Saturday, January 3, 2009

And Then They Were Gone

It's sounds fun to be an expat, especially one living in France. People imagine the food, the language and Paris as a backdrop to an exotic lifestyle when in reality life carries on here as it does elsewhere, only without the ease of buying Peter Pan and not an Eiffel Tower in sight.

Truth be told, there are times when being an expat really isn't all it's cracked up to be. You're living in a foreign country, at a loss in a new language, unsure of yourself and those around you. It's in the beginning days that the experiences and reassuring words of those other expats who been here become so valuable. They've been here, they've done it, they know what you are going through. They keep you sane. They remind you that it's all going to be ok.

Over the years, I've gone from being the scared newbie to the almost hardened resident, defending the French for their ability to be so different from us non-French. I've met several families who have come and gone during our almost 6 years here and most of them go through the same routine: the fear and excitement in the beginning, the desire to master the language, the thrill of France. They then slowly return to "normal" and live their lives as they can, trying to understand the absurdity of certain French ways, coming to a unsettled peace until they know their time here is dwindling. As BVJC once said, "when they know they only have 6 months left till they go home, they are already across the ocean."

It's hard watching these people who's lives you've witnessed in deepest intimacy start to pack up and get excited about leaving. You continue to worry about what to make for dinner next week while they are scanning house announcements in neighbourhoods you've never seen or visited. Most of the time, I listen and try to help as best I can, but they are already heading to a world I know nothing about and I'm still living here.

Since at least the beginning of last summer, I knew that Miss Tennessee 1975 and her family would be heading back to the US. We chatted about it lightly over coffee, laughed about it with two other families who were also starting their moving back plans, and basically just let it sit like a great big elephant in the corner of the room.

The Tennessees were the first expat family to live so close to us. They had decided in the beginning that they wanted to live outside of the city and try to experience a different kind of expat life that that would offer. It was our luck that they chose the town just down the hill from us.

I can not tell you how many times I stopped at theirs just to say,"Hi." How many times we ended up having pizza with them because we could. How the people in the village knew her as my "blonde American." How nice it was that Hubster and Mr Tennessee had the same job and got along so well. How glad I was to be able to call her when my water broke with Bubba-Love. How glad I was to return the favour when she went into labour with her second child.

Through them, I got to know people from the town that I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet. Through them, I read books I haven't read for years, talked about subjects I thought I knew so much about, and experienced a family that truly lived a Christian life. An eye opening experience for this recovering Catholic-pagan wanna-be and my stoic Agnostic Hubster.

We watched their oldest daughter grow from a beautiful baby laying on a play mat to a fierce and independent 3 year old who headed to her French school each morning completely excited because her school had a bell tower. We laughed over the idiosyncrasies of the French and the language we fought so hard to understand. (Why is a table feminine, someone tell us please?!?)

We got used to them being here.

And yesterday, they left.

With 8 huge suitcases, their two daughters, and more tears than I care to admit, they headed off for the little plane that would take them to Paris and then to the big plane that would whisk them thousands of miles away. We stood in the airport with The Princess, distraught and angry, Mini-Husband, waving as long as he could, and Bubba-Love, who just kept asking where Miss Tennessee was going.

It was a hard drive home.

Yes, the life of an expat is exotic and amazing, just heartbreaking when it's time for those you've come to know and love to leave. I've sworn to Hubster that I'm not making friends with anymore of the short-term families that are coming over. It's too painful. He doesn't believe me though because he knows as well as I do, deep down inside, that this pain isn't because we are expats, it's because we were friends. Very good friends.

The Tennessees are flying miles away from us, over the ocean as I type, and I am going to miss them terribly. I am so glad to have had the chance to be a part of their experiences here and I hope they know that they will always have a place in our hearts and rooms at the Birth Control Bed & Breakfast.


magali said...

Hey Dig,

It hurts so much because you care, and you care because you are a great person.

kissmekaty said...

It sucks being human! xoxoxoxo

Sue said...

I suspect they will hit major culture shock when they return to the chaotic world of modern America. In many ways, rural France is really the way to go. They'll be missing you as much as you are missing them...

Diane said...

Sounds like you have many reasons to get back over the pond for more then five days. South Carolina, Idaho, Maryland: all with folks missing you as much as you miss them.

RHB said...

Thanks for this post. I'm going to miss the days of you stopping by to say hi, me calling you at all hours of the day, morning coffee, and impromptu dinners at my house or yours. We're just going to have to get good at the long distance thing, I guess, because I intend to remain very good friends. :)