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Secret Life of an Expat: I Need My Friends and Neighbors

I’m in the final days of a very long three week period of solitude. M has been working in Montreal, taking part in the filming of a special-effects laden movie you’ll hopefully go see next year. I’ve spent many years of my life living alone and loving it, but now that I’m married, three weeks sans hubby is an awfully long time. And it’s not just that I don’t see him, we’re 6 hours apart and he’s working 17 hour days with no internet on set. So it’s very tricky to time talking to him, and our conversations have been reduced to a five minute gmail chat between his morning shower and the continental breakfast at his hotel. If he doesn’t oversleep.

Anyone know what this is?

Suffice to say, I have a lot of time to myself. Which I normally love. When M left, I made myself a big list of things to do around the house. Like hanging picture frames, cleaning out the messy corner of the yard, etc. But one must be careful what one does when one is alone. The day after M left, I set to mowing the lawn for the first time this year. The side of our house had been overrun with thigh-high weeds that I thought would be too much for our mower. So I went at it, grabbing each weed cluster at its base and pulling with my legs until the ground gave way to a 6 inch root.

But then something bit me.

Seriously, teeth and all, bit. That’s what it felt like anyway. I searched for a little creature with sharp teeth, perhaps a Potter-esque garden gnome, but no dice. There was one very angry looking plant, with jagged leaves. It had to be the culprit.

I stared at my reddening hand, amazed at how much it stung, and wondered if it would puff up to the size of a baseball mitt, or maybe the poison would spread to my whole body, into my eyes, cause blindness. I sprayed cold water on the white welts on my fingers. It helped a bit but it still burned, so I decided to ask a grownup.

Luckily we have one right next door: Around my mom’s age, neighbor Mira is often seen chasing her 16 month old granddaughter out of our yard and tending to her rose bushes. I showed her the welts and the plant. She knew the plant, and said that it will burn, cause little blisters, but clear up soon enough. Put alcohol on it and next time wear gloves.

Thanks French-neighbor-Mom.

So I went about my day with tingling knuckles, feeling glad that I hadn’t done something more damaging to myself while I was all alone. Like cut off a toe with the lawn mower. I don’t even remember the emergency number to call an ambulance, but I suppose neighbor-Mom would have helped me then too.

I’m in a foreign place, with foreign vegetation and foreign rules. A plant is a plant and a welt is a welt, and it’s no big deal. But as I was driving Matt to the airport, he explained the paperwork in the glove compartment and how to fill it out if I should happen to get into a car accident. It was, of course a different procedure, and I can only hope that if it does happen the other driver will be honest enough to go through it with me. (Though, as one French driver actually tapped my bumper with his car out of frustration that we were stuck in a traffic jam, I don’t have high hopes.)

Another foreign challenge I’ve been going through lately is setting myself up legally as a freelancer. That means signing up with one organization that will help me pay the right taxes and social security fees to the right people, and going to the tax office to get an official number that has to go on all my invoices. It’s way more complicated to set it all up, but in the end I’ll be paying for my insurance, saving for my retirement, and, you know, paying my taxes like a good European. I’ve been banging my head against the computer trying to understand how to do all the paperwork (this kind of thing is bad enough in one’s native language), and I’ve gone to the organization but they just threw another seven pages of incomprehensible directions at me. Finally I asked a new French friend, and she very kindly took the time to explain how everything works: how to write an invoice, what the organization does, and how to do the paperwork at the tax office. I would never have managed it without her.

It’s nice to be alone from time to time, but I am very grateful to have friends and neighbors who know the ropes. And I’m ready for M to come home.