I know I’ve waxed poetic here about the “honeymoon phase” of my move to France and appreciating the “small stuff” about my new life in the charming village of Samois-sur-Seine and within France itself. But you UrbanTravelGirls knew THAT wasn’t going to last. Reality eventually intrudes, and all those cute-and-charming quirks about French life—you know, the midday break most businesses take, the fact that nobody but you seems to be in a hurried rush—start to get on your ever-lovin’ nerves. And I’ve encountered quite a few of those quirks over the past week, frustrating me and making me wonder WHAT in the world I was thinking to trade in a relatively easy and uneventful life back in downtown Chicago for the unpredictability of one as freelance consultant and writer overseas ….
Among the many things I love about France—and living about an hour south of fabulous Paris—is that so many folks from home come through the city. I’ve already had a chance to spend quality time in the City of Light with some true-blue American friends who’ve visited here (Salut, Carol, Katherine, Kelly, Mary, Paula, Betty and Mike!).
What’s ALSO great about being so close to Paris is having the chance to meet wonderful new friends and colleagues who either are friends-of-current friends or traveling through town on their own adventures. That’s why I was SO psyched when the fabulous Fleacé Weaver, founder of Los Angeles-based BlackGirlTravel.com invited me to spend an afternoon with her and a dozen women as part of the group’s “April in Paris” tour. These African-American sisters spent two weeks living la belle vie in the heart of Paris, with Fleacé—who personally organizes and leads tours for sisters around the globe—as their fearless leader. I’d first met her virtually two years ago when interviewing her over the phone for a JET Magazine and JETmag.com feature on “African-Americans Going Global.”
Among the specially created Parisian activities was a makeover session at black|Up Cosmetics, which bills itself as the “#1 ethnic makeup brand” in France. A central Paris showroom filled with all the skin care, color cosmetics and assorted extras a fashionista of color could want, black|Up hooked BlackGirlTravel UP on this May afternoon. Fleacé asked me to chronicle not just the makeovers, but how international travel—and this trip to Paris—was transforming these professional women’s lives ….
So it’s been 4½ months since I first arrived in France, and in many ways, the time has crept by like “dog years.” That’s not a bad thing—rather, it’s pretty much what I expected by exchanging my comfortable, big-American-city life for a slower and much different one in a French village. On days when I’m at home writing an article or blog post, I could be anywhere; on days when I or take the 40-minute train into fabulous Paris, I’m in my favorite city in the world. I sometimes have to pinch myself when I round a corner and the Eiffel Tower pops into view, when I’m breaking off a fresh piece of a crispy crusted baguette after a stop at a boulangerie, or when I look out my front window and remember that the river flowing outside is the same Seine that snakes through Paris. WOW.
This is what I call the “Under the Tuscan Sun” or “Before Sunset” part of my French experience, when my days contain happenings—or involve real-life French folks—that seem right out of a Hollywood script.
But although there’s much that’s fabulous about living in France, it’s not like every day is a holiday or that I’m constantly planning a last-minute vacation to some fabulous place (my Travel writing work notwithstanding). It’s REAL LIFE, with all the pressures, challenges, errands and occasional hassles that go along with it ….
When you move abroad from the United States—and even when you move to a progressive, equally developed country—the adjustments you need to make in daily life are huge. That’s not to say that they’re BAD; they’re not. They’re just different. You might not find the same cough drop brands at the local pharmacist; out in the villages, you’re not likely to find a walk-ins-are-welcome manicurist seven days a week. But obviously, you’ve decided small changes like these are worth making in order to live the life you have now.
As I go about my daily routine, I’m finding that many of the experiences I have here in the lovely village of Samois-sur-Seine, in the surrounding towns, and 40 minutes away in Paris are nearly identical to ones I faced in Florence, Italy, when I lived there back in 2004 and 2005. Thank goodness this time around, I feel much more prepared to tackle the inevitable challenges that crop up on a daily basis. As anyone living abroad can attest, it’s during your first experience that you learn to juggle the truly unfamiliar until it becomes comfortable ….
