Epilogue: 14 days gone…and it is Groundhog Day again
I have been staring at my computer all afternoon knowing that I have to write, but not knowing what to say. We have now been back in Colorado for 14 days. It could be 14 years. It is amazing how quickly one can fall back into old habits and routines and how easily a former life seems to slip away. Some days I feel like my life in France never was.
Coming back to Colorado has been like being Bill Murray’s weatherman in the great existential film Groundhog Day. While I have changed immensely, I have been dropped into a life that hasn’t changed at all and I feel like I am living in a sort of Nietzschesque state of eternal recurrence. It is as if I am residing in an alternate universe on a parallel train track never scheduled to intersect the French life I left behind. What bothers me the most is that while I can intellectualize my former life in France, I am having a really hard time feeling what that life felt like, and I am slightly terrified that I will lose that happy girl who lived in that stunning city and felt like she could do anything.
Don’t get me wrong; being back in America is easy on so many levels. I am having a ball chatting up everyone on every subject. It is great to be back in a friendly land where the customer is always right, service is given with a smile and wink and everything is AWESOME. People are so nice here, and you can quickly become BFFs with your waitress over a 90-minute meal, or be ready to exchange Christmas cards with your Verizon/iPhone sales rep after a couple of days battling the “home office” and their quirky rules.
I no longer have to look up vocabulary and practice phrases before I go to the doctor or vet or hardware store. If the shopkeepers dare to give me lip, or sneer or roll their eyes (not likely) when I order or have a question, I can easily give it right back to them using adult words, not toddleresque French or tears. If I order a vegetarian meal, no one looks at me like I am an alien with two heads. Everyone here knows what quinoa and chia seeds are and how to pronounce them correctly, and I have found mean-lean-green juice on offer on more than one menu.
The postwoman is super pleasant and super efficient. There are even these nutty grocery workers called baggers, who are actually trained to carefully bag your precious food items instead of throwing them down the conveyor belt as if they were bowling for bucks. Xcel, the Colorado version of EDF, will cheerfully let you and your family light up and heat your house after a simple 2-minute phone call without even considering asking you for proof that you have a bank account or a signed lease. The water meter man is free to stop by whenever he likes and doesn’t need you to stay by the door all morning long, meter reading in hand.
Yep. Life is easy peasy, nice and breezy in the U.S. of A.
So why do I miss France so much?
Would it be masochistic to say I miss the challenge? That I miss not knowing what to expect? That I miss being kept on my toes and discovering new people, places and things every day? There is something to be said for being the odd-(wo)man-out, and for the strong friendships forged as you struggle together against the tide.
I do miss the myriad of cultural offerings, the artisanal bakeries, the Seine, my vélib and feet as my sole source of transportation and our cozy apartment life where it was harder to hide behind closed doors. I miss the architecture and human-made splendor, the tiny cars, my Pilates studio and the French dedication to esthetics, beauty and perfection. I miss fantastic window displays and spending the afternoons licking them. I miss being around people from all over the globe with different ideas and realities. I do NOT miss being from the “greatest country in the world”.
I do miss making mistakes and being forced to learn new things and being forced to live. I miss the tiny triumphs of simply making it through the day or even just making it through an hour. Am I crazy to miss the bustling city vibe of that big, but small foreign town that I called home for three years? Maybe I am crazy, but still, I miss the smells, the sounds, the days, the nights, the tastes and textures, the language, the laughs, and those yummy French leeks. Of course I miss my sparkling tower. Mostly I miss my friends.
I have gone from a humming city of 2.34 million, to a teeny town of 19,186 folks, living their straightforward lives and cowboy dreams.
I suspect that this transition will continue to be tough, but it is a First World problem, and I am determined to spin it in a positive direction. We all have our Punxsutawney Phils and never-ending Groundhog Days, and I have promised myself to try to see my old life with fresh eyes and not fall into a rut or take the easy path.
Please check in as I figure out small town life and empty nesting, try to come to grips with American values and politics and hopefully find a little bit of la belle France in Colorado.
Lovely post. Can’t wait to hear more.
Thanks Deb. I am looking forward to seeing you and reading you. Do send a link to your latest words and awards, s’il tu plaît.
Ah, Nancy, I think your comfort zone has changed 🙂 It’s always weird to come back from a long time away and know that we have changed but the place we left has not. And I think a small part of us does not want the place we left to become comfortable again – otherwise we might as well have never gone to France 😦
I feel for you. Have a glass a wine, close your eyes and pretend you are lying on the grass in the Champs de Mars.
Hi Melinda. Thank you for the encouragement and empathy. So worried that I might lose all that I have gained.
I would like to be walking one of your glorious walks in France, but will make do with a climb through the neighborhood this morning, and try to find something I’ve never noticed before. 🙂
I recently returned home to the east coast of the US after living in the south of France for the past year and I can completely relate to everything you’ve said!! Its a tough process & I wish you ease during this transition time.
