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Dear friends,

In order to write this letter to you I’ve had to set aside my knitting. And it’s a pleasure to do it, not only because I love writing to you, but because it means that I have knitting to set aside.

It’s been a while. I’m back to my needles after the longest lapse in my adult life. Not because I didn’t want to knit, but because one very, very bad day I discovered that I simply could not knit.

Here’s what happened.

On my first morning in Paris, I pulled back the bedroom curtain and braced myself for culture shock. I knew it was coming. The pessimists in my stateside circle of friends assured me that it would. “I’m sure you’ll be fine,” they’d say, doubtfully. “Once you get over the culture shock.”

So I decided to deal with culture shock the way we dealt with chicken pox when I was a kid: get it, and get it over with. On that bright, early morning I stuck my head out the window, opened my arms, and shouted, “Okay, Paris! I’m all yours! Hit me with your best shot!”

“Putain! Taisez-vous!” came a response from across the courtyard. “Shut the f–k up!”

A good start.

Unfortunately, culture shock is not like chicken pox. Culture shock is like chicken pecks. You don’t get one big knock-down blow that sends you to bed, you get a million little pecks every day. You keep on walking, slowly wearing down until you stumble. You dread the next peck. You grow paranoid. You know it will happen. You just don’t know when.

It often begins with the tiniest obstacle. Let’s say you need toothpaste.

Now, you have been using the same American brand of toothpaste since kindergarten. You understand that this toothpaste is not available to you in France. Nevertheless, you need toothpaste.  You realize that you are not quite sure where to buy toothpaste. At the supermarket? At the pharmacy?

You have learned the word for toothpaste (le dentifrice), so you could ask someone. But every time you try to speak French in a shop, the other person goes off script and starts saying things for which you are not prepared, using words you do not know, in an accent that is one long, heavy sigh sparsely interrupted by an occasional half-assed consonant.

The actual French, as it turns out, do not learn French from Duolingo.

Confusion ensues. Even when the other person is kind and patient, you hold up the line and get glared at and drop your wallet and knock over your bag and then there’s more French that you understand even less, and back out on the sidewalk you wish ardently that someone’s belle époque jardinière of geraniums would fall on your head and end the misery.

For “toothpaste” you may substitute every single thing you need or want, every single day. Shoe polish, plant food, a butter dish, a USB cable, toilet paper, internet installation, dinner in a restaurant.

Soon, all you notice are the differences and difficulties. The electrical outlets here are funny-looking and the electrical plugs are too big. The stupid light switches don’t make sense. The water smells stupid. There’s no way to hang a damn shower curtain in your stupid bathroom. The stupid supermarket is arranged according to some stupid arcane code dictated by Napoleon that means the paper towels and the Kleenex (which is of course not Kleenex) are in different departments on different floors. That was interesting the first time, but now you’re just annoyed.

Why aren’t all the paper goods together? Why are French paper towels so damn small? Why are there seven different kinds of white flour in the baking aisle, and why is baking soda sold at the hardware store? While we’re at the hardware store, what is the word for “toilet plunger” and why do they not have them at this hardware store? Oh, this is the wrong kind of hardware store? Of course it is. Because of course of course of course OF COURSE THERE IS MORE THAN ONE KIND OF HARDWARE STORE. Are you crying? Yes, you are crying.

You have a dream, a delicious dream, in which you go to an American Walgreens and buy toothpaste without hours of planning and it takes two minutes and you are not traumatized in the aftermath. This is followed by a nightmare in which you use one square too much of flimsy French toilet paper and your Louis Quatorze plumbing goes on strike and there’s water everywhere and you still don’t know the word for toilet plunger.

These are small crises, to be sure. And for decades, as urged by Elizabeth Zimmermann, I have knit on with confidence and hope through all crises: final exams, my mother’s death, biopsies, cancer, a global pandemic.

Big crises, no problem. But after a barrage of small ones, something in my brain finally snapped. On a gray afternoon, I picked up a perfectly plain sock-in-progress and found that I could not continue. My brain said, “Knit!” and my hands said, “Sorry, wrong number.”

I couldn’t figure out how to hold the needles. I couldn’t remember which hand held the working yarn. Covered in cold sweat, I consulted a YouTube video on continental knitting—my own video. And I still couldn’t do it. I stuffed the sock back into its bag and hid the bag in a cupboard in my workroom, and I went to bed for twenty-four hours.

I have been terrified to admit this to anyone. I mean, knitting isn’t my hobby–it’s my life. It’s my living. And I had moved thousands of miles to do it in a new and more inspiring place, only to find that I couldn’t do it at all.

There was no choice but to keep going. Not with the knitting, which stayed in the cupboard, but with everything else. The rent must be paid, food must be bought, boxes must be unpacked.

Then came a day when I was buying carrots (des carottes) at the produce shop (le primeur) on the corner of my street (au coin de la rue) and realized that I’d understood the cashier when she announced my total. I hadn’t paid especially close attention. I was too tired and foggy. Yet I understood her. A miracle.

And then, another miracle. The cashier (who is perfectly polite, but does not overflow with warmth) handed me my change and said that I was speaking far better these days, and clearly feeling more confident about life in Paris. “You were so shy the first time you came here,” she said in French. “I remember.”

Of course she did. I had drawn back nervously to allow another customer to pass in the narrow aisle and toppled a pile of potatoes; and then apologized by saying in my best French, “Alas, it is me, thank you, sorry, the apples are falling, it is me who have made apples falling, I am desolated, thank you, I was the American, thank you, I am sorry!”

Back in my apartment, there were fewer packing boxes begging for attention. You could see quite large patches of floor. I had found all the ingredients for my dinner, and turned on both the kitchen light and the oven without hurting myself. 

In the event of an emergency, there was a toilet plunger at the ready in the bathroom cupboard.

That night I pulled out the sock, did my best to exhale and empty my brain, and . . . my fingers took over. Knit knit knit knit knit knit knit. As if we’d never been apart.

