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Coronavirus in France & Me

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My studio apartment view here in France.

Hi Everyone. It’s little embarrassing that it’s taken a global pandemic to get me back on this blog. Maybe that’s just it, though, perhaps it’s normal for us to want to talk about all of this. Also, you know what, I just have the energy to creatively write, and share right now, so of course I’m going to use it!

To be fair, I have been “writing,” if I can even say that. I had the opportunity to get “featured” on Elite Daily talking about my coronavirus lockdown experience as an American in France. I was interviewed for it over the phone, and it’s in an as told by format. You can find that here if you haven’t already seen it.  I am 100% sure that my attitude about all of this has changed from a month or so ago when it was written. What isn’t changing nowadays?

That’s exactly what I’m going to get into now as someone who’s an American expat in France, and unluckily, a teacher, during this covid-19 mess and lockdown.

My experience as an expat is such that, truly, I feel I’ve been socially distanced for years, since I’ve been living in France off-and-on since Summer 2012. I think that this has possibly helped me to “cope” with living alone in studio apartment and not seeing people in person any longer.

Or, it totally hasn’t. My neighbor has been a thorn in my side since the very beginning of her living here. She has been loud and she has been disrespectful, and I have been telling her about it since her first week living next door to me. Something tells me, though, that neighbors are a universal experience and that this is not just unique to expats or people living abroad (whatever label you use).

The one thing that’s struck me the most is that my parents truly believe “I’m the one in the family” who can “handle this [quarantine]” the most successfully.  It’s a statement that keeps coming back to me. Why is that?

It’s really nice of them to genuinely say that, but I don’t know if I actually believe it! I think that people miss a lot of my life because I’m an expat and because of time zones. I don’t have any family on this continent. Yes, in general, people are glued to their cell phones/tablets/computers right now, but, I can’t, and simply won’t, broadcast everything to the world. I don’t think that constant positivity is necessary, either. Neither is constant doom.

It’s about finding balance. It’s about moderation, or say they’ve said in the past about so many different things, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, grumping. However, do either of those concepts apply right NOW and to each of us?

I also think that saying that I’m handling it implies I have some sort of positive/productive techniques and activities in place to help myself. Some coping skills, if you will. In all seriousness, most days, I can’t get out of bed at a normal time and most nights, I’m not sleeping until 2 or 3 in the morning. Who would say that’s healthy?

I have had to prioritize my plans for next year–nonexistent–over my job. This is a full-time job and so is my teaching job. I am technically still part-time at the university, but, anyone who knows anything about teaching knows part-time teaching hours mean you have a full-time job. You take it all home with you. You’re attached to your email inbox. You feel you can’t ever do enough for your classes, and for your students.

That has only amplified now, since I can’t physically leave my computer or my home much. Just ask any teacher about how online teaching is going right now, and you’ll probably get moans and groans from them…

As for my teaching, I’ve done my best, but I don’t think that I’m any “teacher role model”.

All of this being said, I think what I can say with certainty is that if you’re doing what you can with what you have, you’re doing enough.

If only I would just follow my own advice…

Until next time!

-Megan

 

Felt Candid, Might Delete: (Reverse) Culture Shock

[Disclaimer- what I say anywhere on the Internet, including on this blog and in this post, is my personal opinion, and I have reflected before choosing to say things. I am sure that I have certain ideas because I come from a certain background, have had certain experiences, am a certain way, etc., and I do acknowledge all of that, too.]

As of late, it has dawned on me over on Instagram (Stories), that I get a lot of messages in regards to some of my thoughts or opinions. If you know me at all, you know I like to speak my mind, and you probably know how I feel by now.  I don’t want to be the type who says things and then deletes them! It just seems like that’s the popular culture, hence the actual saying (“Felt cute, might delete”) but this isn’t even an Instagram post. This is my blog. I doubt I post a lot of ‘cute’ things on here, anyway! L O L.

Speaking of not ‘cute’ things, I’ve gone through a lot of reverse culture shock* in the past month or so, when I went on that whirlwind 10 day or so trip to Turkey, and also went to NY and RI with my French partner. I finished all of that off by coming home to southern California.  I probably don’t need to remind a lot of you that even between California and New York/Rhode Island, the culture is completely different. You totally get culture shock there, even if you’re from the US, just the other coast. Actually, southern California is wildly different to me from the northern part of the state. I’m not even going to get into “moving” back into your parents’ house and living under the same roof as parents when you’re 26 years old, either. That’s what many would call shocking.

