Why I’m Leaving My Peaceful Life in the French Countryside for “The Real World”
I never set out to live in a foreign country — it was just one of those things that sort of fell into my lap. A little over 2 years ago, I was living in San Francisco and had just quit my job working as a legal assistant and project manager at a real estate investment firm. I bought a ticket to Paris, and spent two weeks traveling from Paris to Lyon to the Loire and finally, to Brittany. Five months after that trip, I moved to a small town on the English Channel called Plouescat to start a life with a man I barely knew. Now, after two years of living in one of the most serene places on Earth, I’m returning home to San Francisco to live with my mom and dad.
What brought me to this place? Why am I leaving my boyfriend and our life together to go back to the “real world?” The answer isn’t simple — but it isn’t terribly complicated either. For starters, living abroad isn’t as romantic as our imaginations make it out to be. I’ve had to learn a language completely from scratch (albeit quite terribly), I’ve had to spend countless hours dealing with immigration bureaucracy (I am after all an “immigrant” in this country), I’ve had to face steep bank fines for not understanding an archaic banking system, and I’ve even had to start making things that I couldn’t find in France (namely IPAs and Burts Bees Chapsticks).
People don’t realize that my life here in France isn’t just living amongst artichoke crops and taking walks on the beach with my enormous dog — I actually “live” here, and my life isn’t glamorous at all. I don’t live the lifestyle of one of those Instagram sorority girls, taking photos in Florence while living budget free. I work, I do laundry, I clean the house, I cook, I go grocery-shopping, I pay bills, etc. I do everything that you do, but I have to do it in a language I am horrible at speaking and with people that I consistently make cultural mishaps with (like the time I cleared my own plate at my boyfriend’s parents’ house and was thereby reprimanded).
But, my life here has also been quite interesting and funny. Like the time I was holding a phallic vegetable from my boyfriend’s mother’s garden and said, “Je suis très excité pour ton grosse courgette” — literally translated to “I am very horny for your big zucchini.” Or the time I told the man at the gas station that I didn’t have a penis (“J’ai pas une penne”). I’ve also managed to find a job, secured a place in the elusive national health insurance program, started and quit the most disorganized masters program known to man, and I’ve learned to cook.
So, after two years, I’ve come to an impasse (ironically a French word), as I’m sure many expats have before me. I find myself yearning to live in America every single day (despite it now being Trumpland). It’s not that I don’t love France anymore, or that I don’t love my boyfriend anymore, but this country will never truly be my home. Whichever way I look at it, this is and always will be his home, his books, his dog, his beach, his garden, and his family. While we’ve created a life together, I still have a nagging feeling that my life is missing something — and that’s most likely things that feel as if they truly belong to me. I miss many different things, ranging from the banal (IPA, hot sauce, donuts, automatic cars) to the deeply critical (deep human connection, family, culture, iced coffee). The banal, while useful, aren’t necessary — the things that are critical, however, are heartbreaking to live without. Watching my parents grow old, or seeing my brother get married, or my sister have her first child are things that I’m not willing to miss. And, it goes without saying, that living without iced coffee would be just as terrible as missing the death of my grandparents.
I have no doubt that leaving France next month will be terribly difficult for me, as will starting a new life in America, but I know that I also don’t really have any other choice. The reason why I am moving back to California is the same exact one that lead me to France in the first place — to be with people that I love. I have no idea if I’m making the correct choice by moving back, but I know that I am very excited to never have to deal with wondering if I’m making jokes about my penis when I’m just trying to buy a baguette.