So, about this time five years ago, I moved to France.
I was so excited to move to France. I’d spent the last year struggling through living in China, getting through the language barrier, adjusting (and not always adjusting) to cultural differences. I was so incredibly relieved to leave Asia and go to Europe. Europe! A land with western-style toilets and mannerisms I could completely understand. I’d spent months agonizing on whether or not I would be selected to go work in France, and the day the acceptance email hit my inbox, I was overjoyed.
It made the last few months in China drag on forever, knowing something amazing was on the horizon, but the day finally came and I left China. A few months later, I was in France.
I’d been to France before, a few times, but I’d never lived there. I’d never been there longer than a few weeks, and never in the same place. I actually wasn’t even worried about how terrible my French might be after a year of not using it. I was lucky; I got my first choice of locations for which académie I would be teaching in. The town I ended up living in was a picture-perfect postcard kind of town.
Living in France is actually much like people romanticize it to be. Despite living le Nord, the weather was good the majority of the time, especially in fall and spring. Cafés dotted every corner, and the town had two places where they had farmer’s markets three times a week. And the best part? Only an hour from Paris. Only half an hour from Brussels! Perfect for the girl who wanted to travel.
In the winter, snow covered everything, just like I’d always wanted to have for the holidays. The only downsides were train delays. The town was small enough that I could walk to everything I needed. At Christmas, I drank mulled wine at the Christmas market in the Grand-Place and watched fireworks over the belfry. In fall, I went to the movie theater and watched The Social Network in French (very hard to understand the first 10 minutes, I’ll tell you. They talk so fast even in English) then sipped coffee and ate a speculoos cookie at a café in the square. In spring, I went to Dunquerque with friends and ate delicious moule frites (mussels and fries, a Northern France specialty).
France was everything I wanted it to be. The work was minimal, leaving me days to travel, which I took full advantage of. Thirteen countries in eight months. Not too shabby. Like anyone else, there were downtimes, like sitting alone on Thanksgiving and eating yogurt. But there were also great times like traveling to London and seeing the Harry Potter stars on the red carpet premiere of Deathly Hallows, Part 1. I met some really great people in France and did a lot of things I’d always wanted to. I’d always wanted to see Prague, so I took a week and went to the Czech Republic. I wanted to see Rome, London, Edinburgh. I saw them all and more I hadn’t planned on. A trip to Vienna turned into dinner in Slovakia.
France was a turning point in writing as well. I made the choice to focus my efforts. How could you not want to write in France? Everywhere you look is beautiful and full of history. Down the street from my apartment were tunnels used in WWII to beat back the Germans. The belfry was built in the 1500s, destroyed in 1914, and rebuilt after the war. It truly is a magical place.
It’s been four years since I came back from France. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Maybe this year is the year.