I wasn’t sure, as I wrote my first letter to you, if there would be a second. But here we are, and there are my socks, and I’m about to cast on for a sweater.

More soon. 



Photos by Franklin Habit. Twist in my Sobriety Mitts by Les Tricoteurs Volants pictured here.

About The Author

Franklin Habit has been sharing his brainy and hilarious writing and illustrations with the knitting world since 2005.


  • Oh Franklin, it is a thousand little pecks and cuts… I moved to Germany almost 10years ago, with almost no German – I could order a takeaway coffee- Cappuccino is the same in English as it is in German – and pay for it with a note or a collection of larger coins. The first time I went to the supermarket alone (without my German husband), I cried on the way home because I was expecting the word “Sack” when asked if I wanted a bag, not “Tuete”. I had no idea what was happening or going on, all I wanted was some fruit, veg and milk & the German attitude to personal space is so so different to my british sensibilities… This is actual a good thing about Covid – “Abstand” or leaving enough room between yourself & the person ahead of you in the supermarket cashier queue that now (I hope it stays in post-covid times) I am not affronted by a trolley/basket/bunch of celery touching my behind!
    Now life is easier, I have a good grip on the language – I still stumble, but less often. However culture shock is a bit like grief – it sneaks up on you, unknown & suddenly “Wham!” another peck over something seemingly unimportant, but like grief, it fades, and it’s a bittersweet reminder of living in and between two cultures. Life is richer for it.

    • Magnifique!

    • You are my hero, Franklin. Truly…

    • Wonderful letter! C’est parfait pour ton adventures! You’re so courageous to take on a new country and language, bravo! Before you know it you’ll be helping new visitors with their questions. I’m so glad your knitting mojo has returned. Thanks so much for a good laugh!!

    • Love the letter but can someone tell me the name of the fingerless mitts that are pictured?!?

      • The name is right after his signature

      • Yes, please! The mitt is fabulous !

      • Yes what is the fingerless mitt pattern!!

        • Those are Twist in my sobriety mitts by Les Tricoteurs Volants

  • Oh, can I relate! Only it was German and not French. I’ve held up lines (queues) trying to understand what someone was saying, made huge social mistakes, toppled my bicycle breaking bottles of wine (that’s worse than upsetting apples). But as you say, it does get better. When I caught the leg of my jeans in my bicycle chain in the middle of a busy parking lot, two young men got out of their cars and knelt at my feet to untangle me. Eventually people start saying to you “I love all of the mistakes you make when you’re speaking German–they’re so funny! Bravo to you for starting the upward curve and best of all getting back to your knitting!

  • The only time I cried, after we came to the US, was after a long difficult day where nobody could understand me, Wisconsin people baffled by britspeak,, I came home and the light switch was upside down! I couldn’t even switch on a damn light! You understand this.

    It’s fine now. I can do light switches and everything.

    • I can relate as well. We moved to Mexico three years ago. Lucky for me I took twelve years of French in school ‍♀️. My brain is getting better but I still think in English, then French, then Spanish so I’ve had some pretty funny conversations with people. The people here are very kind and willing to help out and yes, my Spanish is improving but it’s a daily adventure.

    • Ça vaut la peine. Bon courage, Franklin.

  • Salut, mon ami!
    Soyez brave!
    Cordialement, Purlaverse.

  • I’m sure it will get better!, but right now? I wish I could send you a big care package.

  • Franklin, you express this so well that I can feel your pain. I’m so happy to hear that you can knit again now and that your French is bon <3

  • LOL ! Reverse that, a French 25 years old in Atlanta, GA, make it 35 year ago, replace the toilet plunger with a non-functional toilet and bathtub and you have me arriving in the USA. Me, the citizen of the world who discovered she was French 🙂 After the first 6 months, I could answer the phone. After a year, I could get some of the jokes, after four years I could make jokes people actually laughed to. I’ve been back in France for 30 years and I miss all of that almost everyday. Hoping you find your balance 🙂

    • Oh Franklin, I understand, I didn’t expect to feel so foreign when I went to US in 1980 after all we both spoke English !! It took a while but we met nice people and made good friends and started to settle in when we had to do it all over again here in Australia. We have been blessed with a rich and interesting life meeting wonderful people wherever we are, you will too, and knitting will take on a new accent 🙂

  • Welcome to France! From an American living in France 11 years. Now in a rural village in the SW. My French is still not good, but I find that people are very kind and helpful. Like you, I came to France a bit late in life—age 59. Nowadays I feel more culture shock when I return to the US to visit! I hope you enjoy it all . Take every opportunity to visit outside Paris— I think you will find it very rewarding.

  • I remember moving to the South of France in 2007 with my three teenage daughters and nothing more than 25 year-old schoolgirl French. At times it seemed like you needed a passport and a letter from the state to even be allowed in a cake shop and it all came to a head when we needed to buy a door mat (which for some reason we felt was essential); the girls were told to stand supportively behind me in Castorama and to NOT giggle while I rambled on about needing a tiny tapis to place by my porte principale in the garden…
    You can imagine the scene – it still haunts me even today 😀

  • Franklin,

    Thank you for sharing your story, it is beautiful written. I’m so glad that your knitting mojo has returned. It’s almost as if the yarn and needles knew that you needed time to settle in to France and all the pecks your were enduring, glad the joy of knitting has returned. Stay safe and healthy!

  • I am so glad that you are settling in. I thought that you would be instantly happy in Paris, but I was not allowing for real life which has ups and downs. Take care of yourself and keep knitting.

  • Oh my goodness! I had to laugh. In the 1990’s we lived in Geneva. I almost became a hermit. I remember spending hours preparing to shop by looking up words in my French/English dictionary.

  • Ah, you do understand me now. The picture looks the same, but it’s all the small things that are different. So confusing.
    I had something similar -I used to paint on glass before moving to the UK. It took me quite a while to find the materials to do it again. When I managed to gather them, I couldn’t seem to work properly. I haven’t been able to paint a nice one since. At least that isn’t my source of income.
    You’ll find more hilarious (you’ll eventually laugh, in ten years or so) incidents. But the pain gets duller.

