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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Bi-Cultural Marriages

We don't choose our parents, our countries of origin or our first languages but, unless you live in a world where  arranged marriages are the norm, we do choose our spouses.  Most studies seem to show that like marries like - spouses generally have a lot in common when it comes to educational attainment, socio-economic status, religion and other factors.  This holds true even in an era of fast Internet access, relatively cheap airfare and high levels of tourism and migration.

Globalization has made it possible and even practical to expand our circle of friends, acquaintances and colleagues to almost every country on the planet but marrying outside of our tribe or community is still not that common in most places.  And those who practice a most extreme form of exogamy by marrying outside of country, culture, and language are rarer still.  So, it's not abnormal that we "foreign spouses" (especially women) get a lot of queries about how we met our spouses, where we got married and what it's really like to live with a Frenchman (or an American, Chinese, Brazilian, or Pole).  I will probably be telling the story of how I met my husband well into my old age since it is a pretty good tale and always elicits smiles, laughter and the almost universal reaction, "How terribly romantic!"

Like all marriages, however, romance is simply the gate into the garden.  Once you've slipped inside, you have to make something of it.  Together.  Most of discover pretty quickly that our visions of how we are to exercise our horticultural expertise to mutual pleasure and profit (passed along to us by our respective cultures) diverge in important ways.  You're thinking cottage garden but he has his heart set on something a little more in the Renaissance style.

There is no sure method of making this work.  There are too many perils, pitfalls and pleasures - it is the Anna Karenina principle in action.  I would not presume to say that I understand a Canadian-Russian marriage based on my experience in a French-American one.  What I can do is tell you a few things I wish I had known beforehand and how I think we have muddled through over the years.

What Marriage Means:  There are many social and political arguments about what marriage means in a particular time and place and this topic has figured prominently in the American culture wars.  Different cultures have a different conception of the duties and responsibilities of each spouse and all have some sort of legal framework to enforce these things.  Is this a purely individual matter or is this a union of families?  Are you required to have a contract or is everything included in the act of marriage?  Are there unexpected requirements or obligations that don't exist in your home country that you should think about before you sign?

Some examples.  There are at least three kinds of marriage "regimes" in France which have important implications for how property is divided and for inheritance purposes.  Different U.S. states also have different rules - it may seem a bit bizarre to people outside the U.S. but getting married in Oregon versus getting married in Washington is legally very different.  I am married under the French regime Communauté de biens réduite aux acquêts which I, at the time, thought was the equivalent of Community Property.  Over the years I have learned that it is and it isn't.

How Nation-State Laws Apply:  In a bi-national marriage you are living at the intersection of two country's laws that may interact in interesting ways.  Where you are married and where you live does not necessarily make a difference.  The fact that you are citizens of different states does and the laws of both impact the couple.  In some countries, for example, the spouses are required to report foreign bank account information even for joint accounts.  Others may impose a higher tax burden on a foreign spouse that inherits property in the other spouse's home country.  The U.S. government requires my French husband's permission before issuing a U.S. passport to our dual citizen Frenchlings which means a family trip to the American embassy every time we renew their passports.

Treaties:  There is the law and then there is life.  It's almost impossible to foresee all of the things that you will need to negotiate over the course of your life together.  This is true of all marriages but there are some particular issues that come up in a bi-cultural marriage.  Some are obvious right from the start:  In whose home country will you live?  What language will you speak at home?  How will the children be educated?  How often will the non-citizen spouse go home for visits? Should the non-citizen spouse become a citizen of the other country?  Others are more mundane but equally important:  Whose cultural values and styles will prevail?  At what time will dinner be served?  Do you set the table French or American-style?  Who works and for how many hours a week?  How do you discipline the children?  Who teaches them to read and write in the other language?  How many movies in which languages do you watch together per week?

It's a constant negotiation and re-negotiation because most of us can't answer all of the above in the beginning.  Discovery occurs over time - the utter shock you feel one day when you realize that your children can speak English reasonably well but are incapable of writing a simple email to their American grand-parents.  This sort of thing sends you straight back to the negotiating table because something you thought wasn't going to be an issue, suddenly is. It's less a one-time contract and more a series of treaties that you and your spouse negotiate over time.

Creation of a Third Space:  Unless one spouse agrees to radical assimilation, what usually occurs is the creation of something that is not quite one or the other but a synthesis of both. The balance shifts from one side to the other and back again depending on the country of residence and what stage of life you are in.  To an outsider it may resemble utter cultural chaos with children that start a sentence in one language and finish it in another.  Where the table is set American-style but we eat at the French hour, 8:00 PM.  Even the fights have a unique flair - a bi-national marriage being the only one where a spouse can start an argument with the other by saying, "Your damn government...."

