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  • Writer's pictureRachel Ogilby

"I'm Taking Europe With Me!": Moving Back to the US from Paris

The rain drizzled on us as we pushed the stroller and our grocery cart up the sloping hill. We’d done it hundreds of times, so many it had become easy – even with two babies in tow. Our 2 year old flipped through his animal book, tucked under his rain cover. He was accustomed to stroller walks, and while there were always interesting things to see each moment of our walks, he often preferred perusing one of his books.

Our 8 month old grinned while rubbing noses with my husband, his hilarious red tomato hat sticking out like a sore thumb in our otherwise muted ensemble. We had figured out how to fit in with the European style of dress, for the most part. My husband looked effortless as he pulled the cart of groceries up the hill, grinning and carrying our little peanut.

We had just walked further than we needed to for a grocery run, simply because we were craving a Paris walk. It wasn’t a long walk – only 16 minutes or so – but we still walked past the Arc de Triomphe, dozens of private clothing stores and restaurants, four or five bakeries and florists, multiple pharmacies, churches, and a few statues. We had decided to buy at our local Monoprix (I call it our French “Target”), just to do something different.

Musings While Grocery Shopping

We entered the store. I had always shied away from the cheese section, finding it too intimidating – but today I was brave, and requested both a smoked cow cheese and a soft goat cheese. My order was half in English and half in French, and, like always, the French employee was gracious to my language ineptitude. I apologized afterwards for my French. "Pas de souci", she smiled. No big deal.

As we weighed our produce, we pointed out the different vegetables to our son. “Here’s some courgettes, or zucchini – and eggplant, or aubergine!”. My husband and I genuinely enjoyed speaking some French, and it was fun to name fruits or vegetables. Sometimes speaking in both French and English while out and about helped me feel like I belonged here a bit better, or at least was proving to the rest of the world that we were trying (“See! We’re speaking some French! We’re trying!”).

We paused at the wine section, enjoying the opportunity to implement what we had learned over the last few years here. I noted the wine prices; multiple bottles were less than 4 euros (about 5 US dollars) and even at that low price point they would be delicious.

When visiting the US for Christmas, we were astonished to discover the high mark up for wines – wine we could buy in France for about $25 were close to $60 in the US. This led to our hilarious decision that a “Dry January” would be impractical; we laughed as we decided that instead, we should have “Wet Weeks” while living in France and “Dry Years” once moving to the US.

We selected a Chardonnay from Burgundy – it would stand in the fridge next to our Chablis, which I had already opened a few days prior, and we had a red from Bordeaux waiting for us at home as well.

I couldn’t help but smile when I passed the international food section – guacamole and pancake batter, syrup and marmite were tucked in the back of the store, likely oblivious to most customers. The French food scene was so complete on its own it didn’t require much from the international food world (in my opinion!).

I chuckled at myself while walking through the rest of the store, thinking how naïve I was to think that French people didn’t snack when we first moved here. The store was FULL of snacks, but the French have a specific time for them.

Sweet snacks? Those are enjoyed at goûter hour, 4pm. Salty snacks? Those are saved for an apéro, a drink before dinner time matched with peanuts, chips, or other salty nibbles. Parisians still snacked, sure, but they were at set times, and not necessarily every day.

We arrived at the cash register, emptying and refilling our grocery cart. I used to feel a flush of embarrassment as I rushed to bag our own groceries, but after watching the rest of the city buy groceries for years now, I realized there’s no need for the panicked hurry. Everyone else is also bagging their own groceries, and its not uncommon for someone to pay and exit before you’re done packing up if they only have a few items.

We exited the store and started our walk back home.

Remembering the Upcoming Move

I looked around us, reminding myself to keep my head up. Now that we had a looming date ahead of us securing our move back to the US, I was trying to soak everything in.

If I could see the city through fresh eyes, maybe I could force it to imprint on my heart. Maybe I could bring Paris home with me by doing so.

The buildings surprised me with their beauty daily. The black iron balconies stood like artwork outside each building, swirling and flowering as if they were alive with the rest of the city. Leaves and branches were stamped into the facade, and cement fruit hung from the stone décor.  Of everything in Paris, the beauty of the buildings were what my husband missed most when we returned to the US over the holidays.

I snorted at a menacing black dog painted on the façade of a Hertz car rental building. We passed at least weekly. It was in an unusual location, and there were no other paintings surrounding it to give it any meaning. It seemed to be breaking free from its leash, growling at some invisible painting of a passerby. Its menace didn’t match the rest of the city – the people were polite and helpful, and even real dogs were so well trained they often walked the sidewalks without leashes (though their excrement is another story).

