January 22, 2012
When you decide to pull up stakes and leave your home country for a much different and far more challenging life on the other side of the world, you’ve already convinced yourself that the move will be a good one. So once you arrive at your destination and start settling into your new routine, you’re psyched. Every errand—whether to pick up a few items at the grocery store, drop off a sweater at the dry cleaners, or pop into the boulangerie for a crusty baguette—is loaded with the excitement of a 3rd grade field trip. (Remember how jazzed we used to get about THOSE?)
Such is the grande aventure of moving abroad. And I’m officially residing in the “honeymoon phase” of my journey, when everything is new and different and COOL.
I landed in France on Jan. 2, having departed Chicago on New Year’s Day (leaving on the 1st sounded apropos to me—what better day to launch one’s brand-new life?). Arriving in the lovely village of Samois-sur-Seine, where I’m living in a charming garden apartment with a view of the Seine River, I’ve begun the challenging task of figuring out just what the heck is going on. Fortunately, thanks to introductions from kind friends-of-my-new-friends and my new neighbors, I’ve already met a fascinating group of international folks—each with his or her own tale about how they landed in France and why they stay.
A few friends and neighbors are talented professional musicians, regularly performing at festivals and in clubs near Samois and on stages within Paris. Some are second- and third-career folks who’ve chosen to create businesses here. Others are housewives who are active in social and cultural organizations that make life richer for expatriates who call this place home. But they’ve all been willing to assist this stranger from Chicago, offering everything from coffee at their homes to assistance when I go to the daunting préfecture, or local police administrative office, where I’ve got to show up within two months of my arrival in order to receive my carte de séjour, or French resident card.
I’m guessing that after this foray into French bureaucracy in the coming weeks, my rose-colored-glasses phase will TRULY be over. This country, while loved for its many contributions to world culture, also is known for rules that seem designed only to confuse its people (not to mention foreigners like me!) and drive them insane.
But having done this move-abroad thing before, I know the honeymoon here in France won’t last. And that’s not me being my fatalistic self—it’s just the way it is.
I remember how fabulous every single experience felt when I arrived in Florence, Italy, back in 2004. You’d have thought it was the first time I’d ever sipped a coffee, eaten a bowl of pasta, walked across a bridge, seen a museum, heard a note of classical music, experienced a kiss. Maybe it was the Renaissance vibe (or a delayed case of jet lag), but I couldn’t find fault with a single thing in bella Italia. But after a frustrating trip to the TIM mobile store—one that had me seriously doubting WHY in the world I moved to Italy in the first place—the I-love-everything-about-this-place jig was up. (Except that upon leaving said store, I bumped into a fine, Mercedes convertible-driving Florentine ragazzo who asked me out … so the “honeymoon” was back on!)
The reality is that no place is perfect—and adjusting to your new country, imperfections and all—is part of the experience of being an expatriate. You learn to take the good (I’ve already taken two train trips into Paris—one to watch a musician friend perform at a club, the other a daytime trip for lunch and a stroll through the Le Marais district) with the not-so-good (forgetting my français at the local Post Office, but managing to make myself understood, anyway). And you keep reminding yourself—as I did earlier this week when waiting at a quiet Samois bus stop, the peaceful Seine River just across the street—how crazy-fortunate you are to be living your life right now, right here.
And that makes the minor inconveniences TOTALLY worth it.
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