Bonjour, ça va?
In my 12th year living with diabetes, I moved to Saint Jorioz, France, about 10km outside of Annecy at the foot of the Alps. It was a quaint town right on the lake with one grocery store, a DVD kiosk, a beachfront restaurant, and concrete diving platforms in the lakefront recreation area.
A walking/cycling path passed right through town. I enjoyed watching residents populate it on evenings and weekends. Numerous times I used it to access the trails above the Duingt Castle. French citizens enjoyed a good quality of life, at least the ones I observed living in the Haute Savoie. They left work at 5 pm, enjoyed long dinners with fantastic food, and regularly spent time with family and outside in nature. The masses did shopping on Saturday and leisure time on Sunday. Retail store hours, they reflected this priority.
I gained competency in the French language, enough to pay bills and navigate simple issues on the phone and conversations at gatherings. I appreciated the French culture class I took before moving to Europe; this significantly improved my ex-pat experience.
It wasn't easy to navigate diabetes management while living abroad. Long plane rides impacted the timing of my different basal rates on my insulin pump. My diabetes doctor said to expect one day of adjustment for every hour of time change. Each trip over the Atlantic took nine days to re-calibrate my hormonal response. Insulin pump supplies, insulins, blood glucose strips, syringes, glucagon kits, wipes to get the sticky residue off my skin, and wipes to keep the supplies sticking to my skin were ordered in batches and transported in travel. I found a local diabetes specialty doctor if an immediate need arose my endo in Colorado couldn't address.
The grocery store items were different from what I had grown used to in the states. Eggs were not refrigerated; weighed and labeled produce occurred before you went to check out (you only do that once); store clerks give you stinky-eye at the notion they would place anything in a bag. Then there was reading carb content on packing.
In the US, nutritional labels indicate the number of servings per container. Carbs are broken down based on how many bread slices come in a package or how many 12-chip portions a bag contains. In France, all carb listings are based on 100g (3.5 ounces) or mL.
I enjoyed the culture around eating in France. Several hours of conversation and small quantities of exceptional food brought out in several courses. It was an adjustment, knowing when to dose my insulin for the amount of time it took them to get the various courses out and gauge the number of delicious warm fresh bread baskets brought to the table.
Living in a different environment that offers change and things that aren't familiar gave me a perspective on what I was willing to adapt to and what I enjoyed in my routine.
When locals and ex-pats came to our home for parties, they knew there was a bowl of ice cubes for them in the freezer and perhaps chocolate chip cookies on the table. We even routinely went over to one friend's home for "log-o-taco" night. It was our version of Mexican while living abroad, an attempt to feel cozy with what we knew. Even if it tastes little like what we got state-side, just the shared-desire gave us comfort and brought much laughter in our attempts.
Like most things in my life, I didn't allow challenge to get in my way of what I desired. It was an added consideration for me in moving abroad, my diabetes. The memories I continue to carry, the regular swims with Lucy in the lake, the mussels & frites at Vincent's restaurant with the Colliers, the confusing trail signs while running in the Semnoz with Christina, the trip to Barcelona, climbing in Final Ligure, and snowboarding at Las Clusaz all remain vivid for me. Most notably, the multi-hour trail run that day in August 2002 with Becky. The run that put the spark of TMB in my mind (stay tuned for 2017).