My little family is four months new to Flagstaff.
We’re the new kids in town. We just moved into our new house. We’re navigating new work (and daycare) life. Everything is new except one thing – we’re back in America.
For four years we lived in Paris, France. We started off as fresh newlyweds and left as the parents of a 17-month-old. A lot happened in between. It was an adventure filled with wine, bureaucracy, metro tickets and French lessons. Almost everything was unknown. Sometimes, I would daydream about our return to the US and all the familiar things I’d get back. It seemed so easy, so comfortable.
But actually coming back? Oh boy. We had heard of reverse culture shock from friends, but it didn’t seem like a real thing. It is. For me, it’s feeling like a stranger in what should be a familiar place coupled with feeling homesick for somewhere that was never really your home.
Strange, yet familiar
Noting what makes me feel like a foreigner in my own country has been a fun way to reflect on our experience. These are some things that have taken some getting used to:
- Grocery stores are huge! They have giant shopping carts and enormously wide aisles. And the choice! Who is not amazed by what you can find in the cereal aisle.
- Driving all the time. I hate it and I love it. I get way less exercise, but I relish the fact that I don’t have to trek home with all my groceries in hand.
- English in my ears. Sometimes it still feels odd that everyone around me is also speaking the same language as me.
- Small talk. In Paris, a simple bonjour would suffice with the checkout person. You stay quiet while they scan. You pack up your bags, say a quick “merci, au revoir” and off you go. Here, people are friendly, they ask questions, and chat about the weather.
- Plastic bags. So many plastic bags. But, on the other hand, my reusable tote collection is starting to get out of control.
- Expensive wine. It’s so hard!
- Space. What do you do with all of it!? In Paris, we upgraded from a 320 square foot apartment to a 500 square foot apartment – with a balcony.
- Holidays! This, I adore. The American way of going all out for the holidays is fun; it builds camaraderie and connection. But I’m still a bit pleasantly surprised by the participation and enthusiasm.
Bringing Paris to the mountains
I love the space and ease built into the American way of life. I can already feel myself relaxing into it. But there are aspects of our Parisian experience that I just can’t leave behind. Thinking about what I want to carry forward from Paris helps ease the feelings of homesickness.
I learned how much food means to the French. You can tell by the number of restaurants, the way people shop, and the foods they eat. For the last four years, I ate well. Really well.
Butter was part of my daily routine. Lunches at the office were enjoyed away from the office. Marché prices were good indicators of what was in season (paying 24 euro/kilo (about $12/lb) for asparagus at Christmas just felt wrong). And shopping occurred daily. To eat well, you had to put in some work and because of that, we became more confident in the kitchen and felt at ease at the table.
Note to self: don’t forget…
- Appreciate seasonality. It makes such a difference in flavor and for the environment. I love the anticipation of summer tomatoes, spring greens, and autumn apples. Seriously, check out the apple selection at Sprouts.
- Cooking is education. I want to keep learning about cultures through their spices, methods, and staples, hopefully enjoying the process along the way.
- Be thoughtful about what I eat, sans restrictions. In life, we have the privilege to eat so many good things, so why not savor every bite?
As a career-driven American, I thrived on being busy. Or so I thought… Paris was one big ol’ lesson in simply being.
In my first months there, I was without a job. Naturally, I explored the city. I would walk by parks watching people lounge, read, nap, wishing that I could do what they were doing. But, I had places to go, no time for leisure (wait, what?). Now, I can picnic for hours with the best of them.
Note to self: please remember to…
- Be. When I start to get caught up in all the busy, I will take a breath and remember that I can just be.
- Appreciate life. I want to let go of the pressure to constantly achieve and encourage myself to participate more in the human experience (art, literature, cuisine, discussions and more!)
- Savor the little things. Whether it’s the fresh mountain air (my lungs are happy), a good beer, or Christmas lights!
- Bonus: Keep the French language alive! I’m planning to take a class, voice message my friend exclusively in French and read kids books en français to my son.
In Paris, people come and go: they return to their families, finish their degrees or follow their contracts. It’s what we did. You form what feels like the start of a strong friendship and then they leave.
When our Paris days were numbered, I had this “eh, whatever” feeling; I didn’t think that I had any amazing friendships to leave behind. A little too late, it hit me that I had actually built up a strong little community around me.
Note to self: please continue to…
- Put myself out there. I’ve had so many awkward experiences with meeting potential new friends, all in hopes of finding that person where we just click.
- Realize that community comes on its own time. It can’t be forced and you may not even realize once it’s there.
- Nourish your friendships! Once you’ve established a little something, put in the effort and don’t let it fade out.
For me, picnics really symbolize all of the above – cuisine, culture and community. Once the weather warms up and the sun stays out a bit later, picnic days are happening. Anyone want to join? I’ll bring the cheese.