Whenever I confide in someone that my life-long dream is to live in Paris, sometimes I get really fab reactions from people who "get it" and are inspired by the idea of someone packing up their lives and moving to a foreign country. They think it's a great idea, they wish they could do it themselves, and they all promise to come and visit me. And then there's the other, more predictable response which I get about 70% of the time (said with an incredulous sneer):
Of course, this reaction usually comes from Americans who simply can't imagine that there is anything interesting to see or do outside the U.S. borders. You know the type I mean: the ones who, even if they do travel outside the country, do nothing but complain about why it's not like things "back home" or who spend their time searching out the nearest McDonald's. (Please, folks, if you aren't excited about going to a foreign country to experience something different than you'd find at home, do us all a favor and STAY home - you're making the rest of us Americans look bad.)
I try, really I do, NOT to judge these people. <sigh> In most cases, they know not of what they speak. Most of them have never been to France let alone ever had a conversation with a vrai français... they are simply regurgitating a lifetime of ingrained cultural French-bashing. (Hey, I know the bashing goes both ways and there are certainly those in France who aren't too crazy about us, either.) But I've given up trying to explain myself to these people because often all they want to do is argue with me and be "right" about their point of view about the French. It's a waste of their breath and my energy, because my mind is made up.
I am going to live in Paris. Period. End of story.
Except that this is really only the BEGINNING of the story because I'm not actually living there yet. I haven't even figured out exactly how or when I'm going to GET there. However, this does not dampen my resolve or my obsession with wanting to become an official expat, a world-traveler, and maybe one day even a woman with dual citizenship.
I've wanted to live in Paris since I was at least 13... maybe even before that; but at 13 I started studying French in school. My mother tried to talk me into taking Spanish on the logical grounds that it would be more practical, with more and more Spanish-speaking people in the U.S. But instinctively I was drawn to French, so off I trotted to Mr. Morpeth's first-year French classes. I have to say, he really set the stage for me... had he been a less creative and committed teacher, I might have grown to hate the language - but he made it fun and interesting, even baking us a bûche (yule log) at Christmas.
Perhaps I should admit that what I REALLY wanted at that age was to BE French. Even at that young age I could sense that French women had that something special, and as an awkward, insecure teen I craved that confidence that I thought French women possessed.
I began dreaming of one day being able to actually LIVE in Paris. I saw myself as an internationally famous writer, gliding down a cobblestoned street with a baguette in one hand and a little dog on a leash in the other, looking like Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. (The reality of being a short, rather rounded girl instead of a tall, lean, willowy Audrey hadn't yet sunk in. But for those of you as deluded as I, see "Entre Nous" for more ways to be a French girl when you're not.)
Then, for a long time the dream of living in Paris stayed exactly that: a vague dream in the back of my consciousness. It's something I often thought about but never talked about out loud with anyone. It seemed unreachable, unrealistic, unimaginable. I also put my dream of being a writer on the back burner at the same time. Like many young adults, I became focused on achieving career success and listening to well-meaning loved ones who encouraged me to follow a path that was "secure". For a lot of years, I thought I wanted the great job with the great benefits and the great paycheck that allowed me to buy the great house and the great car, and I got all of that. I also thought I wanted to get married and have kids. That's the world I was raised in... and for a long time it never occured to me to question any of it, because there's nothing wrong with someone wanting that life. When you stop and think about it, that's what MOST people want and how much of American life works.
Well, at 43 (nearly 44) I've finally accepted the fact that I don't want an ordinary life. I am no longer attached to most of the old ideas. I no longer worry about "retirement" because I never intend to retire in the usual sense. I no longer want or need a "job" with a steady paycheck - but that's not to say I don't enjoy having money around; I just have different ideas about how to create abundance. I no longer want to have or raise children - at all - although I love the wonderful children I do have in my life in the form of nieces and nephews. And although it might be nice to be married, and though I certainly want to have a loving man in my life, I'm no longer stuck on the idea that I'm nothing if I'm not married.
What I want more than anything is to EXPERIENCE more of life, more of the world. I want to create a life that is BIGGER than the norm, where I have the opportunity to meet people and go places and experience things that will take me beyond my own back yard. As I near the end of my years, I want to be able to look back and have no significant regrets about not having done things that were really important to me. I want to be someone who is bold, who is able to take chances and willing to experience new things. I want to broaden the scope of my horizons.
For me, that starts with living in Paris. Living in Paris, being one of my biggest life dreams, represents my ability to overcome obstacles, to be willing to stretch far beyond my comfort zone, and to follow through with something I say is important to me. But it doesn't END with Paris... there are many places I would love to visit and experience, and perhaps other places I might like to live in some day. I want to see and do as much as I can fit into the lifetime I'm being given, and I want to write about those experiences and share that with others. Maybe it will inspire someone else to do the same. Maybe my personal stories will simply entertain an "armchair traveler" or two. It doesn't really matter. What matters is that I do whatever I need to do to make it happen.
It's not that I want to run AWAY from my life -- it's not a bad life at all and I'm very blessed in many ways. It's that I am now running TOWARDS my life. I think we all have to decide what our lives are about... and I think mine is about a JOURNEY, both in the literal and figurative senses. I am more into the process than the outcome now.
So stay tuned for more future posts about my journey... to Paris, as a forty-ish single woman, taking a risk, starting a new life as an expat. If you've already done it - I'd sure love to hear from you and benefit from your experience. And if you know a creative publisher of personal experience travelogue books, a great literary agent to represent me, or someone with the cash to sponsor some of my expenses for a full year in Paris... hook me up! Email me or post a comment below.