Without further ado, what are those things that have shocked me the most coming home** to the US from France?

  1. That there are still fervent Trump Supporters and people who like to wave Confederate flags.
  2. Air-conditioning. & ceiling fans. I’m honestly too cold here half the time, and it’s summer, but I’m happy to actually have it. I have NEVER had it anywhere I’ve lived in France the past four-ish years. Most people I know don’t have it either.
  3. Purchasing everything you need in just one store. You don’t realize how great this is until you live somewhere else extensively. I’m lazy, what can I say?
  4. The portion sizes of pretty much everything, but, especially appetizers, because they’re essentially the size of a typical main course dish in France, if not bigger.
  5. The amount of ice in beverages. There has got to be something in between Starbucks France and Starbucks US in terms of the ice to actual drink ratio!
  6. Drive-thru or mobile order pick-ups for almost everything.
  7. The amount of (car) driving that has to be done in much of the US. It sucks.
  8. CUSTOMER.SERVICE. Sometimes, it’s too much, like when servers won’t leave you alone. I’m sorry, but I can’t talk to you with food in my mouth. ❤ Sephora US THO.
  9. TIPS. I don’t do those in France often.
  10. You are to swipe my card or insert it? It has a chip! Why is it being swiped?!
  11. On that note, why are you taking my card away when I want to pay the bill???
  12. The lack of crosswalks. Nobody ever walks in smaller cities?
  13. Free WiFi pretty much everywhere when you’re out and it actually works!
  14. The beautiful washing machines that don’t shake like that one 7.1 earthquake we had recently and that are NOT top loaders. & the existence of dryers! A luxury.
  15. The convenience of it all. Things that are open 24/7 are not impossible to find, and grocery stores are open all day on Sunday.
  16. Does anyone actually sit down and have a coffee very often? Where’s the espresso?
  17. Grocery carts that you don’t need coins to use.
  18. People who think I’m so skinny and so fit here, whereas I never get these comments in France.
  19. You can customize so, so much. Entire restaurants/stores do just that! I love Sweet Green salads and Chipotle bowls, but also Jersey Mike’s. Modifications to any item are generally okay in any restaurant.
  20. The fact that very few people seem to know France well (even just the geography/various regions). France isn’t just Paris! Put that on my tombstone, SVP.
  21. That one time in Target when a French lady asked a Target employee in French for something. Said employee asked if anyone spoke Spanish.
  22. Your bank tells you what your balance is 24/7- it updates automatically and you get a notification when you spend something. My (major) French bank cannot care less about my knowing what amount of money I have in there. It’s almost like keeping up with your money and being able to have is a concept in the US, wow!
  23. Prices on stuff, like OTC meds, makeup from Target or the drug store, Costco (Puma brand) shoes, and so on. I feel like I could save tons if only I could bring back a lot.
  24. Yogurt and bread, but mostly the bread. BAGUETTES! I can chill with some skyr.
  25. But also: the wine. It’s so expensive. Wine tastings, too! Time to go back 😉
  26. Strangers smile at you. Actually, smiling/laughing in public is A-OK. It’s a welcomed break!
  27. People smiling while showing their teeth. The ‘smirk’ isn’t a thing here.
  28. Small talk isn’t that uncommon. I’m just not used to people talking to me so much!
  29. The seemingly small amount of people in the US who don’t understand ‘(reverse) culture shock’ and the HUGE importance of those who do.

Thanks for reading if you got this far! I appreciate you.

*“It may be helpful to think of Reverse Culture Shock in terms of the culture shock one experiences when moving overseas. Many of the same events and circumstances that create stress when adapting to a foreign culture also create stress in the return trip” (US Department of State – Diplomacy in Action, please see more here)

**I am not actually “home-home”, just visiting 🙂 

True Life: I’ve Been Thinking About Leaving France

“So, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
Never enough for both.” ― Ijeoma Umebinyuo

How do you reconcile the fact that you have spent so much of your time, energy, money and adult life in a country with the fact that you’re actually low-key hating it there now? Is it all a waste? Who am I now? Am I too American to be here in France? Am I too French to be in the United States of America? How do I be both, at once, without having dual citizenship? Do I even want to try to stick it out to get French citizenship one day? Why does being an expat seem to get you down all the time? & Do I just feel all of this because I’m mature now and I wasn’t at all before?

