Six Ways I Learned to Surrender On Our First Workaway Experience in France

This is a story of the six ways I learned to surrender on our first Workaway experience in France. In today’s society surrendering can sometimes be perceived at weakness. I believe the opposite to be true. It requires courage to let go of old thought patterns or ways of being. While in France, I learned to relinquish old beliefs; beliefs that no longer serve me and ones that will NOT help us as we journey to find our place in the world.

Before we left the US, Karl and I had been looking forward to our first Workaway experience. We were excited about all the new potential skills we could gain and all the cultural experiences we could learn by engaging in this program. If you’ve never heard of Workaway, it’s a website that offers a way for travelers to connect with people who will accommodate you in return for needed work. As a Workawayer, you are given a bed to sleep in and sometimes food in exchange for work. The hours and the work to be done can vary from house maintenance to childcare and in our case helping a winemaker, named Baptiste (for our story), in the South of France. 

Living with complete strangers was NOT something I anticipated as being a big challenge for me. I worried about everything else before we left for our trip but I never thought living with someone else would be a problem. Let me tell you something; adapting your life to meet someone else’s expectations is not easy. I’ve had to learn to give up control and surrender to new ideas. Here are the six ways I learned to let go:

Surrender #1: Letting Go of Stereotypes   

Before we left for our trip, we joked that Baptiste, our French winemaker and host, would show up wearing a beret, a sweater around his neck and holding a baguette. My stereotypes weren’t even close!! I would’ve been right if I said he wears Vans, saggy board shorts and likes to drink beer. Let me assure you, I learned to surrender ALL stereotypes just minutes after meeting Baptiste.

Surrender #2: Trusting Strangers

Our train arrived in Narbonne, a small town near the Mediterranean sea, around 2:00 pm. As we exited the train, we searched for someone that looked like Baptiste’s picture from the Workaway website. While searching I started to think, what happens if he doesn’t show? Then what do we do? We travelled to get to this city we didn’t know anything about. What happens if this doesn’t work out? Can we trust Baptiste? There were a lot of “what-ifs” going on in my head.

As soon as we walked through the front doors of the train station, he was right there waiting on us. He showed up right on time, we piled into his Volkswagen and headed straight to the beach to grab lunch and some beers. This was off to a great start and life was pretty good.

The only information we knew about each other was the information we obtained from his Workaway profile. We had seen pictures of him and his winery and were able to read past reviews from other workawayers. All of his reviews stated: Baptiste was fantastic.

Right off the bat, we couldn’t agree more! He is friendly, charismatic and has a dynamic and energetic personality.

On our way to the beach, I reminisced about one of my previous blog post, Four Valuable Lessons I Learned on a Bus Tour Through Scotland. It was on this trip that my heart opened and I realized people are more kind-hearted then I gave them credit for. I needed to surrender any thoughts to think otherwise of our first Workaway host, Baptiste.

Surrender #3: Giving Up Freedom

Before now, I underestimated how much freedom I had living in Colorado. I could eat my own food when I wanted, I could do yoga and meditate when I wanted and I could read a book when I wanted. When I worked full time, I had the flexibility to schedule my patients when I wanted. I prided myself on my time management skills. I maximized every working minute.

Life in general is different here in France. It’s a lot more laid back and time moves a lot slower. Plans change often and most of the time things aren’t planned until last minute. It’s kind of a “fly by the seat of your pants” mentality, at least Baptiste lives this way. I’m not entirely sure if all of Europe works this way, but I know France and Baptiste does.

Being on somebody else’s schedule meant we ate when they ate, we worked when they wanted us to work and we rested when they wanted us to rest. I vastly underestimated how difficult this would be. I had to give up what I knew to be freedom in exchange for a chance to learn something new and grow.

When Karl and I set out on this adventure, our hopes were to learn how other people in other cultures live. This is exactly what we were doing. I don’t have a problem with this lifestyle. It can be really fun and adventurous, I’m just not use to living this way. It was an adjustment for me to let somebody else have control of my time. Surrendering to Baptiste was my only option for peace.

Surrender #4: Giving Up Judgments

In this region, harvest season for the grapes doesn’t begin until August and September. So, Karl and I spent our “working” hours in the cellar bottling wine, cleaning tanks, corking bottles and boxing wine. It had been two months since we quit our jobs and I was beginning to feel stale. It felt nice being a part of something again. This work gave me some meaning; like I was contributing to something.

Karl cleaning the vat on Workaway experience in FranceWe came ready to help and were willing to do whatever it took. We soon found out that our “go get’em” attitude was not helpful here. We wanted to be helpful but we quickly learned that it was best to wait until we were told what to do before acting. Every time we tried being proactive, we were told to wait or our work would later have to be corrected. So we waited. And waited….

After days of this, I found myself becoming judgmental. How can anyone get anything done like this? Why are we not being utilized better? We’re wasting so much time here. I would do it totally different. Had we planned a little more….I should be doing (insert any wine making task here).

I have a Masters degree for christ sake! I think I can manage taping a box without oversight and instruction. But even taping a box came with lots of instruction. I felt like I was being graded on my box taping skills for every one I did. I started to feel very incompetent. 

This was a tough situation but I had no choice but to surrender. I had to surrender my own judgments of the situation and my own self-judgments. It took almost the entire two weeks to get to this point but what helped get me there was compassion. I realized Baptiste and his mom (she also helps manage and run the vineyard) were in a very hard business and they’re doing the best they can.

