Becoming my American self

If you work in HR, you’ve probably taken at least one personality test at some point in your career. And by “some point” I mean at least once a month, because seriously, we love that stuff.

Everyone has their favorites, and it’s usually the one that gives you the answer you like best. I’m a big fan of the Meyers-Briggs because I think INTJ is exactly me and it sounds awesome.

The other day, an OCEAN vs MBTI discussion led to me retaking a MBTI-ish test (the “real” ones are quite costly) and it gave me ENTJ. E!! As in Extrovert! Me, who has for so long known I am introverted, fully identified as an introvert, and revealed in my introverted status.

So it got me thinking. I took the test in France, where I was, no doubt about it, quite introverted. Has moving back to the states changed me so much that I’ve become an extrovert? Or was I always one and France was just not letting it come out? (As a hilarious side note, this chart has INTJ as Ayn Rand and ENTJ as Napoleon. So in America I’m more like Napoleon, ha)

Bilingual/binational/expats/etc often talk about the effect of language and culture on your personality. Felling like “yourself” in another language is a huge step. I know for my husband, being able to tell jokes in English is a big deal, since he loves making jokes in French.

I was never the funny one in France, and yet here, I am constantly cracking up (and with) my colleagues. I did kind of luck out with a boss that so totally gets me, we’re borderline telepathic. And the atmosphere of a non profit is very different than an audit and tax firm. But I know it wasn’t my French skills that were holding me back, since I spend lots of time laughing with my francophone colleague here.

One thing to note is that the MBTI personality types are not really accurate so I shouldn’t be that surprised that it changed (though anytime I took it while living in France, it was always INTJ or INFJ). And not only are the terms extrovert and introvert generally misunderstood and misapplied, almost everyone falls somewhere towards the middle of the extroversion-introversion spectrum. Very few people are extreme/pure introverts or extroverts.

So really, it’s about balance, and that’s something we’re achieving here. In both work/life and personality, I’m a lot more balanced here. While it was my initial reaction to do so, I don’t want to think of this as a France vs. USA thing, because so much depends on where you are in the countries, and what your work/personal situation is. However, at the same time, I can’t pretend the cultures are the same and that the way I act/feel isn’t influenced by where I’m living. It’s going to be very interesting to see how bébé’s personality develops, and to see if there’s a shift depending on what language/country he’s in.

Anyway, just wondering if this makes sense to anyone else. Or if you’ve taken a personality test and had it change over the course of your life, and had it totally freak you out the way it did to me!

Already two weeks in Massachusetts

… and I can almost spell it without looking it up! (Seriously, how are you supposed to know how to spell it without having grown up here??)

The move up to MA from MD went well. A wonderful and amazing friend drove up with us to help out the first few days. I’m not sure how we’d have done it otherwise, without either actually killing each other or filing for divorce. Moving states is apparently more stressful than moving countries for this family. So hopefully we’ll stick around in Massachusetts for awhile (yay! Didn’t look it up that time!)

We had a week to get settled before I started work, and my husband had an interview that week as well. And he got the job! In terms of timeline for his job hunt, it was a little quicker than mine, but still everything happened once we were physically in the States. So really, we could have spent those last few weeks in France drinking way more wine and sending a lot less applications…

I kept up my weekly DIY last week and made bread for the first time in 8 years (because who bothers to make homemade bread in France?). I made overnight oatmeal during the week, which I’m going to count because this weekend was absolutely gorgeous so I was out exploring rather than spending much time in the kitchen.

Since I can walk to work, my husband will be able to take the bus into Boston for work, and bébé with be at a daycare we can both get to on a bus to/from work, we don’t have a car (we only rented one for the week of the move). So we’ve mostly been exploring our new town on foot, which is just a few miles west of Boston. There’s a trail along the river that goes straight into Boston that I walk along to get to work, and we had a nice family stroll there this weekend. We also checked out a church in a very pretty 20th century building, the library, and a local park. We’ve been meeting lots of friendly people all over the place, so I’m feeling fairly pleased with our choice of town. I did just sign up for Zipcar though, since I know we’re going to want to explore further out in the coming weeks, especially if the weather stays so nice.

