Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Disclaimer

Occasionally in my comment section I get a nasty little post from someone I have offended. I have either ignored or deleted most of these posts, but I won’t anymore; now I would like to take some time to address these “offended” people and answer some of their questions.

One of the most common questions is, loosely quoted, “If you don’t like France, why did you move here?” My answer to this is probably surprising, but I am not psychic. I had no way of knowing before I moved that I wouldn’t love France once I moved here. I didn’t wake up one day and say to myself, “France, what a horrible country, I think I will move there.” In reality, I don’t think anyone has ever been as excited as I was about the prospect of living in France. I am pretty sure I drove all my friends (and a few strangers) crazy with my constant ecstatic mantra of “I am moving to France,” for four months preceding the move. Even after arriving and realizing my situation was completely depressing, (living in a filthy dormitory in one of the worst neighborhoods in France at the age of 26 with my students, having a roommate after living alone for 8 years, arriving a month too early for a horrible job, not having any of the correct government paperwork because my employer did not find it necessary to inform me what to bring, teaching classrooms full of students who are only in school because they can’t find a job, having no materials to teach with nor any access to books, being ridiculed daily for trying to speak the language, having complete strangers as well as colleagues tell me how horrible and monstrous my country is) I still tried to be positive…for a while. Only a really simple or a really religious person could continue to fool themselves into being positive indefinitely under those kinds of circumstances. Honestly, I have always been a little moody, but looking back, I do not know how I would have lived through the level of depression I was experiencing without my friends here and at home. Unlike most people who move here, I didn’t come because of a spouse or because of an American company or to retire. I was thrust right into a very initially unfriendly French society with only a tiny support group. The only reason I stayed was because I wanted to see as much of Europe as I could and because going back to the States meant having to work 3 or 4 jobs to support myself. And I kept telling myself it surely couldn’t get any worse. Now things are looking up and I expect most future posts to be more positive.

The second most common question is, “If you hate it so much, why do you stay?” I have several different, yet equally good answers for this question. First of all, I have dreamed of traveling and living in different countries for longer than I have dreamed of doing anything else. If I was independently wealthy, I would travel for the rest of my life. Second, going back to working all the time and being stressed about money wasn’t (and still isn’t) so appealing to me; I wanted a vacation from American work and a reprieve from having to decide what I was going to do with my life. Third, and perhaps most importantly, I didn’t want France to beat me. I didn’t want to run home because I couldn’t hack it here. I want to be able to survive anywhere and if I can’t survive in France, what does that say about my personality? And just as an aside, I did not escape a horrible country. I didn’t leave the U.S. because I had a problem with it. I love my country. I was in the military for 8 years because I felt it was the only real way I could repay the good fortune of living in a country so incredible. My country is pretty amazing and I know I am going back to it eventually. I want to experience other cultures, even if I don’t like them, in order to enrich my futures experience in my country. I love being an American and all the naysayers who think I am being cheesy, go live in Mexico or in an African country where you are lucky to live to the age of 35. Also, a large part of me wants to be able to go home and honestly say, “Yes, the French are odd and they have strange ways and strange cultural habits, but after you get used to them, you can really begin to appreciate their culture.” I don’t want to go back to the U.S. with the idea that France is the bottom of the barrel, so to speak.

The third question I hear a lot (and this one puzzles me quite a bit) is, “Why did you move to a country if you can’t speak the language?” I find this question especially annoying because people move to countries everyday without knowing the language. Half of my family emigrated to the U.S. without knowing English; my friend is teaching in Japan and he didn’t know the language when he moved there. For those of you who ask this question, I have some questions for you. Where is your sense of adventure? Do you have any? Do unknown situations terrify you? Yes, it scary and sometimes dangerous not being fluent in French, but that is part of the adventure. I get to learn something new and exciting everyday. When was the last time that has happened to you? Can you remember the last time you knew every time you walked out of your house, you would learn something new, useful and fascinating? It is like being a kid all over again. It is an amazing and humbling experience and if I get the chance to move somewhere else and do it all over again, I will consider myself lucky. My only regret is that I don’t have the time, energy or money to take proper lessons. Most of my knowledge of French is from books, my friends or just random conversations with people.