Hi Kristin. Thank you for the comment and empathy. Re-entry is a bitch. 😦 I’m looking forward to having the time to read stories and blogs like yours to see how others cope with reverse culture shock and reinvent themselves. 🙂
Welcome back to blogging Nancy – a beautiful post and a very honest appraisal of what it must be like going back “home” again after living “abroad”. I can quite understand all the mixed feelings having moved around a fair bit myself (though once we moved from the UK we have never lived back there again though have made frequent visits). I always find it weird how when I go back to the Uk it’s like I never left, then I come back here to Perth Western Australia and can’t imagine being anywhere else. I feel like I have 2 lives in some respects and now with my younger daughter living in Europe I’m a bit torn in 2 – 1 daughter and her family here, my other daughter over there! Look forward to reading more of your lovely posts and hope you find the writing cathartic 🙂
Thank you for the warm welcome and kind word. It felt very good to write again.
You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned feeling like you have two lives. That’s exactly it, isn’t it? How are you managing with your daughter so far away? The time difference is difficult. My oldest is in London for the next three years, and the 7 hour difference is very tricky. Bon courage to you too.
Hi Nancy thanks for your reply to mine and sorry haven’t replied to you earlier! I’m in the midst of spring cleaning and household projects to take my mind off Mlle’s departure! It is tricky and I’m just in the process of adjusting. Even though I have a busy life it’s definitely a transitional time. I felt so bereft the first few days after she left, but once she made contact and I knew she’d arrived safely I felt better. At the moment she’s travelling in Portugal and Spain (according to her itinerary) and so we can’t Skype like we could when she was with relatives in England. She sounds to be enjoying herself from her facebook status updates (last heard of sampling wine and olives in Porto!).Skype is wonderful and both myself and my husband have used this to keep in touch with our respective families over the past few years. With my dad we’ve made a set time each week as it works well for him (being 81!). I also have to deal with a 7 hour time difference but the other way round to you so I find late afternoon here is a good Skype time as it’s just after breakfast time in the UK. Once Mlle arrives back in London the week after next, we’ll set up regular chat times. But yes the “two lives” is a good analogy and one that we have to manage! Has your daughter already left for London? It’s so exciting for our kids to be branching out on their own but it is an adjustment for their parents! Thanks for your kind words and “bon courage” to you too. Look forward to reading more of your writings 🙂
Hello. I’m just checking back in. My readjustment continues to be difficult. I didn’t count on being so depressed and adrift. I can’t figure out where I fit in or where home is. I hope you are doing better with your daughter’s big move. 🙂
So sorry to hear that Nancy and apologies for not replying sooner – I’ve only just checked back in to my blog today too. Sometimes it does take time to manage an adjustment such as a big move and I can quite understand that you’d be feeling a bit low for a while. Since I’ve moved around a fair bit I always take the view that ‘home” is where I am at that present point of time and that can help to integrate the different heritages that I have (an English/Australian blend now with a strong affinity for continental Europe). I am coping better with my daughter’s move mainly because I’ve thrown myself into projects here. I’m missing her a lot but we do speak regularly on Skype. Also we’ve just booked to go over to the Uk and Germany (Munich and Bavaria) again next March so I guess that really helps to have that to look forward to (I know I’m lucky to be able to do this). Hopefully you will start to feel better soon and can make some plans for the future – maybe some further travel or some more writing? Empty nesting is a difficult time too and it sounds as though you’ve been hit with a double whammy with your daughters leaving home and a big move across continents all at around the same time. Don’t berate yourself for feeling down, spoil yourself with some treats and hope you start to feel more like yourself very soon! Keep blogging too! 🙂
How are doing Nancy? Hope you’re starting to feel a bit brighter 🙂 I like the slide show of your French posts at the top of your blog – it’s very effective and means it’s easy to read the back issues so to speak! Hope you have an enjoyable weekend 🙂
Thanks for sharing what is in your heart. Beautifully said.
Merci Mel. It felt good to pour it out and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) again. I am missing so much about France and about blogging. I need to start reinventing myself again. x
Groundhog day is a great analogy – it’s like being in a parallel universe. You made me laugh and left me with ‘un pincement au coeur.’ Keep us posted on your new life!
Salut Mel. So lovely to hear from you. I miss my fellow bloggers. Also I love that phrase: “un pincement au coeur”…a pinching of the heart, a pang of sadness/regret…perfect summation of how I am feeling…just maybe un peu plus d’une pincée. I am looking forward to catching up with you and your take on life in la belle France. 🙂
Glad you are back writing. I am sure I speak for many of your followers when I say we missed you!
