Beki Grinter

Frustration: A consequence of emigration

In European Union, France on August 18, 2009 at 11:49 am

Today was one of those days I remember well from about 18 years ago when I emigrated to the United States, days when the feeling of not completely knowing what is going on or why completely undermines your ability to get things done, and the day ends somewhat frustrating.

Where to begin. Well at the beginning with a headache. Not really France’s fault, but anyway.

We went out. We attempted to get pens, the pen shop was shut, until late August. Apparently, and this is a shop that is targetted towards offices (did I mention that I was on the hunt for Staetdler products?), and let me tell you that if you’re an office and you run out of office supplies in ¬†August you are sh** out of luck. Of course no-ones in their office in France in August (it’s hot there’s no air conditioning) except for the Americans (mad dogs and Americans teach in the mid-day August sun?)… and perhaps that’s why, so that the office supplies shops can also go on holiday.

After a failed office supplies attempted we walked in the heat and the humidity to FNAC to get a cable that will allow us to watch the movies on our iPhones on the television. It was a long hot walk. It resulted in a choice of two cables with a difference of about 20Euros. So, at least we were going to save money, only we weren’t since the thing was actually mislabeled.

Off to get a drink. I decided to have a citron presse, when in France do as the French do. WHAT was I thinking. Someone gave me a glass of lemon juice. So I guess that’s what a citron presse is. You have to drink some of it down before you can dilute with water. It was something else. I just should remember the golden rule of being experimental, save it for the days when something has gone right.

and where the story ends, dinner. Tired, hot, and apparently hungry. Hungry in Metz, at 5:30pm (which is an hour before the official time that dinner starts in France). Even worse, on a Monday when some restaurants are shut. Even worse, on a Monday in August, when some are shut for their annual vacation. Fail. Walk home and eat there. (To discover the surprise 9:30am start on Tuesday and to sort of break my favourite necklace).

One reason to write this all up is that this is all staggeringly trivial stuff. I’ve winced about whether I should even post this. It sounds like a few silly things. And it is, but the world feels rawer. And I remember 18 years ago when I moved to the United States, going through all of this. There were days when I felt I ruled the world. These were days when I hadn’t made a complete ass (or arse) of myself, because even though the U.S. speaks English, it’s not actually the English I learnt and it doesn’t mean that the rules, the customs, the protocols, aren’t all different… they’re all different, they just lurk under a surface mask of linguistic similarity. Here, there’s no hiding from the fact that things are going to be different, the language tells me that every day, but somehow when things go wrong, well it just gets to me (perhaps it’s just me) more deeply than it would if it had happened at home.

Emigration, it’s all about these encounters, and it’s not easy. But it is rewarding. And frankly, I’ve got to say that if I’d had as much visa support as people seem to get here when I went to the U.S. I’d have wept with joy.

  1. Ah, this brings back good (bad?) memories of our year in Denmark where all of the stores kept ridiculous hours (at least to an American used to 24 hour access) and, in the Spring, they kept having holidays that arrived with no warning: suddenly no bus service, all stores closed, and if you didn’t stock up on Thursday, well, you were screwed.

    One thing that got to us all the time was the difference in perceptions involving distances. People would learn where we lived and would say “that far!?!” and we’d say “but it’s only ten minutes!” (by car while they were thinking walking/cycling). Or we’d say “We had a great weekend, we visited !” And they would say “You went halfway across the country?!?!” And we’d stammer “but it was only a two hour drive!”

    It was a learning experience and we had just come around to the Danish perspective on lots of things when our time was up and we had to return to the US to be corrupted again.

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