A friend of mine from the US recently came for a visit and surprisingly, it gave me an opportunity to assess how I had adapted to France. Every now and then, she would ask me questions about France and I simply had no clue about the answer. I guess it will take more than a year to make up for an 18-year absence. More interestingly, it confirmed my belief that, possibly for the rest of my life, I will be living in liminality between two countries, two cultures, two lives.
When I first returned from the states, the culture shock was tremendous. It was so much worse than expected, possibly because this was MY country. Not knowing how to live here and having to put so much effort in trying to figure it out somehow felt so much more draining that learning to live in a totally foreign country. I felt that my friends and family simply did not understand what I was going through and when I was asking them for help, they seemed in disbelief that I would be asking the questions I was asking. It just did not seem that simple to me. I truly did not know where to buy a subway ticket without a French banking card; whether there was any place to buy groceries on Sunday if I had forgotten that stores were closed that day and had not planned accordingly. My local American friends or the few French people I knew who had once lived in the States were so much more helpful because they knew exactly what I was going through and I could relate to them in ways I simply could not relate with French people.
Since then, I have obviously learned to figure out a lot. Still, there are many things that I just don’t really know about and the fact that I don’t watch TV, don’t listen to the radio and even worse, don’t even have Internet these days, is most likely not helping. Truth is, I probably don’t know things that are considered basic knowledge to most people living in France: who is the prime minister? Where do I find out about “mutuelles” (some kind of health insurance you can choose to purchase and that will reimburse you for the medical expenses not covered by social security… I think!)? And don’t get me started on TV shows or even movies! But I still very much like it, living in my very own little universe!