Sunday, October 28, 2007

Our First Days as Expats

I have so many things to write about, analyze and discuss when it comes to France but I feel that I can't begin unless I get a relate our first days in France as expats.

I still can't believe I had convinced my husband to move to France, without him ever having been there even for a visit. Dreaming of something is one thing, but when it actually comes to fruition, worry plagues the fairytale in your mind and then gets replaced by nightmare scenarios. Mine was that Hubby would hate France and then hate me. So naturally, I wanted everything to be parfait when we arrived.

We decided to fly into Paris and then take a train a couple days later to our new home. We had two nights booked on Rue Cler in the 7ième arrondissement. For those not familiar with it because they haven't seen the PBS program that has made it famous, it is the stereotypical image we Americans have of Paris. A cobblestone street near the Eiffel Tower, lined with cafés, crêpe stands, flower and cheese shops, boulangerie, get the idea. Top it off with a violinist on the corner playing classic French-film scores just for you, it all seems to be saying, "You're dreams have come true! You've made it to paradise!" It would seem.....

...Until we actually got to Rue Cler, by way of Métro, pulling our 3 spring loaded suitcases containing all our possessions in the world (well, on this continent), two gigantic backpacks, and a small child. Lugging and tugging, over the cobblestones. After having pulled all of that up and down several flights of steps and platforms the previous hour. Using public transport is cheaper than a taxi ride from Charles De Gaulle airport, but leaning on the side of "nightmare scenarios".

When we entered our hotel lobby, just a few long, bumpy blocks from the beginning of Rue Cler, we were exhausted, moody and stinky. Suddenly, I realized just what I had brewed up and convinced my poor little family to do! I started to cry uncontrollably. What if this didn't work out? We were stuck anyway! It was a burden I didn't want anymore.

At that moment, an American family came into the lobby, exuberant from their morning of touring, and tried to befriend us. They told Hubby how wonderful Paris was and they were sad to be leaving the next day. I hated them. They got to leave! I was here stuck for the next who-knows-how-long not knowing how we would survive this situation. And this was only Hour One!

After I scared them off with my sobbing, my husband consoled me and said it would all be great, he loved it so far. Ok, tears dried up, our room was now ready, time to shower, sleep and get emotionally stable again.

But when I got into the tiny room, went to use the tiny bathroom and then saw the flushing mechanism on the foreign-looking toilet (for those who don't know, the flushers in France are usually buttons or pulling devices on the lid of the tank), I started to get hysterical again thinking about having to flush like this for the next year. Ok, if you don't get the picture by now, I was completely irrational from sleep-deprivation, not making any sense, because back in The States I had raved to everyone about how cool French toilets were, because of their flushers!

After passing out and sleeping the rest of the afternoon, I awoke to Hubby saying he was going to go across the street to get some juice and snacks. He was eager to use his French independently. I was amazed but terrified he'd come back ticked off because someone was rude to him. I watched from the window above as he crossed the street and made a successful friendly purchase! He came back jazzed and ready to explore.

Late that night after soaking up the dazzling lights of le Tour Eiffel, we chose a brasserie near our hotel to eat le diner and suck down some vin français. Things were looking up. Of course wine will do that to you.

And then, the people at the table next to us seemed to be staring at us and with judgemental looks. I've been know to be paranoid about this, but I swear they were making a scene. It was a middle-age group of French men who were staring at us like we had just destroyed their evening. (Line from Shrek coming to mind: "It's rude enough being alive when no one wants you...") Anyhow, I was really uncomfortable and infuriated at the same time that they were gawking at us like we were barbarians. My anxiety peaked when I thought I heard the word "américains" in their conversation. Ok, now I had the proof! Turning to listen closer, I heard (in French), "Oh, look at me, I am American, I need my ketchup!" one said, and they all laughed hysterically in response. WHAT?! I didn't order ketchup. I hate ketchup. I kept listening, hearing stereotypical-American one-liners. It went on for several minutes. When they saw my expression, they laughed even harder. I wanted to leave, to check out of our hotel and hop the next flight back home. I HATE FRANCE, I screamed inside, French people are so rude!

Just then, I got my revenge. The waiter came over to me to take our order and I proceeded to speak my best French ever (thanks to the carafe of wine which gave me confidence to act French!) and placed our order. The waiter, astonished that he was receiving the order in his tongue, smiled very lovingly as if to say "You showed them!" I'll never forget the shocked, open-mouth expressions of the men at the table next to us when they heard their language roll off my tongue, understanding now they I had heard it all. Sweet victory!

It taught me a lesson as well. Don't be an Ugly American, even if someone is being an Ugly Frenchman.

Tomorrow I go on to Part Deux: The TGV Tragedy! Vomiting, tractors, accidents and more Frenchiness. Sure to appeal to all sorts.

PS. All photos on this post have been taken personally by moi, except the Rue Cler photo, because I did not have time to find mine today :)


Hi! I'm Adele... said...

I can't wait to read your continuing saga! I actually go a little worried, reading about your first day in France! It is such a huge move, I'm glad that my family has a long time to prepare for our move. I am going to order Rosetta Stone today and get started -- I would like to be able to impress the rude Frenchmen with my French!!


Hi! I'm Adele... said...

Sorry, I meant "got" a little worried!!


La Belette Rouge said...

I had a darling French couple in the Rick Steves Cler ( Rue Cler) laugh at the way I ordered a caesar salad---it was the one and only time I ever experienced the stereotype of the "rude French." Hope you didn't have too many of those encoutners.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Belette, No, I didn't have too many of those encounters. Things take a turn for the better...;)

Mélanie said...

I want to read all your stories ..You live in Paris ??