We’re back! After a whirlwind trip to the U.S. (including a 26-hour travel day to Tampa from Toulouse), we’re once again on French soil.
I have a running list of topics I still need to write about, but as I started typing today I thought the best place to start was our first trip home after living in France for four months.
One of the events that reminds you of the reality of your new life as an expat is your first trip home. Where in the past you might have gone on holidays to other states or countries, you always returned home. This time “home” is the vacation and, at the end of the trip, you are heading back to your new country. It’s still kind of surreal to think about.
We weren’t quite sure what (if anything) would feel strange or different to us when we went back to the U.S. We’d only been gone for four months, so what could change that much? Turns out there are a few things…
Reverse Culture Shock
You’ve started to get used to your new home country and some of the things that might have seemed strange initially are now the norm. Suddenly you are thrust back into the country and culture that you grew up in, but, as familiar as it all is, you also feel like you are viewing things with the eyes of an outsider. You go to CVS and find yourself reaching across the counter for a bag to wrap up your own purchases. You walk for blocks without even thinking about it until someone suggests catching an Uber ride to get there faster. It’s all so familiar and strange at the same time and you begin to wonder where you really belong…
Sure, it could be from the traveling and eating airport/airplane food or the plentiful adult beverages you’re consuming, but your stomach suddenly feels like you ate a ton of bricks and chased them with a glass of tar. We eat fairly well in France (lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, food with little to no preservatives or additives), but on our first trip back to the U.S. in four months we found ourselves indulging on all the foods we don’t typically get—or that don’t taste the same in France (can you say Pumpkin Spice Latte!). I think the only “fresh” vegetable I had on the trip was lettuce on my turkey burger. Mac ‘n Cheese definitely happened twice—as did good old southern BBQ pork. Needless to say, we were ready to let out the jeans by the time we got back.
After four months overseas, your body is well acclimated to CEST (Central European Summer Time), so it’s a rather rude awakening when you find yourself going back in time—six time zones back to be exact. You power through it for the first couple of days, chugging coffee and keeping as active as possible, but by the end of the third or fourth day you are so tired your mind begins to daydream about sleeping and your body goes onto autopilot. The fifth day, after some sleep, you start to feel a little better and by the time your trip ends, you are ready to tackle the world again—only to have to jump back on a plane and do it all over again—in reverse. One of my uncles actually came up to me at the wedding and called me out on my jet lag, saying “you’re normally so bubbly, you must be tired!” Nailed. It.
Shop till You Drop!
When you first move to France, it’s super exciting to buy everything “Made in France.” Shoes, clothing, cheese, wine…you loaded up on it all. It’s all just so, je ne sais quoi. Once you land in the U.S., however, you realize there were things you want from home that you just can’t get overseas—like Pumpkin Spice Everything! One trip to Target and $300 later (ok, you know you can’t get out of Target for less than that), our suitcases were loaded up with pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin spice M&Ms, pumpkin spice biscotti, pumpkin pie spices and, yes, cans of pumpkin. I’m obsessed. I know. Good thing we had room in our suitcases after we dropped off about a dozen bottles of French wine for our future wine cellar.
Homesickness…Even at Home
You drive through your old city and see it is still growing like crazy. The highly-touted new hotspot is finally open (Ponce City Market in our case) and you walk through it imagining how much fun you would have there if you still lived in town. Later, you meet up with old friends for dinner and realize how much you miss them—and how much life goes on even if you aren’t there. You hear them talk about the fun and crazy things they’ve done over the past few months—and what they have coming up and you’re simultaneously happy and sad. Happy that everyone is doing so well, but sad to be missing out on so much in the lives of those you care about.
Expat life is amazing. It’s full of adventure and stretches your mind, expectations and even body in ways you never knew possible. It changes your perspective on “home” and the things that truly matter, and it makes you appreciate even more many things you might have taken for granted in the past. We’re only four months in to our expat adventure, but I know this learning and growing is going to continue. I’m excited for all our adventures ahead and to see who we’ve become by the end of it.