For a good year, I told people about my move to France. I should’ve shut up more, because I’m here, in France, and just booked my plane ticket back home. I’m visualizing a pie chart of how much of my conversations were about moving to France. It was definitely two-thirds of the damm pie towards my departure. There are other French themed pie charts too, like the time and money spent and the time and money I have left. How much of my diet consisted of bread. Okay days vs terrible days. How much shame I feel. Moving to France took a lot from me, and now I wonder what remains.
The threat of foreign language requirements for university was well broadcasted during junior high and high school. Most Washington universities require two years, but I loved Spanish and took it for four in highschool. Though, during the fourth year I got cold feet. It’s not that I stopped loving Spanish, but French had that goofy, artistic x-factor that hopeless romantics like myself fell for. And also, just a pet peeve, in Spanish I always preferred the pronunciation of feminine words. I wanted to be called perezosa y gorda, not perezoso y gordo. The masculine and feminine forms in French sounded equally badass. Le petit danseur, la petite danseuse. Acteur, actrice.
I took Introductory French at community college instead of my university campus because I hopelessly thought tuition was charged by class, rather than a range of credits. I thought choosing classes was like online shopping. Madame George taught the one and only French Ⅰ class at 8 am with a strict absence policy. Students were allotted one freebie and following absences reduced your overall grade by 5%, but that was okay. I knew I already loved French. And this is when the francophone powers at hand incepted the idea that one day I could live in France.
Living in a foreign country. Escaping to a foreign country. Escaping to France. Goodbye America you healthcareless shit-hole. Clout. Major clout. French bread! French guys?
There is the “flee religious persecution and death” end of the spectrum and whatever I just wrote. And those are shallow excitements, but I wasn’t excited for my post-grad future. So I imagined what it could be. I kept on taking French classes and learned about the TAPIF program. Teaching Assistant Program in France. The accepted half of the 2000 applicants are sent all over France and French speaking territories to teach English part-time. Qualifications included recommendation letters, French proficiency, and 3 years of higher education.
The TAPIF contract is from October to April 30th and there are ways to stay in France longer. For example, an applicant could apply for grad schools during their stay, switch to a student visa, graduate, then find work within the one-year grace period. Applicant finds a marketing job in south France and obtains the gilded, renewable work visa. Applicant visits the states in August to catch up with Washington friends and family. They are impressed. Applicant is fulfilled. And a know-it-all.
The applications for this current 2020–21 circuit were available in October 2019 and I turned mine in during the February 2020 deadline. Results are usually announced in April, but a dramatic bat caused some delays. I learned of my acceptance on June 23, 2020.
From then on, conversations tapered into, “but it doesn’t matter you’re moving to France,” or, “dude I’m so jealous you get to leave this shithole.” Those conversations were neatly bowtied by the possibility of me going to French grad school. I was in the process of creating a new path for my life, and I kept on telling myself that what counts is making a path. It didn’t matter where I was going, I just had to go, and this path was nice and shiny, people were cheering me on, telling their own regrets of travel. I still had my personal reasons to go to France. It’s fun to lose yourself to a different culture, especially the bread and cheese parts. France is old too. The haughty French stereotype makes sense when the history of one’s country is so physically prominent and beautiful. There is so much to be proud of as a French citizen. I walk to buy kebab and a classic 17th century catholic church is always in plain view. The school where I work is one-upped by the large castle estate that preceded right next to it, and tomorrow I will walk to school again, in awe of the castle, and feel shame for wanting to leave such beauty that requires privilege I’m lucky to have in the first place, resulting in even more shame for wasting it. It’s tempting to lie to myself based on the hard facts of what I see, eat, and hear, everyday, the sweet-sounding French language and the food I could never get in the states, though eventually, I got used to those things. And I began to wonder why I appreciate them in the first place versus how a French person would. Do I truly love the architecture, or am I just refreshed from the break of strip-mall America? Do I even care about architecture? What makes a dream country a dream country?
I arrived in France in mid-October 2020. It was my first time in Europe. I think the beginning was my favorite part, because up until now I’ve glossed over the covid issue. During my first two weeks the French covid restrictions were manageable. The enforced curfew started at 8 pm, restaurants and bars were still open, and of course port du masque obligatoire. For as much as my demographic loves to shit on how America handles covid, they would’ve been perhaps pleasantly surprised by the dirty dining and wining in France. The French public diligently wears masks on the streets, but the second we’re in the cafe, it’s masks off, shoulder to shoulder during the rush hours, with no regard to the occupancy limits back in Washington. I was in shock, but I can’t blame the French public, their food is to die for. So it was less of a surprise that France reentered lockdown after my first two weeks.