  • I’m so glad to hear your knitting mojo has returned! And despite all these pecks and cuts, your ability to share it so clearly and humorously leaves me with no doubt you will eventually remember these transitional days fondly.

  • My whole hearted sympathy. For me it was my American excessive need for electricity (kitchen light and oven on at the same time) versus the Italian power grid. I remember very clearly sitting in an old wicker chair in the middle of an almost empty apartment during an epic snow storm (think 100 yr flood, Sicilian style) crying my eyes out while I waited for my landlord to arrive and explain where the circuit breakers were (5 floors down and there were 4 of them). I moved in 2 days prior and didn’t have a clue that power didn’t come streaming through the wiring on demand.
    You will look back on this time with a sigh and a smile.

  • Oh, is France still like that? Vive la France! (I love that some things stay the same after 50 years.). My big shocker was in Italy when I learned that the lightbulb/all things electric store was always closed on Wednesday, which is when I needed a lightbulb. Glad to see you are getting used to it. After all, c’est normale!

  • Laughed out loud then read it to my husband, who laughed too. We moved to Costa Rica 2 years ago & have the same struggles with Spanish. Thank heavens for Google translate! Here the toothpaste is easy to find, but aspirin & ibuprofen are only in the farmacia. And sold by the pill.

  • As we say- Been there, done that. Exchange Germany with France- Cold War Era. Total brain fog. Annihilation of normal personality- until one day it gels. You have now crossed over to the survival side- success! Things will no smack you in the face upon return to the US- someday. Enjoy your new “knitting comfort “.

  • Scatter the hens and eat the eggs! Make French Toast ! 😉
    So very glad you’re knitting again. What a beautifully written piece.

    • “Scatter the hens and eat the eggs! Make French Toast !”
      I love it!

  • When my parents retired, my father took French lessons so the next time he went to France on vacation he could be more confident finding things. He discovered that as a tourist, the best way to get around was to speak English. 😉 That “I can ask a question but can’t understand the answer@ problem….

  • For toothpaste – definitely the Vademecum. Who wouldn’t use toothpaste called ‘come with me’ in Latin!?
    And when I spent a summer at my uncle’s restaurant in Paris in the 70s, one of the waiters mentioned how all the kitchen staff thought my aunt’s American accent was really sexy, so you have that on your side…

  • I think it must extra difficult when a large part of who you are is about subtle and humorous communication and word-play, to be suddenly without fluency. Sounds like the worst is done and you’re making great progress. And spring is coming! Looking forward to hearing about your adventures in France.

  • Ah, Franklin, you have captured it! We moved to London where, supposedly they speak the same language. Uh, no, mon ami. Different plugs, different shops, different ‘just about everything’ – except that the language is more guttural. And all this time, our friends back in the state thought we were living a vacation. A holiday it wasn’t, but our time in London changed all of us. After several years, we moved back to the states (job!), but we have continued to cherish our time there and the friends we made. The experience expanded our minds and changed our lives.

  • I feel seen. And I live in London. English English is light years from American English; death by a thousand cuts is spot-on. So glad you have found your knitting fingers again. {{hugs}}

  • I normally hate heading to Walgreens but dang if you need some Crest or Colgate, dear boy, just let me know and I will fetch it and mail it off tout suite! Bon chance!!!!!

  • The shower curtain!! What is with the lack of them? I keep threatening to bring one with me from the States when we visit my in-laws. My husband swore that the first house that lacked one was just that his parents hadn’t gotten to it yet, but 24 years and 6 homes later, they have still not installed one. They tell me I need to learn to better aim the water with the hand spray thing. ❤️ Bon courage. It will get easier but you are right about the chicken pecks. I called them duck bites.

  • Thank you for your beautiful posts!

  • Awe, Franklin, we love you. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.
    May I please have the name of the fingerless mitts pattern you display so well? : )

    • Pattern is Twist in my sobriety.

      • Thank you so much❣️

  • In the Netherlands I needed something for constipation and had to ask the concierge at the hotel to write down what to look for in the pharmacy. I even had difficulty getting the same thing in a pharmacy in Northern Ireland where they speak (more or less) the same language, English. I lived in Brazil for 6 months – I was a Fulbright scholar- and studied Portuguese for 2 years before going. I was already fluent in Spanish. For a month, nothing came out of my mouth. Then one day in the tiny bakery near my apartment the baker said- oh, now finally you are speaking Portuguese. Kind of like your r in the grocers. I do miss some things in Brazilian daily life like being able to call a taxi to pick up something you need at a pharmacy- like Uber but this was 1999. And stores that rented music CDs along with videos and (then new) DVDs.

  • Here i sit, in an IKEA in Turkey (Türkiye they will have you know), laughing so hard my sides hurt. You have described my life these last years as I continue to live abroad, knock over the potatoes, YouTube yet again how to cast on, and find a plunger (still struggling with that one). Thank you!!

    • That first time the cashier at Konzum (or Ribola or Merkator or Interspar?) told me the total in Croatian (or was it in Bosnian?) and I understood was a day of great pride. Thankfully I can find Colgate in both countries but don’t get me started on trying to negotiate the flour or fabric softener aisles… Bon chance, Franklin! Or, “budi sretno” as they would say here.

  • Wonderful storytelling as always, Franklin. Reminded me a little of moving to the US 23 years ago. Not at all comparable, of course, I spoke perfect English. I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer size of everything. My God, Home Depot! But people in Minnesota would furrow their brows and seem like they were reading my lips when I spoke, trying to understand my English.

    I think almost unconsciously I began to lose my Indian accent to stop this from happening. These days people often ask me if I was born and raised here.

