A little over a month ago I moved from California to France. Whether or not the move is a permanent one is yet to be determined, however, in a literal attempt to liberate myself I sold or gave away everything I owned that did not fit in one of my three suitcases.
Before I left I was eager and entirely optimistic. I’ve wanted to live in France ever since I opened my first Hexagon textbook in second form. I knew then that it was just a matter of time. Time went by and my life went this way and then that until finally the stars aligned and I had the chance to move to Lyon to study for a year with the goal of becoming fluent in French and experiencing a full cultural immersion.
I landed in Paris and checking into my airbnb I was surprised to discover that I had a full view of the Eiffel tower. I couldn’t have wished for a more appropriate welcome to France. My plan was to spend the first three days on a Parisian holiday, a treat to myself after a slightly disastrous end to an intense summer. But my exhaustion from sorting and consolidating my entire life, coupled with a fair amount of jet-lag meant that instead of frolicking through the gardens and boulevards of Paris, I took naps during the day and once the sun went down, sat at a tiny yellow dining table eating bread and smoked salmon and tomatoes while looking at the Tower twinkling in all its glory. Maybe it was the sweet sound of silent that I hadn’t heard in so long but these three days of quietude end up being exactly what I needed.
A quick train took me to Lyon on Thursday afternoon and my program began at once with a welcome meeting and then cafeteria style dinner. For the first three nights we were placed in dormitory-style housing where I shared a small room with another girl. She was nice, but her bed was extremely close to mine. So close in fact that I could hear her breathing and then late in the night her failed attempts to stifle laughter as she watched funny offerings on Netflix.
Three days of various orientation activities went by and then it was Sunday morning and time for me to meet the French family with whom I would live until December.
The Sunday morning when we stood in the lobby of the dorms waiting patiently for our new families I felt like a child again. I thought back to those days at Sunnyside, specifically the end of my second term in Junior 4 when as was customary at the end of the term, parents had to come and collect school reports. Because there was a window of time we never knew exactly when our father would show up and so would wait excitedly and anxiously to see the white van driving up the hill. And then how happy I was then to walk with him to the classroom while glancing smugly at any of the boys in my class who I saw along the way who would stop in their mischievous tracks and stare at me and then up at him with a mixture of curiosity and fear.
Yes, I was in France now, and long past my childhood years, yet the feeling was strangely similar. I was waiting excitedly for my new French ‘parents’. We were all nervous.
What if they didn’t like us, what if we didn’t like them? Do we shake hands, or do the ‘la bise’, or be really American and give them a hug? I chuckled under my breath as I heard the girl next to me lament to no one in particular ‘What if they don’t like me and want to send me away?’
I chuckled not because it was funny but because the night before I had the same thought before I went to sleep.
My family was the second to show up. A man and woman both dressed in all black, walking eagerly as if they knew exactly where they were going. The woman was wearing a black hair band that stood out against her whiteish blondish hair. Her outfit was loose fitting and hung in folds so that I wasn’t sure whether it was a dress, or a skirt, or perhaps a jumpsuit? Three silver necklaces with three silver pendants, one of a globe, one of a skull and the other I couldn’t make out rested at the narrow point of her rib cage Two silver rings on the right hand, two on the left. She wore Doc Marten mary-jane styled shoes. The man kept smiling and based on the pattern of the creases on his face I concluded that it was his default facial expression. He wore a gold wedding band and on his right hand a silver pinky ring with a square shaped black stone embedded. Obsidian? In addition to everything else black he sported a blazer with a crest on the upper left side that wasn’t a skull but reminded me of one. His black sandals the style that is common in little toddler shoes, gave further protection to his black socked feet.
‘Wow, they look really cool!’
I breathed a sign of relief, then continued to stand and wait.
They stood for a while greeting Christine, the director of my program and asking her questions about some forms they had filled out. They talked probably for less than a minute but it felt like a long time to be standing waiting to be noticed. I smiled, I tried not to grin until finally Christine looked in my direction and said ‘Et, voila….’