Getting used to a new state after being abroad for so long is hard because I can’t use the same references and landmarks. I don’t know what’s good, what’s bad, what’s dangerous, what’s acceptable, etc. But a big reason I took the job I was offered was how insanely nice everyone seemed, and how open and adaptable they were about work/life fit. Support is important when you’re abroad, but I think it’s even more important when you come back. And the support and understanding I’ve gotten after only a week at my new job has made such a huge difference in feeling more settled. Having never worked in the States (besides waitressing and the university computer lab), I can’t say if it’s like that everywhere. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not like that at most places. So I feel super lucky that this is the kind of job I was able to find!

Job hunting while abroad

First things first: I got a job! In Boston! Now, to explain in a very roundabout way how I got it . . .

We moved without jobs lined up, so we were hoping to find something before we left, or at least have a few good leads. I was honestly quite doubtful that we’d get on the plane with an offer to start as soon as we arrived, but I was very confident it wouldn’t take that long once we got here. Job hunting while abroad was still very stressful at times, mostly because we started a little too early and got discouraged by rejections, despite knowing perfectly well how ridiculous it was to apply in September when we knew we wouldn’t be there until January or February. We did get into contact with the HR people of our companies in the States, to let them know we’d be moving and we were open to different cities. We both had some good conversations, but in the end, nothing was opening up that fit our profiles, and they can’t create jobs just for us.

One positive thing about leaving without jobs was that we had the advantage of picking the city that we wanted to live in. We made a list of all the places that interested us and that would offer the best opportunities for both of us. While I can pretty much work anywhere in human resources, my husband is in a very specific branch of banking, so we had to stick to big cities. For the most part, we focused our job hunt on these areas, though my husband did have a tendency to apply for jobs at tiny banks in the middle of Wyoming, just because he liked the name (of the town, the bank, or both), saying he wanted to try a new field. And maybe we could have a ranch and he could ride a horse to the bank. (Hey, this is our “American dream” after all . . .)

Wyoming reveries aside, we mainly stuck to the East Coast, since my parents live in the DC suburbs and one of the big reasons for moving was to be closer to them. I went to college in New Jersey and have friends in all the major cities, so I knew wherever we ended up, we wouldn’t be totally alone. I had a sneaking suspicion that we’d be getting the most replies from places around DC, simply because we’d have a local address once we arrived. And while I wasn’t against staying in the area (having a baby changes your view on things like school systems and parks), I was worried it wouldn’t feel like much of an adventure if we just slipped back into the same life I’d had in high school, just with a kid and nicer clothes. I wanted something new for me too, so my husband wouldn’t be alone in his adaptation to a new life.

This was a chance for us to change directions a little bit if we wanted to, so I looked for things a little beyond what I currently do, in the direction I want to go. However, I also applied to a few entry level HR roles, thinking I’d maybe need a little time to learn the new laws and payroll systems. I looked for things that mentioned French, since I knew that’s one thing that could really set me apart from other candidates. Also, if friends mentioned their company was hiring, I would send them my resume if there was something I was interested in.

Once we bought our plane tickets and put an arrival date on our resumes, I thought things would pick up a little bit. But actually, all the calls/emails I got were from applications I made in the three or four weeks before we left. So it seems really silly now to think of how stressed out we were in October about not having found anything. I kept saying it was too early, but it’s so hard to not be actively doing something to look for a job. However, sending out so many applications probably helped get our cover letters into good shape, and after awhile, we started to get fed up with all the complicated online forms, so we only applied to things we really wanted or were sure we were qualified for. So in the end, it was maybe a good thing to start so early, in a way?

I had a few different interviews in the two weeks before we left, via Skype, email, and video, for jobs around DC, and one in Boston. It sounded like a great opportunity to keep doing what I know and enjoy but lots of new things as well (basically, exactly what you want when you’re looking for a new job). And there’d be opportunities to keep speaking French from time to time. I got an email the week we arrived, asking me to come up to Boston for an interview, which went extremely well and just confirmed what a good fit this was for me, since a week later, I got the offer! A pretty sweet offer too. Along with three other calls for interviews from companies I had applied to within the past few weeks, all in the DC area! When it rains, it pours, right? Added to that was the interview and offer my husband got last week as well, in Baltimore. A very busy week for us!