  • From Michigan to Savannah, Georgia 20 years ago, I thought would be a piece of cake. Ha.
    I called our first year culture shock . It was nothing like yours in France and now I am embarrassed that I called it that. But it was something else.
    Easier though, much much easier.
    Glad you’re back.

  • I’m sure it’s not a straight line, but I’m awfully glad you’ve begun coasting down a bit from the climb. I guess this resistance is where change happens — and what a relief that it can happen well into life. I’m quite buoyed by your French adventures. Happy you chose to share some of the hard stuff, in addition to all the beautiful scenes and funny stories. Glad the comfort of knitting has returned.

  • Franklin, I enjoyed your missive.i lived in Spain for over 3 years utilizing high school Spanish. This was a really memorable time for me — lots of memorizing vocab, dealing with siesta when all the shops and govt were closed and random holidays thrown in to add to the confusion. Slower pace — everything gets done mañana. Lived for 2 years with a hole in my bathroom ceiling where upstairs neighbors could see us because of ‘soon, very soon’ it will be fixed. Ooooh, the stories…

  • Even thought it was 25 plus years ago, I remember well exactly the same kind of experiences you are having but in Egypt. But what really still rattles me is the culture shock I had when I came home! My friends picked me up at the Seattle airport and had to drop by the supermarket. I stood in the middle of the store unable to move because there were so so so many things in one store.

  • Yup, been there, done that! I am Norwegian, and thanks to my American husband’s foreign service, have lived in five countries with very different and difficult languages: Hungary, Lithuania, Russia, Estonia and Iceland. I think my proudest moment was when I was able to ask for a hot water bottle – and got it – in a Lithuanian pharmacy. Trust me, the language was not impeccable Lithuanian (which I never was able to master) but a mix of English, scattered words in Lithuanian and gesticulation. It was still a proud moment. I gave up trying to learn the local language when we got posted to Estonia. At least I was already familiar with European plugs and light switches..
    You got this! Sounds like getting over the culture shock is going well, and happening pretty quickly, if you ask me!

  • Thanks for putting it all into words. It’s been a while for me, but you capture all the elements— from the most basic tasks becoming huge projects to not being understood. I think everyone should have this experience of culture shock and adjustment at least once in their lives.

  • Been there. Done that. Thanks for making me smile on this cold, winter morning.

  • Franklin, keep your letters from France coming please!

  • I burst into tears when I read what the cashier said to you. And I am humbled by you sharing all of this with us. Mon Ami, one step at a time, I say as I cleans up after the tornado.

  • What a wonderful telling of the challenge of the everyday in a foreign country. I remember feeling much of the same in Italy some 20 years ago. And then both slowly and suddenly it all begins to make sense and feel right. I actually found I had just as hard a time returning to the US three years later.

  • Thank you, Franklin, for this morning treat. Even in the worst of times, we often find we can look back and all seems in a better light. So glad you are settling in.

    This is my Paris story set in the Louvre. My daughters and I were in a room with lovely small busts set on platforms. Some other visitors had their hands all over these things of beauty going so far as to send the platforms spinning madly around on their ballbearing bases. A teacher, even a retired one, always wants everyone to follow the rules, I began shaking my head “no” to discourage this outrage using a teacher glare perfected over 30 years. A wonderful Frenchman finally stopped me. “Madame, this is the room for touching. Of course, you do not know that because you cannot read the sign in French outside the door.” And that was just when I finally had everyone settled down and in a single file line along one wall!

    • oh, yes! In many museums in Europe there are some special items on display, usually smaller than the originals… with descriptions in Braille- they are “for touching” and especially by the blind so they are able to learn and see with their hands!

  • When we lived in Germany, I bought products that had familiar names. I pointed and spoke in teeny tiny sentences because my phrasing and accent were too much like Yiddish. I walked and walked and we lived (the second trip) 4 blocks from the Alte Pinakothek. Needless to say, I visited M de Pompadour by Boucher weekly, w child napping in stroller. I miss those days.
    Instead I spent an hour last night looking for 2 handi-tools that fell into oblivion. In hibernation, in NJ. Husband’s sabbatical lost to Covid.

  • I went to Paris when I was 19 armed with 4 years of high school French. I had high expectations. I was shocked. Most Parisiennes spoke better English than I spoke French and there went my dream of becoming fluent. Congratulations on settling in.

  • The struggle is real, overcoming the struggle is the joy.
    I’m living vicariously through you, I love you and am cheering you on!

  • Maybe the MDK knitiverse needs to send you a care package, Franklin! Personal care products and totally American food? Peanut butter, Oreos,canned corn, Unos pizza?

  • There are numerous comments which express many of my own thoughts in way of a personal response to your letter that I will not indulge in repetition. Seriously, I laughed I cried – it was all felt so personal, real and heartfelt. Having been in like situations, I felt like I was in your skin. As a retired literature teacher I want to say that this is one of the best pieces of writing I have ever had the extreme pleasure of encountering. Rock on, Franklin!

    • I agree. I’m sorry for your struggles, delighted at your success. If you wrote a book about this transition, I would definitely buy it. You have a gift, and I can easily see myself in your situation with all the details you provide.

  • Franklin, you’re getting there, a bit at a time. Your command of the language will continue to grow — just don’t go to an auction anytime soon. (Remember, even the ones in English are hard to understand!)

  • Well when we arrived in Canada from the UK 35 years ago everyone said “well at least you speak the same language!” WRONG. As my husband says you know enough to get yourself into trouble but not out of it. On our very first morning here in an apartment the janitor came to tell us that the hydro was going off at noon. I thanked him and set about filling every empty container I could find with water. Noon found me looking for him to alert him to the fact that the electricity had gone off too! And so life evolved. Looking back everyone was so kind and helpful and smoothed our transition – which took a long 2 years of stress. I think the children – 4 under 12 – settled in much quicker than we did though I had to argue with teachers not to mark English spelling as wrong.

    • Rachel, I grew up in Canada and learned English spelling which I still use but having lived in every province from coast to coast, I have found that the west seems to favour American spellings. It’s interesting how a country can be so different from one end to the other, almost like being in a foreign country, haha.