Merci. What a nice thing to say. I have missed daily blogging even though as you know some days it can be a bit of a chore…certainly not for the faint of heart! I am very much looking forward to reading the last two weeks of your adventures in France and staying connected with life there.
When I moved back to the US years ago, I remember feeling the same terrifying feeling of “losing” the essence of who I had become from my wonderful experiences in Paris and knew that it would all someday be a distant memory: this is what inspired me to write my book “Solitary Desire – One Woman’s Journey to France” Re-entry is so easy and difficult at the same time – bonne chance!
Salut Kim. Great to hear from you. Reverse culture shock is so surprisingly difficult.
I just ordered your book on Amazon…very excited to read it and be inspired to continue following my dreams. 🙂
Merci – c’est gentil – Bon courage!
Re-entry is so disorienting – Thanks for the reminders of things to be grateful for and things to look forward to. In the meantime – the present moment is about all we need to be dealing with, I guess. You already carry the best part of Paris with you – the feelings. We don’t remember weeks, or days, or even hours – at the most – we remember moments and how we felt. That abides with us always. Miss you –
Hi Andrea. I miss you too. I am trying to be in the present moment in Colorado, but still struggling with how to just “be” in my old life. The old-Colorado-Nancy no longer exists, so I am trying to find the energy to forge a new path and figure out how to live with one foot in both worlds but still create a new world. Would be so nice to sit down and have a café noisette and figure out the world together! x
Good to read you again. I have been wondering how the repatriation was going. I am not looking forward to ours as I know I will go through the same feeling even if I am going back to a much larger city than yours…Good luck with the readjustment…and looking forward to reading more from your experience. (Suzanne)
Hi Suzanne, so lovely to hear from you and others from my French life. Repatriation is not easy, that’s for sure. I am looking forward to reading what you and Pierre have been up to over the last 2 weeks. I know you will enjoy every minute of your last year in France. I’m excited to read what it brings.
Good to hear from you again, Nancy. Very open, honest and touching account of how you are adjusting to the reverse culture shock. I like your positive attitude. It is your positive attitude that made your experience in Paris so great and it is your positive attitude that you help you readjust back in the U.S. of A. Keep it up and keep in touch. Miss you!
Hi Sylvia. I miss you too. Have you hosted the first cooking class of the new year? Please put my name down for the November date. Will be so great to all be together again. I am trying to keep a positive attitude and to figure out what my next move is and to keep Paris-Nancy alive and well. Slipping back into life in the US has been too easy, and I don’t want to lose what I gained while in France. Looking forward to catching up soon. x
Ah, I’m so glad that you’re back in circulation and I’m sure that I’m not the only one who’s been missing you; but I imagine that you might have been just the tiniest bit busy.
I can imagine how you are feeling being separated from France but you will have your memories for ever. In the meantime you clearly need a new project, so roll up your sleeves and get to grips with something that will challenge you for a while. And of course blog about it.
Hello Sixwheeler, thanks for checking in and the warm welcome back. I do need a new project. First I need to get my youngest settled in college in the Big Apple, but then I am ready to roll up my sleeves, do something new, blog about it, and hopefully make a little money. Any suggestions?
What a wonderful post, it is lovely to have your blogs again. I do feel for you, once we travel we are never the same and we do not see and feel things in the same way, but we never loose what we have gained.
The coming back to an “old life” presents many challenges but you have a marvellous opportunity to explore another part of you, take a little time to find the new passion or challenge that can connect the french you with the new USA you and you’ll find your way. But remember not to be too hard on yourself as you walk along the path, and do keep writing!
Hello. Thank you for the touching and kind comment. As I head into week three, I’m still feeling a bit overwhelmed and honestly just numb. It scares me that France seems so unaccessible. My first priority is to get my youngest off and settled at college in October, and then start thinking seriously about what’s next for me and Superman. Thanks again for checking in and leaving such a nice comment. Keep checking back, s’il vous plâit. 🙂
Beautifully written, heartfelt, true. Looking forward to reading your future posts. Bisous!
Thanks Silvija, so nice to hear from you. I’ve been thinking of you as the girls go off to college. New times ahead for us both, non? Looking forward to catching up with you guys on the East Coast when we are out visiting. Big hugs. x
You are back!
Was beginning to worry about you
that must have been some serious culture shock for you..
we are currently outside a restaurant in Argeles-sur- Mer enjoying a cafe gourmand and dreading going back to UK on thursday to watch our three hundred year old alliance with L’Ecosse tear itself apart with no proper plan or infrastructure in place.
That will just about kill sterling and wipe out any chance of paying the plumber!
Hi there. Thanks for checking in. I have been experiencing some pretty overwhelming reverse culture shock and still wondering where this old, new life in the USA will take me/us. I am watching the Scottish vote with great interest. My daughter went to the University of Glasgow and I have very fond memories and relationship with some wonderful Scots…some for, and some against independence. Chin up. It’s not over until the Fat Lady sings.
