I am originally from France. For some of the Epicureans among you, that brings images of good cheese, wine, maybe perfume or fashion. For others who have travelled there, you might have had a challenging experience with some very angry strikers, stubborn waiters or cold looking bakers or shop assistants. Rings a bell?
I can have that outsider’s view as I have been leaving and working in different countries and when I come back home, I enjoy the good things about France and can also be puzzled by some challenging behaviours that remind me of where I come from and how grateful and blessed I feel today.
I learnt a few lessons that shape me today and I will share with you how I changed my perspective, came to welcome things differently and learned to see and focus on the half full glass instead of the half empty one. This came into a whole cultural journey that I can divide in 3 dimensions:
Culinary, travel and cognitive experiences.
First the culinary journey started with cheese: One thing that is difficult to reveal when you are French is that I am not a big fan of cheese. and that is a euphemism, I used to hate cheese and it sounds even worst when you come from Normandy as I do. Normandy is the region of cheese. Some people can even make a whole meal with nothing else and that is when it becomes a social handicap not to like any! I even used to hide the cheese I wouldn’t eat in my pockets or school bag and you can imagine the smell!
I discovered the virtues of cheese at 33 years old, when leaving in Japan and being pregnant expecting my first son. My mother in law came to visit and as an educated French woman, she had decided that the Japanese cuisine could not be good for a pregnant woman who needed calcium and immunity thus cheese! I was enjoying tofu, sushis and green tea but Jeanne was terrified about my Japanese diet. She insisted that even salmon was too fatty for me whereas cheese was all I needed according to her! I wanted to be a nice host and let her decide the meals and one evening I just ended up starving. On the verge of passing out so little I could eat under her authority, one evening, in front of the unique huge plate of cheeses she presented, I decided to forget my disgust and tried some. And guess what, I enjoyed it so much, it was a revelation. All my life till then I had decided I did not like cheese, any of them, no matter how differences there are, and that evening I discovered I only did not like some varieties of cheese. I opened up to the possibility that only by trying, I could really know what I actually like and not be manichean about some things. The same occurs with people and culture, we cannot generalise, each experience is different, some we like, some we don’t. And that happened when leaving thousands kilometres from home. That taught me also that we do not change because conventions force us, we do decide to change when the cost of not changing is higher then the cost of opening up to new possibilities. In that case, starving or trying something out of my comfort zone.
The second lesson I learnt is about making desires come true. When I was a child, I was taking circus classes. My specialties were trapeze, aerial cord and tight rope walking. I was spending all my free time and school holidays with this circus company. We would travel across France to present shows, inventing regularly new performances, challenging ourselves and meeting new public each time. I loved the performances but I realised that I was even more attracted by a travelling life, leaving in a caravan with no strings attached. I thought that was freedom, I could not picture myself with a husband and kids thinking that would deprave myself of that sense of freedom. As you may imagine, my parents were not happy about my career choices and after a serious injury, they convinced me I could to go back to a more conventional studying life that would still allow me to discover the world. And that is what I did. I got myself a scholarship to go and study in the US, then I pursued work opportunities to live in Spain and Japan. I got married with a lovely French man who aspires to the same traveling life, have 3 wonderful boys and my passion to go, experience and meet various cultures kept intact. That is the second lesson I learnt, freedom is about making choices about what you want your life to look like and make it work even though we have to take some detours. Adventure does not have to be a lonely hobby. What you intrinsically and structurally desire, you make it work no matter the circumstances. The right to be what you can be as Victor Hugo said.
My third breakthrough happened here in South Africa. When I arrived over 4 years ago, I decided it was a great country to settle in and it was time for me to reflect and make sense of all my various experiences. I had always been keen on understanding human behaviours and I had to start with trying to understanding myself. I decided to take a part time job and sign up for a 18 month programme to learn more about psychology. Among the different schools we studied, Positive and Cognitive-Behavioural psychology was a revelation to me. I understood why everywhere I went, no matter how much some people have or how difficult times they had to go through, they decided to keep a positive and constructive mind. I realised that when you decide to think on what you can control and decide, how you see things, you can accept your feelings and emotions then decide to look at the bright side. It may seem obvious to some, but as I come from a family suffering anxiety and depression, I understood you can learn optimism and that has been a life changing insight for me.
In conclusion, through food, travel and psychology, I have learnt to look at the glass half full and embrace all the possibilities that this vision can bring. The best news is that my learning journey is only starting! What about yours? Do you see the roses or do you complain about the thorns?