  • Thanks for making me laugh! And admitting you “took to your bed.” I have found that, on some screwy days in which things get worse instead of better, ’tis best to call it a day (regardless of what time it is), and take to your bed!

  • Well Franklin, I have been “there” many times. But my there is in Japan. Culture shock is insidious. I even speak Japanese. I have lived in Japan on and off for a total of 12 years over these past 5 decades. It doesn’t matter how well I know the culture – or the language, culture shock creeps up on you – in the form you described: everything is stupid. It’s not and we know it but it we are feeling stupid. And again as you described, your surroundings become familiar, store keepers, recognize you, and you are just living. “When did that happen?” I always ask myself. You are on an adventure. I am impressed. Good luck. Debra

  • Franklin – I highly recommend the courses on french phonetics/pronunciation at the Alliance Francaise. It used to be called “La perfectionnement phonétique » but now is under a different name. Transformed my level of French and my ease in both speaking and understanding French. Very little effort for a huge pay off. When I am in Paris now, people assume I am French but living in the US for several years.

  • Wonderful as always. One tip that changed my life: if your toilet is clogged, squirt in a solid glug of dishwashing liquid. Leave it for at least 15 minutes to do its magic, and the plunging will go much easier.

  • I love following your journey. I’m so glad it’s getting easier. Thank you for giving me a glimpse inside your world.

  • Aah, the memories. London in the late 70s. This shouldn’t be too bad. Same language. Ha, and HA! Tokyo in the early 2000s. As my husband said, “There’s a reason Japan is on the other side of the world.” But it does get better. The kindness of people is everywhere.
    However, beware, little is mentioned about the culture shock when one returns to the US. But that gets better, too. I do hope your experiences are as wonderful as mine. It seems they have been so far. Hugs.

  • My oldest is preparing to leave for study abroad in Spain. I will be sharing this with her! One of the big things the parent emails from the program noted was that no matter how prepared they may be, your child WILL experience culture shock. Good to know that this too shall pass, eventually.

  • “O brave new world…”

    I thought that I was going to spend my final day of vacation in France trapped in a laundromat. Our hotel, selected for its views of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower, had a laundry room. I finally found it after wandering through numerous corridors, but it was closed for the weekend. Undeterred, I went to the laundromat across the street. I was successful at purchasing soap and loading the washer. And then I went to leave. It was a beautiful Saturday morning. I was going to buy coffee and enjoy the streets of Paris with nothing to do but wait for the washer to finish. I had successfully navigated the metro, tour schedules, a side trip to Provence, finding sheets in the hidden hotel closet when we arrived in the middle of the night, a flooded bathroom, my daughter’s stolen cellphone… After all of these things, I could not open the door. I kept pushing outward. It would not move. I thought about pulling inward, but there was no handle. How would a door open inward if there was nothing to pull. I knew it was not locked because I had been able to enter. I thought about calling for help. My cellphone was back in the hotel room. My husband, if he came looking for me at all, would be looking in the hotel laundry room, not the laundromat across the street. Maybe someone would show up eventually and let me out….There was just one long moment when everything fell apart because one simple, ordinary, everyday experience did not go as expected. Yes, of course the door opened inward. I had to pull on the frame. Not obvious at all. There is just some moment when you mind has to reset.

  • Franklin, I feel your pain.

    In Australia, eggs aren’t refrigerated, so they’re in the main body of the supermarket. Cereal comes in two basic categories: sugar frosted chocolate bombs, and super fibrous healthy crunchy. Nothing in the middle range.

    The thing I remember with special horror was the shopping trolleys with swiveling wheels on all four corners. They require active wrestling to steer straight down an aisle, and even when going straight, they were still skew-whiff across the aisle.

    You adapt. Eventually.

  • I love Franklin SO MUCH! there are times when I think I might unsubscribe to MDK because I have too many – you know – things to read. But then I remember Franklin, and I clear out something else and wait for Franklin again. Thank you for Franklin!

  • Love your letters, Franklin

  • On my first visit to Paris in 2007 I made the whole grocery store line at the cashiers laugh when I saw that a pound of coffee and three apples cost some ridiculous amount – of francs! I gasped, and boggled. Everyone chuckled. The registers then were still printing out both francs and Euros, “for the old people,” the snickering 12 year old at the register said. My face burning, I saw that it was a much more reasonable amount of Euros. So I laughed at myself, and suddenly the atmosphere was less tense – were they waiting for a spoiled Americaine to have a temper tantrum?And so it goes. Live and learn! I’m so glad you got your knitting back! And I wish I could kiss your cashier *mwah!* and *mwah!* for being so kind to you.

  • Love this. Thank you.

  • I love this! So funny and so spot on. Bravo for easing into a new life and finding you in a foreign culture. Ain’t easy! Can’t wait to read more.

  • Franklin, my dear, always write to us. Always. ❤️

  • Ah, Franklin, you have accomplished much since going to Paris. I see in your posts, videos, and this story how you are facing challenges appropriately and coming out happier and settled. Trauma, whether emotional or physical (is there really a difference?) takes up space and energy. For that to happen some of our favorite things have to step aside for a moment or two. Knitting has been like that for me, and as you deliciously explained, it comes back to us. Knitting will never leave us, it just steps aside so we can endure this new thing. Be well, be happy, and thank you for sharing your experiences.

  • Few words, but much gratitude for sharing your new life, obstacles, and triumphs with us-all with great wit and humor. I’m filled with admiration and am cheering you on!

  • Knitting is often a comfort but occasionally reflects turmoil. I recently moved within the US to a place i wanted to be, but moving and getting ready for moving is very stressful. I was able to knit for the first six weeks here but everything came out wrong, as in really a mess. I used the wrong yarn for the wrong pattern, etc, etc. Just this weekend i started a sweater (waves of change jacket) and i am loving every stitch and it looks great. Your knitting looks wonderful!

