, I’d prefer to accept that I’m different than to accept that I’m just like everyone else. How about you?



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9 Comments




  1. Amber
    8 years ago

    I know how you feel! I’ve been here 6.5 years and still find some people’s reactions and behavior hard to live with.

    I’m going to try to do what you do and just accept these differences, while at the same time narrowing down my future circle of friends 😉


  2. Shannon Guy
    8 years ago

    Fantastic article, Wendy. I’ve had struggles in the countries I’ve lived in as well and feel your pain. I found it really interesting discussing my early days in France with people who later became friends. For example, explaining that my reluctance to kiss initially (and even sometimes later) was more about it being culturally different to my own upbringing than to do with being stand-offish. That there are Western countries in the world where it is not customary to greet someone like that. After their initial shock (“what, you don’t kiss people in your country?! How sad…”) they really loved learning about my culture as well.

    “You eat bacon and eggs…for breakfast?” “What? Not everyone in the world typically indulges in champagne before midday?” “You have a bunny that leaves Easter eggs, not a bell?”

    Hopefully your French friends love the cultural education they get in their friendship with a foreigner! But try as I might, I’ll never understand how a bell can drop Easter eggs from the sky! 😉


  3. Wendy Hollands
    8 years ago

    Amber, it’s funny isn’t it: you’d think time would help create a pain barrier but it just doesn’t seem to. If nothing else, I appreciate the friendly people so much more! 🙂

    Shannon, the Easter bell thing is just weird. I’ve been roped into wearing a big floppy bunny outfit on the piste at Easter, but I think the French might think I’m crazy. 😀


  4. Julie Chamand
    8 years ago

    Hahahaha! I’m French and I had never actually thought about how the bells bring the eggs! Gosh, this is troubling… I guess it involves magic. Or else, I think that “the bells bringing the eggs” really means that the sound of Easter bells annouces Easter and the eggs come along.


  5. Wendy Hollands
    8 years ago

    Ahh, so the eggs just roll on into town like tumbleweed. It sounds more believable than the bells being responsible for bringing them I guess! Obviously, the Easter bunny is totally logical. 😀


    • Julie Chamand
      8 years ago

      Laughing out loud! Well I just pictured them appearing out of the blue! Comme par magie quoi ! Why would it have to be logical? Lol. I doubt it troubles any child growing up in France. I think some research about it is necessary. Well, I mean research about why we have bells and you have bunnies 😉


  6. Wendy Hollands
    8 years ago

    I’ll research if there’s a taste difference. 🙂


    • Julie Chamand
      8 years ago

      Apparently, the Easter Bunny tradition in the US comes from Germany. And it also exists in Alsace, in France. And well actually it’s also popular to see rabbit-shaped chocolate in bakeries in the Ile-de-France region and beyond. The bunny or hase was a symbol of fecondity and renew (like Spring). But it was a pagan symbol. As for the bells, apparently they were bringing the eggs (symbol of germination happening in the Spring) after coming back from Rome (something to do with Vatican). Ah but this is just a beginning of research… 🙂


  7. Wendy Hollands
    8 years ago

    Thanks Julie!