Phases of Leaving Paris
At the end of December, I made the decision to return back to the United States. I graduated from my program in June and my visa expires in July. But, it’s time to cut the cord.
Here’s how it felt to make the decision:
- Resignation: Alright, this clearly isn’t working for me. Time to let the fat lady sing and head back to a country where my experience will actually be appreciated and I’ll have the opportunity to progress and be rewarded accordingly. ’Cause France? This ain’t a country where you go to work on your career (unless you work in luxury). This is a quality of life play. And upon moving here, I realized that it’s not a perfect country either (Although education and healthcare are way more affordable, then again, your taxes are hefty as well. So as a single person with no kids, not sure what it is worth to you). You know what someone said to me once? “Get educated in the states. Make your money in Asia. Retire in Europe.” Putain, I’m doing this in the wrong order.
- Anger: I hate this country! So much! Why is everyone so mean? Why is my banker at BNP Paribas such a f*cking asshole? Why is everything so inefficient? Why can’t people work together? Why are people so selfish? Why are people so unprofessional and unresponsive? Why can’t anyone pick up after their dog poop on the street? The metro smells like pee. Air France gave me food poisoning. My health insurance is useless. If another f*cking stranger comes up to me on the street/at the grocery store/at a professional event and asks me if I am Chinese without greeting me first I will “cut a b*tch.”
- Happiness: Elated to be returning home, where people are positive, friendly and responsive. Where I can call my bank and someone will answer in less than 5 minutes and help me resolve my issue. Where flight attendants, though not on par with Asian flight attendants, don’t snip at me. Where pleasantness is a default, even if Americans have a tendency to be hyperbolically praiseful and happy. I’ll take that any day over French pessimism and passive-aggressiveness.
- Sadness: Deep sorrow to be leaving my friends here. They are some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life. Probably the best, as of now. Damn, I’m going to miss them a lot. Even the French one (though she is irritating me a bit right now with her excessive need to always be right and that she’s as stubborn as a donkey and I love nothing more than proving her wrong).
- Back to resignation. This is the best thing for you right now. You tried everything you could. You can always return one day if you want, although I doubt you will. You will once more in life have to part with your friends. But although you will no longer live in the same city, the memories you’ve created together can never be taken away. The bonds that you have formed will either fade in time or continue as if time never passed.
- Anxiety. I know it is useless to be anxious about the future, but you can’t help but wonder. Will I make friends? Will I like San Francisco? Will people in SF like me? Will my job be okay? Will I find a new job if it’s not? Can I afford rent? Will my bf/ex-bf come visit me? Will I hike on the weekends all the time?
There’s something they say in theatre and dance: leave the stage before it leaves you. I’m leaving France before I pitifully must ride out the end of my APS status. And damn, it feels good. But shit, I’m going to miss my friends. But if it weren’t for this program and for living in France, I wouldn’t have met them.
I wonder how long I will live in San Francisco, if it’s possible for me to settle down in one place. After 18 years in the suburbs of the midwest, I was dying to leave. After 10 very exciting years in New York, I was ready to leave. After 2 up and down years in France, I am ready to leave. Will California be the place I settle down? Too early to tell.
I finished reading A Moveable Feast the other day, and it spurred me to look up more about Hemingway’s life. His life was peripatetic to say the least. From Michigan to Toronto to France to Austria to Spain back to the states to Cuba and then back to the states… He was a restless man who drank a lot, said that writing was a lonely profession, and had many wives.
Thanks to the Euro, it’s no longer so cheap to travel around Europe (although the exchange rate is at an all-time low). I imagine it would be exhausting to have so many different husbands and lovers (I’d have to ask Elizabeth Taylor how she managed that…).
You know what Hemingway did every time he moved? He stored his writings and journal somewhere. Now that I’m packing up and moving things, I have a series of very heavy notebooks to schlep back to the U.S. But you know what also happened to him? He failed to ever pick up any of these writings except for the suitcase that was stored at the Ritz Paris.
I keep a lot of my old journals and I never look back at them. I’m sure my 2 most recent ones are full of b*tchings about France and French people.
No one likes to hear bad things about themselves or the things they care about. But everyone loves to criticize.
