I’ve always dreamed about coming to California. I remember, since I was a little girl, I had posters of San Francisco on my room walls. I learned about the history of the country, its system, and all the music and classic movies you are used to.
At some point, I got to know American popular culture by heart. I was able to sing classic country songs, and recite movie quotes as if I had grown up there. My goal back then was to come live here one day. My childhood diaries were filled up with those thoughts.
When I grew up, I unfortunately did not have this opportunity to go to California. I had to work in the hospitality industry, in France. But there, I used to hang out with a lot of different nationalities. And every time I would run onto someone from America or Canada, they would always tell me “Oh my, you are so Californian inside!”
It always made me think: why … do I belong there? I should go there to be sure!
And so, here I am.
The Dream Cycle: Phase 1 – The Honeymoon
I had love at first sight.
It was like I was overwhelmed with pleasure and feelings everyday. I knew every single song played in the streets by heart, everyone was nice to me and I was having the greatest time of my life.
One of my first memories here, to illustrate this sudden passion feeling I experienced, was an Uber ride.
I just felt in love that day.
The driver was tall, he was wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses, had a really nice bright colorful shirt and nice jeans. He had a very nice haircut and looked like a movie star to me.
I decided to sit in front.
He turned up the volume; “The Man” by The Killers was playing. I never heard that song before. I loved it instantly. It made me feel like a queen.
I looked at the driver, and he had a shiny white huge smile. He asked me “So, how are you doing today sweetheart?” My heart thumped. I never experienced such a nice encounter like this before. It felt like I was in a movie.
(Note: In France, taxi drivers barely tell you “hello”. And they are usually wearing suits and a scowl).
The following month was quite similar to this first experience. I was living every single day like I was in a movie.
I know that French people are considered attractive here. But damn, how nice you look to us too! Grass is always greener on the other side, right?
So much confidence, so much indolence, so much recklessness … I was hooked!
Every single day, I would fall in love with someone, with a song, with a moment, with a place.
Everyday was a honeymoon.
The Dream Cycle: Phase 2 – The Discernment
After a month and a half, I started to get used to life here. Everything seemed more familiar, and so the passion I was feeling on the first days started to fade.
It gave me the opportunity to understand what was really happening inside of me during the honeymoon phase. I was constantly analyzing myself and my feelings.
So, what happened? Actually, it is simple. I remembered people telling me before “you are so Californian inside.” Well, that is kind of true.
Because I listen to all the songs you listen to, I love all of them, they are part of me. I really commend confidence and respect and people here seem to be quite confident and chivalrous. I think that I am also open-minded, and so are people here. Moreover, you are always down for an adventure, and so am I (most of the time).
However, I was feeling strange. Something was not right.
It was like I was finally living in the place where I understood everyone. Where I loved what everybody loved. But still, I was not really feeling safe here.
There was something wrong.
The Dream Cycle: Phase 3 – The Conscience
Here I am, in Phase 3. Maybe there will be more phases, but for now this is where I am.
So what’s happening now? Well, I miss home.
I still love it here, but I realized that the major problem here is that I understand everyone; but no one really gets me, in a sense. And I think this is why the word “homesick” exists. No one can understand you and make you feel as safe as your country and your family.
You can feel like you belong, but if you don’t feel safe, you’re not going to feel complete.
If you are not familiar with the Maslow Pyramid, it goes like this: we have several needs that we should satisfy to feel happy and complete.
From basics to higher needs, Maslow hierarchize them as follows:
5. Physiological needs
4. Safety needs
3. Belonging, Love, Affection
1. Personal accomplishment.
Well, even though I am pretty sure that a good portion of my needs are satisfied, I don’t feel safe here. And I am not sure if I really belong, too.
At last, one random day not some long ago, I suddenly pictured everything more rationally. I just finally owned up to the things that I would surely never get used to. The things that made me feel homesick:
- Walking around at Night
Because my hometown is so pretty at night! I love to walk around, just getting lost, even alone, with some music in my headphones, and enjoy the lights. Here, I cannot do that. First, because guns are legal here, so you should act consciously. But also because … people just don’t walk. Streets are not meant for that. And… It is simply not the same.
- Slow life
We just take our time in France. We take time to drink. We take time to eat. We take time to cook. And we talk about it while we are doing it! We intend to keep the traditions alive. And we savor every single piece of life slowly. I mean… I’m sorry to be such a bummer, but it’s not pleasing to drink red wine in a plastic cup. Or a box bottle. Or a can. This beverage takes time to be made: at least a year actually. It doesn’t really honor this liquid to be thrown into your mouth this fast, with so little respect.
- Respecting each other’s mood
Well, you know, sometimes I just do not want to talk. I just want to zombie around and let my feelings overwhelm me in peace without using my brain or my mouth. Or, I am just in a rush.Here, you cannot let your feelings flow. People are nice all the time. You cannot complain, or remain silent or just avoid people and small talk. Don’t take me wrong: I am not saying that it is a bad thing. I am just saying that … you know … sometimes being rude and remain silent is so much relaxing.In France, people you meet once, or you just met, might not wave “hello” to you while crossing paths with you in the streets. Because it is simply not the point: You might be going to work, or you might be overwhelmed with some feelings. You don’t want to be bothered, and you don’t want to bother others: you leave this person to live her or his life alone until the context is actually made for social interaction (Note: which undoubtedly is not any kind of public space).
I think I told you about this before. Usually, French people gather together from 6 p.m. for the apéro time, it’s a French pre-dinner tradition. Usually, there is saucisson (dried sausage), charcuterie and cheeses plates; or healthy alternatives such as cherry tomatoes, olives and carrots. And, of course, drinks: beers or wine. Older people even take liquor most of the time. And it can basically happen any day. Not only in between Thursday to Sunday. I miss my bread! I miss my charcuterie! I miss my cheeses!
You know, not everything is great. Sometimes, I just want to grunt that something is not good, but then I feel bad here. You are always all saying that everything is amazing. This is exhausting.Back in France, it is socially accepted to be pissed off all the time. And even more: respected. For instance, you can tell a Chef that what he made was not cooked the way it should have been. And if a certain amount of people say that, the restaurant might simply close down. Because if it’s bad, it’s bad. And you shouldn’t feel ashamed about feeling bad and sharing it.Same for our strikes: employees do not always agree with their bosses. Why should they have to anyway? I just miss that way French people always bark for everything. It makes life so much more interesting (smiling fake angel face).
- Work and health security
Well, this is maybe the major point that doesn’t make me want to stay here in the US. Let me explain you how it goes: In France, you don’t pay for your medicines. You don’t pay for your doctors. Well, you pay your taxes, and so it’s included, but it’s still way cheaper than here. So, you’re never scared of suddenly having to go to the hospital. The government will take care of you.Same for work: our contracts are really strict. You cannot be fired without an average 1 month notice. We also all benefit of a pension fund for retirement. And may you lose your job unintentionally, our government will provide you with the exact same monthly salary for up to two years, so you can have time to find another job without dying of hunger or anxiety.
So, I booked a single ticket to go back to my beloved country in January.
But I will definitely come back here. Actually, I miss it already… 🙂
Thank you for reading. I’ll hit you with more French insights next week!
Floriane Simondet is a graduate exchange student from France, majoring in business administration.