I never thought I’d be one of those college kids who comes back from studying abroad a pretentious asshole. Now that I’m well-travelled and on my way to complete bilingualism, I can look upon my native land with a fresh pair of eyes and say: Europe changed me.
I’ve been home for three weeks now and I can hear myself saying things like “I can’t drink American coffee anymore” or “American guys don’t do it for me.” Now when I look around, I notice for the first time the obvious differences in fashion tastes and social norms – even perceptions of average weight and how different they are compared to other countries.
I call my poor Frenchman, who often stays awake until the wee hours of the morning (Paris time). We can only Skype right after I get home from work. When I speak to him, I sometimes struggle with phrases that just a few weeks ago came to me so easily. Then when I hang up, I have to catch myself from responding in French to my English-speaking family.
On the plane home from Paris, I read with a heavy heart In Other Woods by Jhumpa Lahiri. I found it incredibly fitting: my Paris was her Rome. I read the English translation, as she had written it entirely in Italian. She describes her struggles with learning the language, the passionate love affair she had with its linguistic complexities. She found the struggle rewarding – something I could certainly relate to.
In the process of language learning, she speaks of exile – the feeling of being alienated from both Italian and English. There are times now that I construct my English sentences the way a French person might have directly translated, and vice versa. I remember a time when fluency in any language other than English seemed like a daunting prospect. When Paris was no more than an unattainable pipe dream.
I’ve lived in the shadow of New York for most of my life. After having lived in Paris for more than four months, it feels more like home than New York ever has. In the mornings I still struggle with my commute into Manhattan. I long for the Paris metro for all if its deficiencies, because those same deficiencies have become so familiar to me.
I miss being surrounded by the French language. I miss the lifestyle, the moderation. I miss the novelty of quotidian life that comes with living abroad. I wish I could walk up to a boulangerie during my lunch break, pick up a sandwich or a baguette. I wish I could still eat refined carbs and forget to feel guilty. I miss la pause; stopping for an espresso instead of scarfing down a cappuccino in the street.
I miss beauty for beauty’s sake. Meticulously framed monuments. French gardens and their unrelenting quest for symmetry. I miss the grands boulevards and winding streets. A French fuck-you to utilitarianism; an appreciation for artistry at the price of convenience, those comprehensible grids and numbered streets.
The French language doesn’t quite have a word for homesick. I have to rely on my native tongue to describe how alien I feel. There’s a pang in my stomach for words I have yet to fully master, for a country that does not yet belong to me.