Monday, January 5, 2009

In France

When I started graduate school, I heard lots of stories about a fellow Williams alum who had started his history doctorate a few years before I did. Apparently he had arrived on the West Coast and promptly and continually compared everything and everyone to his undergrad experience. At Williams, he would say, professors invited their students over for dinner with their families. At Williams, he would say, the shopkeepers on Spring Street knew the students by name. At Williams, he would say, every season was beautiful and there was never any traffic. At Stanford, my fellow graduate students didn't think a whole lot of my fellow Eph's attachment to our college. After all, Stanford was not without its charms.

We're back from two weeks with our families in the States. I think we saw nearly everyone we meant to see; certainly we saw everyone we had time to see, in the time that we had. We celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah and New Year's with family, extended family, and friends. We ate and talked and walked and then ate some more. Most people we saw we hadn't seen in nearly two years. They asked us about our life here; we said it was a good life. And that was generally the end of the conversation. At least, it felt like that to us. Maybe to everyone else it sounded like we were going on endlessly, obnoxiously, about the baguettes and the views and the sangliers and the weather: In France, we eat fresh bread every day. In France, there are no strip malls. In France, almost all our food is locally grown--but to us, it felt like we said, we're happy there, and then the conversation moved on.

And really, there's no reason it shouldn't have. It would have been boring at best, and boorish at worst, to bless every one with a lecture on Being an American and Living In France in 2007-08, or, France and America: Similarities and Differences. (After all, that's what La Bastiole is for.) What was disconcerting was that our friends and family accepted us back, just as we are, or were, or had been. We stepped back into our American life with barely a ripple, as though we had been away for a few days and not a few years.

That was probably a good thing. The alternative--stepping back in and getting sucked under by the tide, not feeling any connection with the people we care about--certainly holds no appeal. And yet we feel changed by our life here, and uncertain about how we will ever live our life again in America, and whether we want to, and what that means. That feels profound to us. To others on the outside it probably doesn't. The feeling is probably mentioned, and explained, in the penultimate chapter of most books on living abroad. How, though, to go about living through it is something we have to figure out.

Meanwhile, this morning, I look out my kitchen window and think: In France, I look over the olive trees to the sea.

1 comment:

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