Sequel of the last post.
Being abroad means scuttling huge reasons to be alive.
You won’t see your parents age. You won’t see your grand-parents die. You won’t see your nephews grow; You will miss all the births, weddings, miscarriages, break-ups, vibrant beginnings of relationships and dreadful diseases. And most importantly, all that doesn’t have a name – life maybe?
You will watch your kids and parents communicate only via a poor Skype connection.
You will be torn apart. Always. You will hear yourself say absurd sentences like “I can’t go back for your wedding, I already came back for Granny’s funerals two months ago”.
You won’t be here when Sonia’s mother passes away, and the bare thought of it still makes me want to cry. Obviously, had I been in France, I would not have “really” helped Sonia, nothing could have. But at least I could have shared one, or two, or twenty bottles of wine with her, which would probably have helped me get the feeling that I could “be there for her”.
You will learn not to trust the classic “everything is fine”. Very often, not everything is fine, but people will want to spare you, because you are so far away so what’s the point. So you will double-check every piece of information to ascertain that nobody has hidden anything from you and that yes, everything is fine.
Goodbyes will often sound like farewells, especially when said to those who are getting dangerously old. You will wipe away your tears, knowing that you owe this sadness to your sole selfishness.
You will sometimes wonder whether the “experience” of living abroad is really worth all of this: giving up so much love, so many important moments, so many reasons to be alive.
You will never have the answer.
But you will watch on Facebook the skim of what you missed.
When I woke up this morning, my inbox was joyfully clicking because I had just received an email from the “Union of the French abroad”. There was a sexy message inside: “DFAE, AEFE, CFE… news for the French living abroad”. I had also received an email from a good friend of mine, which, as often, contained a glimmering and not-so-true depiction of my life.
From what I can understand, this is what living abroad looks like:
1 be on holiday 24/7, and spend week-ends visiting remote areas and talk to unknown-and-sociologically-fascinating-tribes. Being therefore entitled to utter mesmerising clichés like “progress-leads-nowhere-without-brotherhood-of-mankind” (of course, it works better if you live in Venezuela than the US, but still)
2 have a bunch of fascinating friends. Being therefore entitled to make casual and irritating name-dropping (with my friend Sarah, who is a sculpter from Singapore, and my friend Ioulia, who runs a hedge fund, we were both going to yoga and …)
3 for parents: get bilingual children for free. Being therefore entitled to complain because your little girl mixes up spanish and russian and this is SO annoying.
4 have a huge house, a maid, a gardener. Not being entitled to any complaint, and in particular, avoid saying that you don’t miss Paris and its tiny apartments that remind you of hutches. Even friendship has its limits.
5 as a summary: always have Carrie’s eyes in Sex and the City’s opening credits.
Sometimes, that’s indeed how life can be (except for 4, honestly I haven’t seen any of that). Sometimes not. My post is too long already, therefore I will leave my arguments for future posts, but here is the list already (the psychorigid lawyer in me cannot help writing lists):
1. Being abroad makes you far.
2. Being abroad makes you lonely.
3. Being abroad makes you stupid.
4. Being abroad makes you whiny.
One week ago, I found out about lockdowns.
So a lockdown is a monthly or bi-monthly test practiced by the schools to prepare in case somebody comes in with a machine gun.
The protocol is as follows: all of a sudden, someone screams “lockdown” on the interphone. The teachers run to lock the door. They quickly warn the kids.They switch off the lights. And everybody runs behind the book shelf and stays silent. The classroom cannot be reopened unless the teacher is provided with a series of secret passwords. Therefore usually, the teachers and kids have to stay in the dark for as long as fifteen minutes.
This obviously made me want to cry. Nayla is three. That seems a bit young to find out about mass murder. I shrug, blaming their constant paranoia, but I can’t help feeling a start of panic because – well because it doesn’t seem that unlikely.
A few days later, I talk about lockdowns at Charlotte’s daycare. Her teacher knows: “yes, we do lockdowns here too”. Now I just laugh. How can Charlotte and a bunch of one year-olds keep silent for so long? The teacher explains: “we are locked down in the bathroom (behind Charlotte’s classroom). So we just give them our cell phones to keep them busy, and lots of cookies”.
So for Charlotte, lockdown = free cookies + cell phone = Nirvana.
I guess I have a hint as regards how America manages to create IRA generations….
My witty cousin gave me the smart advice to subscribe to Twitter (Mom, if you read this: https://twitter.com/USChapters)
Over the last two weeks, I have spent more time managing to get 7 followers on Twitter, than raising two toddlers who are rocking their terrible two’s. Plus it’s a constant source of stress because followers are apparently hard to catch, but even harder to keep (they look just like bees, foraging all over the place).
Over the last two weeks, I have followed basically everyone, first Benjamin Biolay because ah well, it’s Benjamin Biolay. Then most French newspapers. Then random fashion bloggers. Then random bloggers. Now my poor Twitter account is bursting out of random tweets.
Not sure my nerves will make it till 10 followers.