Of all the things I've talked about I personally think that the last is the most important.  The creation of a space where two cultures can co-exist under the same roof in the most intimate of settings requires an extraordinary amount of patience and empathy.  It can and does break down sometimes in the face of utter incomprehension and frustration.  The legal framework of the nation-state is what it is and you have no control over it; the home, the family, and the creation of common values, purpose and meaning are almost entirely up to the couple.   Given the huge distance between two people of very different backgrounds, cultures, languages, it is a near miracle that such spaces exist and can even thrive under the most unlikely of circumstances.  What is amazing is not that such marriages fail (many marriages do after all) - what is extraordinary is how many succeed for so long.


Julia Gandrud (aka JuliaLikesFrogs) said...

I am an American married to a French man, who I've been living with in the US for 12 years. I see a lot of French-American couples fail, and I want to avoid all of the mistakes. Please continue to share your insight! For example, do you have any more thoughts about hiccups that are particular to the French-American relationship, and any suggestions on how to avoid their destructive power?

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi Julia,

Thanks so much for visiting the Flophouse and for leaving your comment. I'd love to hear more about the French/American couples you've seen that failed. It's true that many marriages fail anyway (divorce rate in both France and the US is about 50%) but I think there is an added layer of issues when it's a bi-cultural couple. Let me think about this and I'll see if I can come up with a few ideas based on my experience.

All the best,


Anonymous said...

I am an American married to a Frenchman for 10 years now. We married in the US. Due to job instability we came to France after the birth of our first child, a year after our marriage. I can tell you it is a constant struggle. My biggest complaint is living in France. I feel like a "hostage" because we didn't write down the terms of the move and now it just so happens my husband is happliy residing back in his homeland. I cannot go back to America if I want to be involved in my children's lives. I do not want to live in France. I do not like the French life, the weather, the government, the inefficiency, lack of modern comforts (elevators/air conditioning, space), etc. Then there is the cultural element where French people and family members constantly want to undermine the american spouse because I feel like I've discovered that French are inherently anti-american. Lots of theories as to why. I believe French-American couples are generally bound for trouble, unless they are unitedly pro-"pick a country." I've met Americans who love France. And that works. I've met French who love America and that works. But when each spouse has disdain for the other's country....well....Good luck. Raising the children is, like you said, also a cultural competition and no consideration is paid to the importance of the children's English language acquisition (in my couple). Biggest mistake of my life.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi there, thank you so much for the excellent comment. I have been exactly where you are and I know other American women in the same boat. It's tough and, as you point out, this is not something that is easy to back out of when there are children involved. In retrospect there were a lot of things I should have negotiated before we moved here and ended up having to work out on what I felt was an uneven playing field. In the end I found two strategies that helped resolve things for me. The first was building a life of my own by having a job (and later a career), by making my own friends and by being as independent as possible (I have my own French lawyer, for example). Gave me back a sense of control and gave me some power. The second was to make a short list of things that were so important to me (like English for the Frenchlings) that I was willing to fight (and even walk) over them. And we were able to work it out to everyone's satisfaction. Doesn't always happen though. And that contempt you talk about is absolutely deadly. I wrote another piece here that talks a bit about that:
I's sorry that you are facing this. Feel free to email me if you want to talk further.


Rahel W. said...

HI there, Just happened to look for info on Raymonde carroll and found your blog. Very nice, I also am a French woman but in my case I have moved twice, once to Israel in my teems to study and the second time with my American husband. I am not sure what is French in me, anymore. I am an anthropologist and thought that my work and my ability to do cultural analysis will help me out. I found that as I age, and my American children become adults, the disjunction with the American culture is more prominent. Interesting. In any case keep up. There is a need to understand these issues better, best Regina

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Dear Regina, I'm so glad you stumbled on the Flophouse during your research. Thank you for reading and your comment. I have often asked myself the same question about how much American remains in me at this point. When I go "home" to Seattle it is a little like entering a foreign country. Everything is so strange. And I liked what you said about the disjunction becoming more, not less, as you ago. The situation is never static - at each stage of life things change and I've found that it's an ongoing negotiation. Our last major rethinking was university and what system we (my spouse and I) and my elder Frenchling would choose. Much pressure from the French family to choose France. Equal pressure from the U.S. to choose an American university. I had not anticipated that. In the end our daughter said, "None of the above" and went to Canada. :-)

I wholeheartedly agree that there needs to be deeper understanding. Anthropologists like yourself have done some very good work. I'm also seeing some work by psychologists that looks at the long-term psychological impact of migration. Still looking for literature on this from both (and other) fields. If you have any titles to recommend, I would be most grateful.