Surrender #5: Letting Go of Attachments

I recently realized I have an unhealthy attachment to food. I carry snacks with me everywhere I go and I hate being hungry. When I’m hungry I get irritable and I feel like I might die. This is an attachment problem. I get “Hangry,” as Karl calls it. The issue goes back to when I had some health problems four years ago and I would actually get sick if my blood sugar got too low. I am healthier now and I’ve realized it’s okay to be hungry. I will survive. Yet, I’m still attached to these thoughts. This Workaway experience has taught me to give up my unhealthy relationship to food. Here’s the story:

Our first night we didn’t eat dinner until 1:00 AM!!! There are lots of reasons for this. Here are a few of them:

Five Reasons We Didn’t Eat Dinner Until 1:00 am

1. We had to surf under the full moonlight (I know bummer right)

2. We had to go to the grocery store

3. It takes at least forty-five minutes each way to get to the beach from Baptiste’s house

4. We had to clean the wine vats

5. The French are very serious about their food and it takes multiple hours to prepare

6. The French eat dinner very late anyway

To explain further; the surfing was incredible. It was exciting to be in a new place, doing something I’ve never really done before (Surfed once in Costa Rica 7 years ago) and under the moonlight on the Mediterranean Sea. But, I was starving. I could barely function and even a bit delirious. We hadn’t eaten dinner yet and I didn’t have any snacks. Apparently in France they do not eat between meals. I was holding onto the moonlight for energy. I was happy for the full moon!!

We got home from surfing at 11:00 pm and like I said the French take their food very seriously.  We started to prepare dinner but it would take another two hours before we would eat. There’s no microwave in this house (I’m not entirely sure there’s a microwave in the entire country of France). No frozen pizza here! The meal must be perfect.

The story continues….

To help speed the process along I offered to cut the vegetables for the meal. I started slicing and according to Baptiste, I apparently needed to slice them into smaller pieces. I thought okay, not a problem. Then, I attempted to help sauté the vegetables. Immediately, I was corrected and was told that I didn’t have enough olive oil in the pan. So, I poured more olive oil into the pan. Viola! I thought. Not so fast. Then I was told I needed to stir the vegetables more. So……I started stirring more. Five minutes later I was told I was stirring them them too much. At this point, perfection is an understatement.

In our blog post Europe: Same Countries, Different Trip we recognize how important food is to defining other cultures. Food is VERY important to the French. France takes food to a whole new level. I understand and appreciate the process that goes into making fine food. Energy and love goes into all the food made here both in France and with Baptiste. It was here in France that I would have to learn to let go of my unhealthy attachment to food when I eat, what I eat and how I prepare the meal.

This experience, although painful at first, has been very beneficial. As we continue traveling through France I’m no longer attached to thoughts of dying if I don’t eat. It seems dramatic, I know, but it’s true.

Surrender #6: Lost in Translation

The French have a bad reputation for being rude. Quite frankly, if tourists were flooding our country and they expected us to speak their language, I might get a little pissed off too. I’m happy to say we did not have this experience while in France. Even when we ran into ones who didn’t speak English, they genuinely tried to help as much as they could. Luckily, Baptiste spoke English but some things were still lost in translation.

Here’s an example:

One night Baptiste asked Karl if he would be “cheese responsible?” I followed up with “Do you want Karl to cut the cheese?” He answered “yes.” We started to giggle rather immaturely. He immediately asked, “What are you laughing at?” We went on to tell him that “cutting the cheese” in the United States is slang for farting. He responded “Does this mean you don’t respect the cheese?” We were confused and pondered….we probably don’t respect cheese in the United States…..at least not like the French.

I love this story so much. It highlights our cultural differences in so many ways. It was in this exchange that I learned I needed to leave things as they were: Lost in translation. Some things are better left alone.

Conclusion

This experience was challenging in many ways. At the same time I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for anything. In fact, I would do it all over again if I had the chance. I think I would have had the same frustrations whether I spent our first Workaway on a rice farm in China or anywhere else around the globe. We’ll continue these Workaway experiences and each one will be different allowing us to grow and learn in ways we never thought possible. Which was the point of us traveling in the first place……

14 Comments on “Six Ways I Learned to Surrender On Our First Workaway Experience in France

  1. “We hadn’t eaten dinner yet and I didn’t have any snacks.” Hahaha, girl I feel you! In all seriousness though, it would be really hard for anyone to give up that level of freedom, so kudos to you for approaching it positively. But I probably would have told Baptiste to cook his own freaking vegetables after the 2nd or 3rd critique haha. 🙂 Great post!

    • Kristin! Hi there! Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Glad you could relate to the post. When we started writing the blog I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction it would get but I always hoped people would be able to relate to it. Thanks a lot for reading and letting us know what you thought. Hahaha I let the cooking incident happen a few times and then I told him I was NOT cooking anymore and I didn’t. Ha. I surrendered and ate whenever food was ready. Thanks again Kristin!

  2. I really enjoyed reading your blog. It was very entertaining and made me think about things. Looking forward to your next work place.

    • Dorian Hi! So glad you enjoyed the post. It means a lot that your reading and commenting. So please keep reading and letting us know what you think!

  3. I am looking forward to reading your book. For us armchair travelers, don’t forget to describe your travel, the countryside and your environment. Your insight is impeccable; it is real, savored and quite informative. Much appreciate your effort.

    • Hey Suzanne! Thanks for the feedback. It’s much appreciated! Yes now that you mention it I agree adding a bit more about our travel and the countryside would be nice. In our next post I hope to write a bit more description about those things. Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  4. Ummm, It sounds like Baptiste is really the guy version of me! Too bad he did not have any Christmas decorations for you to put up!

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