Un petit cadeau pour mes amis américains…
I wrote an article for the website FemmExpat.com about how it feels to come back to France. I wanted to share it with my English-speaking friends.
[A very special thanks to Jeff and Jeanine for their help !]
Here I am, sitting outside of a café in France.
The delicious smell from my espresso, the divine taste of my butter croissant, the warming rays from the sun, peaking above the horizon.
The open door of the bar allows me to hear snippets of the conversation inside.
The sight of the mountains far away fills me with happiness. Time stops. I feel good, here, now.
Flashback: a few months ago, we knew that we would have to come back to France after four years in the United States.
The list of things to do before leaving overwhelmed us. So did a huge wave of sadness. Our hearts sink. Everything tastes like the last time. We threw ourselves into the tasks before us, the ones to prepare our leaving, the ones to build our new life there (well, here, in France).
Pulled on one side, pushed from the other.
Last day of school for the kids, last barbecue party with our friends, and then another last picnic… and a last drink too… we want to put off for a bit that moment when we will have to say « good-bye » for real. Our hearts are heavy. Tears are flowing down. We cling to anything we can: some will stay in touch through social media, others might have the chance to come and visit us in France. Maybe we will come back from time to time, who knows? We gently push back that uncertain future to taste fully those shared moments that we engrave in the depth of our souls.
During the flight back, I have the same feeling as four years earlier, just in reverse: this feeling of being suspended in time. Suspended between two stages of my life.
The regulars of the bar are coming in and are greeting the owner. Lots of jokes are shared. They catch up on each other’s lives.
I listen with a chuckle. At the counter, newspaper in hand, they compile the press review of the day. They grumble loudly. No matter what the subject is, it’s always, “What a disgrace!” “That should not be!” “It’s the government’s fault again!” In those grumblings, I can hear their worries: what will the future bring?
Back in France, our hearts are warming up. Reunited with our families, our friends, our neighbors… I get reacquainted with this lovely old woman that I used to greet every day on my way to the daycare. We take our time to see everybody. We reconnect to strengthen those loose ties. They are still here, they have waited for us and that fills our hearts with joy.
Yet, I realize that nothing will ever be as it was. I get my bearings, but my point of view is different. My mindset is not the same: more positive, more optimistic. I have brought back from my journey the “yes we can” attitude. Everywhere I go, it’s gloom and doom. Under the pretext of the financial crisis (“C’est la crise!, as French people would say), every initiative is second-guessed. I cling to my positivity. At a meeting with a counselor at the Employment Agency, after a long discussion about “have you thought everything through before starting your business?” I eventually obtain a “Wow, your project is awesome!” The support is not nearly as enthusiastic and is less spontaneous than in the US, and you need to know how to elicit it.
The regulars say good-bye. Taps on the shoulders, kisses on the cheeks (the French “bises”) or firm handshakes. A warm “Have a good day!”. I like their spirit.
“Home is where your heart is.” Everything is different and yet I am still me. I have simply evolved, I’m feeling stronger and, actually, more vulnerable at the same time. This huge adventure of expatriation gave me a tremendous gift: the ability to enjoy life, every single moment, no matter where I am.
There is nothing left in my cup except the brownish mousse of my espresso, that I sweep with my pinky and put discretely in my mouth. I close my eyes to fully taste the moment. I stand up and make head for the counter. I smile to the owner, stretch out my hand and say:” Hello, I’m Catherine.”
J’ai écrit l’année dernière une billet d’humeur pour le site FemmExpat.com sur mon retour en France. Je voulais le partager aussi avec mes amis anglophones !