All the best,


Sean said...

Hello, I'm an American guy (35)married to a French woman (40) for seven years now. We have three daughters (7, 5, and 3). Regarding this post and comment thread, for the most part things have been fine.

I do often feel the odd man out when we stay at my in-laws. I do not feel that they have disdain for me at all. I disagree with the comment that French people are inherently anti-American. That has not been my experience.

But, I am much more flexible than my wife (and probably most people)when it comes to navigating foriegn surroundings. On a recent family visit my wife and step-mother were ready to kill each other over air conditioning, yogurt, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I'm not joking. My wife was annoyed with the a/c levels which my Dad, step-mom and half-sister are accustomed to and had set in the condo. She turned it off because she didn't want the girls to get sick (although it was probably just as much for her because she detests blasting a/c); my step-mother turned it back on later in the evening. One day my wife asked what would be for lunch and my step-mother told her she could just make PB&J sandwiches; my wife found this to be an outright slight and insult and despite my efforts to convice her that my step-mothjer was guilty only of tackiness, she remained put off by it. One evening my wife gave the girls yogurts after the dinner my step-mother made and my step-mother was offended by that move, not knowing that dairy after meals is a staple in French families (I do this with our family now, but even after seven years I could easily do without it, I guess it's just a question of rearing).

The truth is that American people and French people are incredibly alike in being quite attached to their ways. "Their" ways are unquestionably the best ways, and considering other ways hardly merits discussion.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Sean, Thank you so much for stopping by and I laughed so hard when you described the war over the a/c. In my family it was all about the curtains. My mother would show up and open them. My mother-in-law would come by 5 minutes later and firmly close them. Open. Close. Open. Close. :-)

I've known some pretty anti-American French here in my time but it's the exception rather than the rule. Those happy few were people who had an inflexible deeply held view that the US was by definition evil and responsible for all the sins of the world.
Pretty rare but it has happened. What happens more often is a discussion about something (like free speech, for example) where they expose what they think. When our deeply held beliefs are challenged it's easy to say "anti-Americanism" (or anti-French) but that's not it at all. In fact we do ourselves an enormous disservice because we've blown an opportunity to learn something.

As you so rightly point out that gives you all kinds of flexibility and the skill of moving from one culture and one context to another more easily. Certainly keeps the blood pressure under control. :-)

Do you live in France, the US or a third country?

Anonymous said...

Victoria, as an American woman recently engaged to a Frenchman met during a semester abroad, I'm delighted to find your blog. Here in the Midwest, relationships like ours aren't so common that it's easy to find information and advice from more experienced couples. There's still so much that we have to talk through and think about... Thanks for providing such a useful (and beautifully written) article!

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@anonymous, Congratulations on your engagement! Thank you for stopping by the Flophouse and for your comment. 23 years later I still think marrying my Frenchman was one of the best things I ever did in this life. :-)

Anonymous said...

I accidentally fell upon your blog and its refreshing :) Am an indian married to a french woman. And it ain't easy either.
Thanks and keep writing :)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@anonymous, thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. Really glad you are enjoying the blog and this post.

It isn't easy, is it? I think I will be revising this topic soon but I think I will broaden the perspective to the extended family.

Take good care,


Unknown said...

Dear Victoria,

Thank you for your blog and all the interesting insights I found in it. The comments were also very interesting. I was happy to read one by an american man as well.

I'm a french woman, not married to an american man, but considering it. It would make it so much easier for us to be together and fully enjoy our relationship.

Long distance relationships are for short terms only.

I already know that I don't want to live in France and I currently live in Montreal where I would happily settle for a while if this american babe didn't persist in my heart.

Funny how wometimes we end up doing things we said we'd never do... I never say never anymore.

By the way, our one-night encounter in Thailand would seduce hollywood script-writers as well. I'm really curious about yours !

After 3 months online following that special night, he came stay with me here for 4 months and I'll go to Denver this summer for 3 weeks. We'll see how things go from there and how we see ourselves in the long-run.

The challenge is that in order to find out, we both have to make bigger commitments faster than in an ordinary relationship. It implies moving somewhere else, being able to do a job we love, etc... It puts more pressure on us but deep down it teaches me a lot.

I really believe a marriage or a relationship works when both are happy as individuals, doing a job they enjoy, expressing their creativity in a place they enjoy. I'm not so worried about us as we have a great connexion. I'm concerned about finding a common ground (literally) where we can work without depending on each other.

