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Help, I’m Alive

This song pretty much sums up how I feel a lot of the time: afraid of life. I feel things intensely, I care too much about what everyone besides me thinks of me, and I’m terrified of doing something out of step with the natives here in France.

Unlike many American expats, I speak fluent French, and I’ve already lived here more than once. But that doesn’t make living in a foreign country much easier sometimes, I’m afraid, because you’re not just in a foreign place. You’re in a different culture all the time.

That means that nearly every single thing that you take for granted about how people think, what they expect, and how they react to various life events does not operate the same way here. They’re working with an entirely different set of rules, and guess what? None of them is written down. So it’s like you’re constantly playing bumper cars with invisible opponents.

Living here successfully would probably have been impossible for me without my husband. As a fellow North American, he encounters the same things as me, and at the end of the day, I can use my native language to express my feelings, so there is a 0% miscommunication owing to language or culture. Thank goodness.

I know that I probably sound pretty whine-y when I talk about the differences, obstacles, and mounds of paperwork that are part of my life here, but at the end of every day, I still don’t want to book a return flight. Even with all the shitty, frustrating, stressful parts of life in a foreign country, France’s strengths far, far outweigh its weaknesses for me. The imperfections are there, just as they are anywhere, but I chose it for a reason. Honestly, marriage is strangely similar. If you think the person you are married to doesn’t have flaws, you’re in for a nasty surprise. But if you did your homework before you got hitched, you know he isn’t perfect, but they are flaws you can live with and all the good things about him are just right for you.

There is something so wonderful and satisfying to look out my window and to know that we consciously chose everything about our life here. We chose this country, we chose this city, and we chose this apartment and every stick of furniture that we own. That makes me proud.

I feel a deep sense of pride to live in a country whose values reflect my own: tradition, art, culture, craftsmanship, beauty, cuisine, language, family, nature, community. Had I been raised in NorCal or Maine instead of Oklahoma City, things may well have turned out otherwise. But I’m really glad that they didn’t.

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