Moving abroad can be one of the most enriching, fulfilling, life-altering experiences one could ever imagine. All of a sudden you’re a sponge, soaking up new cultures and customs, eager to discover all you possibly can. You might even find yourself feeling more at home there than you do here in the US.
For most of us, tied to short term contracts and visas, that roller coaster ride is destined to come to an end. And yet, coming home can be just as hard if not harder than it is to leave. Having just repatriated from France, here are a few things I’ve encountered while learning how to be an American again:
Now that you’re back, especially if unintentionally (read: kicked out), what are you going to do with your life? Yeah, you had a job and an apartment and a phone and you were totally killing the adult game in France. Pow. Now you have to start over and do all those things again—this time WITHOUT everyone thinking you’re cute and awesome because you’re from another country.
Job hunting sucks. Apartment hunting sucks. You’re probably going to need insurance (thanks, Obama), not to mention a new bank account for all the non-euro money you hopefully plan to make. Basically, it’s like your piece being moved back to “Start” in a ridiculously complicated, not-at-all fun game of Life.
The rumors are true: Outside the US, food is just plain better for you. It’s fresher, with fewer artificial flavors and is generally held to a higher standard of quality. Europe has banned an awful lot of things while the US shrugs, like “well no one DIED…” After living in France for a few years, and shedding quite a few kilos, I must say I’m inclined to agree. But old habits die hard. Fast forward to one month home and it’s all “Ranch dressing, oh how I’ve missed thee,” and I’m up a couple dress sizes and the only thing I’m shedding is tears.
3. You are a bonafide bread snob
I ate a croissant every single day my first two weeks in France. So imagine my disgus– I mean surprise when I discover that even at one of those “artisan” bakeries, croissants and baguettes in the US are just not up to scratch. Dear Bakers of America: a baguette is NOT a baton-shaped brick dusted with flour. And don’t get me started on what passes for a crêpe around here.
French curse words are in a class of their own. Even though they don’t have as many as we do, you have to agree that French expletives capture all the subtleties and nuances of derision and disgust. Drop your fancy cheese on the kitchen floor? “Merde!” Annoying sister won’t shut up? “Ta gueule!” Dog got into the trashcan? “Quel bordel, foutu chien!” My favorite is when they just string a bunch of expletives together to make one giant French “super-curse” word. Perfect for when America elects a hateful, imbecilic, tangerine-colored bigot as President of the United States.
It’s luck of the draw with La Poste. Sometimes you get lucky, and you send a package and it makes it to its destination and all is right with the world. Other times, you put your whole life in a box in hopes that it will meet you at home a day or two after you land, and La Poste decides that tracking is an urban legend and your belongings end up in a place nicknamed “The Bermuda Triangle of Packages” (Platform Briarde, it’s real. Look it up). And then you sit and wonder if some balding, potbellied man is enjoying the hell out of your pharmacie skincare products.
Didn’t send anything by La Poste? Doesn’t matter, they will pull a Liam Neeson in Taken just to ruin your life. They will find you and they will lose your shit.
With the exception of the larger cities, the cost of living and/or eating in France is pretty sweet. I lived in Mulhouse, a decent sized city, and if I paid more than 5€ for any one item at the grocery store, I considered it a grave injustice. Even traditionally pricey things like cold-pressed EVOO, raw honey, or my organic granola (which I’m certain has unicorn horn shavings in it) can all be found for reasonable prices in France.
I went shopping a week after I came home and literally had a meltdown in the produce aisle. $5 for a bag of Cuties?! I could plant an entire grove of clementines for $5! Once I got to the cookies and snacks aisle, I realized I simply was not in the right tax bracket. I saw the prices, as well as the obnoxious, technicolor kid-targeted packaging and the overpriced, limited wine choices (more on this later), and I decided it would be best to save grocery shopping for when I was better adjusted…or had just won the lottery.
For once, I’d like to hear a decent French accent on an American actor. I remember watching an episode of House of Cards, and there’s a scene where the elegant and lovely Claire Underwood takes a diplomatic call in what was supposed to be fluent, flawless French and I remember thinking “God, her accent is awful.” Now I know how hard it must have been for my colleagues to understand my struggling French that first year.
And of course, then there’s Paris *cue accordion music*. Don’t get me wrong, Paris is pretty cheesy. But Paris in American film and television is like spray can Cheese Whiz. I’ve been to Paris multiple times and I promise you I have never heard anyone playing an accordion ever. There is so much more to Paris than what is portrayed on TV and in the movies. Hell, there is so much more to France than Paris. There’s a whole country out there, with countless other cities and villages, just waiting for you… to turn off that terrible rom-com with the cliché backdrops of the Seine and go visit somewhere else for a change.
You’ll often find yourself wondering “Why does it cost so much? Why don’t they have the same varietals? And this rosé is from what region? Oh just the land where they make rosé?!” Listen, I don’t even like rosé. But I ESPECIALLY don’t like paying $30 for a crappy Chardonnay with a splash of Welch’s grape juice in it masking as a rosé.
Restaurants are the worst culprits. The markup is ridiculous and so is all the hype that comes with it. When you’ve lived in a place where they kept wine—really good wine–next to the Pringles in the teachers’ lounge, getting all excited for this season’s hot new pairings just seems silly.
When you’re based in Europe, visiting new places is not only easy, it’s encouraged. Travel isn’t as ingrained into our culture like it is in Europe. So for us, taking a big trip is no small ordeal. Flights are at an all-time low and maybe you have a few places left on your bucket list that you didn’t get to visit when you were abroad. I have a friend that just moved to Stockholm and I saw that two other friends finally made it to Munich, a trip we had talked about going on together. It took everything in me not to just book a flight and hop around to both places and maybe stop by Zurich on the way back.
Nope, can’t do that anymore. Or at least, not without some major planning. And if the airfare doesn’t kill me, surely the massive difference in travel time will. No more quick international train rides or cheap 45 min. budget flights. You’re back home now and you’re far away from everything.
Now that you’ve got an idea of what to expect, be sure to allow yourself adequate time to readjust. Croissant withdrawal is real and don’t let anybody tell you different. Your life for the next couple of months might be all-struggle everything, but look on the bright side: now that you’ve dealt with the French Administration, going to the DMV will be a breeze. Also, don’t forget to send that woman at the visa office your first born. She won’t forget.
P.S. We really need to switch over to the metric system, guys. It’s time.