If you have any advice, you are welcome.

Thanks again for sharing your experience,

Take care


Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Marie, Thank you so much for your comment. I wish you all the best in your relationship. I've been married now for 23 years and I still think that my spouse and our children are the best things in my life.

Can I propose a book that you might find interesting? It's called Evidences Invisibles by Raymonde Carroll. I wrote about it here:

It's one of the best books I've read about the differences between French and American culture.

If you do read it, please come back and let me know what you thought of it.

All the best,


Andrew said...

Wow, what a cool blog! I'm an American and I just started dating a French girl so I really can't wait to go through all of your posts and read about all the excitements, difficulties, trials, and laughs! Keep posting!


Unknown said...

Beautifully written article! The last paragraph in particular really hit home with me. I am an American woman married to a Colombian man for nearly ten years now. Creating a home where two cultures can co-exist is extremely challenging yet so rewarding. Looking forward to reading more of your blog.

Anonymous said...

French american couples/relationships never (or i should say rarely) work was my experience and many around me. Thats fine with me.I realized it. I live in the us and dont want to date with american men anymore. the experiences i had and so many of my friends not necessarily french has been traumatizing to say the least.

Anonymous said...

I even want to add that I strongly discourage those types of relationships. With that said im wishing all the best to the french/american couples that can handle it. Good luck.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@anonymous, Thanks for your comment. It's not easy, I can attest to that. Something that I truly believe helps is going the Third Country route at least once. That way both are foreigners and no one has the home court advantage. :-)

Philip said...


I'm American married to a Frenchwoman. We live near Paris and have a 2 year old son. I feel quite fortunate to have met my wife. When I look into my son's blue eyes I realize that I am a lucky man...none of this is because they are French...however none of this is because they are not French either. We live in a Franco-American household. My wife and I take this to be an advantage rather than a heavy burden. We find the biculturalism has a richness to offer...but you have to be ready to take it. None of us entered the marriage with our patriotic luggage or the intransigence that can accompany it. My wife wanted to learn more about the US and improve her English. I came to France not to speak English nor to want to hold on to my anglophone ways but to learn something add more to what I was. As for my son. My wife speaks to him in French and I in English. If he ends up with a slight French accent when he is long as we are living in France. If we were to move back to the US, my wife would agree to a priority to English.

All to often my British friend and I agree that there are too many Anglophone expats in France that are unwilling to "let go" and integrate. We see them all too often in pubs watching sports on tv talking with other English speakers.

As far as anti-Americanism or my 15 years in France I have hardly ever run into it...and I have travelled a lot. Having lived in the US, I can say I have come across anti-French sentiment not just politically from conservative commentators such as Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter or Late night comedians Jay Leno, Stephen Colbert, or radio talk show hosts Howard Stern but from everyday people...who still say "why are the French so anti-American"?. I would ask "why do you say that"? The answer is very often: ""They don't do what we do", "they don't have what we have", "they don't eat like us"...and of course I would interrupt and say "...and they don't speak the same language either" .

In my humble opinion, for a couple to succeed you will need to ask yourself "am I willing to make concessions"? For a multi-cultural couple it will be the same. Can you let go? How important is it to what you are holding on to? Is making a concession a sign of weakness or failure? if you live in a country orient yourself to that country.

If I can be happy and so can you.


Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi Philip, Great comment and thank you for sharing a bit about your life. Yep, "letting go" is a big part of it. The fun/challenge is that you can't know what you are ready to give up until one day it smacks you right in the head and you realize, hey, I do care about that.

One of our ealier issues, for example was about bank accounts (oh, the irony). My husband refused to accept that I could have a separate bank account. And we went round and round for years on the topic. It just made me feel terrible to not have just one account that was in my name only. It took years but we eventually compromised and now I have one and accept that all the others are joint. Stuff like that. On some level it didn't really matter because we are married under community property but on another level it mattered a lot. See what I mean?

Philip said...

Thanks Victoria,

I f I may leave one little piece of advice to all bi-cultural couples preparing to move to a spouse"s country...ask yourself whether or not you are prepared to embrace that country's way of life without always arguing or resisting. If you go into the adventure fresh eyed and bushy tailed without being naif & always being respectful of cultural particularities then you should be well prepared for a pleasant experience. You are a reflection of what you feel. You may not think it shows, but people can be very sensitive to body language as well as other hints we let escape.

Keep in mind it is not easy. I admit that whole heartedly. Nevertheless, the love a couple has for one another and the real desire to "give a little" on both sides is fundamental. In fact it is essential for everything in life as far any kind of human interaction is concerned.