The other night, a Canadian, a Colombian, an American, and a French person were having dinner. All recounting our difficulties dealing with French bureaucracy and people. How difficult it was to rebook a flight or get a refund on a hotel when we had accidentally been charged twice. How we hated BNP Paribas and Air France (well, that’s mostly me). And not surprisingly, The Frenchie got defensive.
I know for a fact that French people complain about France all the time. About the taxes, the politics, safety, their job, their partner, their lover… everything in life. But, you cannot complain about France as an outsider. They will defend it to the death. They will push the blame back on you. Any unhappiness that you have in France is your fault, not the fault of the French people or the nation. You didn’t like the food in the restaurant? It’s your fault for eating at the wrong restaurant. You didn’t get good service on Air France? Well, you weren’t nice enough to them. Your friends got their wallets stolen and you noticed that petty crime is a big issue? It’s their fault for walking around with a sign that says “American” on their forehead (that one doesn’t even make sense but someone did make this retort to me once).
When people criticize America, I recognize that usually what they say is founded in something. I usually nod my head and agree that certain areas could use a helluva lot of improvement (gun violence, the ridiculous costs of student debt and healthcare, the orange man). Even when people dig deeper: Americans are vapid, we have no culture, we’re materialistic and air-headed, we’re entitled 1st world brats who live in our American bubble, we don’t travel outside of America. Sure, that’s a fair assessment. It’s bad to overgeneralize, but I certainly see some of those things in people to different degrees, even myself.
Given how much difficulty and anger I was having in France at one point, I decided to ask my friends who came to the states as international students what their experience was like. Did they have any difficulties? Did they ever feel out of place? Nope, they all said. Getting set up was fairly easy — bank account, apartments, and so forth. Americans are nice. Even New York, which they had been warned was “tough,” was not bad at all. To be fair, they all speak English fluently, and that definitely makes life a lot easier.
My friend scored the highest on the French placement exam at my school, she placed out of the mandatory French classes. She went to the doctor to see an issue for her back. As they were examining her ex-rays, the doctor was correcting her grammar and pointing out all of the fatty areas on the x-ray, insinuating who knows what. I guess French people love to give you their unsolicited opinion at any time, even medical professionals in the middle of an exam. Much like my gynecologist who scolded me for not having better French when I didn’t recognize some medical terms (does anyone really use the word frottis in daily language?).
Every time I asked a doctor if they speak English, they always responded with the same questions: “Where are you from? China?”, “How long have you been here?”. What the f*ck does that have to do with anything? I came to your f*cking practice because your website and Doctolib profile says you speak English! Can we carry on with the exam please? I’ve been answering your questions in French up until this point so can you meet me halfway and start to speak in English so that I can leave no room for ambiguity in health matters? As a doctor, shouldn’t you have advanced education and be able to speak English? Am I making too many assumptions here? One time, my doctor even cut me off in the middle of a sentence to exasperatingly tell me to switch to English. So much for bedside manner. My conseiller from BNP Paribas also loves to cut me off before I finish speaking, as if my questions are not valid and a waste of time for him.
Rawrrrr. Enough complaining.
I had 2 awesome years of living in France, French people not withstanding. I listened to the woman at the prefecture verbally abuse people and make snide, passive-aggressive comments to foreign students. I’ve opened up my door on New Year’s day to a HUGE pile of dog poop. I’ve had strangers come up to me and speak Japanese expecting me to understand, or bow to me as I’m going through security and say “konnichiwa.” I’ve had co-workers not respond to emails or fail to show up to meetings without a warning.
I’ve also visited the breathtaking regions of Vallée du Loire, Bretagne, Normandy, Champagne, Pays-Basque, and Sud de France. I’ve gone skiing at 1950 meter elevation with the snowy alps in the background. I’ve walked on a trail in Quiberon along the Atlantic ocean. I’ve seen the cliffs of Étretat and swam in the icy cold water of les calanques. I’ve slept in a farmhouse in a tiny village in upper Normandy and seen Monet’s home and gardens. We’ve driven through wine country in Bordeaux, Epernay, and Reims. I’ve had a beer and watched the waves crash along the Côte d’Azur while eating deliciously salty chunks of Parmesan cheese from nearby Italy.