The choice was difficult but not really. Baltimore was not exactly on our “list of cities,” being so close to where I grew up and and not a financial center. Boston was at the top our our list. My husband actually had a call with a company there the week we arrived, so we know he’ll have lots of options there. And the job he was offered is moving to the Delaware office in a few years, which, no offense to “The First State,” did not sound even a little bit fun. So while part of me feels guilty for him having to turn down his offer and follow me yet again into the unknown, a bigger part of me knows this is the right choice. This is a big reason why we moved to the States, to have better career options, and I really think Boston is a place where we can both do that. Staying around DC would be okay for us, but not great.

And while I know one day is not like living there, I felt very comfortable driving around Boston, even downtown. It all seemed different in a good, familiar way, if that makes sense. Well, I did used to go there during college to see a boyfriend, but that was 10 years ago, and in one tiny area of the city, so it’ll all still be very new to me. We’re going up soon to look at apartments, and I’m hoping the trip will make my husband a little happier about our choice. I mean, he’s happy I got a job I’m sure I’ll love, but it was scary for him to say no to an offer, not knowing when another will come up. However, if the past few weeks are any indication, I really think he’ll find something quickly. But not too quickly, because finding daycare is my next challenge and is proving to be slightly impossible . . .

This was a bit long, so if you’ve made it this far, thank you! Here’s my summary of job hunting while abroad: pick good cities with lots of jobs, start very early, get depressed about all the rejections, start applying to only cool things, then apply to only things near your parents, move,  have everything good happen within the space of about two weeks, make a huge decision that will impact your child, your marriage, and your happiness, then cross your fingers it will all be fine.

Feeling grown-up

Sometimes it’s the little things that can make the difference between feeling grown-up and feeling like you’re still faking it. For whatever reason having a baby doesn’t actually help me feel grown-up. I suspect it’s because most of the time as a new parent, you feel quite incompetent, so it’s a lot more faking it than most non-parents realize . . .

This week at work there was a big financing thing to send off to the government, and it meant dealing with auditors and courriers, and triple checking numbers, and getting signatures, etc. It was a relief to finally send it off, and while it wasn’t really a “little” thing, the fact that I was the one to send it and not my more senior colleague felt pretty good (even if technically it was because she was out that day). Just being the one to have the final say whether something is ready or not definitely made me feel like a grown-up.

There was also my first “lunch” at work this week. Most days, around 11am, we all look around the open space and ask “So, what are we doing for lunch?”. I’ve heard everyone else say “Oh, I have a lunch today” at least once (in French they all say “J’ai un lunch” which makes me laugh and cry at the same time). So this week it was my turn! I finally worked up the courage to ask someone from another department if she wanted to eat lunch together. This may not seem like a big deal to some people, but I am quite shy/awkward, and even eating in the cafeteria is hard for me since I’m a classic introvert who needs lots of alone time. If she wasn’t fairly new to the company, and if she hadn’t mentioned it in passing one day (“oh, we should do lunch to talk about xyz”) and if my colleague hadn’t agreed to go with me, I never would have done it. In the end, my colleague couldn’t go, so I was on my own, and more than a little nervous. It felt like being a freshman and asking to sit with a senior varsity (insert popular sport in your school) player at lunch. But of course it went fine, because being a grown-up is not only sometimes like high school . . .

And finally, the most grown-up thing I did this week was renew my monthly train pass BEFORE the end of the month instead of remembering on the way to the train station and waiting in the huge line the first morning of the month and being late to work.