One last country has a monopoly on what is good or else that country would have a really serious immigration problem (full to capacity)...and no country has a monopoly on what is bad or else it would be empty.

When I first came to France to live with my wife, my father said to me: "son you're going to leave the nest for the second time. You know what is like except this time its a really big nest. You'll be giddy at first then you'll begin to miss your mom's cooking. Hang in there. If you can get by on mom's cooking, you'll be fine. Ask yourself everyday what was good about your day...not what was bad, that's too easy."

Thanks dad.


Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Leaving in the US for more than 3 years now. I hate it. And probably having to stay because threaten to be able to go back in France without my son. This is also one of the reality of mixed couple: taking the risk of being an hostage, isolated financially and morally.

I let my job (PhD), my family, friends, and house to follow the man I loved. We wanted to have a kid and I got pregnant. We had to get married as we were almost bankrupt with medical expenses (we could have been covered through my husband employer policy if we were homosexual. We were heterosexual and had to get married. Wow!). It is called "self-paid" and you can negotiate 50% of the bill ... but you need to know the system for that. Understand, to pay enough. This is also about explaining to my son that whether he is very poor and can have health care, very old and can have health care too ... or very rich. The Obama care is just a joke and put more pressure on middle class. I am terribly french and would like not to have to explain to my son that health care is not a right. Would dream America to wake up for its sanity, be standing up in the street and report the guilty ones: doctors and lawyers ... that give fundings to party that ...
I learned that being part of the 10% higher income here, I can exploit the others, pay almost nothing for their work and enjoy how grateful they are (because they are grateful here, big difference with France).

I would also like not to have to explain to my son the concept of eating in the car.

I would like not to have to look at Churches to find a decent preschool at about $1000/month. Or I have to be very poor too, then it is free.

I would like America to take little care of its women. Its teens (mom at 16 here in NM), its moms (no pregnancy time off, no daycare structure that is affordable) and its "soccer moms" that are stuck home with no alternative if they don't want to disappoint ther church and family. I'm terribly french: religion has to stay in churches, OUT of schools, and that would be great if I didn't have to see all these stickers on the cars telling me what your opinion/church/ whatever is. I feel aggressed. To be expat is also about finding a school for your kid. Be also OK with the idea that they will have to sing facing a flag (cerise sur le gateau comme on dit).

What else? I would like to go back home because it will never be home here. I would like to speak french at home. I would like to have dinner at 8:00 pm out, see people in the street and have good food. Sorry, lived in Paris for a while. The West is for the less quite different.

What else?
A mixed couple is about meeting in your difference. I loved an american man and may be still do. I was happy to move here because of him and had no bad idea about the US. Living here, I probably became some kind of racist but I honestly don't share most of the values of this country. I am hurt as a woman and as a mom. I miss food and mess. I want health care and public school. I don't want money to run my life and this is also what you have to consider: the french salary are about 4 times smaller for equal qualification. If you come here, you won't go back because university to pay, mortgage , ... You'll have to sell or own (30 years mortgage ...), reduce your lifestyle and have enough money to self pay your retirement. Money calls for money everywhere but much harder to stop the cycle when you have a lot. I should fit better the system: making a lot of money, I could may be get a very good lawyer and a flight back with my son.
A mixed couple is also about that. Agree with your spouse/partner before check in your flight. Have it written done doesn't sound romantic but could become useful for future.

Sorry. I met many nice people here. Just dreaming of leaving them, as nice as they can be. We just haven't been able to meet.

Evolving said...

Hello there,

I stumbled across this looking up how to divorce a Frenchman in the USA. I'm an American. I met my Frenchman 27 years ago. We were just friends for the first 2 years. We lived together for 13 years and then we married and it's been 12 years. I wanted to marry him for all of the years while living together. The only reason he married me was for me to be able to live in France. That lasted 4 years before moving back to America.
My story is long so I will try to make it short. I adapted well to living in France. The problem was that he had complete control of everything. He was verbally abusive. The verbal abuse started after being together for 3 years.If I wanted to buy anything he would have to go see it first and approve. When I got back to America I wanted to kiss the ground!! He was raised a Jehovahs Witness. He decided not to stay one at the age of 18. I think this is one of the big issues with him and the person he is.
I begged him for years to be affectionate. I begged him to be nice for even one day. He is also beyond frugal. I bought something out of a bubblegum machine and he got upset. Yes!!! It's that bad.
We have been separated for over a year now. He can never say the words, "I'm sorry." He could never be affectionate. It was just sex and turn your back and go to sleep.He can be nice to others. Especially French people!!
He is now holding money over my head. I can't take it any longer. I worked on and off, but was mainly a housewife. He complained about money whether I worked or not. I have been unemployed for seven years. He sends me a nasty text the day after I go to the grocery store every time. That's pure and simple abuse! He threatens to leave and go back to France and leave me penniless. He says it's all his money and not mine. He can't grasp the concept that I'm his wife and it's mine too.
We own 4 houses. Two in France and two here in America. We agreed before marriage that what was here would be mine and what was there would be his if we ever divorced. I was very involved with helping moneywise..
I wanted things to work out. I literally begged and cried. When a man can't show affection or apologize for being mean it's time to let go. Way past time.
So much more to the story, but I'd have to write a book.
Thanks for reading this.
I will add that I am truly sad about this... Well, I was and now I'm just angry!!I have to value myself and try to find happiness without him.


