Sunday, 21 May 2017

Death of a dream

I've tried so hard for so long not to make this decision. I've looked for last minute reprieves, signs of a positive change in the wind. I've cried oceans of tears for years but there's always been plenty left to cry. Yet, here I am in this 'place' I don't want to be, making a decision I never wanted to make.

My dream of living and working in France took years to develop and eventually became irresistible. When, through a combination of my own efforts, imagination and what I thought was 'luck' at the time, I was offered a great-sounding job here, I discovered there was a hell of a price to pay and the job proved to be a horror.

I thought the price for coming to France was losing my worldly goods and regular contact with my daughter, but that was only the start of it. After arriving I found myself trapped in a whirlpool of corruption and manipulation, harassment and abuse with nowhere to turn. Somehow, determined to find a way out and stay, I have survived. I felt getting thus far must mean something.

Once I set foot in France I realised I needed to stay here. My soul was so obviously at home. I needed to put down roots but that was never possible. For me to make a life here I needed at least one of two conditions (preferably both):

Condition One: A stable, fulltime job. It's not much to aspire to but I never had one despite my best efforts and good performance and around one thousand job applications over 7 years within France alone. Each year my employment situation here was totally precarious and has deteriorated. In 2015 I lost the battle to live independently. I knew at that point it was probably all over. Unemployment, suggests JC? That would amount to 65% of a sum already well below the minimum annual wage. Unemployment wouldn't cover basic personal expenses let alone any living expenses and would only be available for 3 years. Retirement in France wouldn't start for me before age 67 and would be unliveable as it's based on lifelong contributions.

Condition Two: Have a relationship with a man who wants to construct an equal life together, buy a house, have security of lodgings in old age. I told JC I could sell my house in Auckland, contribute equally to a house with him in France and use the balance for my retirement. "That will never happen" he said. He doesn't want to change his life and I understand that because his home means the world to him. He won't let me contribute financially to the property because I'd never have the money or technical expertise  to manage this large, expensive terrain if he was gone. And anyway, everything goes automatically to his kids. That's how it works in France.

 I am currently dependent on JC for a roof over my head so the moment he changes his mind or gets really sick and has to move out or even dies (he's much older than me) I will instantly find myself a sans abri - a homeless person standing in the road with my suitcase and no resources to save myself. I'm saddened after nearly seven years that having a roof over my head and food on the table and interesting company from JC is the extent of what I can look forward to here in France. I've been existing and not living and it's destructive of the spirit.

Through a particular set of circumstances France has been, on balance, a very painful experience. I do love France and just one of those conditions appearing would have changed my life here completely. I thought anything was possible in such a big and interesting country but it's not possible if you are not allowed to have it. My experiences here have not been typical expat ones, I could not have known what would be in store. Life is short and another year of barely existing with no hope for improvement or security is something I can't face, despite my feelings for JC.

I have to do what was unthinkable and leave France because, without at least one of the conditions, it's not possible to stay. I'd rather jump on my own terms than be pushed. I've swallowed my disappointment and hung in here to get my citizenship, passport and ID card in case a miracle occurs one day which could see me return, and I've voted in the elections. My dream is the past. I have to find a new dream and move forward. It's going to be scary jumping into a void, arriving back in New Zealand even older, with a suitcase and little else to start all over again. I don't know where I'll go or what I'll do but I'm going to work towards a better life with more social contact where I can make a contribution somewhere and actually put down roots. I'm heartbroken and there will be scars that may never heal (every time I miss JC). I sincerely hope I will have the opportunity to spend time with JC again in France one day even though our circumstances may be different and the potager we built together will no longer exist after I leave. In the meantime we will try to make the most of what time is left to us.


Anonymous said...

Hey Frances,

It's rare I'm on FB and I saw this post and I'm so sorry to hear how things have gone. I hope that you will find the healing you need after this. I feel you on the broken dream, it's a hard pill to swallow and I don't doubt you gave it everything you had. I wish it could have gone better!!! My thoughts are with you.


Elizabeth at Eiffel Tells said...

You must feel emotionally spent - such a sad story and a difficult decision to make. However, your situation may not be as rare as you think. I know of a number of intelligent, hardworking expats with EU passports who have been in similar circumstances after approximately 7 years in France. Its as if France is having "a 7 year itch" and casting its lovers aside. I hope life treats you kindly when you return to NZ and your daughter. Bonne chance.

Unknown said...

Such a decision was not taken lightly. You will be OK. Look forward, not back. Wishing you all the best in your new life downunder.

Unknown said...

Hello, I think you write beautifully. Your blog is very interesting. Your situation is unfortunately far from unusual. I know quite a few women, expat and non-expat who are dependent on their husbands. It is not easy to find a job here from which you can make a decent living. I wish you all the best for the future. Your family and friends musts be delighted you are coming back.

Liz Selby said...

Sounds to be like its the man (or rather the stupid aging boy), not the country, that you need to ditch....But, you've made your decision and the very the very best of luck.....Time is a great healer. PS your potager looks absolutely fab.....

Brooke D said...

My understanding, from the many Brits in my area, is that your situation isn't unusual at all. Most of them had to start some sort of self-employment in housekeeping, handyman work, gardening, open a restaurant, etc and largely provide services to other Anglos. They view me as the uncommon one, who is able to work without being fluent in French.

I've networked with quite a few Anglos and the story is consistent (and backed by my French friends) - you need to speak French fluently or your only good options are self-employment or hunting down a British or American company with a job that doesn't require fluency.

Unlike some, I'm not dependent on a man to live in France . . . well, not entirely (the DG is a man). It is heavily tied to my current job though because I'd be in your same situation otherwise. One is essentially unemployable in France without French fluency. :-/ I'm sorry things didn't work out for you!

Anonymous said...

I was saddened to learn of your dilemma. But two thoughts arose afterwards:
1) Why can't/won't JC marry you? As his wife you would be legally entitled to a portion of his estate should he pass away.
2) Did you ever pursue teaching English privately, for Universities, schools or businesses? That's how I have supported myself for four years here as an American. BTW...I'm not fluent in French yet...working on that.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Frances
Couldn't you stay in NZ long enough to apply for the NZ pension and then transfer it to France? Also, couldn't you sell your Auckland home and buy something in France and still have enough left over to invest and live off the interest from that plus your NZ pension?

Frances Lawson said...

You need to be resident in NZ in order to have that pension and is generally not transferrable to another country. Selling up in NZ and moving all assetts to France is extremely risky. I wouldn't have the money available to visit my daughter in NZ in the future or do anything else but survive. I also wouldn't be eligible for French pension for years. Eating up what pittance would be left from the sale doesn't seem like a good idea right nnow. I simply need a fultime job.

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