I discovered Delphine through her blog “Live from Rhode Island!”. Based on her style and the subjects she tackles on her blog I figured it would be interesting to have her on my interviewee’s panel. The funny thing is that when we connected on Skype mid-January 2017 for this interview, I felt I was chatting with a friend of mine. And although it was the first time we spoke to each other, we connected instantly and talked for 2,5 hours. Just like old friends! Listening to the recording of her interview often had me giggle as I was reliving our conversation. I love her sense of humor and approach to life and can only hope one day we meet in person! The below is just a (small) portion of our chat; I hope you enjoy the read! Rhode Island sure looks like a nice place to live in!
Delphine, tell us a bit about you!
I come from Grenoble where I was born and raised and later on studied! When I was 15 I told my parents one day I would go to Canada: I was kind of obsessed with that country! As soon as I got an opportunity to move there I took it! It was there or nowhere but I’ve always wanted to leave Grenoble.
I studied law and completed my master’s degree in Montreal where I met my now-husband. Following that year abroad I came back to France to validate my degree and then went back to Canada. We got married and lived there for a few years before moving back to France where we stayed in Grenoble for 15 years with our 2 daughters who are now 14 and 11.
Before moving to Rhode Island I had just started a brand new job as a lawyer in a small company producing mountain climbing technical gear (Petzl) and loved it. It was hard to leave my job behind; going from working to staying at home was complicated even though I was happy to leave. Unfortunately going back to work as a lawyer is complicated for me in the States as my diploma is not recognized here.
Did you move to the US for any specific reason?
After spending 15 years in Grenoble (France) we had enough and wanted to move. My husband being North American we thought the US could be interesting. Our daughters being half Canadian we wanted them to discover life on that side of the ocean. We didn’t specifically choose Rhode Island, my husband’s work kind of decided for us! We didn’t know the place but had travelled to New England a few years back and liked it so we went for it. When we left it was supposedly for 3 years but we decided to stay.
We have been living in Barrington, next to Providence in the State of Rhode Island (East Coast) for 4,5 years. It is a beautiful area, next to the water, which we choose based on the quality of the schools.
How did you prepare for the move?
My husband came here on a discovery trip. He liked it and told me it was pretty. I went to see for myself as he was a bit anxious to move the whole family if I didn’t approve of the area. During my 3-days stay the weather was crap but despite that I found it to be pretty. So I said yes to the move! As I didn’t want to live in the city center we asked around where one should live and Barrington came up.
Making sure our daughters would be in the best environment possible and would feel good was at the top of our priorities. For that reason, finding a French-American school was a deal breaker for me: had there been none I had told my husband I wouldn’t go. We also enrolled our girls in English classes. Once we told them we would be moving they took it really well: we explained how nice their school would be and how lovely the place we would be living in was.
Looking back you realize some of the things you focused on don’t actually matter that much anymore! You can have preconceived ideas about things in the beginning and it turns out they are not that important. My daughters are now in an American school and we are all pleased with it! We stressed a lot about school and French but it was not necessary.
What was one of the first things you did when you arrived in the US?
My daughters (6 and 8,5 at the time) were a bit scared regarding their level of English so as soon as we got here I enrolled them with YMCA for summer camps. They were frightened the first 2 days but it was a good way to quickly improve their English! When school started everything went fine. The school was well organized and my children had specific English classes to bring them up to speed.
In your opinion, what facilitated your move in terms of settling in?
The French-American school facilitated a lot of things. It is a small but well organized community. For me it was great: I met lots of people through school. For the girls it made it easier. The disadvantage is that you meet less Americans and do not integrate that well in the local community.
Did that change now that the girls are in an American school?
Yes! Living in Barrington and attending the French-American school in Providence meant all the people we knew lived there. We didn’t have a large network in Barrington. Our tactic to remedy this was to enroll our girls in sport’s teams in our city to make sure they had local friends. That’s how we met all our American friends.
Is it complicated to meet Americans?
Yes but once you understand how it works it is not that complicated. They might be welcoming but it doesn’t necessarily mean they want to become your friend!
Did you perceive a difference in their attitude towards you when you went from being there “temporarily” to “permanently”?
No as since the beginning we said we were there to stay. We did it because thanks to our experience in Montreal I had noticed people do not approach you the same way if they know you won’t stay. It is not a good idea to tell people you are there temporarily: they don’t care about you if you tell them that! They have no reason to invest in you if they know you will leave in 2 years time. We really paid attention to that, especially for our daughters.
Do you speak French at home?
Yes! My husband is French speaking so we speak French at home. It is sometimes a bit hard. I follow the CNED program (French curriculum) with the girls but just for French and only the simplified class! It is not possible to do a complete French program on top of the American school and all the extra-curricular activities (you can read Delphine’s take on the CNED on her blog).
How important are sports in the US for the kids?
Very important! I am lucky as my daughters are really into sports. When you have a kid here who isn’t I don’t know how it works out. I think it can be a bit more complicated. Not that it is all about sports but everything is kind of organized around that: communities are built around sports, parents are very much into it and so is school. For us it is great, my daughters have so much fun playing basketball and soccer.
Any experience related to cultural differences that surprised you?
As I previously lived in Canada, I wasn’t really surprised by anything. I knew making friends would take time. The only things I didn’t do right in the beginning were the birthday parties. When we arrived my daughter turned 7 in September. We had a birthday party at home, the French way! Except that’s not how you do it here! When you invite kids over you also invite their parents and I didn’t know that.
