On the Roller coaster of Normalcy

When you move abroad, everything changes. It’s inevitable. The longer you stay the longer the weird foreign things start to become your normal. Sadly, there are things that in the bottom of my soul I think are normal that my American friends have to remind me that they aren’t.

I guess I should first clarify normal. I refer to normal as something that you are used to. For instance, I am American. I lived 22 years in the United States. Therefore, my habits and things I deem “normal” should correlate with my American upbringing. Yet somehow, living in France for a year and half actually brainwashes some of those very simple things out of my mind.

That is not entirely the point of this post. The point is that I think I began to forget things in order to make my life normal here. It was like a survival mechanism in my brain. However I have found, just lately, another part of my brain is fighting back. There are things I am beginning to notice again that had been pushed into the dark corners of my mind.

I miss living in a country where lines for newly released movies have barriers to control the lines rather than leaving it a cluster f**k. I miss that fact that even though the lady at the DMV may be a horrible, angry bitch that she will give you the same answer and procedure as the other angry bitch behind her– the answer and procedure does not, in fact, change dependent her mood. I miss grocery shopping on Sundays or holidays. I miss having sunshine for entire weeks, months even, not a few hours. I miss being able to speak English in public and not getting looked at as an ignorant tourist. I miss guys in basketball shorts and not pointy shoes. I miss crappy American TV and lounging on the couch with my best friends. I miss having a couch or an apartment big enough for one. I miss having a toilet that flushes correctly. I miss having friends that I knew would be in the same city as me longer than a year. I miss working with people who have a concept of how business works and the importance of business relationships. I miss having a meal without someone (guy or girl!) pointing out how fattening something someone in the room is eating.

I don’t know why this is happening now but I remember why I love home. Not that I ever forgot but little things are fluttering back into my memories. But I also remember why I love it here. I can’t just walk out of the metro into an adorable street market with the smell of rotisserie chicken in the air while I am in San Diego. This is the problem. There is so much I love about both my homes. I don’t know what is “normal” anymore. It is this strange mix of things now. It is ok. But I do find that there will always be something missing no matter where I am because I do hold two places so dearly in my heart.

Paris leaves a mark. So much that I don’t know if I will be ready to leave it. It seems so far off when my contract ends but it seems crazy close too. I know I can probably renew it and start the whole visa thing again but I am not sure I have it in me.

I miss these things but I can make a list just as long that I will miss about Paris. I know eventually I will have to just accept it and keep it as a good memory. Until then, I am going to enjoy every last ounce of Paris… and of course the French in me, will complain about it too 🙂

5 nice Frenchies… 1 Day…. C’est pas possible!

Here it goes. Yes another French administration post. I am sure you all love reading these as much as I love going to these places but hey, its part of the experience. Whenever anyone asks me with that sparkle in their eye about moving to wonderful and romantic Paris, I can’t help but ask if they are ready for the year of impossibilities that lay ahead in trying to get a visa. Don’t get me wrong, my life kicks ass… but I definitely could do without this nonsense. However, today was pleasantly surprising. That’s right boys and girls… something seemed to go well. Shocker.

I had to go the Office of Immigration (OFII) because after your get your visa you have 3 months to have a medical visit and be approved by this office. When you return back to Paris, you send in your paperwork and they give you an appointment. Simple enough, right? Well yes, if you ever get that lovely appointment time. I am 12 days away from being here 3 months after getting my work visa. And I have no appointment.

I did the usual take-matters-in-to-my-own-hands sort of thing and decided to brave yet another journey to OFII. I first went to the office in Paris. It corresponds with where I live so that supposedly is the office. The first time I came here was when my encounter with the CERFA rouge devil happened. Optimistically, I had higher hopes today because I did in fact come equipped with my CERFA rouge!! (Yes, I somehow managed to track down this stupid paper in the labyrinth of French administration. Props to me.)

My hopes stayed on track when I entered the building and after a quick smile (smile! from a French person!) from the security guard, looked up to see the CERFA rouge devil was not working today. Instead, a young man with a pleasant demeanor stood behind the desk giving information that looked to be very helpful for the people in front of me.

When it was my turn, I carefully explained my situation in the best French I had available. I have to say that explaining your legal status of immigration is not the easiest subject matter in a foreign language. However, I got my point across and the young man was more than patient when I had to search my brain for a word. At the time, I thought he was being helpful and after looking at my papers, told me I needed to go to another office located in the outskirts of Paris. I double checked asking him if it was correct that the office associated with my work and not with where I live. He confirmed this, gave me directions, and I was on my merry way.