The biggest mindfuck was having to fill out a time-stamped digital form every time I left the house which had a list of deemed essential activities limited to one hour. Walks to take in “fresh air” were deemed essential, although the one hour limit canceled any relaxing aspect of an after-noon stroll. I was prematurely convinced that this covid hiccup wouldn’t affect my idea of a French life, of French Evan, this was going to be the perfect time to learn more French and focus on my English teaching. In fact, before coming to France I entertained the idea of being an ESL teacher. Maybe I wouldn’t enjoy France, no sweat, I could teach in South Korea.
People think they know themselves only when they are happy, and I was happy getting ready to live in France. Thus, the knowledge of how to make yourself happy is sacred, because with this we supply ourselves with the starting points of a future. And as I became depressed in lockdown I could not recognize that being in France was not making me happy. My memories began to become tinted with calculations of their importance. I couldn’t go back home, I couldn’t give up, for then how would I remember driving to Introductory French exhausted each morning and then finding no parking for university class afterwards? How would I remember flying to San Francisco just to make a 20 minute appointment for my visa? I gripped these memories tight in my fist, as if the tighter I clenched the more I would understand that I needed to stay in France. I was obsessed with completing this arc of my life like hate-watching a show because the ending demands so.
“Je vais vous prendre une baguette, s’il vous plaît.”
As the woman hovered her hand over the basket of baguettes I mentally pleaded for the least browned one. She grabbed the one next to it without looking and plopped it into a paper bag.
“Ça sera tout?” She asked. I looked at the croissants. Every bakery in France was glorious, so the deciding factor of where to buy a pastry was rather a question of when, because ultimately the freshest goods tasted the best. It was 5 pm, the walk home after work.
“Et aussi un croissant s’il vous plaît.”
I paid the woman 2 euros and it was another 5 minutes before getting home, enough time to eat the stale croissant.
The baguette’s paper bag had advertisements for real estate agencies. I imagined that there must have been at least one person who bought a house this way, a long-winded series of butterfly effects that included a hungry customer looking at the baguette ad and realizing, “Today is the day I sign the deposit.”
Washington should put vitamin d supplement ads on drip coffees, the weather there, like in Gouvieux, was perpetually grey, and like with every winter I divvied up the amount of depression that could be attributed to the lack of light. But it didn’t matter because vitamin d supplements weren’t sold in the pharmacies and this particular feeling was less “winter blues” and more bear trap. I somewhat envied those who knew how to have a good time with only a bottle and four walls, the wine in France tastes like wine, and alcohol as a whole was not an attractive option. “Weed is illegal in France,” I was told when mentioning the possibility of sharing an imaginary joint the one time I was around people my age. But I subconsciously found a method to help with existing in France.
I was in the kitchen with my baguette and decided that slicing it required too much additional energy, so I wiped butter onto it between taking bites. Teaching English was exhausting. I formed a newfound respect for educators and quickly decided this career path was unsustainable for me, at least for primary school. The kids were adorable but sapped the living force out of me similarly to when I served tables. Constant attention and vigilance was necessary. Be quiet! I will wait until you are listening. Repeat after me. I was an average teacher. I had fun concepts and games but failed at maintaining a classroom environment. I noticed that some teachers taught so effortlessly, commanding a level of respect that required low energy to enforce. By now the baguette was almost gone. I highly recommend simple carbohydrates on an empty stomach in the absence of sleeping pills or Xanax. I quickly became more tired, enough to lead me to bed and knock out, the break from feeling trapped.
The lockdown had ended and a 6 pm curfew was installed to unsuccessfully curb the growing cases. News of a third lockdown was imminent. I had little to do, so I settled for eating baguettes and letting their high glycemic index sedate me. There were people who had it worse, and telling myself that made me feel better for five minutes. There were also people in my program that were happy, enough to begin their application for renewal. A stinging reaffirmation that maybe this wasn’t for me. I was depressed and it was noticing my bread habit that really sealed the conclusion.
Finishing that particular baguette made me realize, “Today is the day I decide to go home”.
There is no such thing as a dream country, but definitely a dream vacation. I’ll return to France for a summer retreat once covid calms down. A dream country implies that stepping in it will solve problems that otherwise couldn’t be. When they weren’t resolved for me, I learned bittersweet lessons about myself. It is said that memories are constantly reinterpreted and thus recalled details are inaccurate. But what about feelings? I am going to stop tarring my memories of getting ready for France with bitter thoughts about sunk cost or effort exerted, because no matter what I think, I was deeply happy and excited in those memories. I timidly say that as a cold fact. A happy memory with an ex, for example, is still happy, and that’s why it hurts so much when it ends. I want to honor my past self with the vulnerability of letting him stay true. Also, I feel grateful to have mourned “French Evan”, because without the chance to do so I would’ve tortured myself until I died. It’s strange because despite not getting the end goal of what I expected, I’m thrilled to take aim at different dreams. It’s okay to not want, and I encourage experimentation. Sometimes it’s about how to die easier.