Growing Pains

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France

We moved! As hard as it is to believe, we are no longer residents of France. It seems like just yesterday, I was breaking my ankle, turning 40, and moving to Paris to begin a unique chapter in our lives. Now that chapter is over. How could that possibly be?

When we left, it seemed like we were going to be gone for forever. Yet, here we are back in our same house, in our same city, watching the same TV on our same old couch. Needless to say, moving overseas, especially to a city as immensely entertaining as Paris, turns to make your old life seem a bit boring. Since most people ask how we are handling the transition back to our old lives, I thought I would share some thoughts.

First, let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. Stores here, especially grocery stores are insanely large. We have a back yard, even though it is a small one. Our refrigerator and freezer are cavernous. Malcolm can stomp around on the floor without threat of the grumpy woman downstairs coming up to complain. The cheese here is shit, we can’t find a decent bottle of wine for $4 and no matter what day of the week, we can eat dinner at 5 o’clock if we wanted to. You might have been able to guess all these.

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I wonder what major thing happened between May and August that would cause so much inactivity?

To me, the most notable change in lifestyle between Paris and Oakland is the need for a car. I loved walking Paris as a tourist and never really grew out of it while living there. I would routinely walk to destinations even though they were a mile or two away. Throw on some headphones, chart a course through some cool neighborhoods and off I would go. Here, you drive everywhere and this is definitely a crappy habit to return to. I just looked up the distance to and from our normal grocery store here, and, oddly, it is almost exactly the same distance as the walk to our grocer in Paris. Even so, in Oakland, walking to and from the store with a rolling shopping cart seems about as normal as a thinking Jared from Subway WASN’T a pedophile. (Of course he is, why do you think he was always holding up those giant pants? Kids love giant pants: fact!) Anyways, I never even considered walking to the grocery store here, even though I never considered taking the metro or driving to the store in Paris. I blame the stupid car.

Americans eat weird food. This we all know. What strikes me upon return is how many of the events we attend are now just excuses to cram shitty food down our collective pie holes. It’s not a ballgame, it’s a chance to eat cha cha bowls and garlic fries. It’s not a mall, it’s an invitation to Cinnabon. They sell fucking mozzarella sticks at movie theaters! (I’m sorry, but if Italians knew that we are taking their beloved, hand pulled buffalo milk delicacy and are chopping it up and deep frying it so that we can enjoy watching Arnold Schwartzenegger movies in 3D, they would dig up Mussolini and give him another shot.) Social life here seems like it has become way too centered on unnatural food. The county fair shouldn’t be about deep fried Coca-Cola or butter. (It should be about protecting your children from carnies!) Instead of the thing, we are enjoying the shitty food at the thing. To me, “food” like this is best enjoyed in a place which makes you realize that you are engaging in aberrant behavior. If I am going to pound down a a bucket of KFC, I do it in a dark closet, cloaked in a veil of shame, and not, as some do, on an airplane.

Oddly, laundry is also quite different here. Here is how you do laundry in Paris:

1. Load the washing machine. The appliances there are impossibly small, so you can really only wash two or three shirts at a time.

2. Turn on washing machine and hit start or “depart” or whatever the hell button makes the washing machine go. I think I pushed every single button on the front of our washer the first time we used it. It broke shortly after.

3. Wait. Appliances in Europe are very energy efficient. That is really just code for “things don’t work very well and whatever they do takes an inordinate amount of time.” Expect each load about to take about three hours to wash.

4. Put clothes in dryer.

5. Wait.

6. Haha, just kidding. Your clothes will never get dry in France, no matter how long you wait. It’s like waiting for a Republican in the Senate to embrace science. It just won’t happen! Evidently, the EU banned dryer technology some years back, so the only thing that dryers can do for you is make your clothes hot and damp. When you need to leave the house, you put on your hot, damp clothes and head off into the Parisian world. Remember, the appliances are really small there, so you are ALWAYS doing laundry. This means you are ALWAYS wearing hot, damp clothes. Existentialism can trace it’s roots back to dissatisfaction with the laundry in Paris. In the US, a load of laundry takes two hours total and I can wash every piece of clothing owned by every person on our block if I wanted to. My clothes are only damp when I spill wine on myself. It is glorious.

Everything in Paris is closed on Sunday. Well, not everything, but if it is Sunday and it isn’t sold at the Gap on the Champs-Élysées, you better buy it on Saturday. Here, Sunday is almost like every other day. We bought a cell phone, changed cell phone plans, signed up for satellite TV, filled a prescription and had a nice dinner on our first sunday here, and it was so strange! I am happy about every change in our lives which makes things easier/require less planning. The sunday thing is a big one.

Lastly, I became a little more chatty while in Paris. When you live in a foreign country, you spend a lot of time not knowing what the hell is going on. You walk around in a bubble, undecipherable noise happening all around you. In the bubble, your mother tongue becomes golden. For me, every conversation in English was a lifeline, a way to feel “not-stupid.” There were days when I would have given anything for some easy chit chat, when I could have appreciated the desk clerk at the clinic telling me I had herpes, as long as she did it in English. There, whenever I could speak to someone, I would. This has followed me here. I am much more likely to chat up people than before I left, drawing me into conversations with neighbors, store clerks and movie theater employees (who seem pretty ignorant as to just how mozzarella sticks became cinema food.) My head is no longer down and I am learning a lot about the people around me.

Time will tell whether these things still seem strange after a while and how we will adapt to our new life. Maybe I’ll try walking to more places. Maybe I won’t.

If anyone needs me, I will be in a dark closet, enjoying a bucket of KFC (which I just bought in a drive thru.)

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