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really honest postcards from lyon: part one

Be sure to check Lip weekly for new instalments of Really Honest Postcards from Lyon – April Smallwood’s new six part series on life as a young Australian expatriate in France.



Dear Siobhan,

No-one will hire me on this visa. I’m absolutely entitled to work but the French aren’t interested in an Australian with an expiry date slapped to her butt. Every job ad says, ‘European Union working papers essential’. I get it. Nationals get first preference, then EU passport holders, then me. I googled to learn if others are in this predicament. The advice given so far has been, and not in jest, to consider marrying a French person. That, or go home. Another Aussie who’s living here, a visual artist, casually remarked it takes most folk about one year to find a job. This was both heartbreaking and a great relief – it’s not me; it’s how they do.

On the plus side, I’m eating well. East and I found a patisserie called Pâte à Choux on Rue de la Charité, and the chocolate éclair is fat with a mousse so rich and shocking and airy I’m still thinking of it come nightfall. The following is controversial and will win me no friends in Lyon, but I’ve had better croissants back home. Perhaps it’s ’cause there are bakeries on every street corner, so the potential of walking into a sub-standard situation is higher. Yeah, maybe it’s math.

My self-esteem is peaking right now because my beginner’s French got me through the following today: ordering 200g of saucisson without a hitch, posting a package of religious trinkets to my mum, and purchasing a half-baguette – and not by pointing. ‘Une demi baguette, s’il vous plait.’ These are not small wins for an unemployed woman with no local friends to boast.

Our frugality means our greatest indulgence is sitting by the Rhône river with a new cheese and a baguette, watching the clumps of youth watch the vanishing daylight. Some nights, we throw in a few beers. I suppose we came here because we could get visas, secondly because we have no mortgage, no baby, no fish. Felt like we owed it to responsible people everywhere to see the world; run around in it until something notable happened.

I haven’t been playing guitar. I said that I would. East is visibly disappointed that I can’t seem to keep that promise to myself. You’d think new surrounds and extreme discomfort would be the biz for creativity and the like. And yet here I remain in my kiddies pool of self-doubt. It’s not debilitating, just up to my ankles. On the plus side, an Aussie guitarist, Toby Hack, found my Facebook page and we’re going to tee up some gigs next month. Between now and then I vow to get over myself and sing a few bars at least.

Quite often, say every other day, I think about my sick dad. I picture him sitting in his tin shed in rural Queensland, wondering what his 31-year-old daughter is wasting her money on. I’ve sent letters; I have not called. My emails go unanswered, but I don’t think he checks it. The guilt of moving overseas with an ill parent is lurking somewhere inside and I try not to look directly at it. I worry that makes me just an okay daughter, whereas most of my life I’ve strived for that gold star. It comforts me to think he is just as I left him: blitzing through crosswords, smashing ropes of licorice, and snoring – chin to chest – while Fool’s Gold or some other midday-movie abomination airs on the telly.

It’s strange to think what you picture me doing here. The fact that I’m in France probably conjures a charmed life with my bearded writer husband. Not surprisingly, it’s pretty same-same. Sure, there are unpasteurised (read: incredible) oozy cheeses, and people use Oh là là for real, but the mundane remains. I’m still eating peanut butter on toast of a morning. Still using the same eyelash curler I did Sydney-side. Any change or growth or character-building probably won’t be felt for years to come. For all that’s not yet panned out for us, how delicious it is to not know what comes next. If we get jobs, the adventure continues. If not, I’ll be seeing you shortly.

– April

4 thoughts on “really honest postcards from lyon: part one

  1. So wise, so true…
    Are you reduced to eating Skippy peanut butter? I was horrified when I realised my options were either American crap from Monoprix, or over-priced bio nut butters from Naturalia. I chose the latter and usually ate entire jars with a spoon while watching Sex and the City. On VHS.

  2. Pingback: really honest postcards from lyon: part three | lip magazine

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