What I think when people tell me how lucky I am to live in France.
So it’s mostly true. But it was never my intention to stay here and I don’t think about it the way other expats here do. It was supposed to be a year—two max. I’ve actually lived here a while. It’s like six years now. It feels longer.
I came here for a job and got stuck cause I fell in love with a handsome french man. Yes, it’s romantic. And most people would love to get stuck here. I’m not going to dissuade them from saying shit like that cause for the most part France is nice. Atmospheric. But there’s a but…
Actually there are several.
France does have it’s upsides. Good food. They still have a lot of it that is unprocessed. And the healthcare system is good. Not perfect, but better than home. Yes, I went there. And yes it’s true. Granted they make you jump through a lot of hoops to get to an allergist, but probably less than in America. I’m starting to forget.
But there’s those other things… Like having to go to three or four different shops to get everything you want to make dinner. This is less true as time goes on, but stores are still highly specialized. The good meat is at the butchers and the good cheese is two blocks away, but at least there is a bakery at every corner. It’s great, but you need to make the rounds to get everything you want. When I worked it was torture because I only had Saturdays to run errands cause nothing opens before 10 and you can’t do anything before work. Most places are closed on Sunday. A lot of places are closed Monday too. Some places are only open Wed-Sat.
Waffles are a dessert here. And they sell pancakes pre-packaged next to the muffins. Have they started doing that in American since I left? Is that a thing now?
One other thing I wouldn’t have thought I would miss is preservatives. The expiration dates actually mean something here. I shop for the week on Saturday and by Wednesday I’m throwing out stuff because America’s magic little helpers aren’t used here. Which sounds nice in theory, healthy even. But try it for a while and see if you like it.
And then there’s the language. I am still awful at it after all this time. And yes, I’m to blame. I never got around to learning French. I’ve been busy and I really don’t need another person telling me that I really should so don’t bother. But there’s that thing that the locals tell you when you first get here that is supposed to make you feel better about having moved to the other side of the world—oh if you want, you can get away with not speaking French. A lot of people speak English. Or since we’re here in Southern France, Spanish too, which I do speak. But they never do. Cause fuck you.
So whatever, my french is good enough when I’m shopping. As long as I’m giving them money they don’t care that I’m butchering their language. Which, as beautiful as it is, is just as weird and quirky as English. I’m talking to you dear husband.
The big superstores are not in town. You need a car to get to them. And I don’t have one cause they’re too expensive here and getting a license is something of a trial, not unlike the Odyssey. Or so my husband would like me to believe.
Actually the license part is true. France does love its bureaucracy. I’m convinced they add layers of it just for the sheer pleasure of telling you you’re missing form 498B. Or that you’re in the wrong office. The office you need is on the other side of town and it’s only open on Tuesdays and Wednesday between 10am and 10:15am. Every other week. Unless it’s vacance scolaire, which means you’re better off trying next month.
We have rented cars for special events. And I had to drive because my husband never got his license. I didn’t know people could still get away with doing that before I moved here. But can I just say—roundabouts. Way too many of them.
What else? There’s a lot. You need a headhunter to find an apartment and their fees are crazy stupid. Also, apartments don’t come with lighting fixtures. Or bulbs. Just naked wires. And no refrigerators. You have to have your own and you need to fax your landlord proof of your renters insurance as soon as you sign your lease, but it doesn’t protect your things. Just their apartment.
And only this country would take the ultimate anthem of female empowerment—Aretha Franklin’s I Will Survive—and make it into a rugby song. I used to think it was funny when crowds of men would start singing I Will Survive at the top of their lungs, but as time goes on it kind of bugs me. That’s my song. Not yours.
Some nice stuff about living here. In winter there’s a brasserie in front of the metro that has a pop-up stand selling fresh oysters. It’s weird but nice. And they are starting to do American-style coffee shop drinks. There’s still no Starbucks in my town, but the local coffee shops are trying. Their mochas are way too sweet and they’re half Chantilly cream, but it’s a start. And after six years you can actually buy lemon iced tea. It sucks cause there’s only Nestea, but before you could only buy peach cause the french were too good for lemon. But at least I can buy mulled wine and roasted chestnuts in the street during winter.
When people get all gooey-eyed about France I do experience moments of expat guilt. I pass by absurdly attractive french people sipping their tiny coffees at open air cafes all the time and I think I should be doing that. I’m not taking advantage of the culture. I should be going to those chic farmers markets with my single reusable grocery bag made of organic cotton or recycled plastic with a baguette sticking out of it.
But even though I don’t work twelve-hour days anymore I still don’t have time for that. I have a series to write and I have to get that fight/sex scene down before I forget that really good line. So I need to go to the store that sells both tampons and batteries, as well as cheese, even if it’s not the good cheese. And just because I moved to France doesn’t mean all the dirty laundry and dishes get washed by themselves. I actually have to spend a lot more time doing them cause the appliances are tiny with only half the capacity of American ones. If that…
I wonder where all of these gorgeous people find the time to waste two hours at a cafe or street bar socializing. It’s a mystery. But it doesn’t really matter cause my French isn’t good enough for a sustained conversation and I have to walk twenty minutes to get to the only store that sells cottage cheese.