Books don’t tell you it’s normal for recent transplants to have physical woes and aches after a major move. Between pollution, smoking habits (which are currently on the decline in France) and becoming accustomed to new allergens, most people suffer from headaches, allergies and more. Many, who weren’t the type to have colds before they moved, find themselves under the weather with myriad ailments.
They aren’t imaginary, and if you go to the doctor you’ll leave the office thinking you’re near death since French doctors tend to prescribe boxes and boxes of medications. I’ve always been amazed over the number of pharmacies in France. But, it’s advisable to become best friends with your pharmacist since he or she can often prescribe and dispense the right-on remedy, negating a trip to the physician.
After surviving the shock of my first six months of Paris living, I turned a corner. I’d mastered how to use the appliances, Fahrenheit versus Celsius, which pressing did the best dry-cleaning in the area, and where to buy what and how. I even had my own favorite bar where to stop and down a cup of espresso.
Physically, I felt better and decided it was time to learn enough French to navigate on my own without feeling as if I were a deaf mute. Remember, our stay was supposed to be finite and I didn’t want to waste too much time learning French. No matter what I said, there was no question I was an American with the world’s worst accent. But I was willing to give it the old college try. Rather, I felt compelled to experience the culture. Culture meant anything from museums to concerts, not to mention one of my favorite activities, sitting in cafés.
My rationalization was, you were paying exorbitant prices for something to drink at certain places because you were buying a seat at the theater and to the world of Parisian (and international) living. If you simply want to drink and run, go into a bar, stand at the counter and leave as quickly as you wanted. Even though it’s not considered good manners to eat and/or drink while walking on the street, you’ll now see plenty of people doing that these days. People in Paris are increasingly time challenged and eating is no longer a two-hour-long ritual.
Eighteen years ago, the chic frequented Les Deux Magots and Café Flore to see and be seen. The two cafés were (and are, according to many) the Left Bank’s most branchée gathering spots. Even then, things were different and it was impossible to order an iced coffee. A friend of mine, intent on making his own, was informed by the waiter that ice was at a premium and refused to bring him more than two ice cubes. None of this “the customer is always right” attitude. If you were going to live in France, you were expected to do things comme il faut. Now, you can order a café glacé and the waiter knows what you mean, even if he thinks it’s a bit bizarre.
We did return to Boston but I lasted only three weeks before I had my bags packed to return to the city with which I’d fallen in love. My point of view of the world had radically changed. I learned to network – and even managed to snag a freelance writing gig.
Some people thought I was nuts, but I found I’d fundamentally changed. It wasn’t that I was no longer an American. I was simply an American who was in the process of gaining new perspectives on the world. And I was hooked.
…..to be continued
© Karen Fawcett