Anonymous said...

Hi Everyone,
Thank you for this site, the opinions and stories are very helpful.
I am an American woman living in France with a Frenchman. We met about two years ago. At that time, I had already spent 3 years in France helping a family. For us, things moved fairly quickly, he was very romantic and idealistic right from the start. A few months later he told me i was the woman of his dreams and he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. I had strong feelings for him as well, and although I needed to return to the US, we decided to continue our relationship.
When I saw my family in the US, I hadn't realized how much i'd missed them!! I had missed the culture as well; a home I had nearly forgotten. I had really missed Mexican food too, and ate it on every occasion. My boyfriend and I still talked almost daily (which was not always easy with the 8-9 hr time difference!) I found a job, sold my house I'd been renting out, sold my truck, ate my last plate of chile rellanos and said goodbye to my family and friends, ready for my new life in France.
I have now been here for 3 months and for the moment, things are great. My boyfriend and I love each other very much, he is still very chivalrous and considerate. He has a steady, secure job. We are both very frugal and there are no debts between us except his mortgage. His family is very kind and welcoming. Life as it is presently is good, simple....
(continued in next comment)

Anonymous said...

.... However, I have started to reconsider our future together. The main issues have to do with the fact that we would both like children someday. I am seeing things that bother me now and that have the potential to become major issues later. For example, I was raised by a Mother who decided to stay at home to raise the children while my Father worked. I discussed this briefly with my boyfriend before coming here and assumed i would be able to do the same thing. Not so much, apparently. Situations like that are far less common here, usually babies/children are left with a nounou (daycare) while the mother works. I have the impression that stay-at-home-moms are considered kind of lazy by not contributing to the family's financial well-being. I am now realizing the reasons for this type of lifestyle as the taxes and cost of living are higher here. Although it's sometimes necessary for both parents to work, I can't say it's a situation I would go into intentionally. I think it's important for a child to be raised by their family, especially in the early stages. Not my boyfriend nor his family seem to fully understand my feelings on this subject.
Another thing: once we had children, our family here would be my new priority. Thousands of euros that could otherwise be spent on airline tickets between France and the US would be spent on education, clothing, housing ect. for our family here. I would have to bypass many important events in the US, including funerals.

Anonymous said...

(continued, part 3 of 3) Even if I had a job where I could pay for tickets on my own instead of dipping into my husband's income, it would be difficult to find the time to leave. I would most likely travel alone, which means leaving him and our children here for weeks at a time.
Basically I am afraid that I will never feel completely at home here, that I will always have a longing to return to my family, my culture, my country. If I start a family here I will forfeit the choice to return. Thanks for reading, just trying to figure out the next step.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

This post generated a lot of comments and as I read each one I see so much that resonates with me. Thank you all so much for putting your thoughts down here.

@anonymous, So much to consider and what really struck me about your comment is how much thought you are putting into this. That's good and you are light years ahead of me when I first came to France.

The one thing I know is that person I was and my feeling then have very little to do with who I am now. And that would have happened anywhere. Even if I had stayed in the US would I have stayed in Seattle or would I have moved to New York? Seeing today how much I love big cities, I'm not sure that Seattle was right for me. Hard to know.

Good luck to you and please feel free to come back and talk more about what's happening.


Anonymous said...

Hello. I am an American PACsed to a Frenchman. I came to France 4 1/2 years ago for a year abroad, and have always wanted to live in France. I have been with my Frenchman for 4 years. I am very close with my family, and struggle constantly between my desire to have a life here, and to return to California.

My boyfriend understands that I miss home but doesn't feel like there is anything he can do to help. I stressed the importance of celebrating the holidays we do (Halloween, Thanksgiving) as a way to put off homesickness.

