Sometimes, I feel weary of telling people that I lived in France. Sometimes, I hate telling people that I lived abroad and that I’ve done a little bit of traveling. Sometimes, the struggle of telling someone that I study French and Linguistics without getting a weird look on the face back is real.
Over the course of the last year since I’ve been home from France, my life in France and my studies ultimately come up. Don’t get me wrong. If anyone asks, I’m happy to share, but something that I’ve come across is the false expectations of what I’m going to say.
People usually have one of two reactions. Either they tell me “wow that’s so amazing. I wish I could do something like that. You are so lucky,” or two, “oh really? (slightly confused/judgmental look on the face) What’s that like?” And then they expect me to reaffirm their stereotype expectations of French people and of France. “French people are supposed to be really snobby right? And they all hate Americans, right?”
Here’s why I have an issue with the first one: Do not put me on a pedestal. If you really want to go to travel and if that’s really been your dream, then stop making excuses and strive for it. I’m just like everyone else that I’ve come into contact with. I’m not special. I just have passions that I worked my damn hardest to chase down. Also, I’m not rich just because I was able to travel abroad. The second time I went, I had to raise money through a Go Fund Me page just to get enough money for my flight alone (I also couldn’t afford to come home for Christmas), and when I got there, my salary was slim pickins man. I didn’t make a lot. So, I had two choices: live comfortably in my small studio in the small city of France where I lived, or live like a broke ass college student so I could take advantage of my vacation time to go travel. And traveling wasn’t easy. You know what I did to make it work? I truly lived like a broke ass college student.
My diet consisted mostly of rice, beans, eggs, coffee, and cereal while I was living in my studio in France.
I wore my clothes until they actually started to smell.
I walked literally everywhere.
When I went out with friends to the bar, I ordered the cheapest drink possible.
When I would travel, I would either couch surf or stay in the cheapest airbnb or hostel.
When I would travel, I would cook at least two of my three meals a day. Eating out was a luxury.
When I would travel, I would walk mostly anywhere unless it was a ridiculous distance.
When I would travel, I would choose the cheapest or free options of things to do in the city, unless it was something I was really intent on doing.
When I would travel, I would never buy extravagant souvenirs. Instead, I would buy cheap trinkets or postcards and then I would journal about my experiences.
I slept on trains, buses, airplanes, and airports, in order to not have to pay for an extra night to stay somewhere.
When I would travel, I would choose the cheapest route from one city to the next, whether that was a cheap-ass airline or a bus that took 6 plus hours to get there.
So, no I was not rich while I was living in France, and no, it was not luxurious most of the time. However, despite the difficulties I faced and the lack of luxuries I lived without, my travels and my time living in France were made that much more amazing. I met a lot of amazing people. I learned how to live more simply. I learned how to appreciate things more. I learned how to enjoy things that weren’t so luxurious. I learned how to deal with tough things, such as sleeping on a cold, hard bench and the pain of the soreness of my legs after days of walking miles on end. I also got to see the cities I visited in ways that I might not have had I traveled luxuriously. So, no please do not put me on a pedestal, and please realize that yes, you too can travel if that’s what you really desire. Yes, it is possible. You can do it. You might have to make sacrifices and work your ass off for it, but yes, you too can do it. And believe me, it will be completely worth it. You just have to quit being a pansy, and just do it already.
Second, I really do not enjoy when people automatically assume that I am going to reinforce their stereotypes of France and its people. It’s like they ask me about my time in France just prove what they think they know about France. Like, are you actually interested in what I have to say? Or do you just want to sound all high and mighty and come off as if you think you are cultured and interesting?
Something that I’ve learned throughout my travels is that the more that I learn about other people and cultures the more I realize that I know very little about the world. However, something that I do know is that the French are some of the most loving, genuine, and caring people I’ve ever met in my life, and it pains me to know that the stereotypes of them being snobby assholes is still alive and thriving in the American culture (which is also kind of hilarious to me since Americans are obsessed with so-called “French culture” or whatever they think they know about French culture).
I’m no expert by any means, but if you were really interested in what I have to say about my time living in France, then you wouldn’t scoff at me when I say that “No, really, most French people aren’t like that. They are really caring people. They are definitely more private and yes, that makes it more difficult to build friendships with them. However, once you’ve built a friendship with them, you have a true friend for life.” That’s the France that I know and that I love and that I’m convinced is the real France. So, please, if you don’t want to hear the real answer, then please don’t ask me in the first place.
What pains me also sometimes is knowing that people who have not traveled outside of the U.S. or have traveled very little don’t realize that people in other countries are just. like. us. They just live life a little differently. It’s like when people say to me “All French people hate Americans right?” and expect me to say yes. Or when they say ” All French people think they are better than Americans, right?” and they expect me to say yes. Here’s the thing. Just like in the United States, there are people who are hateful and who are snobby. Just like in France or the UK or Germany or Mexico or any other friggin’ country in the world. BUT, that doesn’t mean all French people are like that. That would be like saying that all Americans are obese and all they do is watch tv and eat fast food.
So, please don’t ask if you aren’t interested in hearing the truth of my experiences.
Also, have you ever opened a book? Read a newspaper article? Watched the news? or read the news on the internet? or maybe even, I don’t know, considered traveling?
If you really are interested in getting to know the world outside of the United States, please do yourself a favor and put a little more effort into it.
Sassy rant over.
Have any of my fellow travelers ever experienced moments like these? I’d love to hear about your experiences and how you dealt with them.