I’ve flipped through books at the old book market. I’ve gotten lost along endless trinkets in the marché aux puces de Saint-Ouen. I’ve walked up the steps to Sacré-Coeur and walked along the whole length of the Canal Saint-Martin and Canal Ourcq. I’ve seen bloggers taking pictures of themselves in Galerie Vivienne. I’ve taken walks at night in the Palais Royal. I’ve sketched the fashion exhibits in the Musée Galliera. I’ve explored the different greenhouses in the jardin botanique de Paris. I’ve sat in the stands during Roland Garros.
I’ve ate fondue, made fondue, and bought glorious cheeses from the sidwalk marché. I’ve gone to several salon du vigneron and tasted wine from regions all over France. I’ve had delicious ice cream from Berthillon in the middle of winter. I’ve drank copious amounts of tea from Mariage-Frères. I’ve had great duck confit and magret de canard from bistros famous and tucked away. I’ve learned how to make choux pastry and learned that chouquettes are the perfect light and airy snack for long car rides.
I’ve done battle during les soldes. I’ve lived through many an Air France, SNFC, RER, RATP, and taxi strikes. I’ve battled the crowds at Champ de Mars during Eurocup and a concert. I’ve seen the Seine flooded and swollen past its banks. I’ve seen fountains frozen in the winter time. I’ve escaped the sweltering heat of the canicule during summer time by going to the public pool. I’ve gotten into several arguments with someone at the theatre when they were sitting in my assigned seat and wouldn’t leave (one time, we were late. The other time, these girls just kept playing dumb until an usher had to remove them).
I’ve been sitting in my dorm room when I first heard of the attacks. I’ve sent frantic whatsapp messages to friends that I knew were at the football game. I’ve sent frantic text messages to friends having drinks in the 10eme that night. I’ve had to receive the heartbreaking news that one of my classmates did not make it out of the Bataclan.
I was in Marseille when we heard of the attacks in Nice. We had driven from Paris to the south of France and were stunned when we heard the news. Once again, we found ourselves up all night glued to the news of the needless violence during a national holiday.
I’ve been harassed on the metro multiple times. About a dozen friends and acquaintances have had their phones, wallets, and purses stolen. One friend had a break-in to her apartment in a quiet neighborhood.
I’ve gone walked down the Champs-Elysées during Christmas time and on glorious days with no cars. I’ve felt the grossness of pollution and smog in Paris, when only cars with even or odd license plates are allowed to drive.
I’ve gotten stuck in bouchon on days where there’s a petrol/oil/gas shortage thanks to what else, strikes. I’ve gotten strange food poisoning in France and had liquid diarrhea for a week (TMI, I know).
I’ve had the privilege to see many wonderful performances at the Opera Garnier and Bastille (La Source, Manon, ABT’s Sleeping Beauty, Balanchine, Anne Terese de Keersmaker, Romeo & Juliet, the Barber of Sevile).
I’ve chased the last metro home (not that late! Before 2am). I’ve taken precarious Heetch cars when Uber was having crazy surge pricing. I’ve made friends with an Uber pop driver (before they outlawed Uber pop) and he’s now my unofficial personal driver for rides to the airport.
I’ve seen wonderful exhibits at the Grand Palais, Musée d’Orsay, Art Ludique, Fondation Louis Vuitton, and Musée Arts et Decoratifs. I’ve seen the permanent collections at the Louvre, the Rodin Museum, and Musée Arts et Metiers. I’ve had a personal tour of the Cartier haute joaillerie workshop where craftspeople were meticulously working on pieces that could take 2 years or longer.
It’s easy to let anger cloud our judgment. To let our asshole BNP advisors and a snippy flight attendant from Air France (j’arrive madame!) keep us from having a good day. But overall, they hate their jobs and lives it seems, and you still had a good time in France. You have a happy soul, health, good food, a healthy family, and good friends. These people probably do too, but they don’t seem to enjoy life at all — or else they would be much more amiable people!
They say that France was too perfect, so God had to make French people. I don’t know where this joke comes from, but after living here for 2.5 years, I would say that it’s pretty apt.
Signing off! Over and out.