And finally, since I am on a sort of make-shift soap box, I would like to remind folks the name of this blog is “Angela in Europe.” I created it; it’s mine. If I want to rant and rave and curse, it is my prerogative. It is the only place I can be completely self-centered without feeling guilty. There is no clause on blogspot that says posts have to be positive. I write about my experiences as I experience them. It is a semi-personal diary of my life in Europe, for me and the people I care about, people who I can’t contact often. They don’t even have to read it if they don’t want to, that is everyone else’s prerogative. I never said this blog was going to nice or fair; I just wanted a self-entertaining way to write about my experiences, post a few photos and keep in touch with folks. I am not a journalist, nor have I ever wanted to be one. I don’t even have to write about the facts; I could make up a bunch of nonsense if I want to (although I don’t) and nobody can stop me. I love writing and I miss it terribly. I am not talented enough to write fiction, but I am pretty good at academic writing and this blog fills the hole I have now I am no longer in school or actively trying to publish things. And I would like to point out, I have a readership of about 10 people I know and 10 people who I have “met” on the internet. As much as I appreciate these people and their comments, 20 people hardly make for a large audience.

The fact of the matter is, some people are “touched” by madness and I just happen to believe I am “touched” by a bit of the bizarre. Strange things always happen to me and around me and I find them amusing. Most of the stuff I put on here makes or will make me laugh in the future, even if it does sound horrible in print. I do enjoy poking fun at French people and French culture as I experience it and I will continue doing so. People say funny things and lousy things about Americans everyday and I just laugh or deal with it. So for those Frogs I offend by pointing out the bizarre, foolish or maddening aspects of your culture, get over it, or (and this might be a revolutionary idea) stop reading this blog.


cara said...

ha! good for you angela. well though out points that should get the naysayers thinking. well i suppose if they were thinking in the first place, they wouldn't have naysayed in the first place.
i'm really glad that things are looking up for you now.

Angela in Europe said...

Hey cara, have you popped yet? I read your blog last night and didn't see anything new.

Lotus Reads said...

Angela, you go girl! This is a well-thought out and articulate post and although France hasn't been a bed of roses, by not running away I think you've shown everyone you've got both guts and determination. And about being "touched" by a bit of the bizarre, it sure makes life interesting, doesn't it? ;)

hellomelissa said...

*loud clapping noises behind my comment*

you told 'em, and you told 'em well. i'm inspired by you, your life, and your post. thank you!

Julie said...

Write about whatever you like, girl. Obviously you have people interested in reading what you have to say.

Pardon My French said...

I think the "Why did you move there if you don't speak the language" question is particularly bizarre, since that's exactly what you need to do to really be able to learn and speak a language well. Pimsleur tapes are nice, but they don't quite cut it.

I laughed out loud at your "France, what a horrible country, I think I will move there" comment. A couple of my friends and I have been talking about the whole lack of a welcome wagon thing that happens here when people first arrive. It's really a 'figure it out yourself' kind of an experience, especially if you're on your own.

Matt said...

I like the idea of someone saying 'if you don't like france why don't you leave'. These same people could be told to not read your blog if they don't like it.

I enjoy your diary- I particularly like the truth in it. We all have romantic ideas of Paris but the reality can't be as ideal as our imaginations want it to be. It's good to see the warts with the beauty.

Expat Traveler said...

Well I think those stupid people who comment these comments probably don't live in europe or havent been exposed to knowing what it's like to not speak or understand the language (I have for sure - try speaking Welsh!)

Although I didn't have any trouble while living in France, I mostly felt way more comfortable in Switzerland and hated French Burrocracy...

Ok - that's it from me, but you are right, it's your blog, do what you want! ;-)

Rebecca said...

I loved that post. I hate it when people make really facile comments like "just give up and go home then" - I get it all the time.

Meet up again soon for drinkies?

Take care and speak soon

Jules said...

I have to say when I first started reading your blog several months ago I thought wow what a moron. How could you live in Paris and bitch about it? I also thought if you were so miserable, why not just go home? However, I kept reading and as I got to see your life more clearly I can understand why you stay and what you get out of it. And you are absolutely correct, it is your space and you should continue to say whatever you feel. I find it refreshing and honest.

Poppy Cede said...


Angela in Europe said...

Lotus, Hello Melissa and Julie-Thanks, I appreciate the support.

Pardon-I am not glad you didn't get the welcome wagon, but I am happy to hear I am not the only person who feels/felt that way.

Matt-Thanks, although my blog isn't the best way to see Paris. I do tend to write when I am angry.

Expet-Ah, French public offices are hell, hell, and more hell for everyone.

Rebecca-Are you as busy as I am?!

Jules-Stick with your first impression. I always find first impressions are the best.


Cecile said...

I am sure most of the people who asked you these stupid questions don't even know how it is to be "the foreigner" in a country and how hard it could be.

And I can't believe people left you comments about how bad your country is.. after all that's one of the most amazing countries in the world.. what do they know!?