We returned to California for 3 months and lived with my parents which was great, he loved it, but he is very French and though he complains a lot about France (like all french people) it is his home and I do not think he will leave it. Ideally I would like to be free to move to California and back to France as we like, but he doesn't really want to get married (and I do)so for the technical reasons you all know well, we couldnt.

I am afraid that I am screwed either way - either I have him, or my family. I am afraid that we will start a family and that my parents will have to pay $1000 and fly 10 hours to see their grandchild. I am afraid that I will sacrifice more than him and end up being angry at him for that. and I am most afraid that when my parents are old and need me, that I will be far away.

Any advice???

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Anonymous, Ah, funny you should ask that question as I have similar questions. Our daughters are in North America right now - one working and one attending school. The elder Frenchling does not intend to return to France anytime soon (she thinks that she might be ready to return in 20 years when she is in her forties!) Like you I have a big and close family in the US all along the West Coast. Frankly the idea that I would have to fly to the US to be able to see my grandchildren really bothers me and I have shared this with my spouse.

From my perspective the "where shall we live" question is one that has to be renegotiated as circumstances change.

You are absolutely correct that if you live in France, you will be sacrificing much more than your citizen spouse. In my own Franco-American marriage this has caused and continues to cause a great deal of tension. And it is exacerbated right now because of our move to Osaka, Japan which we are doing because of him and his work and not because I have a burning desire to live in the Kansai region. So a renegotiation in our case is already underway.

For me the dealbreaker in all this would be a complete unwillingness to negotiate at all. Is your partner willing to at least discuss other possibilities? If not that is a very bad sign.

A last word: if you have a child in France with your partner then that changes things dramatically. Under international law France will be the child's country of residence and you will not be able to leave the country with your child unless your partner agrees (you would have to leave him/her behind if you went back to the US). Now I know women who did just that because they simply could not stay in France but it was very hard. Something to consider.

Alisa said...


I really enjoyed reading this post, and I look forward to reading more on your blog!

I'm an American, newly engaged to my Frenchman. We met three years ago while I was studying in France. We went back and forth for abut eight months, but we've been living in California now for about a year and a half. We have been able to make our relationship work, I believe, because BOTH of us were willing to pick up our lives and move across the globe for the other one. We ended up here for now, but I was ready to go back to France at the drop of a hat. I think when either spouse expects the other to live in their home country without considering anything else, that is a big problem right from the start.

I realize that all this becomes a very different story when there are children involved. We still haven't decided which country we want to live in, because he does not have any desire to go back to France (except maybe to get some saucisson), but we have talked about maybe at least moving back to Europe somewhere. We both miss the European lifestyle and rhythm of life. But I do worry how often we would be able to visit my family in the U.S. We have talked a lot about living in the U.S. for a few more years, then moving back to Europe. But what if we have kids by then? Will I really be able to pick up and move them across the ocean? It is hard to say, especially since we don't really know where we want to live permanently.

We speak English at home right now, but we have talked a lot about how he would speak exclusively in French to our children, and I in English. We would like to expose them to French cartoons and books to help even out the two cultures in the home (assuming we are in the U.S.). However, from what I hear, talking about how you're going to raise your children is much different from how you actually do so. ;)

There are a lot of questions for us in the future, but I'm very optimistic that our willingness to compromise will help us through it all.

Thanks again for a good read!


Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Alisa, Thank you so much for your comment and sharing your story. It's really encouraging to hear that both of you are open to living in either country (or even a Third Place perhaps?) I think it makes a world of difference.

Moving kids is tough. A lot is said about how flexible children are. I think it depends on the child. It can be very traumatic on a kid to pack up and leave all that is familiar for a strange new place. We did it a couple of times and I'm still not sure it was the right thing to do. It was hard and I think there is a post in there somewhere...

Welcome to the Flophouse!


Anonymous said...

