Scooters and Cigarettes
I AM LIVING IN FRANCE, AND IT FEELS WEIRD.
Yes, it's pretty cool. Yes, I am basically eating my weight in pastries. Yes, I have been dreaming about this for years.
But it's also really hard, something I never thought about until I actually got here.
I spent so much time being so excited about living abroad that I never really considered what the challenges and drawbacks would be. I thought it would look like this everyday
But it has actually looked closer to this
I have definitely been enjoying my time in France, but visiting here on a vacation and actually living here are two different things. I have been lucky enough to visit France a few times before coming here, and those are some of my most cherished memories - eating lunch at the Eiffel Tower, the view from the driving around from Nice to Monaco, seeing The Strokes at Le Zenith when I was 15. However, that was a vacation on my parents' dime. I got to eat out every night and drink fancy wine and didn't have to worry about...well, anything really. It was also summer. Now I have a roughly 30-40 minute commute every day with drab weather. It doesn't look like the Paris of my memories, but rather, the real, actual Paris that millions of people call home. That's not a bad thing, just something I am getting used to. Even though I technically DON'T EVEN LIVE IN PARIS, I live in La Defense! Which isn't ~terrible~ but honestly wouldn't you rather live in Paris than a suburb of Paris? ME TOO! I also feel the pressure from myself to LIVE IT UP and do a lot of exploring, which isn't always possible based on still having to do schoolwork. I'm still in the process of learning how to juggle everything.
I had a rough start to living here, which started when I got out of the car in Houston and walked into George Bush Intercontinental Airport (side note - I recently found out that the former president for whom this airport is named and my very own father share the same personal trainer. Life is weird!). It was probably the most crowded I have seen any airport ever. It should take me 30 minutes to drop off my bag and get through security. It took me an hour and 45 minutes. It took me so long to get through security that I not only left my mom's scarf behind, but I boarded the plane as they were doing the last boarding call. It was a real Home Alone 2 experience, to say the least. It was my first international flight all by myself, and I didn't get any sleep because I thought I was gonna have a panic attack. Good news - I didn't, but the state of my general mental health on that flight can be described with the fact that I started to cry when watching Bridget Jones' Baby and Colin Firth was particularly charming. Also I just Googled "Colin Firth" and y'all he's 56? I'm shook.
I didn't realize just how lonely I would be over here. I am lucky to have made friends early on, but there's a lack of an Oberlin community that's nagging at me. I actually cried when I left Oberlin in December, something I've never done before. Now, instead of being homesick for just one place (Texas), I'm homesick for two! I miss all of you lefty weirdos! I miss my customary plain bagel with cream cheese and pesto from the Local! I miss my 5 minute commute to class! There are things that I can do in Paris that I could never do in Oberlin, but that's a two-way street. That being said, so far I've done things like spend my 21st birthday at the Centre Pompidou, attend the Women's March, eat delicious bread every day, and even travel outside of Paris. I definitely can't do those things in Oberlin.
Culture shock and the language barrier is definitely real. I can speak French (kind of) but it's very strange to have to immediately reorient your brain on top of the regular stress of moving to a new place. A few notes on people's perceptions of France and the French - The French aren't rude, but they are reserved. I would describe it as such - you are expected to greet everyone with a "bonjour" but you should not expect a smile. A psychiatrist explained it to me with this analogy - Americans are like peaches, the French are like coconuts. Americans tend to be more open and friendly immediately, while it might take a bit for a French person to warm up to you. Everyone is wearing dark colors - like, I literally don't think I've seen a bright color coat on the metro, ever. Smoking is much more of a thing here as well. You can't smoke indoors anymore (in theory) but it is not uncommon to see people taking smoke breaks en masse during certain times of the day. Funnily enough, I see people on scooters all the damn time. A lot of kids, yes, but FULLY GROWN MEN TOO. These images are incongruous, but this is what France looks like to me.
Classes are going ok. They have been interesting at times, but haven't totally lived up to what I thought they might be. AKA I am kind of upset that my class called Gender, Race, Sexuality in Popular Culture has yet to actually talk about pop culture. Going to Oberlin is such a niche experience that attracts a certain kind of student, so it's weird to not be surrounded by the thoughts and opinions that I'm used to. Again, not a bad thing! Actually, probably a pretty good thing! Oberlin is great, but sometimes it can be hard to have a dissenting opinion. The program I'm doing is divided into three blocks of six weeks each. I take only 2 classes at a time, and I only have one class a day, though the class is about 3 hours.
All in all, I am excited for what France will bring me. Though it has been rough at times, I get to live in PARIS! In so many books and movies and TV shows, going to Paris is an ultimate test for the protagonist. They have to go to make something of themselves, to get ahead in their career, to grow as a person (think The Devil Wears Prada, Funny Face, the season 1 finale of The Hills if Lauren didn't stay with Jason in Malibu for the summer!!!!).
I'm excited to see what I make of myself.