Ok, so admittedly I do NOT live near the ocean, and it’s been quite a rainy, wintery March… which is exactly why I was at the laundromat with a giant load of mostly socks and underwear and a few other essentials freshly washed that I wanted dried ASAP.
Feeling thoroughly unmotivated on a Sunday night to bag our wet laundry and go to said Lavomatic, the fact that I would be even less keen to do it the next morning (and that I wanted to wear clean pajama pants that night) helped move me along.
Instead of being empty as it usually is, the laundromat was full of wet laundry spread out over the table provided for folding, strewn over the tops of several machines, and draped over the open doors of the four industrial-strength dryers. In the middle of the chaos were two middle-aged, decidedly drunk French men happily talking and smoking cigarettes.
It was such a strange sight that my brain kind of refused to acknowledge the situation, and I walked directly up to the dryers and said in a general way in French, “I need to use a clothes dryer.” Thankfully, these men were of a kindly, if disorderly sort, and they asked me how many I would like, and even gave me my pick of which one I wanted.
After struggling a bit to get the change machine to work in my favor, I popped in a few 50 cent coins and set my dryer at 75 C (that’s 167 degrees fahrenheit)! These dryers will get a large load of laundry nice and crispy in about 15-25 minutes, a Godsend in cold, rainy weather when you normally dry your clothes outside on one of these.
These fine fellows immediately asked where I was from, something that rarely ever happened when we lived in Toulouse, but in southwest France, it’s a smaller gene pool and a much smaller “normal” accent pool.
“I’m from the United States,” I said busily and self-importantly to make myself seem confident as I was alone with two strange and drunk men who had taken over the place (my hubby was sick at home).
“Oh yeah, you can tell” one of them said “ça s’entend.” I stifle a growl of frustration that even a (potentially) homeless, thoroughly drunk individual immediately knows I’m foreign.
Thankfully, the gents were kind enough to do their smoking outside at this point. One of them came back in while I was mostly pretending to read the book I had brought, and he asks me if I’ve been in France a long time.
“Yes” I say. “About three years”
“That’s not really very long.”
“It is to me.”
“Do you miss your country?”
“Certain things, yes. But I really don’t like living there, and I’m generally not attached to it. I just can’t change my home culture.” Here I’m thinking of all the things we take for granted in our home culture, like how to interact with people while grocery shopping.
“Yeah, that’s true. But you’re doing what you want, right? That’s the important thing, getting to do what you want.”
And I never would have guessed that a random person like him, from a foreign culture en plus, would really understand why I left and why I’m here.
America may be the land of freedom, but every place has its own set of expectations for what people’s lives should look like. Where I’m from in the States, most people my age have been married about 2-5 years longer than me and are about to have their second kid. They also (largely) subscribe to a certain set of political and religious beliefs and see the world in a certain way since a good number of them have not ventured farther than one or two states away and even the Valedictorians and Salutatorians my age went to state schools for college.
I am here to do exactly what I want. Not in a crazy let’s go binge-drinking way. I’m talking about having the freedom to be myself and to shuck the expectations of what my life should look like and how I should think. I’m here to be my own person and not my parents’ daughter or the person that people have known since high school anymore.
And it’s been so much harder this year than I ever thought it would be, but this freedom to do what I want and to start a business with my husband and to create something of my own on my own terms is priceless.
At a time when I’m struggling to accept myself and the fact that I’m different from people even in the place I’ve chosen to make my home, I’m grateful to have been accepted and welcomed by these two kind, funny men in my neighborhood laundry.