I'm sure I'm going to get flak for this but what the heck. I've worked on this post on and off for a couple of weeks and at the moment, I've got nothing else to say. So here goes:
American expats are a odd bunch, much more diverse than I might have expected. Although come to think of it, I don't believe I gave a moment's thought to what the American expatriate community in Paris might be like before we got here. Too many other things were on my mind.
But, I suppose if you'd have asked me, I might have guessed that there would be wannabe Hemingways working on never to be published novels in chilly garrets, fashion afficianados worshipping at the source, and junior year abroad girls who found their Frenchmen and never went back home. In fact, I haven't met those folks. Most of the stories are far more ordinary, far less romantic.
Perhaps shocking to those of you out there pining for your time in Paris, not everyone is happy to be here. Some come kicking and screaming, dragged overseas by a spouse's job and the only way they cope is to try to re-create the most loved aspects of their former life and to take as many trips back home as possible. Paris for them is one endless sea of headaches and aggravations, an uphill battle that can only be licked by running away. They can complain (and loudly too) although sometimes they just suffer in silence.
Others have lived overseas in so many different spots that they kind of glide across the surface. A lifetime of foreign postings has taught them to cope by sampling, rather than submerging. They find the things they need to make life meaningful and no need to venture any further. And if your last post was Seoul, and your next one is Dusseldorf, I can imagine that the motivation to be on full absorb mode is pretty low. Why learn French anyway if you're going to be here and gone in a blink of an eye? Americans get lucky because they can get by in English here in Paris. (Although tell that to the Dutch expats. Every one of them I've met is fluent in four or five languages.)
There are the retirees, the undecided (still spending half their time here and half there), the cobbling-together-a-living-however-I-can sorts, and every now and then, the folks who have made their fortunes early and have arrived in Paris, still trying to figure just what they're doing with the rest of their lives.
And then are the self-loathers. Yes, they're happy to be here, blissfully happy in fact. Good for them. They think Paris is divine not just in its own right but in comparison to what they left behind. It's superior in every way to the U.S. where, as they're more than happy to tell you, the food is crap, the people obnoxious, and there's too much focus on commercialism, among other things. Somehow they don't seem to notice that many of those those things can actually be found in abundance in France too -- processed food, cranky people, and a whole lot of shopping at a whole lot of chain stores (many of them French owned and operated). Yes, this is the France of today. Not the France of some fairy tale.
And me? Well, let's just say it was a surprise to find myself overseas and since I know that I'm not in it for the long haul, I'm doing my best to enjoy what's here, endure what's tough, and unravel what I don't understand. No dreams of glory, no pretensions of ever being able to assimilate. Put a name on that if you can.