Secret Life of an Expat: Sticking the Landing

The other day I found myself extrapolating the metaphor of jumping from the roof of one building, across a trash filled alley to the roof of another building. You see it all the time in movies. The hero runs from the bad guy. The hero jumps from roof to roof, up a few feet, down a few feet, then when she is faced with the long jump over the alley, she doesn’t slow down, doesn’t even think about it, she just does it like she knew she would make it all along. Which she does, landing in a graceful, Matrix-style foot/knee/hand squat on the other side.

The pursuer comes screaming to a halt. He looks over the edge to the crummy alley below, judges the distance from one roof to another, and wonders if there is enough room to build the required momentum for a running leap. He never should have stopped.

But he jumps, just not as well. Problem is, he has to land again. Maybe he catches the edge of a crumbling facade. Better have strong fingers. Maybe he goes clattering to the fire escape one floor down, ends up battered and bruised. Maybe he doesn’t make it at all.

Sometimes I imagine this leap like the one I took nearly two years ago when I moved to France. It’s pretty clear that I’m not the hero who soared through the sky and stuck a perfect landing (as I’d rather hoped when gearing up for the jump), but instead I’m the one who dove across clumsily, and scrambled to keep from falling. I’m still scrambling, I suppose. Still, I cleared the  alley, right?

Paris is the third city I’ve lived in since leaving home for college. I started in New York. Thought I would never leave, but at some point I’d had enough. I had no boyfriend, I hated my job, and my best friend had skipped town. I needed a do-over, and the grass was greener in Los Angeles. LA was good for about five years, until my long term relationship there fell apart, I couldn’t find a job that I liked, and my homelife went downhill. So I skipped to France, where it rains so much the grass is always green. The thing is, I could have made New York work, I could have made LA work. Hell I could have made Maine work, had I ever gone back for good.

In France, the grass is indeed green. The criteria are met. I have the good relationship, the satisfying job (it’s getting better, thank you), yet I sometimes catch myself looking for another roof. People said I was brave when I moved to New York, to LA, to Paris. I never thought so, jumping the roof doesn’t scare me. But maybe sticking the landing is where the real bravery comes in.

This is what we do when we grow up, right? We settle down, set up the tent and the Wifi and hope it doesn’t storm. But if it does, or something else goes wrong on the roof, in the relationship, down in the alley, we fix it. I’ve been homesick lately, and torn between having the city/relationship/job situation I was looking for, and missing just about everything else that, as a red-blooded american, I’m used to. It’s a huge change being away from your culture, and much more disturbing than I had expected.

But looking back at past behaviors, I wonder if my difficulty adjusting this new country has had to do with mere culture shock and language barriers, or if my natural instinct to look for an exit strategy when things aren’t perfect also getting in my way.

So I’m still looking for ways to fully commit to living here. I can do simple things, like stop buying my favorite deoderant in bulk when I go to the US, and find a french substitute. I can do complex things, like, get a french drivers license or passport. I’m pretty sure the passport will be easier to acquire. I’ll keep thinking about it… Does anyone have any other ideas on how to commit to a place? What have you done to make yourself feel more at home in a new place, or do you find yourself looking for new roofs too?

Maybe I should start practicing parkour with the local teenagers, seems to be popular enough these days.