  • Brilliant. Look how many nerves you struck Franklin (myself included)!

  • What a marvelous, entertaining, story. Thanks so much.

  • Franklin, from a Carolina girl (with all sincerity and no “hidden” intention) all I have to say to you is “Bless your heart” and just keep on knitting honey.

  • Happy knitting, Franklin!

  • This is so beautiful. I laughed! I cried! I once spent a difficult two months in Buenos Aires and your description of the hen pecks is so deeply resonant with that experience.

  • I loved this letter, can’t wait for the next one!!

  • Thank you so much for that Franklin! I needed that for personal reasons not to do with knitting

  • Hello Editor People – Please have Franklin write something every Monday. What a delightful way to start the week. I’m inspired and encouraged. I’ve read every comment, so far, and agree with and enjoyed all of them. I’ve never had the opportunity to live in another country though I did move from NY to California as a teenager which was hard for me. My daughters lived in Paris, Angier, Freiburg, Munich and Berlin (that one is still there) and spoke the languages but still had so many issues. I did have the same high school French moment in Paris on a visit…OMG, it’s a real spoken language, not a text book! I’m going to see if I can look at my neighborhood and surroundings with some fresh eyes.

  • Loved this and look forward to hearing more about your adventures. Happy knitting!

  • Your experiences bring back memories of when my husband and I lived in Bogota, Colombia for 18 months. Eight years of Spanish did not prepare me for the culture shock… plus in no way did I look like a local. I know where you are coming from. You will be ok!

  • Reading at the end how things slowly began to fall into place, I cheered! Following a dream takes dedication and hard work; but, it is in overcoming the “small” hurdles that we achieve our greatest triumph. Knit on!

  • That was beautiful, especially your broken French translated into English. I laughed out loud as I haven’t in a long time. Thank you. I’m glad your culture shock is lessening.

  • In case anyone wonders: a toilet plunger, c’est un piston de toilette
    Might come in handy when you’re next in Paris 🙂

  • `Franklin I feel as if your experience in France is a metaphor for what life is like planet Earth with global warming and a pandemic. There are no guidebooks for sucess and so many people around you are not helpful or just don’t seem to care.
    My experience of France was the same in 1970. I could only hope that one learns to be kinder after such a travail.
    Such helpful stories and wisdom the comments have shared.
    There is much to be said about the grounding effects of knitting, the healing properties
    it extends to all, as does he who is a master.

  • Blessings to you. You’ve done a service describing the cumulative trauma of making such a change. I’ll remember that if ever I fulfill my goal of living in foreign country for an extended period of time.

  • Oh my god, I had forgotten. How had I forgotten? But I did, but you reminded me. Like many others here, I also went through that phase in a foreign country re-learning language and life. That phase where you’re like, ok, here I am, it will be hard and now I will keep going but then sometime… you don’t know anything anymore, anything at all because your brain is So Busy Rewiring itself. That first integration phase is brutal. So glad you are coming back into the sunshine – I mean, the woolen magic. Is it safe for Dolores to be friends with a Phoenix? Probably – although my stash and WIP pile seem to indicate that wool is not self-knitting, it is self-extinguishing. I raise my Krispy Kreme in salute to your croissant and wish you all the best, with your socks, your Louis XIV plumbing, and your corner store.

  • Love you, Franklin. You remind me of searching through Schiphol for a spray-up-the-nose antihistamine, which, of course, can only be purchased in a perfume store. Not *that* perfume store, but the *other* perfume store. And then, when I’ve purchased it, they insist that I use it right there, in the check-out lane, in front of everyone. Why? WHY?

    Sending you good vibes. Hoping those chickens and their pecks get fewer and farther between every day.

    (Baking soda in the hardware store??? That’s at least as bad as antihistamines in the perfume store rather than the pharmacy!)

  • But, how many years did it takeA? I’m in a need-to-know-basis. I just recently told my husband, “No, when I said I wanted to live in Paris before I die, I don’t mean a month, I mean two years.” I was starting to think I am now too old to live this dream. 70 years old. It finally occurred to me the other day, there are plenty of 70 year-olds living there and I could jolly well be one of them.

  • You are the best writer!

  • I so enjoy your stories! You make me laugh out loud. Bonne Chance, mon ami!

  • Ah, what an adventure. We moved from the States to North Yorkshire and it was culture shock even speaking the same language. After 3 years I finally quit flinching when people asked if I was all right and never did quite understand why they all thought I was from Northern Ireland. All the best and glad that you’re getting your feet under you. (I miss American chewing gum in cinnamon more than words can express.)

  • Dear Franklin, such beautiful words for a traumatic experience. So vivid. Thank you for sharing! I too am very glad it is getting better. Have missed your writing!
    I was in public school with 2 girls whose mothers were English war brides. Never gave a thought to what the transition was like for them. 2 sisters I knew in college gave me some idea of the differences.Their family moved here from England.
    I hope you will end up loving your time in France.

  • I recognized culture shock as brain overload. Moving to Perú was both liberating and scary, speaking only rudimentary Spanish and not knowing any of the coloquialisms. After 5 years, I returned to the US. Ten years later, we are making our plans to go back to Perú. I have friends there now. I speak much more fluently, and we have property there now, so it’s a bit easier. But there is till that big hoop I have to jump through to get my carnet de extranjeria. Ugh. All the fluency and comfort in the world does not change the monstrosity of red tape created by the government.

  • Lovely. I needed to read this today. Not for the reasons you wrote about but as an inspiration for perseverance. COVID is hard on the education system at the moment and the kids need us so we keep going.

    I have been in your situation in Spain and it takes courage. Those moments of growth are so worth celebrating and add such meaning to life.

    Congratulations! Felicidades!