Well put! You’re not alone in your feelings. I’m glad you’re not going away, as I selfishly enjoy reading another gal’s (well-written) similar experiences. You always make me laugh, too :0) (And, Groundhog’s Day is *such* a good movie!)
I feel like I have gone away. I mean, I literally have gone away, but I didn’t realize how quickly my French life would vanish…gotta figure out something new. Thanks for the nice comment!
Great that you came back. I think it will be really interesting to read your stories. 🙂
Thanks. I am trying to get my mojo back. Feeling a bit down in the mouth at the moment as I try to readjust to suburban America. It ain’t easy after 3 years in Paris. Thanks for the follow and for commenting.
Have been thinking of you – your town is smaller than mine but I think there are similarities, (certainly to my previous town 3,000 people way-out-west) – tell me, did anyone actually say “Oh have you been away?” .. that’s a good one!!
The best thing is your photos – you can do a lot of re-living by “working” with them!! And all those images sounds smells tastes are still there, in your head at least!
I so hear you, as do probably many returned expats… and could have written a similar story in 2006 when we returned to our little island of 5000. As much as I missed Paris, I was also ready to be closer to land, nature and a garden… which I did for a few years before getting another itch. After almost three years in Hamburg, I was really ready to call USA home again.
When I read through your posts and give advice to friends traveling to France, I still get pangs and imagine a month long visit someday again. But I’m not sure if I could muster the emotional and financial strength to move countries ever again.
Best wishes to you and I’ll look forward as well to hearing about your transition. cheers, wendy
Great post! I can’t imagine what it would be like to return to the US. I know life would be much easier, but like you, I would miss the challenges of speaking another language and figuring out how everything works.
If you start to forget your French life, you can just read through your blog posts to bring back the memories. It was a really great idea to start your “365 Things” posts. Thanks for sharing your vision of France with us.
I’m sure you will soon find your feet in your “new” environment.
All the best to you. ~Margo
I read this when you posted it and found it actually very moving. Honest, of course but moving in that you so clearly want to keep the girl you found in France. You will, you will and I will enjoy reading your posts as your transition the new girl back into the old life.
I saw you came over to our blog recently so I thought of checking to see if you had posted anything new…I do hope that by now, things are getting better for you.
I expect we will have the same “depression-like” feelings when we get back which will be sooner than we had hoped. We are moving back in early January (5 months early) and we will hit the heart of the Montreal winter (not something we are looking forward to!). We have one more trip coming up and then we will spend December in Paris trying to cram as much as we can before we go. Good luck with the readjustments. (Suzanne)
I’m very sorry to hear that you will be leaving France earlier than expected. What a blow. This repatriation thing is not easy. I’m still struggling to find my voice and identity in this next phase of my life. And at the moment my hubby and I seem to be on very different plains.
I am currently in Paris for a visit with my daughter and my dear friends (I miss my friends most of all,,,and the gorgeous city).
I know you will make the most of your last precious months. Big hugs! Nancy
We are indeed taking advantage of our last few weeks in Paris (the countdown is on – 6 more weeks to go).
I hope your time in Paris was good to you and that you are going to find some balance soon with your life in the US. Sorry to hear that you & your husband aren’t quite on the same page. I am assuming that it isn’t uncommon as each person reacts differently to similar situation. Good luck with everything!
Somewhere (wish I could retrieve where) you wrote you’ll miss being “forced to live.” You said it there, for me. Related: my adorable French friends. Back in NYC for two-plus months after five months in Paris and provinces, GallicFever.com chronicles my collection of the many French culture resources in Manhattan. (Would Brooklyn force me to live? Hm.)
I marvel at the gentillesse of your Coloradans and wish my NewYorkers would compete. I do, of course, know why you don’t miss EDF, et al.
Merci for your belles photos, they can help chase the cafard. (Btw, petite question: I have no pinterest account and am ignorant, so wonder why you don’t want your photos pinned — are pinned photos not credited? If they ARE, is not a broader audience desirable?)
I so identify and wish you bonne reinstallation, bon courage!
Thanks for your encouragement. It’s been a difficult rentree, but I’m trying to make things work. It has been so very sad following the news in Paris over the last week. I’m so proud of all my friends who have marched in the demonstrations. Je suis Charlie–we all are.
Yes the news from Paris has been tragic the past 10 days or so – so very sad. The marches were uplifting to see and a wonderful spirited response. Hope you are feeling a bit brighter about things now Nancy I realise it’s been a tough adjustment for you leaving Paris. I still pop over to your blog to take a look as I only connected with you towards the end and missed a lot of the earlier posts. Warm wishes to you for 2015. As you say we all are “Je suis Charlie”!