This is probably one of those blog posts that makes you gag. You may be thinking, “This spoiled brat got to ‘Study Abroad’ in Paris for two semesters, and now she’s complaining ?” Well, it’s all in perspective. I have worked, hoped, and dreamed for this opportunity my entire life, and I know how lucky I am to have been able to have lived here for this long. My number one goal when I came here was to become trilingual, and I’m amazed to say that I’ve achieved it. There are words in French that, when translated into Russian or English, will never be as meaningful or sound as good to my ears. In retrospect, I guess you could say this has been an expensive experience. However, I think that getting cultured is priceless and that the benefits I reaped from leaving my comfort zone are innumerable.
It was a sunny September morning when I arrived at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, and I was extremely sleep-deprived. I had barely slept two nights before, and although I had flown overnight, I was sitting next to a horny old American antique merchant who bought me an Irish coffee and proceeded to engage me in conversation all night long. Being a coffee-holic, I enjoyed the brew, but–needless to say–I threw out his business card when I arrived at my home stay .
At this point, I still thought of Europe as one big adventure waiting to be conquered. The women were strong, the men were sensitive, and the food was exceptional. I soon came to see how deluded I was about my new adopted culture. I went to my first apartment party on Nuit Blanche (read : white night = all nighter,) a classic Parisian holiday in which the metro and museums stay open all night (Sacre bleu !) to encourage partying. It was here that I began to understand the differences between American and French concepts of masculinity and femininity. I say this with the utmost respect for French citizens, because many of them have confirmed my position : France has a strong macho culture. By macho, I mean the men are the buyers, the fathers, the leaders–in short, they are the patriarchs. It’s okay to dress well and be into fashion, because they rule the system. Since they are so aggressive when trying to get females’ attention, the women are conditioned to be stand-offish and extremely hard-to-get, giving them a streak that Americans might percieve as masculine. In the house however, it’s a different story. These gender roles are enforced via countless cultural norms, daily habits, and social discourses. Let’s just say that French men and women are not what you think they are.
Winter came around, and the lack of cold temps made me realize how habitual it was for me to expect extreme weather conditions all the time. I noticed that the mild Mediterranean climate makes for milder personalities, which is to say that the French rarely do anything in excess (except when it comes to political arguments). I travelled through Northern Europe and saw some breathtaking landscapes, all the while wishing I could share it with a significant other. Jaded, I knew it was next to impossible at this time for me to hold down a relationship because I was coming and going all the time. Everything was ephemeral, and in a way, it was beautiful. I just didn’t know it yet.
Then school started, and so did my babysitting gig. I grew more patient and acknowledged that all of this free time sitting in cafés and parks waiting for things to happen was exactly what I needed. My last semesters of college had effectively become my gap year, a way for me to figure out what I wanted to do to give back to the world I’d been living in for the past twenty-one years. Democracy, it turns out, is the coolest thing since sliced bread, and everyone wants everyone to like it. Instead of spreading the gospel, I decided I would join the camp that wants to make the gospel better (because it is a gospel of sorts, whether we admit it to ourselves or not). I want uncovering scandals, improving transparency levels, and educating the public about current issues to be my way of raising the quality of life (via sociopolitical evolution) while harming others as little as possible. I am thrilled that the recent French elections are showing the world that socialism is not a utopia, but rather a full-blown reality. I did not vote in the 2008 elections in America, and I should have. My sheer ignorance and laziness are finally exposed, and I will no longer take for granted my enormous privilege to participate in the representative process. True, the American government does less for the people than the French government, but that’s no reason not to vote. Maybe one day American politics, too, will have a strong social safety net. Until that day, I’ll try and make it better.
So here I am, many epiphanies later, with the end of my Parisian shenanigans near in sight. It’s been a tumultuous past several months, but I’m glad it all happened. I’ve made some unexpected friendships, and I thank all of the people I met for leaving a piece of themselves with me. My comic, welcoming, and oftentimes incredible French host family, the Algerian nanny, the French high school dropout, the Indian almond seller… the list goes on and on. These people, sights, and places will not fade quickly. What’s more, this is not the end. I’m coming back to Europe soon, and I’ll be back in France when I’ve enough reason and resources. This isn’t the last goodbye, this is just farewell for now. The long stretch ahead is winding and brambly, but I’m enjoying the journey as I mosey on down the road.