Hi - glad I found your blog. I am an American (actually born in Seattle, but raised all over the US) and I've been together with my Frog Prince for 4+ yrs. My husband and I were lucky in a way, when we met were both already part of a "third" culture: humanitarian aid workers in a lost village somewhere. (Definitely not America or France!) This, coupled with our mutual interest in literature, film, history, politics, music, etc., created its own culture. But I guess every couple & family make their own special "culture"... The fact that I had lived in France before and could speak French was definitely helpful, especially with my in-laws, who are the absolute nicest people and do not speak English at all. Never felt any anti-Americanism from them, they find it to be slightly exotic and that's about it. My husband and I did discuss if we might live in France or the US again at some point. We've traveled around the US a lot. We've traveled around France a bit. In the end, we decided that if we ever return to either country, it would most likely be France (unless one of us got a dream job somewhere in the US). I think we are leaning towards France because of the lack of government support in the US - healthcare, child-rearing, cultural and leisure time, and also because its difficult to find decent food on a road trip! As well, my husband 'feels' more foreign in the US than I do in France - his English is sometimes better than mine and some American still can't understand him just because of a slight accent. And since the age of 12 or 13 I have been drawn to French culture and way of life. That said, I would definitely feel bitter if my husband said "we have to live in France".. and I am sure he would feel the same. Another thing that makes all the decision making easier for us is that, at the moment, we do not plan on having Frenchlings, ever. Lastly, I'd like to point out that I have A LOT of friends in different binational relationships: American-Indian / British-Kenyan / French-Tunisian / American-Lebanese / Swedish-Tanzanian / Norwegian-Columbian / Japanese-Swiss / Japanese-Filipino / Jordanian-Australian, just to name a few. I absolutely disagree that anyone should avoid any combination thereof! In the end we are all just people with our own challenges, hang-ups and skills, and you'll either make it work or you won't. Strength in diversity!

TVaniz said...

Hi, Victoria, fascinating and pertinent blog for me (born US, living in France with French wife and bi-national kids). Are you still living in France ? I can't quite figure it out from the blog....
In an case, wow, all the legal and financial implications of this transatlantic dual nationality thing are beginning to cost me sleep... Things seem so "straight forward" when you et the married and obtain citizenship... But as I begin to look at how to set things up financially, I realize that it is very complicated. You don't realize that you have not only two governments to answer to, the complications go up logarythmically depending on all the new sets of variables and people involved.
I hope to find some experts to help out, but in the meantime it's nice to read about real people in similar situations.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi Anonymous, Sorry not to have answered you sooner. Welcome to the Flophouse! And I absolutely agree with your comment about diversity. :-)

@TVaniz, Oh yes, in bi-national marriages more than cultures collide - they are also at the point where national laws clash. The most extreme examples of this I've found are in family law with child custody being the most controversial. Welcome to the Flophouse! I am so glad you found your way here. We are not in France at this time. We are on a 3 year contract in Osaka, Japan. So far it's been pretty good and this week it gets better with our Frenchlings flying in from Canada and the US.

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog and I find it so refreshing compared to other blogs that deal with the issues of living in France, or marrying a French person etc about France. I just go married to a French men and I am very happy. Our marriage however was super rushed as the main reason we got married was so I could stay in France and work. We had been together for a year and a half and had already decided to eventually get married because we love each other and wanted to but visa issues arose and thus we got married on a rush in the mairie without a party or any guests. I was born in the USA but raised in Mexico by the border between both countries which makes me already bi-culturally. I do agree with other respondents in that it does help if both of you want to stay in one country or in another since in the long run it will play a huge role in how the relationship evolves socially. Before I meet my husband I already knew I wanted to live forever in France so this was not a problem for us but I can definitely see how it can become a problem to those couples where each person wants to live in their home country. Being raised bi-culturally has neither help nor deteriorated our marriage but has made confusing too many people including my husband. When I get angry I speak in Spanish which he doesn't understand and I do put hot sauce on everything specially quiche ( I think it goes perfect). My sense of being workaholic and perfectionist at work comes from my " US American" side. He never says I am too Mexican or too US American for him but he often comments on how confusing it is because he sees it as too different personalities. My family does comment a lot however that I have become too French whatever that means. I have only been in France 3 years but I can already foresee how certain cultural traditions I have or that he had with his family can easily be lost if we done devout our time to them in our own household

Anonymous said...

Just realized all the spelling and grammar mistakes in my post. I apologize to those reading it. One advice I could give to other couples is to be very clear from the start on what " things" you will definitely not take no for an answer or are not negotiable. As this will avoid certain surprises on the long run that could hurt the relationship.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Anonymous, Thank you for stoppy by and reading and for the great comment. (Don't worry about spelling or grammar mistakes. I think the interface for the comments does not make it easy to edit.)

You are in good company - many of us "marriage migrants" got married because it was the only way to be able to stay in a country with the person we love. Interestingly enough those family reunification rules are coming under scrutiny these days in many places. The US is one example but countries in Europe are another. The big question is Why? Why is marriage migration seen as threatening when in the past it was just considered to be "normal"?

You make an excellent point about mixing cultures. How does it change things when one or both partners are already bi-cultural? Does it make the relationship easier or harder?

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