Luxembourg is a foreign country

I attended a workshop last week at the Abbaye de Neumünster, which is in the Grund area of Luxembourg city. It’s a really lovely area, down in the Petrusse valley, and a short walk from my office.  It’s hard to capture in pictures just how cool it is to be down there, standing in front of a 17th century building, walking around the winding streets, looking up at a sheer cliff face, trying to imagine what it looked like back then.  grund4 grund3 grund1

grund2

For some reason, while riding the bus back up after the workshop (walking down is easy, but getting back up is quite a hike!), I was suddenly struck by how very foreign Luxembourg still feels to me, even after working there for almost two and a half years. I only ever really see the little stretch of streets between my office and the train station, and I only go to the city center occasionally (the last time was with my parents in September). So it’s easy to forget where I am most days, when working in a building built less than 20 years ago, surrounded by McDonald’s and Sephora.

Luxembourg in general still seems like a foreign country, despite going there every other week for the past seven years to get gas (my mother-in-law lives a kilometer from the border). The colorful houses, the supermarkets, the bus stops . . . I just can’t seem to get used to it. The roadsigns are even a little different. It’s very unsettling to live so close to a country, to work there every weekday, and yet still be surprised by the foreignness of it.

Maybe part of it is the language. Hearing Luxembourgish instead of French while pumping gas means I can’t chalk up the unusual architecture or funny street names to a regional difference, the way I can when visiting the rest of France. Once when I was lost, I could not find anyone who spoke French to help me. So not understanding/being understood certainly adds to the overall foreign experience.

To have such beautiful and historic sites so close by, yet to never have the time visit them, is one of the sad realities of living abroad long-term. Once warmer weather arrives, I’ll be able to explore more during my lunch breaks. And maybe for one of our date nights we can go out in the city center. My mother-in-law took a trip to the northern part of the country and said it was really gorgeous, so that would be nice for a weekend away. I don’t know if Luxembourg will ever stop feeling totally foreign, but hopefully seeing more of it will help (and maybe cracking open one of the many “learn Luxembourgish” books we have lying around . . .)

Going back to work after baby

I’m going back to work this Wednesday, and I’m having the typical mixed feelings a new mother can expect. I’m excited to go back to doing something I enjoy, but nervous about how pumping will fit into my schedule. I’m also very nervous about not being able to pump enough, since I don’t have a big freezer stock. I’m not too worried about bébé being with the nanny, since he’s been there a few times already, but I still don’t know how he’ll react to his daddy being the one to drop him off and pick him up. I don’t know how either of us will handle not seeing each other for over 11 hours.

I did or will do all the things the different books and blogs suggest. I’ve been pumping for awhile, so I’m used to my pump. I got a haircut. I’ll get my nails and eyebrows done tomorrow. I have some new clothes to wear the first week back. I’ve been to visit the office, and I’ve been sending emails regularly to stay in touch.

I’m not sure how to spend these last few days. My husband needs to learn the daily routine, so should I stay out of his way and do my own thing? Or should I spend as much time as possible with bébé? If I had gone back a month ago, I think I would have been fine doing my own thing. The first weeks I really felt like a glorified milk bottle, and with all the nap issues he had, I really looked forward to my husband getting home so I could finally have a few minutes to myself. But now bébé is so much more interactive, and the smiles and giggles come so easily. It feels like he’ll notice more when I’m not there.

However, I am looking forward to an entire day without the same mobile songs playing over and over and over . . . And eating lunch at a normal speed. And reading more than three pages of my book in one sitting. And wearing somethings besides leggings.

But then I think about how I’ll see him awake for less than two hours during the week, and my heart gets tight, and those annoying mobile songs don’t sound so bad anymore.

So yeah, like I said, normal mixed feelings! We’ll see how I feel next weekend!

Feelings about going on maternity leave

Today was the first day of my 16 to 20 week maternity leave. I’ll write more later about the more administrative details; today I was having all sorts of feelings about going on maternity leave and legally not being able to work for the next few months.

Since I work in HR, I read A LOT about the different gender equality policies around the country and around the world. Which companies have the best male/female ratio, which country gives the most maternity leave, which countries give parental leave for the father, which countries have quotas for female board members . . .

I don’t think there’s really a “best” answer. I can say that while it’s very reassuring to know I won’t lose my job because we chose to have a baby, and we won’t go into debt because of hospital bills, it’s also frustrating that I can’t continue to work longer when I am perfectly capable of doing so. I’m not sure how imposing a long break for women is supposed to help them gain workplace equality.

