Today I decided to talk about Paris. It makes a while that I think about it because “A French in Mexico” is not only about my new life in the Aztec country. This is also about the concept of expatriation/immigration itself, so this is also about my origins.
It’s not an easy exercise to write this article and this is probably why I took a bit of time to sit down and go for it. Why is it not that easy? Simply because I miss my country, I miss my city, probably more than what I expected.
Adapting me is an exercise that I intimately know and so I should get used to. I was used to move approximately every 3 years since I was a child (well yes, it’s like this when we have militaries parents). So I was used to discover new cities, sometimes new countries, new schools, new people, new ways of thinking. Then I had to continue to adapt me because I did a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and we had to do a lot of internships, in different cares structures and different areas. When you pass from a psychiatry unit to intensive cares to pediatric oncology, it makes a difference. I also did one year of studies in textile industry to then move to a Master in International Business which as you know it now, led me to Mexico.
So yes, I should be used to adapt me. But it actually seems that my adaptability, instead of becoming more efficient, decreased. I went back to Mexico for 3 months now and nothing has been easy, at different levels. And when things are not smooth, homesickness comes more easily. Is homesickness an enemy? I don’t think so. To the contrary, I think that it’s a normal feeling. It’s normal to miss her/his country, her/his habits, her/his language. This is integral part of the expatriation/immigration (I will go back later on the difference between those two processes).
The fact is that I have mixed feelings about my lovely Paris. Especially because right now, the political context of France is not really glorious. France is facing the terrorism threat. France (and Europe in general) are facing the migration issue (I am referring to the Syrian migrants who cannot survive anymore in their country) and were definitely not prepare to handle this situation. France is facing a social system which doesn’t work anymore: is it really surprising when we know that only 50% of the population pays taxes? When we know that there are not enough young actives to pay retirements? When we know that some governments diverted money on their behalf? France will face soon its new presidential elections and in this context it promises to be very eventful. I think that France came to a point where the necessity of a whole restructuration cannot be limited to words anymore.
So yes, sometimes when I think about France and especially Paris, I don’t miss them. But this is where I come from. So sometime I simply miss them.
Let’s go around what I don’t miss and what I miss from Paris.
What I don’t miss?
I have nothing against political and social protests: this is a legal right. But I have to admit that after 5 months (transition time before going back to Mexico) I was deeply tired by movement crowds which were agitating Paris and especially by the violence. I remember for instance that the pediatric hospital Necker had been degraded by a protest. This is not legal.
The dirtiness of the city
Paris is dirty: it’s a fact. If the city “the most romantic of the world” makes dream a lot of people, tourists are usually disappointed when they realize how much Paris is dirty. The subway is never cleaned and stinks. Men technically pee in it and nobody says anything.
I remember that one time a passer-by almost peed on me if I didn’t have jumped aside to avoid him. When I went to talk to an agent he simply told me: “What do you want that I do?” Ok…It’s the same thing in the street: people through their waste and also defecate. When we think about it, it seems hallucinating. People behave like animals. And I even don’t talk about the bathrooms of restaurants: this is probably the worst…I understand now why French have the reputation to be dirty…Sad but true.
The street harassment
To be honest I don’t really know how it is in other countries but I consider that in France it’s a huge concern. Everytime, women walking alone in the street are called, insulted, followed…If I take my own example I can say that at least every two days I was annoyed by a man in the street or in the subway. Difficult to know what attitude to adopt. If you don’t answer it can get easily worst. We pass from compliments to insults. If you answer, the guy can turn really insistent and end by insulting also.
I don’t say that street harassment doesn’t exist in Mexico but I am not exposed to it because in Monterrey, as we cannot walk, I only move by car from a point to another. But I remember having walked few times (in the city center for instance) and I never been exposed to any type of harassment.
French don’t have the best reputation in the world regarding their behavior with others. And I unfortunately understand why…Well I would like to clarify something here: we definitely cannot generalize! There are welcoming people everywhere in the world as there are not welcoming people everywhere in the world. It’s just that French are probably not the warmest persons. They are pretty cold, maybe more introverted, less opened to the others. Sometimes they can even appear a bit expeditious. I will dedicate an article more complete to this topic because actually there are reasons that may explain this behavior.
