I've avoided writing this blog for a very long time, mostly because I simply don't know what I want to say. Most people, I'm sure, would be overflowing with things to discuss with everyone else while on this trip. I, on the other hand, have been trying to sort through these ideas and pick out the overriding trends in my thinking while I'm here. I understand that as I have been dropped into an entirely new environment, it is entirely possible that many new things will happen to me, and these overwhelming and conflicting experiences could very greatly influence my day to day thinking. Of course, I planned on having a more definite picture of my time here planned out a long time ago. I figured I would wait a week before writing this post. Instead, it took a month.
I love it here. Of course, I loved it back in the United States, so that really doesn't mean much at all. Things are very different; a lot of people ride bikes, bread, cheese, and wine are a far more important part of the average diet, the city is beautiful and filled with stores, and I'm enjoying my time. But that's not to say that France is any better than the U.S. It's simply different. While there are things that I enjoy very much, there are also some things that I dislike. Nothing is open on Sundays, our classes aren't terribly interesting, and worst of all, everyone seems to treat our stay in France like its a big deal.
I'm not saying it isn't. But I am saying that many people attach a lot more importance to this trip than it should have. Yes, we are in a foreign country, learning a new language, and of course this is bound to be intimidating. I find it far more difficult here to get used to doing ordinary things like respond to conversations fired at me from the street. I haven't yet found a job for our mandatory credited work project, because I'm afraid to ask people in French. There are many ways in which this place is very new and confusing. However, at the same time, most people seem to respond by either wanting to drink more or wanting to escape with their friends by going on vacation. I was always a fan of moderate alcohol consumption, and I don't see much of the point of going outside of France to explore other countries when this is both expensive and it gets us out of France, which I thought was supposed to be the main purpose of our voyage. I'm not condemning escapism; I've spent half the trip watching American tv shows in my room. I'm just wondering if people have the right ideas in mind when coming here, and I think that this is why they have so much trouble adapting, treat it so importantly, and often end up feeling like crap whenever the first bad thing here happens to them.
Again, I'm not sure exactly how I feel about living here. It's very different, and I'm learning the language very quickly, but at the same time I'm only realizing how similar it is to life in America. Yes, people eat different foods, take up different hobbies, are used to different rules and regulations and styles of living, and I've had my share of changing my lifestyle. I haven't had a chance to work out at all here, as doing so would require money I don't have, and have instead taken up running, which is a far healthier and more economic alternative in my situation. But I don't feel that this change is indicative of any huge differences in life. I feel like many of the unimportant aspects of life have been switched on me; I feel the basic human condition has not changed in the slightest. No, I do not mean to condemn the differences in culture as unimportant, as cultures are often steeped in years of tradition and habitual thought, and they are a powerful motivating force in the creation of identity for the individual and for everyone he comes in contact with. There is no place where cultural identity and history is more visible than in an alien country, particularly in one older than the U.S. (which might I add is many of them), but at the same time, I simply cannot understand it. Most men take society far more seriously than they should, and I feel that this is the reason why many people have issues when visiting another country for a prolonged period of time. Having taken the values of their own country too much to heart, they have difficulty adapting when those values are knocked out from under them.
I haven't placed the same amount of importance on cultural values, and it is for this reason that I have not had as much difficulty here. Perhaps this is a blessing, or perhaps it is a flaw, and you may think of it what you will. However, I will tell you that it is responsible for ensuring not only that I am a happier man at home in the U.S., but also that I am a happier man here in France, than what seems to be the average. This stems from an unhappy childhood, in which I was forced by teasing and bullying at a young age to realize that trusting your happiness to society is often a bad idea. I have overcome the rampant individualism that accidentally resulted from this early development, but I still value my individual life more than my social life, which I consider a flaw that I should remedy; it is difficult only in the fact that there seems to me to be more of society to detest than to love. I have concerned myself not with society, but with the human condition. This is a flaw, but it is a flaw that is inherent to my being and necessary for my continued existence in such a manner as I live now. As such, I am sorry, but I cannot see in myself how it is so.
So, France. Yes, I love it. It's a different life, it opens my mind, it makes me feel great. I'm learning the language quickly, and I enjoy that. I haven't experienced the ups and downs of such a life that many do. However, I couldn't really tell you whether or not it's really that good of a thing. It's both pleasant and displeasing, and therefore no better or worse than the society from which I came. I wouldn't give up the experience for anything, but I couldn't really tell you what the experience is.