It’s crazy to think that I’ll only be in France for about two more weeks. After that I’ll be on the road again. I’ve got a crazy month or so planned, with destinations in Italy, England, and Scotland. So while it really doesn’t feel like I’ll be leaving, France will no longer be in the near future once I head to Venice on the 10th.
My chapter in little old La Ciotat is coming to a close. It’s been a good seven months; I’ve created a life for myself here. I’ve met some wonderful people from all over the world. I’ve shared my culture with my students. My accent when I speak French is not as thick (omg finally). I’m a regular at this cute cafe behind the cathedral downtown. I’m still surviving in a country where they don’t speak my language, so I guess I’ve done alright so far.
So, as an American in France, there are many things I have enjoyed but there are also many things that I haven’t. It’s not always easy living in a country you’re not used to. But it’s certainly interesting.
I won’t miss . . .
1. Stores that lock up by 7:30 pm. And forget about Sundays.
It’s going to be nice being able to find food on Sundays.
In London, I bought my meal for Sunday on Saturday night out of instinct. One of my roommates was like – what are you doing? “Oh, you know, preparing for tomorrow.” Why? “It’s Sunday.” So?
Since many of the things in my small provincial town are mom-and-pop style, sometimes they aren’t just open at all, whether it be Sunday, Tuesday, or Thursday. Lot’s of shops close for lunch hours . . . even restaurants. And since it’s also a tourist town, almost nothing was open during the winter.
2. Washing machines only
Not having my underwear on display in the middle of my one room apartment will be nice.
FYI, jeans take at least two days to fully dry.
3. Paying for the bathroom
I guess I’ll admit that paying 60 cents for a clean public bathroom isn’t the end of the world. Though sometimes you have to pay extra for toilet paper too and that’s just – why? Why?
4. So many round-abouts
Sometimes I regret not taking motion sickness medication before getting on the bus. They don’t care; they just whip through those things like they’re playing Mario Kart.
Can the French drive??
Eh, I won’t answer that one.
Revving engines. Screaming kids. 1 am.
I’ve turned into that old hermit in the house with the overflowing foliage, shaking my fist in the air as youths drive by.
6. That obnoxiously flashing green cross outside every pharmacy
Like, yeah, I get it. You’re a pharmacy. You’re easy to spot. Thanks. I’m already sick and looking at you just makes my head spin.
7. Or the fact that everything is behind the counter
Falling ill in Europe is like every introvert’s worse nightmare. I just want to grab my cough drops and go.
I got really sick one time and had to walk myself to the hospital clinic . . . then walk to the pharmacy and ask for my medication in between hacking coughs. It was not fun.
8. The post office . . . omg the post office
Every time I’ve ordered something, it has always ended in disaster. Wrong address (the town decided to change address on certain streets a few years ago, and no one told me that I had two addresses), not wrong address, closed offices, sure we can fix the address (and then they don’t correctly change it), the postman’s on strike, still not the wrong address (I double checked 6 times) but we can’t get it to you, come back tomorrow because my technology doesn’t work, oh you came back – sorry postman’s on strike again.
There’s not enough wine in the world for me to enjoy handling the French post system. Or any kind of French system. Bank, internet, phone . . . it’s never truly easy like they say it’s going to be.
Je ne vais jamais vous comprendre.
Language barrier or no language barrier, it would still suck.
9. All that graph paper
All of France seems to have some sort of hybrid graph paper/lined paper thing. Notebooks, loose leaf paper, cute little pocketbooks, they all have it. Well, the loose leaf paper isn’t exactly loose leaf either, but that’s another rant for a different day.
My students use it, my professors use it, I’ve tried to use it but I don’t like it at all. If I wanted lines through my words, I would just mark through them myself, thank you very much.
10. Practicing my Rs before talking to anyone.
It’s going to be nice walking into a store or an office and not pausing at the entrance, making that gurgling sound in the back of my throat to myself. I need a warm up if it’s been a while; you can’t pronounce the French r with a dry mouth.
I know that I can’t the only one who does this.
But I will miss . . .
I survive off water and wine. Wine is just so embedded in the culture it’s hardly a second thought anymore. Meeting up with friends? Bring wine. Dinner with the family? Red or white? (Usually red. White is mostly reserved for fish or desserts.) Picnic on the beach? Don’t forget to pour the wine into a water bottle so we don’t break any glass. Afternoon snack of bread and tapenade? Here, have a glass of wine. We’re going on a hike? I’ll bring the wine! (Seriously, that happened.)
And a decent bottle can be as cheap as 2 euros.
I won’t lie. Even as I write this, I’m drinking wine.
2. Seriously easy travel . . .
Easyjet and I are tight now. The trains are great and take you practically anywhere you could ever want to go.
3. . . . and seriously cheap travel
Even if I book a last minute weekend trip, I get a discount on my train tickets (around 30% off) with my carte jeune. If planned far enough in advanced, I can get a one way plane ticket to London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, or even Berlin for as low as 15 euros.
Granted, getting to my small town isn’t what I would call uncomplicated, but France (and Europe) makes traveling without access to a car much easier and cheaper than it would be in the U.S. People don’t rely on cars as much here as Americans do. Sometimes I miss my car, but I can live without one.
4. Fresh, handmade bread for 80 cents
Oh, baguettes, how my heart will miss you but my waistline will not.
5. That view
A glass of wine in my hand, the blue ocean on the horizon – the Mediterranean is my backyard. Will it ever get any better than that?
The south of France in winter can be dreary and sunless. I love chilly weather (not snow) but I didn’t realize how much I missed the sun until it disappeared for the better half of four months.
You can feel the air change, smell the flowers blooming.
7. Teaching English
While sometimes it’s extremely stressful, mentally demanding, and you just want to tear your hair out, I’ve enjoyed my time here with my students. My last week of classes was very bittersweet.
Whatever I tell myself, I know I’ll miss the sass. And there was so much sass.
8. The sense of time
The French aren’t late, but time is never rushed. There’s no hurry, no constant current pushing you through life. Take your time. Stop for that coffee. Order another class of wine. The French are so skinny, but they take their breaks and lunches very seriously.
There’s a joke I’ve heard a few times that goes along the lines of “what do the French think of after eating?” Their next meal.
It’s so true.
9. Having Europe at my fingertips
I’ve been trying to focus more on France since we’ll be parting ways soon, but the freedom of travel over here will always amaze me. I’d ask my students what they did over the weekend and I would get answers like “oh, I went to Italy” or “I saw my grandparents in Paris.” There are so many cultures and languages in Europe, and they’re all within hours of each other.
A plane to London is just over an hour. A train to Paris is around 3 hours. Getting to Italy by car from where I live is around two and a half hours. Budapest was about a 2 hour flight from Paris.
I can drive 8 hours and still be in Texas.
Of course I’m going to miss French. Once I got passed the irritating “I don’t understand what’s going on” phase, I started to fall in love with it. It’s a beautiful language that I have the pleasure of using every day. It’s a normal part of my life now. In fact, it was strange walking around London and hearing English in public for the first time in months.
Immersion is the way to go. I struggled to learn French for years. My four months in Quebec and seven here were better than any class I ever took. I haven’t had to study much; I learn new words, new phrases, and correct old mistakes every day. The whole world is my French classroom here.
A bientôt, mon amie,