Not that I am at all upset to have this break! And it’s something we knew would happen, so it was a deliberate choice (well, as much as timing these things can be deliberate) to have a baby very early in my career rather than wait until I was more established. But I still had a few big projects I’d been working on for a while that I had to pass on to other people, which was extremely hard to accept. It feels like there’ll be this big blank in my CV and I’ll always have less practical experience in the field than others my age. So I really want to use my “time off” to continue developing skills and knowledge (languages, computers, policy, etc.) that I can put to use once I go back. (Those of you who are moms are probably laughing yourselves silly at my naïveté thinking I can study German vocab while sleep-deprived and nursing a colicky newborn. Don’t break my utopian bubble just yet, pretty please!)

I’ll actually be going back as soon as possible, since my husband is going to work part-time for a year instead of me at the end of my maternity leave (this option is made possible thanks to Luxembourg’s parental leave policy). It means taking a step back in his career as well, which we discussed at length before deciding what to do. The way we see it, he’ll get a “break” and get to spend more time at home than he otherwise would with his crazy hours. The housework/baby burden will hopefully be slightly better balanced than what often happens, making us both more efficient at work. (Again, no breaking my bubble moms! Trying to go into this as positive as possible!)

In the long term, we realize it will probably mean less money and less promotions for both of us, but making our family a priority now, before we have to make bigger career choices, seemed to make sense to us. In 20 years, will he really care that it took him an extra year to get a promotion when he was able to be so involved with his son’s early life? And I’m sure in a few years I won’t give two figs about these “empty” months in my CV when it meant being able to take care of our new baby myself instead of leaving him with strangers when he’s just a few weeks old.

I do realize how incredibly lucky we are to even have these options available to us. But the one option that wasn’t available was for me to continue working as long as I could physically, which annoys me. It would have saved the government money, and would mean a higher salary potential over the course of my career as well, which is also good for the government, since it means more taxes. It would have saved my company money since they’d need a replacement for less time. Even the train company would make money from me keeping my commuter pass longer.

Coming back to this idea of equality, maternity policies aren’t even fair to all women, since not everyone has children. If a company doesn’t replace a woman on maternity leave, it means more work for others without increasing their pay. The same goes for men and parental leave. Everyone knows the time isn’t being spent lounging around on the beach, and that having children is just as much work as a full-time job, if not more. (Ok, probably definitely more work.) But that doesn’t mean those you leave behind at the office aren’t feeling a bit of resentment seeing you walk out the door, or that when you come back you won’t feel some as well for all the opportunities you missed. I feel like the only way to be really equal is for everyone to get an extended period off at some point during their career, so that the career advancement and workload issues apply to everyone. (This is an insanely impractical suggestion, I know, but hopefully the reasoning behind it makes at least a little bit of sense.)

Most of these confusing ramblings are the result of the guilt I feel for getting this time off when it seems like I did nothing to earn it other than do what humans have been doing forever, and when so many other women around the world don’t have my options. I am grateful, I am annoyed, I feel guilty, I feel relieved, I want this, I don’t want that, I want everything . . . Basically all the feelings I can expect once I’m a mother, right? So if maternity leave is supposed to help me prepare for motherhood, it seems like I’m off to a good start!

 

Learning to relax

I am off work for the next two weeks and I’ve decided to treat it as preparation for my maternity leave. I like what I do and get a lot of satisfaction (=feel important) from doing it well.  Any stress at work really affects me and it’s definitely been stressful lately with tons of different projects. So it’s been really hard on me physically and mentally the past few weeks, and on top of that, the guilt/stress of knowing that soon I’ll be leaving for a few months which means more work for everyone else. But I’m learning to relax a little, let go of the stress, and trust that my colleagues are perfectly capable of doing things without me. (Though that didn’t stop me from leaving them my cell number, with instructions to call if they had even the tiniest question about something . . .)

