It has been raining most of the day in Ft. Lauderdale on this day after the Fourth of July (which I took off from blogging duties). While rain here is a tropical affair - with heavy raindrops and long periods of rain - followed usually by strong sunshine - it still reminds me of Paris.
By the time I moved to Paris in 1990 I had visited France many times before on both business and pleasure. I'd always been a francophile and now my dream of living there had actually come true. I can't overstate how great that felt - despite the fact that I cried my eyes out when saying goodbye to family members the day my daughter Jacqueline and I left New York. Leaving was wrenching because it represented a real break in the life I'd lived to that point. I had lived most of my life in New York and had recently been divorced. Now a single mother with a thriving career, I was on my way to something new and exciting.
It was scary too, of course. Change is scary and so is getting something you've always yearned for. You know the old saying: "be careful what you wish for." Well, I got a dose of France in spades! Most people probably know instinctively that visiting a country and living there are two distinctly different experiences. Yet, we can't help but feel that we "know" a place because we've visited it.
Speaking the language was a great help. When you speak someone's language you begin to understand them a little and to really communicate with someone you must commune with them; know where they're coming from. That's easier said than done with the French, though.
My first experiences in the office were fraught with whispers from my colleagues of "why did she [meaning the boss] have to get us an American?" I was an interloper and probably the least favorite foreigner for the French (with the possible exception of Germans): an American. That I knew my job, that I did not seem to be afraid of the boss, that I wore American clothes, all these things were irritating to some of my colleagues.
The culture clash was great and knocked me for a loop; I didn't expect it. I would show up for 10:00 AM meetings at the appointed hour and be the only one in the room. My colleagues would start dropping in at 10:20, eyeing me like I was a madwoman. And the boss, she who'd called the meeting at 10:00, would show up at 10:25. That never ceased to bother me, and now looking back I know I should have just gone with it.
Most of my colleagues wore the monochromatic ensembles that French women loved and wore to the office then (and still do, I know). I was coming from a New York that loved color (end of the 80's anyone?) and it showed. I was always getting snide comments about my clothes.
As we became more used to each other in the office, things went a little more smoothly and I acquired my one true friend there - a young man who took a liking to me and was incredibly patient, kind, and sweet. We became friends and I'd see him and his girlfriend regularly. It was he who taught me all about renting an apartment in Paris, how the utilities worked, banking regulations, immigration issues, and tax filing. He was full of valuable information and he didn't mind sharing it.
While in Paris I also regularly saw French friends that I had acquired during my time in New York. Friends who couldn't wait til I moved to their city so we could do things together. And they were great. Some of those friendships endure to this day and I love them.
Many memories - good and bad - crowd my mind when I think about my time in Paris. I wouldn't trade that life experience for anything. It was also valuable for my daughter, who learned to speak flawless French and who began with me our lifelong passion for going to ethnic restaurants. We dined in Thai, Indian, Chinese and Vietnamese places, not to mention French, on our weekend outings.
But - back to the rainy day in Ft. Lauderdale and why it reminded me of Paris: I arrived in Paris in late August and soon saw the arrival of autumn. New York's a pretty sunny place (or it was then, anyway) in autumn and winter. Somehow I had thought Paris would be the same. Well, it's not. In fall and winter, Paris is very gloomy and I'd go to the office in the dark and by the time I left the office in the late afternoon it was dark again. Not only that, but it tends to be drizzly in the winter time. I actually experienced a sort of sun withdrawal that first year.
By year two, I knew what to expect and it didn't bother me so much anymore. And, not only that, but I became like everyone else in the office: On sunny winter days, all Parisians speak unceasingly about the sun...."Did you see how sunny it is today?" "Isn't it a beautiful day?" and on and on. I would make the same comments. If you can't beat them, join them. And anyway, sunny days ARE noteworthy.
I hope you're enjoying your Fifth of July - wherever you are.