There are 14 three year olds in Nayla’s class, and two teachers. The first teacher is greek, the second portoricain, and each kid has a different mother tongue. Russian, chinese, danish or hebrew, “you name it”, as they say. I tried to explain the difficulties of bilingualism to the teachers, but they told me they got everything under control.
There are also 14 kids in Charlotte’s classroom, from 1 to 2 years. They don’t really speak. They rather drool, just like zombies,in several languages. The teachers all speak spanish (and most of them don’t really speak English). So during the day, Charlotte is solely exposed to Spanish. It took us 3 months to figure this out. We were stupidely bragging about her future fluent English, and obviously, apart from “papa maman”, her first word was “agua” (amazing: it also works for “jaguar”).
Now that we are perfectly sure our daughters will master geopolitics and contribute to the israeli-palestinian reconciliation from their playground, we can involve them in our racist jokes contest …
OK, so as a preamble. I don’t want to look too excited, but Google Analytics freaking ROCKS.
So I just launched my website. Meaning that after 6 months of playing the guinea fowl / secretive teenager (“I made a website but I’m not gonna give you the address”), I ended up giving the address to my 30 friends. So I have a huge public of 40 people, including friends of friends who will want to double-check that indeed, I have no life.
So as a summary, I ROCK MY NEW LIFE AS A FAILED WRITER.
I purposely omitted to send the link to my grandma, because I was too afraid she would freak out when she would read the word “vibrator”. However I did give the link to my ex boyfriend, because I have always respected his advice, even after we stopped sleeping together.
… have a lot in common:
– red or white brick on the walls
– pretty hearts solemnly painted in your latte by handsome baristas. Unfortunately, I regret to inform you that the handsome baristas don’t look at you before or after they paint the heart so I guess there is nothing personal about it. I was very saddened by the fat and furious customer who received the exact same heart as I did yesterday.
– a passion for pop-rock from the 2000’s (which is great, I stopped pretending I knew anything about music around that period). The playlist is more or less the same from Williamsburg to Wall Street. Mostly the Shins, the old Arcade Fires, and the exhausted Conor Oberst, moaning that “this is the first day of (his) life”. Sometimes, the same song plays twice within three hours.
– clients that are mostly people working on their mac. There seems to be a highly dynamic network of guys working on their mac in coffees, since they spend quite some time exchanging business cards
– a lot of classy tattoos, like tattoos based on the golden ratio (“Have you ever heard about Fibonacci”?) I do have a fascination for tattoos, so I always ask the baristas why they chose this pattern. Lots of tributes to a lost brother or father, but also a huge willingness to visually stand out. And they are always thrilled to talk about their tattoos, so I get a lot of free cookies.
Note, for pure scientific purposes, that out of principle, I have excluded Starbuck from the scope of my study. Which is stupid by the way, nothing is more new-yorker than walking around with your starbuck papercup
A/ I don’t have to pretend that I care about politics in France and THIS IS FREAKING GREAT.
OK, I do look at the headlines sometimes, but noone is going to stress me out with absurd questions like “have you read this article about – insert a subject noone cares about, including me and the person asking the question -” and worse, “what do you think”? THIS IS AWESOME.
B/ I don’t have to pretend that I care about politics in the US because:
– French people are easily fooled by my answers that always include a “hey, I know better, I LIVE there” subtext, even if what I say is a huge commonplace (and it usually is)
– Americans smartly assume that I don’t give a shit.
I have finally read Wednesday Martin’s famous memoir “Primates of Park Avenue”. Her article in the New York Times went viral last year and her book made the columns for months. I didn’t like the book, but I did find some excerpts striking and amusing. Here is a particularly funny one, about auditions of young children at daycare:
Before we got our son in anywhere at all, there were applications and parent interviews and child “playdates” at the schools. The applications were easily procured (…) I scampered across the Upper East Side picking up manila enveloppes for days, then got down to work writing essays about what made my toddler special, what his strengths and weaknesses were, what kind of learner he was. Sorely tempted to write “I really don’t know yet, since he’s two“, I instead banged my head against the wall until I came up with what I hoped were some good-sport responses. Next came the playdates, which I grumblingly referred to as “auditions” because it felt more honest. They were generally scheduled during nap time, unfathomable until you consider that the schools were basically trying to exclude as many “nonsibling” kids as they could. Overtired kid had a meltdown in the play kitchen? Or smacked someone at the craft table? Or just wasn’t paying attention during story time? Better luck at another audition at another school. I will never forget the “playdate” where there was a single desirable toy – a brightly coloured play oven with knobs and lights and buttons – surrounded by a fess other, lesser toys. It was the center of a age of musical chairs rigged by admissions people who wanted to see how a bunch of tired toddlers would respond to the stress of confronting exactly what they were incapable of handling at that point in their development – the need to take turns and delay gratification and manage their own frustration under unusual circumstances. With no reward. (more…)
I find that video so fascinating that I just can’t stop watching it over and over. don’t thank me… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpNnCB4Mvk4.