The cost of the life
This is definitely something that I don’t miss. France is expensive and France became even more expensive since the economic crisis of 2008. In Paris rents are exponential. What I was paying for 30m2 in the French capital is higher than what I pay now for 90m2 in Monterrey. But well, at the same time it’s quite proportional to the local level of life. In France rents are higher than in Mexico but salaries are also higher. I just think that maybe in Mexico it’s easier to go out and having leisure.
But what do I miss?
The Parisian lifestyle
You will probably think: “But of what is she talking about?”
I am referring to walking through the city in the morning at daybreak when everybody is still sleeping. This is the moment where you feel that the city is yours.
I am referring to the croissant and the espresso that you taste sat down at the terrace of a coffee place (no no it’s not a cliché!)
I am talking about the tiny pastry that you bring back to home, about the flowers that you buy at the market, about the afternoon passed reading in the park of Buttes Chaumont.
I am talking about the hot bread from the bakery. About brunches on Sunday morning in what we call now “hipster” places: all of those tiny coffees that flourish in the city. About a cup of wine and a cutting board of fine meats and cheese.
I am talking about picnics on the canal Saint Martin with your friends. About decoration stores of the Marais (where you never buy anything so it’s expensive but that you always enjoy). About the textile market Saint Pierre besides the Sacré Coeur, the best point to admire the city.
I am talking about clothing stores: if everybody knows that Paris is the world capital for fashion this is actually when you move that you really realize it!
I am referring to churches where you enter only for the beauty of the place.
Paris is history. This is an old city with a lot of classical buildings and where the actual plan corresponds to the one of the famous Baron Haussmann, Prefect of Paris from 1853 to 1870. But Paris is not only classical: many people protested against the Centre Pompidou (or Musée Beaubourg which exhibits modern and contemporary art) in 1977 but it’s now totally integrant part of Paris.
Pastries, fois gras, wine, champagne, macarons, cutting boards of fine meats and cheese (yes I already said it but I really miss it!!!), breast of duck, bouillabaisse (seafood soup), ratatouille, gratin dauphinois (dish cooked in the oven with potatoes, cream and grilled cheese), pot-au-feu, bœuf bourguignon, clafoutis aux cerises (type of dessert with cherries), chicory with ham and even the leg of lamb with flageolets of my mother! I say “even” because usually I don’t like this!
Well I probably speak a bit Chinese for some of you but I promise to write about French cooking.
I am referring to the art and to museums: the Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou, the Orangerie with the Nymphéas of Monet and a lot of others. This is why I enjoyed so much the city of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico with all its art galleries (http://www.afrenchinmexico.com/single-post/2016/09/25/Mexican-Independence-Day-in-San-Miguel-de-Allende)
And of course I miss French, deeply. I spend all my time speaking in English and Spanish and if it’s not as hard as before it is not always easy. I remember that the last year I had a terrible level in both languages (even if English was easier) and there were some nights where I had migraines for having talking in foreign languages all the day. Now I am totally fluent I English and my Spanish is more than operational but still…
The last time I was not able to find my words in French and I thought that if it’s maybe considered as normal when we never practice, this is my native language so it shouldn’t be normal. Hopefully my fiancé is currently learning French to adopt it at home between us. And I think that continuing to write my book and giving French classes should help me.
And ultimately, what do I miss? My relatives and my friends. I don’t have a big family as I don’t have many friends. But you don’t need many to miss. Today we have internet, we have mails, we have Whatsapp on our smartphones, we have Skype but still…it doesn’t replace a presence. I am fundamentally independent but still…it doesn’t mean that I cannot not miss. I don’t want to complain about this because after all it’s my choice if I live now in Mexico. Nobody forced me (it was even maybe more the contrary). But I just want to state that missing is part of an expatriation. And if you have to assume it, it is not always easy.
The systematic risk (for the ones keen on Finance I am not referring to the market risk!!!) is to compare your two countries: your home country and your adoptive country. But comparison never leads you to positive feelings. At the end it’s never about who is the best or who is right? It’s simply that it’s different.
The other risk is to make an amalgam between country and people. Of course a country is constituted of people but we cannot generalize everything. Sometimes I thought that Mexico gave me a lot. And sometimes, in harder situations, I thought that Mexico was not really helpful. But it’s not about Mexico. It’s about people. I met in Mexico incredible persons who welcomed me in the nicest possible way. And I also met people who demonstrated me that my difference was not welcomed. Same thing in France and same thing everywhere. Anywhere in the world we make beautiful meetings and meetings that we wish we could have avoided.
Ultimately, it’s not about countries, it’s about people.