We want so desperately to believe this fantasy. But, what we really know, what we want to ignore is that, of course, the grass is always greener on the other side.
Maybe this is because very few of us will ever have the opportunity to make this magical, almost mystical pilgrimage. It’s easier to imagine it than try to turn it into reality. Maybe it’s more fun that way.
I don’t know that I really believed the cliché to its full extent, but I have to say that the reality has rounded out somewhere much below expectations. Sure a block of really delicious brie is shockingly, dangerously cheap here and the people really do walk around with baguettes (sorry, no berets) - but there are other aspects to life abroad that make it painfully hard.
Often people are pretty shocked when you start going into details. It’s the kind of things that they never think of in their day to day lives: applying for insurance, opening bank accounts, getting Internet installed, having your toilet get plugged unexpectedly (and on a Sunday, merde…literally). These are all things that, no matter where you live, you have to deal with.
When you live in a foreign country, in a foreign language, with foreign customs, these things all suddenly become a lot more difficult.
I have to say that all these things, as annoying, frustrating and downright irritating as they have been are not the reason or cause of my big news. They add a little bit to it, but they’re not the main reason.
So here’s the big news: I’m leaving France. Early.
Yes - I gave notice to my job, have told my work colleagues and have booked my flight back to California. It’s true. A week from today, I’ll be home.
There are a couple of reasons for leaving, but the really big one is this: it’s hasn’t been a good use of my time. I came to France for a lot of reasons, but in the end, coming here has left me often sitting in my apartment, surfing the web and waiting for the next Friday to see the handful of friends I’ve made here. Many of my classes were canceled last minute; some of my hours were never scheduled at all. My work colleagues all but ignored my existence (and The Roomie’s as well) except for in class. I can now confidently say that I know what it feels like to walk into a room and feel invisible.
While I suppose that being ignored isn’t really the worse thing (although I was also frequently made fun of for speaking English with The Roomie by a few of the teachers), feeling like you’re sitting your life away is pretty high up there on the list.
In less than two weeks it will be my birthday. I will now officially be on the latter half of my twenties. While I would never seriously suggest that this makes me old, I find myself suddenly entering into the mental realm of “where I imagined I’d be.”
Do you remember when you were a little kid and you used to calculate what year it would be when you graduated high school? Or what year you were going to turn 18 or finish college? Do you remember making choices about where you wanted to be or where you thought you’d be at any given age?
Sitting in a room, waiting for the rain to pass, wasn’t exactly how I pictured my mid-twenties when I was a kid.
So I changed it. I decided, after a lot of thought, some talking with my parents, some freak out feelings (I’m not normally one to rock the boat this way) - that I WOULD NOT ACCEPT THIS AS MY LIFE. Not one more second. No longer. I was not bound to this reality. I am not bound to this reality. I could be in control of what was happening to me. This tiny, little, miniscule life that I was suddenly leading would not be mine.
The kid I was, the one who was busy picturing her future, never, ever wanted a little life. She would have been really mad at big, grown up me if she knew I’d stayed in such a small life after I’d recognized it for what it was. She’d tell me so, too because little me was bold and she told the truth.
So there you have it. The dream is over. At least it appears that way doesn’t it? But here’s the secret. The surprise twist at the end of the story, if you will.
The dream was never the dream at all.
I though it was. I thought coming here to live in a foreign country was everything I wanted. I thought it would make me happy.
I firmly believe that no matter where you go, you take your baggage with you. Wherever you go, there you are. But one of the great things about living abroad, or even extensive travel, is that it gives you a distance on your life. You can see it more fully. So maybe this experience didn’t go the way I had thought or hoped it would, but I read a quote just recently that I think sums it up, “The bad things in life open your eyes to the good thing you weren’t paying attention to before.”
And there it is. I was living the dream all along. All I needed was the distance from my life to see it as it really was, to see all that it could offer me.
And now I can recognize after getting the distance, standing back from the Monet, what a lucky, beautiful life it is, indeed. A dream, really.