Living in France for five years was like living on another planet. Despite having quite fortunate circumstances – marrying into the ideal French family, having the romantic and emotionally available French man, and enjoying many of the perks of French life (much to the chagrin of my waistline) – it was hard. Really hard.
Blogger, Corey Amaro, of the blog Tongue in Cheek told me when I first moved to France some very simple advice: do not compare the two countries. She was right and I couldn’t help but do it every, single day. I saw the differences in everything: the food, the vacations, the healthcare but also the chauvinistic French men, the insecure French women, the rampant depression and people’s excuses for having to take vacations because they were pas bien. And for me, the most irritating: the economic policies.
Depending on the mood I was in, I loved France or I hated France. When people asked me how I liked it living in the country, all I could say was, c’est different… Despite the constant tug of war between the good and the bad, I loved France. So much so that I decided it was my destiny to become French. Of course, I met my fair share of bigots and racists along the way, like the fonctionnaire I met at the prefecture who told me she hated my American accent and the genius who told me if I didn’t like paying 60 percent in taxes in France to go back to the USA while he enjoyed earning his salary and paying taxes in Switzerland while benefiting from the French system.
Through obstacle after obstacle – which seems to be a normality in France – and feeling as though I had an unrequited love for the country, I made it through and became a French and EU citizen. I, the only American amongst a large group of north Africans and eastern Europeans, showed up at the prefecture, shook my mayor’s hand, and got my papers. I was elated and ready to take my papers back to the USA.
My close French friend Cedric said to me one morning, “France should be honored to have you as a citizen, but all we do is make it complicated for you to succeed here. It’s no wonder people like you are leaving in droves.”
All I could say was, “Oui, c’est triste.”*
I would have loved to stay in France but it just wasn’t feasible. My husband’s boss told him pay increases and promotions were impossible, having a small business was made a joke by all of the taxes and red tape, and just the simple desire to be more, do more, and have more was a bizarre concept to many of my French peers. Only the “right wingers” (to us Americans, democrats) only understood the difficult choices we had to make. And so, we made them: choice after choice to get us back to the States, making it a mantra in our minds that by some miracle we would make it despite the naysayers who said it would be impossible not just for us to go back, but to get everything we desired. I don’t have to say again that we got it all and more, but I can’t help but feel that it was a damn shame.
To all those starry-eyed travelers who find nothing but romanticism in traveling, I now can’t help but give a you’ll see when you actually live there chuckle. While recently hanging out with my best friend Ana who spent a couple of years in Italy to complete her dual masters she said, “Oh God, some people have no idea how complicated everything is (in Europe).” It’s true, we’ve all fallen in love with the idea of Europe, but once we’ve lied with the beast we eventually get its fleas… and I’ve been covered in the fleas of cynicism which I’m just starting to shake off.
At the end of the day, I can’t totally dwell on the difficulties and I have to lean more onto what I learned and took away: how to cook French cuisine from scratch, I got to travel and learn about the sobering realities of the E.U. and its surrounding countries, I got see a lot of good art and taste many a fine wine, I was able to teach and expand my professional horizons in the most surprising and unplanned ways, but most importantly I got to know my loving French family and make some amazing lifelong friends. And, for all intents and purposes, I like who I have become as a result of the experience: a little worse for the wear, but cultured, calmer, and wiser.
At the end of the day, I haven’t lost anything and have gained so much in terms of perspective, empathy, and spiritual richness and these are things one doesn’t have to put into their suitcase and pray to God don’t go over the airline weight limit.
* Yes, it’s sad.