These are just SOME of the questions that have been in my mind, over and over again, taking over a ton of my other thoughts and priorities (read: responsibilities). Before beginning to read this, take into account that “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side”. This will be RAW.

Here I am, in the midst of one of the most challenging seasons of my life, physically, emotionally, and “spiritually”-speaking, and I am about to embark on an almost 10 day trip to Turkey, a trip to NYC 1.5 days later, and then a trip home to Southern California. Getting “ready” to leave Europe this summer, I’m kind of wondering what life even “is” right now. Will I want to come back when I’m done?

I would have to say that I’ve been thinking about the direction I need to take in my life and my “relationship” I have with France for quite a while now. For the sake of this blog post, I preferred to stick with the more serious reasons, over the “smaller” things that just big me or grind my gears.

Without further ado, read on to find out why I’ve really been wanting to leave France lately:

I’m tired of being treated like a second class citizen for not being French, and not having a French last name or first name. Once they see my last name, I feel like most of the time it’s over. The majority of the time, they can’t even SPELL it either, let alone pronounce it. I’m not stealing your job, I have a specific contract for foreign language teachers who are native speakers of the language being taught, and you’re not even qualified to do it. This job isn’t one you want either, it wouldn’t pay you enough to be considered competitive (they have to sponsor me for a visa/residence permit so I can live and work here, and thus pay a pretty hefty tax on my ‘contract’).

I’m tired of the “I speak EnglEEsh” when people hear my French. Yes, because having an accent means you don’t comprehend anything, right? I can’t stand that I spent so much time, energy, and money on learning French, living in France to “perfect it,” eventually reaching a C2 level,* just for me to not get respected. Look, I don’t need an expat participation trophy. I just wish I could get spoken to in French, and not slow French that even I, dumb American, struggle to understand now, like, get to the point?!

I’m tired of the cat-calling men on the streets, I’m tired of the men who sexually harass me and try to sexually assault me, too. I’m tired of the people, including other men, who witness these things, and see me alone and struggling, trying to get out of harm’s way, and do not even dare to step in.

I’m tired of feeling like a complete other when I’ve done my best to try to be more French, but what even is “French”? It doesn’t even seem like something I want for myself, from what I’ve seen from so many of these people.

I’m also REALLY tired of the majority of this country in “(customer) service” who could not give a flying f*** about their job or about giving you, the customer (hello?) a modicum of respect or politeness. I’m tired of dealing with the majority of “customer service” people here, whether it’s phone carriers/electrical companies, landlords, medical receptionists etc., because it’s somehow never their fault. Always mine. And it’s so easy to pin something on the stupid American! Absolves you of all responsibility. Even sales associates can huff and puff here out of frustration/anger and not lose a job. A medical receptionist has been rude to me on the phone on more than one occasion, one refusing me from ever coming back, after I said I’d be 5 minutes late (most docs run at least 15-60 mins late by the way), and one implying I was inconveniencing her for calling to reschedule following the doctor’s own cancelation. Was sort of nice living in a place where people had to actually behave or else they’d really fear losing their job. (Please do not take this to mean that I agree with everything we have in the US for workers/employees, it is just very hard to fire people in general in France).

Most of all, I’m tired of everyone here not saying sorry, never saying sorry. Those two words carry so much weight.

*European Reference of Framework (for Languages). It means advanced or fully proficient in a foreign language.

2017, just starting my first “big” job in France. I wasn’t actually sure if I liked the city/job at all.

 

About Me

Coucou (cute way of saying ‘hello’ in French), I’m Megan, originally from Minnesota, who has spent most of her life in California, with some stints in Belgium, Washington (the state), Vermont and France. The latter is definitely what you should expect to see a lot of here on my blog. I hope to be able to share some analyses and reflections with you about my experience being an expat in France, being an ESOL teacher, and with hopefully some travels along the way as well. I’m glad you’re here!

That Was Then, This is Now

Then. 2012 in Paris.

So, I seriously should have started this blog when I first came to France for study abroad back in 2012, but I didn’t. Would’ve been great for me to compare myself from then with myself now! I should have, would have and could have done a lot of things, though!