Did you feel any pressure to attend church?
Not at all! Which is quite surprising seeing how religious people are. Most of them attend church and we must have 5 or 6 different ones just for our town. The number of churches is hallucinating but I didn’t feel pressured to attend any of them. They are open-minded. They took one of my daughters in their basketball team although we weren’t part of their congregation (at the time we couldn’t find a spot anywhere else). We did join afterwards as it made it easier for our daughter to join the team. We never attend services but we are on the list (laughs)!! All parents go to church and pray before each game. As I am not observant it was a bit surprising if not awkward at first.
How did living in the US impact your daily routine?
Living in Rhode Island is also learning to eat at 4:30 PM instead of 7 PM! It’s funny. When you are invited it is at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. In the beginning you’re like “Oh ok, I’m not really hungry yet but I’ll go!”.
We didn’t adapt to these new schedule although, when I think of it, we had to because as my daughters do a lot of sports, you are kind of obliged to have them eat before their sports practice. Sometimes they finish late. As people eat early in the US they don’t mind training till 8PM. When it is the case I have my girls eat before practice. As many Americans, not everyone eats at the same time in our household! Sometimes one eats before training and the other one after. It is a bit peculiar.
Does school start earlier in the US compared to France?
My girls are in middle school and they start at 7:45 AM, which is quite early compared to France. School ends at 2PM with a 20-minute lunch break and no reset time. Times vary from one school to another and also from state to state.
What did you learn about the local mentality?
I love the American mentality. If I compare it with the French one, people moan way less and are much more positive. Positivism is prevalent here. People work hard and have a developed sense of entrepreneurship. They encourage their kids a lot. Some do not adhere to this last point but I find it extremely positive: I don’t like so much the idea of punishing and saying something is bad; that way of thinking doesn’t really exist here. I have to admit it is sometimes a bit much! When you go to a soccer game and the kids suck at it but the parents are still telling them how good they are and what a good job they do you just want to say “well no, they suck!” (Laughs). Generally speaking, kids are encouraged to strive in their own domain, they are not expected to excel at everything they do. Children are pulled upwards.
Do you consider yourself an expat?
I never actually considered myself as an expat. Expat for me means you intend to go back “home” at some point. I live here and want to stay for a good while. My culture makes it I will always be French in the US, contrary to my daughters who will have a mix in their head between Canada, France and the US. The United States is a country of migrants so I’m just another migrant amongst migrants.
Do people ask you where you come from?
No one asks because as soon as I speak English they immediately know I’m not from here! (Laughs). They usually wonder what accent I have and struggle to put a country on it.
What do people say when you tell them you come from France?
I don’t know what their trip is but Americans love France! They tell me how great it is, how beautiful it is and how lucky I am. They all want to go to Paris. It is always Paris.
Did moving away change your views on your home country?
It didn’t change it but confirmed what I already thought. The reason we left France is that we weren’t pleased with several things: the school system, the kind of bad mood and complaining of lots of people that I particularly struggle with; I don’t see that attitude here. Living here you realize people are happy of where they are and don’t complain about their job or life. They don’t keep saying they want to change job or wonder when the next holiday will be.
Just to make it clear, I am French and proud of it, I complain a lot but I am working on it 🙂 . Last summer we went to France for our holiday, I hadn’t been back in 4 years and loved it. I thought it was fantastic to be there. We went to familiar places but also discovered new areas.
What did you put in place to make sure your trip back home would be a pleasant family holiday?
We avoided any potential issue for us by organizing/planning our holiday. Our family back home was not at all happy because in the end we didn’t see them very much. We visited for 3 weeks and had no intention of spending all that time in my hometown of Grenoble; it was just not possible. We stayed there for a week and then left on a tour, saw friends in Brittany, went to Paris and ended with a weekend in the South of France. I didn’t get to see half the people I wanted to but that’s life!
What role do social medias play in your life if any and mostly, how do they impact your expatriation?
When we moved to the States I was using Skype and still do with my family. At the time I didn’t have Facebook but quickly created an account as most people here communicate through that media. It also helps keeping in touch with the ones in France.
Would you recommend living abroad?
I find it a great experience but would never tell anyone to do it; it is far too personal. Firstly you need to have that desire to leave. If you are ambivalent about your move it leaves the door open for the experience to go bad. You need to be completely in the spirit to move abroad.
Somehow you need to be aware of the consequences of an international move: it puts distance between you, your friends and family. If you don’t realize this things can get complicated and not everyone can do it. Don’t go thinking you’re going to do it just because it is a good experience to have. You, as a person, need to be ready for it. You should not have regrets afterwards.
Expatriation challenges the couple and the family. Some couples don’t get over it. Usually it is the woman who finds herself not working, in charge of running the family life. It is not that simple. You have to help the children learning a new language. If you don’t speak the language yourself, it can quickly become overwhelming as you can’t talk with anyone. It can get frustrating. Making friends is not always easy: knowing plenty of people is not the same as having friends. Just thinking you’ll go and everything will be ok might not be the best approach.
I get to spend a day in the place you call home. Where am I? Where would you bring your visitors and what would you like them to discover?
You are definitely in Rhode Island! Right below Massachusetts, on the East Coast. I’d take you to Newport, along the water. It is the prettiest place of Rhode Island. They eat a lot of seafood here and you should try “quahogs” (stuffed clams) and have strawberry shortcake for desert.
Delphine, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and being part of this interview series.