  • Franklin, I totally understand. My job sent me to Turkey in the early 1980’s. No internet. No Google, No TV. Definitely did not find an IKEA. I was scheduled to be there for 2 years and the wait list to have a phone installed was a minimum of 2.5 years. Electricity and water all day, every day simply didn’t happen. Hot water happened when one heated it in a pot. The building super would take my empty propane bottles (that were needed for cooking and heating water) and return with a full one. Sometimes it would be a day or two later sometimes a week. My neighbors and the folks at the corner markets were amazing. They would laugh at/with me as I tried to learn Turkish and would talk with me in English as they liked to ‘practice’. I have the most wonderful memories of my time there.

  • Bravo!! This is just marvellous writing and I am enjoying all the comments. My biggest culture shock as a Brit in Australia was that that they call bed sheets ‘Manchester’ – erm you what now?! More please Franklin

  • At least it was only “Putain!” and not the full-on “Putain de merge!” And, for what it’s worth, it took me about a week to figure out that eau de javel is bleach. (Non, non, I don’t need water! I need the stuff that makes my whites more white!)

    • I was auto-corrected on the “Putain de merde!”

  • I was a 19-year old college student on a summer-work-in-Europe program, and I had gotten assigned to wash dishes in a small hotel in a North Sea resort in Germany. I had hoped to be placed where my multiple years of French language classes might be of help, but no luck. Worse luck, I had somehow miscalculated and run out of feminine supplies. I went to the tiny (only) store in town with my German-English dictionary even though it had nothing even close to the words I needed. Sign language was going to be really awkward. “Ummm,” I said, “Haben sie Tampax?” The clerk smiled and asked “Regular oder Super?” After that, the rest of the summer was a piece of cake.

  • I stopped knitting in 2018. Haven’t had the desire to pick up the needles again, and I only partially blame getting a math degree for the drought. I know I’ll do it again, and I finally stopped feeling bad about not doing it. Very happy to hear you’re finding your footing in your new home, I live for these stories.

  • Knit on and take care, mi amigo 😉

  • That was hysterical.
    I can tell you that coming to the USA was just as difficult. My husband and I laughed out loud at your story.
    We speak English and American’s speak American.

  • What an experience! You are so brave. I look forward to reading more of your exploits.

  • Franklin, thank you for writing. I enjoyed the letter and I enjoy the Facebook notes as well. I also, have had times when I couldn’t knit, crochet, spin or weave. Those were the worst moments because my ability to create had suddenly left and I could not understand why. I can say that it, whatever it is that lets me be creative and create has always returned. For that I am thankful. Knitting isn’t my job but it is my solace, my creative spirit. It helps fill that part of me that needs to create things, and fills a hole in my being. When it is lost, I feel bereft. I’m happy for you that you have your knitting mojo back. Best wishes on your incredible journey, many wishes for happiness and that lots of knitting is headed your way.

  • Bravo!

  • You describe culture shock perfectly! Sounds like you’re at the far side & are thinking in French, so soon all will seem normal, knitting too!

    • Bonjour! Nous Sommes Franklin

  • Thank you for your honesty! So very many things in life are beyond difficult, many totally numbing, but things do get better. Humans have hope that somehow pushes up forward, even when we’re numb. Congratulations for your giant step and your baby steps.

  • thank you.! I lived in Paris for a summer when I was 21 (attending La Sorbonne) and you are reminding me of so many similar experiences. now I cherish those remembrances.

  • Franklin,
    I am sorry for your pain, but happy for your growth. What an inspiration you are!

  • Thank you for your writing. You are brave!

  • Thank you Franklin for sharing this experience . Was crying and laughing thru it!

  • Thanks so much for sharing your feelings. Major nightmare but you have overcome it and improve daily on being a New Person in a New Land……congratulations!!

  • Oh my dear you are very brave. I have just found our two letters and have caught up. Did you bring Rosemund with you? Good Luck my friend.

  • Oh my goodness, this feels so familiar. I moved to Japan at age 22, a few months after graduating college. It was my first time living on my own, and I did it in a foreign country. I spoke the language, kind of, but my reading skills were pretty poor so I was basically illiterate. And it was so hard! I loved it, I stayed for six years, I had the most amazing experience, but it was hard. (Also? I had my mom ship me toothpaste from America. There are some things you don’t mess with.) Good luck to you – I’m glad it’s getting easier and I look forward to reading more about your adventures!

  • My two favorites in one place, Franklin and Paris. It doesn’t get any better.

  • Way back in the late 70s, I was an exchange student in France, and had a total flashback to those very exhausting days as I read this post. A year ago, my partner and I left the life we’ve known for years and moved, à la Green Acres, across the state of Colorado, to a new and unfamiliar, extremely rural little town. The culture shock has been similar. We all speak the same language here, but there are still very unfamiliar ways, and the awkwardness of not knowing. And it’s been lonely. Knitting is what has kept me sane, and I have so much gratitude for the amazing online community we have. Who are the first people to reach out and become my new friends? Well, of course, the local knitting community.

  • This brings back memories of moving to Amsterdam many years ago. It took a year or so (and much kindness from friends) to acclimate and find my balance, good humor and joy again. I’m so glad you are finding yours! FYI if you are in the south of France, the Dom Robert Museum in Soreze is thrilling. His luminous wool tapestries are RAVISHING. Not that I needed a reason to, but I fell in love with wool all over again. Best wishes for your new home!

  • Gosh, Paris is not the best place to land in for an extended period without prior acquaintance with the local customs and language , of course! However, “when in Rome…” etc….

    • As a tourist visiting cities in Provence, I went into a shop and said ” je cherche gateau.” Instead of ” je cherche un cadeau. I am looking for cake which should have been I am looking for a gift. The clerk laughed.

  • Ah, memories of speaking French to French people the first time! The terror! The mortification! And then…..the small victories. This made me laugh with fond memories. As David Sedaris so aptly said, “Me Talk Pretty One Day”. (A great read, BTW.)

  • You know you’ve got it when you start dreaming in French, not English!

  • Frankln, I love you. Spot on! Brilliant explanation of your feelings.