After a long metro ride, I found myself lost. Of course. I wandered around and wasn’t all too unhappy since the sun actually has shown its face today in Paris. Finally, I decided to ask someone. Luckily that person happened to be unbelievably nice and helpful man who gave very clear directions (even someone like me could figure it out!). As I made the short walk to the next OFII office, I chuckled and though, “3 for 3 on nice French people. Today is a miracle.

Once I entered the office there was a line but at the front of the line was a short, middle-aged woman behind the desk speaking English to the person she was helping. Score! A little weight was lifted off my shoulders. When it was my turn, I carefully explained my situation. She kindly looked up my file and asked me questions to make sure she understood. She then looked up at me and told me I was in the wrong place. I needed to be at the office in Paris.

Well.

I explained to her I just came from there and they had directed me here. Dumbfounded but still polite, she told me to wait for her colleague to help me.

4 for 4 nice French people.

Next up. A nicely dressed man came over to me to discuss my file. I again explained my situation and he was just as confused as me and the path of people I had encountered prior. Eventually he had me follow him to his office. There, he copied my file and sent it electronically to the Paris office. He then tried calling them but of course they didn’t answer. He said even when you work together you can’t get anyone on the phone in France.

I still haven’t decided if I love these comments or hate them. I love it because then I know it’s not just me. I hate them because it is ridiculous that I live in a place that doesn’t believe in operating efficient businesses.

Anyway, he told me I should hear from them within a month for my appointment and if not he gave me his direct number and email. Where has he been my whole struggle through this process? Why can’t this wonderful man work in every single administrative office in Paris? 5 for 5 today! I left the office happy that I am one step closer to getting what I need.

Not a complete success but a step closer. And in Paris, I take that as a win.

Week #6: Indie Travel Mainfesto

Week 6 prompt : This week for the Indie Travel Challenge 2012, we want to know what you think about the Indie Travel Manifesto.  Does it resonate with you? Do you think, based on the tenets of the Manifesto, that you are an indie traveler? Create your own manifesto for the way you travel, and share it with the community!

One of the reasons I wanted to take part in the Indie Travel Challenge is because I can associate myself with the ideals and values the website showcases. The articles tend to focus on things I can relate to and have interest in. They recently put out a manifesto that can be read here .

Although I travel a lot, I do not often analyze why I love it so much or how it has helped me grow. It was refreshing to read the manifesto and examine what I take away from my travel experiences. Traveling has opened my eyes to new cultures, languages, and ways of life. I have been able to see and do things I thought I would only be able to read about on the web. Each experience leaves me with something I can take away. Whether it is learning how to say hello and how are you in Russian or a new perspective on an old topic. Travel has made me more aware of the world around me. It has given a hunger for more. For every city I cross off my list, I think I add about 3 more! It is incredible to me to find that although some places seem worlds apart of where I grew up and what I know, I can find similarities and connect with the people there. I have found that similarities connect people but the differences are beautiful as well.

There is probably nothing more different from the French mentality and the American mentality. My French friends say the same thing. They have no idea why Americans are so happy, confident, and emotional; while we Americans are still scratching our heads over the horrible service, apathy, and complex nature of the French. However, it is my time in France that has taught my patience and acceptance of things beyond my control. I have learned to slow down and enjoy the smaller things in life. And I like to think that my constant smiles and humor has brought a bit of light into my office. I no longer romanticize my life in Paris, I understand it. Paris will always hold a special place in my heart but I am happy to see it for what it is and truly love it, not just the idea of it.

My goals as well as the things I find important in my life have been altered. I guess falling under the category of the manifesto: Defining your values, exploring your beliefs, and crafting your own meaning for life. This also leads into dynamic possibilities because now all I see is a world of opportunity rather than the box I thought I had to fit into in California.

This is what travel is about for me. Taking something and leaving something behind. Dispelling the stereotypes or perceived opinions and searching for the truth. I search for the experience, not something to cross of my to-do list. I want to share drinks with the locals and learn about their life… make a meaningful connection. I want to see the city for what it really is and not what the guide-book tells me.

This is just my beliefs. I am not cutting down different ways of travelling and I too pick up the occasional guide-book. The point is, travel is about experience and about personal growth. I constantly forget the names of cathedrals I have been or paintings I have seen, but I almost always can tell you about the conversations I had with the people I met or the exact taste of the food I tried. When talking about my trip to Belgium, I might not mention the Church of the Sacred Heart but I will tell you that my best friend and I got lost and spent over an hour taking pictures of the street art in a little neighborhood. When highlighting my trip to Austria, I probably won’t tell you much about what I saw in Vienna but can go on for hours about the typical Austrian lunch I shared with Aggie’s family. To me, these are the moments I value. I love seeing the wonderful tourist attraction the cities provide but I also love to feel the city and find out what makes it tick.

I am not sure how well I hit the prompt on the head and I think it might be another case of serious rambling. But thank you BootNAll, you inspired me.