I think, at some level, (almost?) all Americans hold some sort of a romanticized ideal in their head about Europe. It’s old. It’s beautiful. The people have accents. If not where “we” come from, it’s our closest cultural ancestor. Above all, it’s just a highly marketed tourist attraction.
Throughout my life, I have not been above this romanticization of the continent by any means. That’s why I studied abroad in Denmark for a year (the European country which holds that special lore as “the happiest country on Earth”); it’s why I’m working in France for a year now. It’s why I’m scheming up ways to get back to Ireland in the future. Getting to study, work, and live in Europe is the redheaded cousin of The American Dream, in all its shiny, sparkly, just-out-of-reach-for-many glory.
And yet here I am. Getting to be paid to live in this romanticized space. The thing about obtaining a dream, though, is having to have it slapped around a little by reality.
Being in Southern France right now is full of real humans. Real humans who, on my first day of work, made snide comments at me about being there for “oral” practice. Real humans who harass me on the street for everything from eating my lunch to yawning. Real humans who ride around on bicycles and dump whole water bottles on me in the public square with other real humans watching and then ride away mocking my shocked English response of “what the fuck!” My tiny Southern French town doesn’t have anybody my age in it, and the loneliness I am experiencing is oppressive, difficult, and seemingly inescapable in a way that I haven’t experienced since high school (side note, I live in a high school right now, which is also overwhelming).
Yesterday, though, I was reminded a bit of the romanticized image of France I painted for myself throughout my francophile high school years. While visiting Montpellier, a man walked onto my tram and started to play the fiddle up and down the tram’s cars. While the French did not seem amused, it overwhelmingly affected me in the moment and reminded me of this video from La Blogotheque circa 2008:
When I was an insatiable French nerd in high school, I used to spend hours on La Blogotheque, watching their Concerts A Emporter and going back and forth between the English and French translations to keep teaching myself and practicing French outside of the classroom. As a lonely, angsty teenager in the middle of a Phoenix suburb completely void of anything to do, the Paris presented in these performances instilled in me the idea of a romanticized France that is, undoubtedly, what keeps bringing me back to this country today.
Even if things are hard right now, rewatching these videos and thinking back to a pure and unspoiled idea of Europe that has nothing to do with life is a nice, romantic break. Sometimes, I just need these remnants from the past to come and remind me to appreciate the present that I’m getting to live, even when it’s feeling dragged down by reality.