Nonetheless, I have some thoughts about this (not in order of importance):

  1. You really can’t compare your years on study abroad with your home universities to your years working in France as a lectrice, maître de langue or assistante. Working and studying in any country are two different things. Apples to oranges.
  2. I’m a lot less focused on what people think about my accent in French. I have one. That’s A-OK. I am a foreigner, I am not French. Accent is less important than proper pronunciation.
  3. My own personal sense of style and fashion has inevitably changed and evolved since 2012. This is probably due to a few reasons, the main one being that spending so much of your young adult life in France is going to change what you wear, how you style your hair, etc. I still think French sizing and French clothing are pretty complicated (ie, jeans), but I like to focus on having good, quality pieces over what is trendy.
  4. I walk a lot more than I would have ever walked in my first year in Paris. Paris isn’t that big, but I just wasn’t as accustomed with layouts of French cities (they’re not on a grid like NYC) and wasn’t as comfortable with getting lost. Now, I kind of see it as romantic and I like seeing how many steps and kilometers I can get in a day.
  5. I honestly used to care a lot more about not being super skinny. This could be due to the fact that I thought all French people were very thin, I was living in Paris where that is definitely more common due to the rhythm of life, the fashion industry, and so on. I used to think I could never look French. (Go back to number 3)
  6. Learning French, or any language for that matter, isn’t a competition. I don’t feel like I have to be best in my class on anything anymore, and I don’t always feel like the academic world is the best way to even learn a language. You can’t really quantify it, thus it’s not one! I’ve become more realistic with the goals I have with French. Learning it is not a marathon, but a journey. I don’t think we compete on journeys, do we?
  7. My teaching and confidence in the classroom have seriously improved. I feel like a completely different person when I reflect on the pre-Masters and pre-CELTA days as an English assistant in the middle schools. I can face French students, many of whom just don’t like English, with a lot more ease.
  8. In general, my whole attitude for travel has changed because trains or buses are now my main mode of transportation for going places. One thing that sticks out is suitcases. They’re great, but beware of moving abroad and having more than one. Cities just aren’t designed the same way as in the US, and cobblestone is a pain for shoes and suitcases alike. Many métros (subways) in Paris do not have elevators, too. I’ve learned now that for shorter trips, it’s just easier to travel with a duffel bag!
  9. I definitely eat more varied foods, and used to be more picky. I love a lot of things, like duck, Lebanese food, different types of alcohol that I either have never even tried in the past or would have just automatically “hated”.
  10. I know now that flatshares aren’t for me. I can’t cohabitate well with other people, especially in the size of the average apartment in France. Living alone has been much healthier for everyone involved.
  11. I know I don’t have to do certain things or be certain things to live here. Part of being in another country–living and working there–is not changing EVERYTHING about yourself to make yourself more like them. They are all individuals, and they are all different. There’s a bit of room for diversity. But, get a cigarette lighter, you’ll make friends when people ask you for one.
  12. I am more open-minded to the French way of doing and seeing things, even if I truly do not always agree. I have a lot of thoughts on their national education system AND the way they treat immigrants!
  13. I know with my whole heart that there is good and bad everywhere. This goes for people, administration systems, healthcare, food, and so on. No matter where we live, we all have to clean toilets. Someone told me this once in a Facebook group, and it is so true.
  14. I can recognize now when it’s all too much, and when I am too homesick. The self-care aspect of being an expat (or immigrant, whichever term you prefer) is real and needs to be discussed more. Needing support and an ear are two things that are pretty universal, and I wish that in all countries we could explore this topic a lot more openly and without stigma.
  15. French friends are always going to be hard to make and these friendships will be hard to maintain. It doesn’t matter if I speak better, way more fluent French now, I still find it insanely difficult to have French friends, but more so, French girl friends. Dating a Frenchman, on the other hand, isn’t quite at the same level of difficulty in my opinion. Haha!
  16. In general, I don’t feel more or less French now in 2019 than I did in 2012, and that strikes me as weird sometimes. However, I know that if I became a citizen here, I would still always feel and be American. That is my country, that is my culture, that’s where I’m from. You can take the girl out of the USA, but not the USA out of the girl.

I am glad to report I just feel more comfortable about navigating most things on my own (complicated bureaucracy, apartment hunting, job interviews), and I truly believe that is the confidence that comes from experience, skills in the language (French), and just plain growing up.

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Now. 2019 in Colmar.

Let me know what you think!

 

My Story

What I’m really trying to focus on here in this blog is all of the time I’ve spent abroad! I apologize, but the blog has been a long time coming, and I simply can’t make this short, so get cozy.

