I am asked ALL THE TIME why I decided to come to France, if I like it (obviously), and what I like most about living here. Frankly, I think that’s a bit too complex and personal of a question to ask in such conversational contexts, but I usually come up with some generic answer about wine, cheese, how much I love speaking French and how much more calm and relaxed the style of life is here compared to the USA… things that are generally true but not the most accurate responses.
I’ve always had a huge breadth of interests. Without trying to sound like an asshole, I love doing – and am pretty good at – quite a lot of things: directing plays, arts administration, working with kids, making awesome anchor charts, teaching drama, managing social media, writing, speaking French, foreign cultures and travel, politics etc.
Over the years I’ve dabbled in so many different things, without giving myself enough time or investment to really commit to any of them in a deliberate way. The sense of boundless opportunity is as crippling as it is inspiring. Most people I know can fairly easily identify with a certain trade. There’s “the dramatic one” “the sporty one” “the artsy one” “the political one” and “the one who loves teaching” They’ve worked really hard to advance and be the best in their fields. But, I’ve always felt as if I’m merely shopping around, testing each role to see if I like it. Happy, productive, but never called to any one thing or the other.
With so many ideas pulling me in every direction, it can be hard to feel like I’m sufficiently using all my skills in ways that are both productive and fulfilling. I’m lacking a niche.
In France, my niche comes ready-made, complete with a little blue book covered in eagles. Being American automatically makes me interesting and sought-out. I can still enjoy what I’ve always loved at home – theatre, arts and culture, teaching – but I have a really specific frame from which to approach it. In France, I have skills by virtue of my native tongue that make me automatically unique, valuable, and qualified. As reductive as it is to be seen only as “the American one” the specificity that comes with it feels pretty great to me as a lost, overwhelmed, 20-something. In France, my prospective paths may seem fewer, yes. But that also makes them more digestible and more actionable.
I have no idea how long I’ll enjoy occupying this niche. I imagine the novelty will eventually wear off. I’m not sure how much its appeal will motivate me to seek out ways of staying in France beyond this second séjour, and certainly being asked my opinion on Trump at literally every turn has already gotten old…. But in the meantime, I’ve found that what I have loved most about living here goes far beyond the copious wine and cheese, the language, the landscapes or opportunities to travel. It has given me a sense of stability and purpose that has always seemed to elude me at home. ❂