There was a time I wanted to spend the rest of my life in France

Me in southern France

There was a time when I was pretty sure I was going to spend the rest of my life in France.

I was largely drawn there for personal reasons, but I also thought I liked life better over there.

My first year over there was sublime– definitely the most stimulating year of my life thus far. Every day was an adventure. What new words would I learn, what new foods would I try, what new people would I meet? What new fashions would I see, what new cities would I visit, what new philosophies would I encounter?

Friday nights I played bridge with elderly French women. Every day I biked several miles to and from my university past palm trees, fountains, and the smell of freshly made baguettes. My host mom made food I had never heard of, but that melted so deliciously in my mouth.

I went on dates, took salsa dancing lessons, and read poems by Paul Verlaine and Charles Baudelaire.

I remember my first time feeling truly comfortable speaking French. I was on a train home from meeting up with my good friend Michelle in Venice. I began speaking with a 40-something-year-old man sitting across from me about I don’t even know what.

All I know is we talked for hours, he taught me some expression referencing Juliet from “Romeo and Juliet” (which I have since forgot), and I felt empowered. From then on I was more confident about having conversations in French.

And speaking a new language opened up my mind, causing me to have new thoughts I would never have had in English.

Anyway, when this year abroad was about to end there was nothing I wanted more than to stay in France. I was the happiest I had ever been, and wanted that feeling to last.

I couldn’t stay, however, because I had to finish up my senior year of college stateside.

Once I finished up college I did go back, though. The country still had its perks, but things didn’t feel the same. The honeymoon period was over. The sun seemed to shine a little less brighter. Many of the people I knew were gone. Walking down the street I felt like my time there had passed.

Have you lived in a place where you don’t feel you belong? Well that’s how I felt this second time around. I felt like I was living in the past. I think I realized that I had pretty much gotten everything I was going to get out of the experience there.

I had tried enough wine, eaten enough good food, seen enough art, met enough foreigners, spoken enough French, etc., to justify me staying there.

These were all things I could do back in the United States. So I came back, but for several years I still thought I’d move back to France again. The timing wasn’t right before, but it would be right in the future, I told myself.

Well a little less than two years ago I realized that’s not what I wanted. There were a couple of reasons for that: 1. I didn’t want to be far from family and friends, and 2. I never truly felt myself in France.

Maybe not feeling myself in France had less to do with the country’s culture, and more to do about my immaturity when I was there and difficulty adapting to a new culture. But I truly think the country’s culture had a lot to do with it.

I don’t want to knock the French completely, because there are a lot of good things about their way of life (foie gras and universal health care being two of them). But there is this ever-present feeling over there that you have to do and say what’s right at the expense of expressing yourself the way you see fit.

At least that’s how I saw things.

In the United States if you have a funny joke to tell at a party you tell it. As long as it isn’t offensive you don’t worry too much about what so and so will think of you when you tell the joke. But in France you have to agonize over whether the joke is appropriate for the situation.

And often you don’t quite know if it’s appropriate so you just play it safe by not telling it.

I appreciate French people’s manners and politeness, but I don’t appreciate not being able to express myself or not knowing what is the proper thing to say. Maybe you can’t have both of these. But if I had to choose I’d pick expression.

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One Comment on “There was a time I wanted to spend the rest of my life in France”

  1. ina Says:

    I loved your post Christine. I love hearing about your experiences in the Old World. I would like to visit France some day, and I can’t wait to feel all those things you felt in your honeymoon phase.
    Ican relate to the feeling you got afterwards. When I first graduated and moved out of state, I missed my college town so much that I would go and visit on weekends. I’d go to the library and read, I’d sit on the grassy hill by the pond and try to revive all those feelings I had when I lived there… but they never came back. I had nowhere to go, no more people to see… it was just… empty. I guess there’s just a time and place for everything, and a time for every place.
    See you soon 🙂
    ina


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