So what does my “relaxing” schedule look like the next few weeks? My husband is off next week so we’re going on a little road trip to Poitiers, where his brother is doing an internship, and Bretagne, because I don’t care if it’s still a bit cold, I haven’t been on a beach in about 5 years and in June/July I will be too far along to go anywhere. But this week, I have a list a mile long of everything I want to get done.

It’s always like that, isn’t it? Even on weekends, you think “finally, I can relax,” but there are groceries to buy, errands to run, people to see, paperwork to fill out . . . And on vacation, you try to cram as much sightseeing in as possible, and end up even more tired than when you started your vacation! Whenever my husband has a few days off (he has tons, thanks to working in Luxembourg banking) I leave him a list of things to do. He did not leave a list for me, or rather, his list was “relax and sleep.” So I made my own list. Mostly to feel like I’m still “working” (why is it so hard to just be lazy??) but also because I do legitimately have a lot of things to get done.

Like start getting the nursery ready! We still haven’t bought a lot of things for bébé, but we’re turning the office into an office/nursery, which means a fair amount of reorganizing has to happen first. And I’ve decided it will happen this week! Besides, getting a space nice and neat and in order can be very relaxing in a way. Seeing stuff in its place just makes everything else easier.

Paperwork is another big thing this week. Papers for the doctor, papers for insurance, papers for France, papers for Luxembourg . . . Not to mention it’s that time of year when I need to start thinking about renewing my residency card in 2 months, which means getting together all the different papers for that. But this is also somehow relaxing, knowing that our (well, mostly my) papers are in order and I won’t have to worry about it later. This goal goes hand-in-hand with getting the office organized, since finding all the papers I need normally takes way longer than it really should . . .

I also hope to do lots of cooking and exercising. The pool is unfortunately closed this week, or I would have gone every day, so it will be lots of walking along the river, which should definitely be very relaxing. And cooking/baking has always been a super relaxing activity for me. Having the time to cook healthy stuff (and maybe some not-so-healthy goodies for the road trip) will be great.

There are a couple of slightly more stressful things on the schedule like doctors appointments and meeting with a few nannies. But since all of that will make what comes next easier, it’s a relief to have the time to do things properly, rather than trying to squeeze in everything after work and on weekends. So I think I should be okay this week, “relaxing” in a very personalized way.

What do you do when you’re off work to relax? To-do lists, total vegetation in from of the television, or somewhere in between?

My frequently misspelled words in French (and English!)

Sometimes, French and English can be horribly similar. Sometimes it can be nice, like when you’re expecting a super weird expression or phrase that will be impossible to remember and it turns out to be easy (without remorse = sans remords).

Other times, it gets in the way of writing either language correctly. Misspelling is a big pet peeve of mine (their vs. there anyone?) but I’ve noticed that since I’ve started working in Luxembourg, I’ve gotten so much worse, not just in French, but in English as well. I spent most of middle school misspelling common words thanks to my French elementary school, so this seems to be a recurring theme in my life that I doubt will ever work itself out completely.

Part of it is the general mix of languages in Luxembourg, in ads, in conversations overheard on the street, in the newspapers. Part of it is switching back and forth between French and English so frequently, sometimes within a single sentence. While I work 90% in French orally, a lot of our written communication is in English (translated by moi, bien sûr), and you can only misspell words when you write, not when you speak!

When I get mixed up on Facebook or in emails to friends or family, it’s not a big deal. But in a profession setting, it annoys me how much I need to spellcheck. In English!!

There are the single letter changes that I usually catch on my own, like dance/danse, future/futur, chocolate/chocolat.

Then there are the really tricky ones, that no matter how many times I run spellcheck, I’m still convinced it’s wrong. The words that will never look right in either language ever again.

Is it adresse or address or addresse or adress? Apartment or appartement or appartment  or apartement? Envelope or enveloppe? Development or developpement or developpment?

So far German hasn’t been too much of an added confusion, but I don’t use it very often for the moment, and it has fairly straightforward spelling. I’m signed up for classes this Spring, so we’ll see if it gets worse the more I write it!

What are your frequently misspelled words in French? Any other languages mixing things up for you even more?