I lived in Belgium for 4.5 years as a child, which is where I originally picked up a liking for the French language due to my weekly/bi-weekly French lessons in my international school. I have lived in France now for over 36 months, but not consecutively. I first came here with my American university on study abroad, where I went to ICP in Paris and loved it. That was my first real exposure to the French culture, but I had studied French for 3 years in high school in California, and I had 2 years of solid French instruction under my belt before that.

I then came back after that “assistantship” year to teach English in two middle schools as an assistante de langue after graduating with my BA in French & International Relations. During this experience, albeit a complicated one that I will surely write about someday, I decided I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I decided to apply to do a Masters in French. I don’t really recommend doing a Master’s if you don’t really know if you’ll “use” it, as Masters degrees are quite hard, but I got in, did that to the best of my ability, starting in the US, and then came back to Paris to study for the academic year. I realized academia was REALLY not for me, though, and I knew early on I’d NEVER continue on to do a PhD in French. I used my MA basically as a way to improve my French and for sure get sponsored to live in France.

Unfortunately, I did not succeed in getting a job after that in France, even though by then I knew that I wanted to stay. I was instead back in the US, back living with my parents, at home, and I felt pretty lost and unfulfilled. Honestly, I probably had tons of reverse culture shock. My parents and I fought a lot, and while I’m incredibly grateful for their help and for letting me live with them during that year rent-free, we cannot live together full-time anymore. We get along  MUCH better now that I’m more far away. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.

Toward the end of my MA, I had actually applied to be a bilingual flight attendant for United and Delta. I surprisingly did really well on the insane, recorded computer interviews with automated people asking me questions and I was even flown out for the f2f (in-person) interviews. They did not pay for the hotel stay, much to my dismay, though. I did not get a conditional job offer (based on whether or not you succeed in the rigorous training) for either. I think a lot of it has to do with looks, and while I was feeling really quite proud of myself for getting that far in the process, I think the whole FA world is kind of superficial. I doubt that they looked at my MA in French and thought I’d be a great fit. Again, this is my opinion. I wasn’t cut out for it!

Later on that year, I really did not succeed in getting any kinds of jobs, even minimum-wage ones (I would’ve loved to be a barista!). Perhaps it was all of the French experience and time spent in France (as well as my MA) that did not make them want to hire me. I decided that in order to have a competitive advantage over other ESOL* teaching candidates in France, I needed to get certified to teach it. I did the CELTA** in San Diego while home during this year after my Master’s completion, which was a really intense program and time of my life, and it was during the US Presidential Election. I recall Trump winning during my teacher training program and realizing, Ok, well, I’ve got to get a job and move back to France now, the US is a much different place than how I’d left it even just a couple years before! I had also acknowledged that it was kind of silly to have a MA in French and not even want to teach French, so at the very least, using French would make all of that pain and agony (lol) worth it.

I nannied for a great family, I did a little bit of French tutoring to an annoying girl and her annoying mom. I helped her get a 91% average in French, when she was at more like a 73% average at the beginning. That felt good, but it didn’t make me think French teaching was for me, so I got more serious about my applications to be a French teacher to “adults” in universities in French. I applied the year before to lectrice d’anglais and to maître de langue positions, and did not get any job offers, or really, any interviews! Was pretty disheartening. Boosted my CV, improved my cover letter, and I ended up getting a position in the south of France as lectrice d’anglais. 

That year as a lectrice really wasn’t my favorite year, but some of the people I met there, I still keep in contact with, and I’m thankful I went through it. I’m sure I’ll talk about it more in detail soon, but now’s not the time. Typically, though, you do the job for 2 years total, and I did it for 1 year. I realized I needed to find another job in France in order to stay since my immigration status is tied to my job or lack thereof (or studies, or French husband or civil union partner, which I don’t have). I applied again, for a third time, to the jobs, and seemed to actually have more luck. I landed a better position, maître de langue (pay is better and you work less hours- French logic?) and was super stoked! I had to make the move in one of the hottest summers France had experienced in years all the way from the south to Alsace, in the east (and more north, but it’s not “the north”).

That’s where I’ve been since August 2018! I’m happy with my job, my students, and the people I work with. I was overjoyed to have been renewed! I’m feeling much more grateful and sure of myself this year. However, after the contract is up, I may experience the quarter-life crisis sort of thing once again and the panic that sets in when you realize your titre de séjour*** will expire.

Thanks so much for reading all of this if you got this far! I felt like I had to explain a lot since my story with French is essentially from 2012 to now, 2019.

Notes:

*English to Speakers of Other Languages.

**Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults.

***residence permit