For the past couple days, I’ve been listening nonstop to one of the soundtracks of my childhood: straight-up, good old-fashioned African-American gospel music. And for that, I can thank Sister Whitney Houston, whose Newark, N.J., funeral at the New Hope Baptist Church was broadcast live around the world on Saturday, giving fans like me who never knew her a chance to say farewell in the way that we black folks do. In a “homegoing service,” one that focuses on the heavenly destination of the person being celebrated.
So sitting here on the other side of the world, in a quiet French village far, far away from the urban center that is Newark, I watched Whitney’s funeral on CNN.com and “had church” right here, all by myself. Such is the power of modern Internet technology—and the far more enduring power of gospel music and the Christian source from which it flows ….
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 is 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 ….
So I’m headed to France in a little over one week, and am alternately super-psyched, nervous, thrilled, stressed to the max, giddy with excitement, and worried. While part of me cannot WAIT to board that Iberia flight headed for Europe, my evil twin fears that I’ll spend all those trans-Atlantic hours obsessing about … STUFF.
Will my limited French-speaking skills make me feel (literally) like the “village idiot” when I get to Samois-sur-Seine, the picturesque place south of Paris where I’ll be living? Will I find enough freelance writing and consulting work to keep me challenged—but not so much that I end up overstretched and fall back into my workaholic ways? Will I finally meet a decent man who is what he claims to be—or will the language gap (and his sure-to-be-charming French ways and accent) make it that much tougher to figure it out?
When you decide to pull up stakes and move by yourself to the other side of the world, the tasks you need to handle before leaving home are LEGION….
Those of you who follow this blog know how much I love Europe—and that there’s a super-special place in my heart for France, where I’ve spent many incredible times over the past several years, from the north to the scenic south. FINALLY, I’m getting the chance to actually LIVE there … and I’ll be a mere 40-minute train ride from Paris, my favorite city anywhere in the world!!! The plan is to leave the States soon after Christmas and launch my “new life” in France—JUST in time to ring in the New Year ….
¡Hola, salut et ciao, UrbanTravelGirls!!! Lo siento, je suis desolé, et mi dispiace–in short, my apologies for having gone off the grid for awhile. My freelance consulting and writing has kept me très busy the past several months, but I promise that I’m back, ready to inspire my chicas to experience the world and let it experience THEM!!
Since I last wrote, I’ve had incredible experiences in Panama City, Panama, and am counting on loads more of overseas trips in the near future. (More on that later!) But I’ve also been living vicariously through the adventures some of YOU ladies have been having this summer… which leads me to this post. None of us is an island—and neither should we be, even when we love hitting the road solo (as you know I do). It’s one thing to visit a city or country on your own, but quite refreshing to see it through the eyes of those who live there. And even if you don’t happen to know anyone in Amsterdam or Hong Kong or Cape Town, chances are someone that you know DOES. That’s why it’s a great idea to find out in advance if folks you know have any local connections in the place you’re heading….
I like to think of vacations—especially those that take me abroad—as more than a chance to check out new museums, sleep late, and struggle through whatever language is spoken in the country I’ve chosen to visit. Rather, I see them as fundamental to helping me work through “life issues” I’m wrestling with at the time.
I like to spend the hours on long overseas flights—whether to South America or someplace in Europe—in the company of my trusty, well-worn journals. I absolutely cherish the time spent hurtling through the sky at hundreds of miles an hour. FINALLY—I’m not under pressure to immediately return e-mails or answer a mobile phone call I’d rather not take, anyway. So instead of mindlessly wasting time on some second-rate film, I pontificate. About WHO I want to be when I grow up. WHERE I want to live. And WHAT I want to do when I get there.
Then, once I arrive at my destination, I make it a point to spend at least SOME of my “holiday time” contemplating ME….