“Wow, what a pretty building,” I mused, looking up at a restaurant we passed frequently. I was suddenly hit with sadness that we were leaving Paris. I sat with the feeling for a moment, wondering if I should share it with my husband, who had already heard it a thousand times.

If I took the time to inspect my anxiety, it was rooted in fear that we couldn’t (or wouldn’t) continue the ways of living we loved about the being here. What if we stopped walking everywhere? What if we became enveloped in the rush to be productive at all hours? What if we felt too busy to sit and converse, have “slow” food, soak in the precious moments with our babies?

I thought about this as we continued our walk, nearly realizing how ridiculous the thought was in the same moment. Both our babies had been born here. We had spent some of the most life-changing years here – being pregnant, learning how to be parents, raising children, and doing plenty of it while navigating foreign systems.

This alone was reason enough that Paris would be stamped on our hearts forever.

A friend had once told me (upon hearing my anxiety of leaving), “Paris will always be here for you.” She was right of course, and her words brought me comfort. We could always come back to Paris, whether to live or visit. But I hadn’t considered the alternative and equally profound truth.

Paris would always be with me.

I would see it in the way my husband’s eyes sparkled as we planned our next trip. It was already engrained in the way we dressed. The politeness of the French was so pleasant, it was impossible to prevent it from etching into our own manners. Meals were more satisfying when you sat and enjoyed it, and snacks weren’t necessary if fully present with your last meal. Children were talked to as if they were mini-adults, which felt authentic and sincere.  

Once we moved back to the US, I would feel Paris in each meal, each use of the healthcare system, every grocery run and neighborhood walk. I knew that part of my husband and I would be relieved to be somewhere so familiar – back in the town I grew up – and yet part of us would also feel that we didn’t quite belong.

Europe had woken up a part of our souls that were simply waiting to be discovered. It feels much more “normal” to walk everywhere, to take public transport anywhere further than walking distance, and to easily travel to different beautiful places in the world.

It feels “normal” to eat seasonally, to eat meals slowly, and to get fresh produce every few days.

It feels “normal” to be able to live off of one salary and to have periods of rest woven into the workplace schedule.

It feels “normal” to utilize a working healthcare system, have obvious childcare solutions, and to accept people from all levels of language ability.

Now, it would be up to us to try to weave as much of these new ways of life into our American lifestyle.

Many of these ways had already been implemented by my own parents, who’s grandparents had all immigrated from Europe. When I was little, we walked everywhere. My mom made homemade pasta and peanut butter, and we bought groceries at the West Side Market (still, to this day, my mom buys from the same people she bought from 30 years ago). I have a new appreciation for these “slower” lifestyle choices. I may have rolled my eyes at eating natural peanut butter as a teen, but as an adult I now realize it was really about being in the moment, the process of making something by hand, the experience shared with loved ones.

As we continued past the restaurant I had just marveled at, I realized how many memories were tied to it. It was where my husband first tried salmon tartare, where I had my first lunch date out with a girlfriend without a baby in tow, and the first place we went to eat with my parents when they came to meet their second grandbaby.

Undoubtedly I could walk around the entire city and come up with significant memories for nearly every landmark I’d been to.

The Petite Palais would always be special to me; I have a picture of my parents and my siblings in the same room with the same pose, though they were two different trips. I have a core memory of wearing our tiny, newest baby in the carrier while blowing bubbles for our toddler in the café courtyard. I ran inside the museum with a dear friend to show them a peek of the inside during a long walk when they didn’t have time to explore it.  

Notre Dame was the same – I remembered standing outside it on Christmas, talking to my mom on the phone while 9 months pregnant and waiting for our Police Prefecture appointment next door, kissing my sister in front of it for a selfie during the summer, and buying coffee with my mother and father in law at a coffee stand nearby.

The Arc de Triomphe would forever be special to my husband and I; we lived just down the street from it. Even the Eiffel Tower, as over-fixated as it could be to those of us living outside France, was affiliated with core memories of watching the sunrise over it on Sundays when the kids refused to sleep past 6am.  

Thinking of these memories reminds me how silly my anxiety actually is. How could I be afraid to leave Paris? Paris will be living in our hearts and our minds for the rest of our lives.

The rain was light, but our hooded coats made talking nearly impossible. “Thanks for getting our baguette earlier, now we don’t have to stop for one!” I yelled.

“What? I can’t hear you!” My husband responded.

“I love you and I love our little life here!” I yelled back.

Who knows if he heard me; my husband simply turned and smiled. He was engrossed in our little 8 month old who was cackling with each touch of my husband’s nose to his. Who was I to interrupt?


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