It’s no secret, I love living where I live. I’ve lived a nomadic life moving country 9 times though sometimes all those other countries seem a very long time ago as I’ve now been in France for nearly 18 years. But even within France I’ve moved house 8 times, lived in 7 different towns in 5 different départements from Nord Pas de Calais in the north to the Alpes-Maritimes in the far south-east corner. And out of all these places in France where I am now is where I have felt happiest, most at home.
This contentment comes partly from my physical surroundings: it’s stunningly beautiful in the PACA* region, being close to the coast and mountains, close to Italy and close to one of the best cities I’ve ever had the fortune to know: Nice is more than nice, it’s phenomenal! It comes partly from the wonderful Mediterranean climate but it also comes hugely from how international this area is….
Having been brought up in multinational communities with friends from all over the world I find it stifling to be surrounded by one nationality for long, I couldn’t imagine living in a small country village in rural France or Britain and even found it hard in the Paris region! And yet I live in a small town now. A small town with 25% foreigners from at least 30+ countries (that I know of). So how is it that Roquefort les Pins and the surrounding area is so international?
Roquefort is on the edge of Sophia-Antipolis, Europe’s leading “technology park”. I’ve used the quote marks as Sophia has grown enormously since its inception in the 1970s to be much more than a park and is now a sizable town (population 9000) in its own right. Around 1400 companies from all over the world mainly in the fields of electronics, IT, pharmacology and biotechnology have offices/headquarters in the park providing 32,000 jobs. There are also several tertiary education institutions including the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis. All of this means there are lots of expatriate foreign workers. And this, in turn, means there are international schools. My teen goes to an international lycée (local high school with Anglo-American, Italian, German, Spanish and Russian sections) and my younger son goes to the local primary where he has friends from a dozen countries. In the photo below of me being “taxi-mum” on the last day of term, there are kids from Chile, Jamaica, Malaysia, Germany, Australia, Romania, England and France. Only one of them is mono-national, the rest are gorgeous mixes of 2 or even 3 nationalities.
Add this to the substantial yachting community – crew from the luxury yachts based in Antibes – and the plentiful amounts of northern Europeans who have migrated south for the climate and you’ve got a very international crowd. You’ve also got a very transient crowd, with people moving on after short periods of time. And so I come to the title of this post: expat farewells.
One of the downsides of expat life is that you’re constantly saying goodbye to friends. Whether you’re the one moving or more recently in my life, the one staying, you’re forever saying au revoir, particularly in summer. The expat farewell season is upon us and so far I know of friends moving to 3 different parts of the USA and one lot to Hong Kong. I won’t be surprised to hear of more. Over the last few years we’ve “lost” friends to Tahiti, New York, Dubai, San Francisco, Düsseldorf, Montreal, Capetown, Accra, London, Cornwall and Beijing. It can be hard (and every time I hear of a friend’s plans I must admit to being a tiny bit envious; I haven’t lost my wanderlust). So I focus on the positives: it’s so much easier now to keep in touch than it ever was when I was growing up. I Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp, text, Instagram and Tweet my friends and this keeps them close. (I’m hesitant to take on even more methods of instant communication, apparently Periscope, Meerkat and Snapchat are addictive….) And I think of all those great holiday destinations where we can stay with friends (even if we don’t actually get to them before they move on again!)
I’m used to it really, it’s been my normal for ever. So I look forward to making new friends amongst the new arrivals, for there will be more and the cycle will repeat itself. And I rejoice in the small things like one of my oldest and bestest friends, another eternal nomad, recently moving to live near Lyon which is practically next door, in our lifestyle, compared to Perth (Australia). I adore that my children have friends from all over the world, somewhat repeating my multicultural upbringing despite living in one place and that they find this normal. And I would so much rather have my life enriched by these international relationships, transient as they are, than not at all. Tennyson sums it up perfectly for me: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.
*PACA = Provence, Alpes, Côte d’Azur
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***If you are moving abroad or even planning a move abroad in the near future you may (should!) be interested in reading The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. This informative, practical, useful and highly readable book is designed to help new expats navigate every possible scenario when moving country, from when to tell the children and sell the car, to managing house staff, finding new friends and what to do in an emergency. Packed full of real-life anecdotes and websites, telephone numbers and practical information, it definitely should be on your bedside table (and in your hand luggage) now! By the way, I have no commercial interest in selling this book, just helping out an old friend.***