Back in France...

If you want to know what it's like to be back in France after having spent a few days or a few weeks somewhere else, just read this and wait a few weeks until I've got over my returning-to-Grenoble-again culture shock. Don't ask me. I get all bitter and twisted and nasty. Bad tempered. Unreasonable. Even more so than usual.

You know what? There are places out there where drivers use those flashy orange things on each side of the rear of their cars to a indicate that they're going to turn. They don't disguise their vehicles as night-time motorbikes by removing one of their brakelights, like 85% of the cars in France. They even use the indicators to show that they are going to overtake a bicycle (lit or unlit), and their brake lights work so you know that they are stopping (and to stop you running slap-bang into their rear ends). Traffic lights change with a speed that allows you to slow down in a reasonably calm manner, instead of zapping from Green to Red faster than a poodle's hind leg during mating season.

Out there, there are supermarkets with people who put all your shopping into bags for you. Fancy that. And people who wait patiently in line behind you at the checkout and allow you to unload all your shopping onto the conveyor belt before they put theirs on blocking all your space and making it impossible for you to unload and pay for all of your own shopping without it embarassingly slithering and sliding off onto the floor, and who don't look at you in shock-horror FOREIGN WEIRDO WITH AN ACCENT mode if you ask them to wait a moment and give you enough room to finish unloading. It's amazing.

And you can breathe Real Fresh Air without it being polluted by that poisonous perfume that pervades all France, and which No-One says anything about because it might Cause Embarassment if you ask someone (male or female) to wear slightly less, even though it's making you feel ill and it's suffocating you and making you cry... and if you do say anything, everyone thinks you're Incredibly Rude and Incorrect, (hey, this is France, land of the free: it's your Right to wear the perfume of your choice, and it's your Right to decide how much you wear, but it's your Wrong to say something about anyone else's Right...) So much for Freedom and Fraternity...

And out-there there are places where people show real emotion, where they laugh and cry and hug and sigh because they FEEL like laughing or crying or hugging or sighing, and where they don't laugh and they don't cry and they don't hug and they don't sigh when they don't feel it; and where they don't (almost) kiss you on both cheeks every time you meet just because it's the thing to do and who would laugh at you if you told them about air-kissing fifty-or-so acquaintances each time you meet...

And there really are places where you can go to eat and not have to wait for the chef to plant the grain to grow the plant to produce the fodder to feed the beast to butcher it to serve you a tiny undercooked-meat overcooked-and-destroyed vegetable meal one day soon... you know, sometimes it's nice to eat in less than three hours... and wonder-of-wonders, you can eat meals that don't consist of 350% meat-and-cream... you can even eat Vegetarian meals (hey there Frenchies, that means Meals Without Fish Or Meat Yes NO MEAT WHATSOEVER, no not even a sliver of ham, and green salads without chunks of bacon, OK?)

Alright, I admit it. They don't have the same mountains, or the same hills, or the same language or the same history or whatever. OK, so you can't go out on a Sunday morning and buy fresh coriander from the guy in the street market. (But you can do other things instead.) Perhaps it's more than twenty minutes from home to sheer hillside beauty. Perhaps they have to spend more time sitting in traffic jams or serving in their army or worrying about where the next meal is coming from. Here I can look out of my window (on a sunny day) and see inspiration... and jump in the car, and drive up to find peace. But it's a solitary peace.

It's all just "different".

(Don't tell me about excessive crime rates elsewhere, because while I was out-of-town for two weeks, one of my daugters witnessed a friend being beaten in the street by a total stranger, and a friend of the other daughter was doused in petrol and had to run for his life after a car full of night-time youths drove into his car, for fun. It happens here, too.)

We have a choice. Take it, or leave it. Don't moan... do something positive. Look for the best in everything... and if you don't find any "best" at all, move on. But leave something good of you behind.

So... I take off for the hills...

Instead of asking me what it's like being back in France after having spent a few days or a few weeks somewhere else, just read this. Don't ask me to tell you. I'm working on getting over it.

November, 1998

All text and images copyright Alison Toon.