Paris is amazing. There is more to see and do than any other place I’ve been, and the fact that France was a major center of the world, and Paris remains the center of the Francophone world, makes it truly exceptional. There are enough touristy things to do to fill a month, and everywhere you look there is something of amazing historical significance. Did I mention how beautiful everything is? How rich in culture and devoted to aesthetics? How pleasant and truly human-oriented everything is, including the physical scale of the city and the simplicity of the metro system? Yes, this is a city of never-ending delights, and, as an native English speaker, a constant challenge as I try to perfect my French. Yet I don’t want to stay here, although it becomes more apparent every day that I could do quite well here, if I was flexible and committed.
What a choice! It almost feels like leaving Never Never Land, Narnia, or some other place where wonders never cease. I could belong here, but I don’t want to. I am proud of where I came from, and certainly feel a sense of attachment there that I don’t here. In some ways I feel bicultural, and that I can experience things from both French and American points of view I also realize how alien some aspects of Europe still seem, much as I always try to keep an open mind and understand things. In the fusion of these experiences, I have developed my own point of view, that is neither my native nor my adaptive culture. It took a realization of the relativity of human norms through immersive travel to claim my own values and assert the worthiness of my perspective. While some aspects of American culture aren’t my favorite, I think that my core values are distinctly American, as opposed to my tastes, which might be more French. I’m not sure exactly how true or exact this particular characterization is, but there’s definitely something Europeanish about me but I don’t want to become European.
Sure, I could live in France without assimilating, but the US does remain the current major superpower of the Western world, has a much more dynamic economy (o French bureaucracy!), and I speak English waaay better than I speak French. Both sentiment and strategy point me in the direction of Washington, though the Smithsonian’s got nothing on even just the Louvre. Paris is the center of a centralized Jacobin state, and Washington is a mere provincial town in comparison (#truthhurts). Paris is also a great base for travel in the Old World, and has much better recreational opportunities. But in turns of the meat of my existence, my family, my career, and my values, America is it. That’s not to say I don’t want to come back, and wouldn’t consider living here again, especially if I was in a stable relationship or married with children. It would be totally different than being a single girl. I don’t think a relationship would cure all loneliness and is the answer to all my problems (which have largely disappeared), but I don’t want to make France my home. I’ve really enjoyed living here, and I would like to live here again if the urge takes hold, but under different conditions. I just feel ready to start my career, have a little apartment with a flower like I have now, and at least have the opportunity to have a cat or something, let alone date an American guy easily. I think I will try to find some expats 😉 but since I don’t want to make my home in Paris, not sure how much that will really help me. I feel like I’ve lived the expat life and will have explored a lot of alternate world by the old of this year, and I just want to start living my life, really advancing my career, etc.
I am a citizen of the world, and I could make it anywhere, especially in Paris, but I just don’t want to, not right now anyway. I know when I get back to the US, I will have super high hopes, will compare everything to France (grocery shopping is going to suck), and when I feel a little out of place, i will miss feeling like the outsider in France where it was normal for me not to fit in.
I went to visit the Conciergerie and Sainte Chappelle, and I was reminded of the interesting parallels between the US and France. I expected the Conciergerie, the first palace in the city, to be romantic and medieval, but it had gradually been turned into a prison and was the last place many executed during the French Revolution stayed, including Marie Antoinette. Amazing how the first symbol of royal power became the place where its descendents were imprisoned,and how power concentrated in the hands of the few did so much evil, no matter how high the ideals of the Revolutionaries like Robespierre. The idea that humans should be protected from themselves and there just need a benevolent ruler is such an old one, and so central to the history of France and many Old World societies. You could make the same argument that life was quite harsh in the US too for much of its history. I’ll never forget when my mom pointed out that the Southern belles had such beautiful dresses and fun lives because the slaves were doing all the work, and working conditions during the Industrial Revolution weren’t so great either for the masses. All in all though, I prefer the American way of thinking and way of life, much as France and Europe are evolving too. The American revolution is where I get my spirit from, and there’s nothing strange about feeling a kinship with the country of the Declaration des Droits de l’Homme.
Well, hope I can Frenchify America a bit. It’s not so much that I feel a sense of loss, or even of belief, its more shock that what I wanted hasn’t really changed so much. I guess, like Odyseus, I just needed to go on my journey. I’ve typically been a little afraid upon coming home, that I would feel strange or disappointed, but such has typically not been the case. Instead I feel a stronger sense of belonging than ever. So I’m going to make the most of every second in Paris- I am sure I’ll be back for work and/or vacation, but I don’t have to, or want to live here. At least as of now, it could always change depending on circumstances or incomplete analysis, but something tells me I’m on the right track.
The journey has made me rich, I’ve had wondrous and scary decisions to make, and now, I finally feel like I’ve got it, so look out, world!