  • Ohhh, hon… Take it easy on yourself…it IS so wacky, that beautiful French language! (I can, however, speak and think Spanish).
    Me getting yelled at in French (I didn’t and don’t speak a lick of it … I only had good language-guidebook) by a skinny, old man waiter at the Montparnasse train station in the early, early hours, when I wanted more coffee and not more food. Saved by a really nice older adult (I was a young American woman traveling alone) who reprimanded him and saved me from tears. It was intense!!
    I was just happy not to be pickpocketed!
    I eventually made it to Rennes in one piece.

  • Franklin, tu vis mon rêve. Bravo, cheri.

  • Oh my, I have been there! It brings tears to my eyes to read of your tribulations, and I am so happy that it is getting easier and your knitting mojo is back!

  • I was so sad reading this I didn’t want to finish; I wanted to hug you and tell you people will help, you can ask for all the help you want, those million papercuts all need time to heal or maybe you’ll build up calluses …
    And then, of course, you did exactly that and you’re as strong (with recuperation) as you need to be. Très bien, monsieur.

  • Loved your story Franklin.

  • England 1994…English is English, right? Mais non! It’s not corn starch, it’s corn flour. Unsweetened baking chocolate? No. Find a brownie recipe that uses cocoa instead! Glad to hear it’s getting better for you.

    • Let’s not forget that biscuits are cookies and crisps are chips!

  • Thank you so much for the update…I was worried about you! Are you on the 2nd or 5th floor in your apartment- that was really a Napolean thing!! Don’t feel too badly about the French language (in France), I grew up in French Canada and it was a shock to hear the difference in Parisienne tongue (-;=
    Now living in the US, I remember when my brain started translating everything in English rather than French, so you are indeed on your way- chin up, you are on your way, it’s just the process.
    My daughter just returned from assignment in the UK- where the language wasn’t as big an issue (most of the time), but the plugs and culture are indeed different. I heard a lot about what in the UK didn’t work, and now that she’s back, I am hearing about how much she misses the wonderful way of living that she came to love.
    So looking forward to your next letter mon ami!

  • This is perfect. Thank you. I’ve been in Paris and know EXACTLY what you’re talking about. I need a nap after any exchange in the outside world. It’s exhausting. Haven’t knit s stitch in ages. You make me feel normal. I’m grateful!

  • Wonderful letter!

    My husband and I lived in Japan for 3 years when we were younger. We “studied up” to go purchase some stove pipe at the hardware store. We struggled though the request from the store owner, who smiled patiently. When finished, he smiled broadly, and said “Ah yes, you want stove pipe. Right this way.”

    Blessings as you resume knitting!

  • Loved this letter! Hang in there, it will keep getting better. As a baking enthusiast, I would love to have 7 different kinds of white flour available.

  • Dear Franklin,
    You are trying so hard; believe me, the people there appreciate it and will be kind and helpful because of that. It will get easier as your new normal kicks in and then you will be able to throw your arms out once again and say, “je suis ici!!”
    Peg L

  • Franklin,

    I had a toothpaste incident when my family spent a year in Germany 1981-82. My husband made an exchange with a German professor in Hamburg and our 8 year old daughter was enrolled in the school
    behind our apartment. She & I were shopping in Hamburg ( my German was very limited) and a woman accosted us and wanted me to respond to a survey about toothpaste. She listed severalbrands asking if I used them and I tried to explain to her that I was an American and used Crest toothpaste. Eventually she realized that I wasn’t eligible for her survey and she stormed off.

    I soon learned that in social situations I could start a sentence and leave off the ending and the people I was talking with automatically provided the correct ending. My husband would process what people said and then reply to it. Someone at a dinner party would tell a joke and when everyone laughed, I laughed along with them but my husband would laugh when he had finished translating it. People thought that I understood what they were saying and one person told my husband that “your wife is very fluent”. He was not thrilled to hear that.

    It’s great to hear that you are adjusting to Paris. I hope you will be visiting the US – especially Fibre Space in Alexandria. My daughter & I have fond memories of your visits there.

    Ginny Jones & Cathy Jones

  • Thank you for these amusing vignettes of acclimatising to things French. As a fellow inhabitant of your wonderful neighbourhood, I find myself looking at everything with fresh eyes.
    Well done on getting so quickly to the stage of being understood by shopkeepers! Next stop Proust and Le canard enchaîné! When you guffaw over the silly puns of the latter, your French will be sublime.
    Bon courage for the millions of other hen pecks to come. Even after 30+ years in a Francophone environment, my fluency deserts me when the going gets tough. I am, however, over the worst of it, which was when my eldest French-schooled child, then aged around 6, would loudly correct my French!
    P.S. Even my highly literate French husband was at a loss to find the term for toilet unblocker. No doubt you found it in the Larousse?

    • Plumbing emergencies are not only a problem for Anglophones in France. When the bathtub drain in the apartment I was renting in Venice clogged, I consulted my little Berlitz dictionary and tried to describe the blocked ‘pipa’ to the hardware store lady. Finally a kind customer told me that the distressed item was not a ‘pipa’ but a ‘tubo’ and I was thereupon sold a can of Mr. Musculo, which did the job. And which got me started studying Italian seriously.

  • Oh, to be so fortunate…habiter dans un apartment à Paris! So much to see, to do, to experience at every turn. Amuse-toi bien! Tricote comme le vent!

  • This reminds me of trying to buy bandades in Florence!

  • Dear Franklin, reading you this morning sent me into a reverie all day, remembering life in Düsseldorf in 1983. My language skills were something shy of rudimentary. My little moment of triumph came when I was able to ask the clerk at Kaufhof for maternity pantyhose. He thought I was French. I cried a lot — pregnant ladies are usually weepy — but I look back on that year with gratitude. On the whole, people were kind, and I learned so much.

  • Hi Franklin, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. So much honesty and integrity, hope and dreams and true grit! Absolutely appreciate your writing!!

  • Have you written a book? Your writing style is excellent!

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