I’ve only been home for a week and I’m already up to my ears in two questions. How was Paris? and Is it weird to be back? For the record, France was good and it’s weird but nice to be back in the states.
These aren’t bad questions – on the contrary. It’s just that they’re, well, very large questions. Paris was friendlier than I’d expected it to be, Paris smelled like urine, Paris’s air was dirty, but its parks and sidewalks were clean. Paris was exhilarating. Paris was hard and scary and amazing. Yeah, Paris was good. What else is there to say?
As for being home, It’s been surprisingly easy to fit back into my Tacoma routine – hanging out with my mom during the day, running with the dog and driving to Seattle to meet friends in the evening. I’ve lived here all my life, so being home is just like being home. The only oddnesses arise when my mind tries to superimpose Parisian life on Tacoman.
Driving through a parking lot in Gig Harbor a few days ago, I was positive I’d seen a young guy wearing a Front National tee shirt. The Front National, for those who already find Paris slipping away from them, is the right-wing extremist party in France, the one whose chef has been called everything from racist to xenophobic to anti-Semitic.
Mom, that guy’s wearing a National Front shirt, go back, go back! After a furtive circle back through the parking lot, with me hanging out the window with my camera, we determined that he was actually wearing a Sherwin-Williams paint shirt. On second glance, it looked nothing like the FN logo, my mind was just compensating for what I’d expected to see.
Then there was the day I realized I’d bought a shirt in the wrong size – the only problem was that I’d bought it on clearance on a second mark-down. I was ready to just throw it away and go buy a new shirt, but my mom stopped me. What are you talking about, of course you can exchange that. I could hardly believe it. In France, I’d thrown away purses and given away a replacement part of a coffee pot that I couldn’t exchange without receipts or because I’d waited too long to do it. In the U.S., you can take anything back, anytime. I remember once in middle school I’d bought a pair of new white Jack Purcell sneakers from Nordstrom, and worn them for two months before they started to disintegrate. My mom sent me back to the store to complain about the fact that they’d only lasted two months, and I walked out with a brand new pair of shoes. I suppose I’ve gotten used to stricter policies.
A few days later, my mom and I took the dog (Scout) for a walk. After winding our way down by Stadium High School, around Wright Park and down 6th Avenue, we stopped at the Corina Cake Bakery for some pie. Scout is a very small dog, and quite enjoys being carried, so without thinking, I bent to scoop him up, asking It’s fine to bring him in if I hold him, right? Judging by the incredulous look on my mom’s face, it apparently wasn’t. They serve food here. Instead I tied him up outside, but right next to the door so he could peek in at us while we snacked. After about five minutes, an employee went outside to move him farther from the door. The no dogs in restaurants rule should be so obvious – I don’t want to eat next to someone else’s pet, but a year of an anything goes attitude on the pet front has conditioned me otherwise.
Aside from these brief moments of confusion, I haven’t yet felt a real explosion of culture shock. The fact that everyone speaks English here seems totally normal, as did the fact that SeaTac airport customs was crowded with high school students in cut-off miniskirts trying to sneak their duty-free alcohol back into the U.S.
It’s more the little things that, while they don’t exactly shock me, definitely remind me that I’m not in Paris anymore. The fact that I’m now carded everywhere I go, but that bars are required to be smoke-free. That chocolate chips go for two dollars a bag, rather than seven euro, and I no longer have to spend half an hour chopping up Nestlé chocolate bars before I can bake cookies. That it’s okay to venture outside in sweatpants – heck, I could even go out to dinner in sweatpants if I was so inclined. Having a real-life boyfriend, and a car to drive. Not being referred to as Anglo-Saxon five times a day.
Rather than a clash of cultures, it’s hundreds of these little things every day that remind me where I am and where I am not, and make it impossible to decide if I’m happy, sad or “weird” to be back.
••• I’m having a bout of indeciciveness, so if you’ve got the time, check out these new title options and tell me which you like best!