Living happily in our San Francisco bubble, it seemed obvious that our guy would win, but our bubble burst.
In total shock, I looked at my husband and declared, “We can’t stay here. We don’t know anything about this country. We’ve been lying to ourselves. We’re moving to Paris.” And we became those people — those that left America, looking for a more ideal world.
Paris had been my life long dream. I knew when I was 9 that I belonged in Paris. At 15, I became the first member of my family to get a passport. At 16, I spent the summer in France with a Parisian family.
When we married, I was very happy to know that my intended had a French passport thanks to his Parisienne maman, even though he had been born and raised in Montréal. Election or not, we were moving towards that dream; I had established a freelance career that meant I could work from anywhere in the world, he had been lobbying his boss for a European transfer. The next day he went into his boss’s office and asked again.
For Thanksgiving we took the kids on a road trip to Eureka, California, a fogged-in town near lumber mills and pot farms. We stopped at a rest area and my husband took a call. “Yes, uh-huh, yes,” was all I could hear, but suddenly my husband was dancing like Cuba Gooding Jr. asking to see the money. They had a job for him in Paris.
As a French citizen, he was being offered a local package. We would have to forego the luxuries of a true expat job. There would be no paid trips home, no private schools for our kids, no rent for an additional household and we needed to be there no later than Feb. 1. They wanted us to think about it over the holiday weekend, but our decision was already made.
We spent the following month deciding what we had to part with (the piano) what we could store (my grandmother’s china) and what we would have the company ship to us in Paris. On January 1, I flew off to Paris to get ready for our arrival. I visited 14 flats in two days, then spent the remainder of the week camped out at the local bi-lingual school trying to convince them to accept our girls mid-term. On day one, the answer was no, never. On day two, the director asked probing questions, but still insisted it would not be possible. I left her offices on day three with an offer in hand.
French Life Lesson One: The first answer is always going to be no.
I didn’t have the right clothing for the temperatures that plummeted to zero in Paris and I returned to California with a case of pneumonia just three weeks before the big move. The time passed in a blur as I barked orders to movers and friends from my couch.
Lesson Two: Always wear a scarf to be ready for the weather in Paris.
I was really surprised when a close friend assumed a poster would be too large to move, so we should gift it to her. She became one person less for us to be home sick over.
On Jan 31 we boarded a flight. I still had pneumonia, one of my girls had strep throat. The next day my husband had to fly to Germany on his first business trip. Chicken soup became a necessity. I hauled myself to the butcher shop and asked for a chicken. “What kind?” the butcher asked. Kind? There were kinds of chickens? I just needed a dead one, I supposed.
Lesson Three: Even the simplest things were not going to be simple.
I had a huge learning curve to climb. Did I mention I had pneumonia? Crossing the street was exhausting. There was no way I was going to be able to walk down Metro stairs and take my children to their new school. It was physically impossible.
I learned that President Jacques Chirac’s grandson went to the public school across the street from our house. If it was good enough for the president’s family surely my girls would be fine in the local public school. I went to speak to the principal. He insisted my 8-year-old needed to be held back a grade. He had not seen her transcripts, nor even met her, but he was confident that an American could never keep up with the French children, even if she had attended a French school. Three more days of camping out in his office and he still would not consider putting her in the correct grade. In desperation, I asked my husband to visit the principal. He went in a suit and tie. Five minutes later he came out of the school with a big grin on his face. Monsieur Constant had said yes.
Lesson Four: The system is stacked against women in France.
I have lived here for 16 years now and there are still lessons to learn. On the negative side, my grandmother’s china was stolen from the storage facility in California and my husband left me for a much younger Parisienne. Both were devastating to me. On the positive side, my girls have the world at their feet. Their international education has made them comfortable everywhere, with just about anyone. I have become a professional writer and I have found a close circle of friends who love me for who I am, not the posters I have. And I have fallen in love with a Frenchman, promising me a lifetime of lessons.