Victoria Jelinek


The Pregnancy Diaries – 6

Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it. Lily Tomlin

I read somewhere once that stress is the most debilitating thing that you can do your body. This week, I’m suffering panic attacks because while I love living in France in theory, in practice, I don’t love living here and I’m not convinced it’s the best place for my unborn child.

In theory, I appreciate the history of France: The French Revolution, the Belle Époque, the French Resistance during WWII, the fact that it was a safe haven for misanthropes and those that ‘belonged’ nowhere else in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; I love the literature, Flaubert, Balzac, Colette and those that flocked here, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald; I admire the great philosophers, such as Barthes and Foucault; I love the Cinema du Cahiers’ work, their concept of the ‘auteur’ film, made popular by the likes of Truffaut and Godard; I appreciate that in a world that’s faster and busier, more materialistic and greedy, more individualistic rather than collectively oriented, that the French fight staunchly for their right to long lunches, many holidays, and a work week that does not exceed 35 hours; I love that healthcare has incorporated the best elements of the UK health system (Socialist) with the US health system (privatised attention and one must contribute in order to receive it); I love the cheese; I love the weather (mostly).

However, in practice, I do not like living here. The French are the worst consumers: mobile phone service, utilities, products for the home, for the baby, such as prams, beds, car seats, clothes, televisions, furniture, office supplies, you name it, it’s three times as expensive in France as in the UK or the U.S.A.; and service, the possibility of a return, is practically non existent. Closures at lunch, early in the evening and on Sunday, mean that there is a finite time to run necessary errands and conduct necessary business, particularly the loads of paperwork required for most ‘official’ activities here. The international DVD’s (I love Korean and Argentinian films) are either dubbed or sub titled in French; the French movies don’t have English subtitles; and the English films are usually dubbed, even in the cinema. I miss being able to go into a bookstore and get a book that I want, or into a library. The libraries here have strange hours, are closed on Wednesdays when the kids are out of school, and, locally, they are filled with books about mountains and mountaineering. I miss having restaurants that serve food out of the established lunch or dinner hours, and here in Chamonix, many of the restaurants and cafes are only open in the winter and the summer. The concept of ‘joyeux de vivre’ is ironic: there doesn’t seem to be much laughter or ‘letting go’ at a bar when they sip their tiny glass of vin rouge all afternoon; the French are mean, not only to foreigners, but even to each other. The stories that I’ve been told by other mothers regarding the schooling system – that it’s very negative, very rigid (‘colour in the lines’ sort-of-thing) – raises the hair on the back of my neck, even as I think there are other problems elsewhere. Ah, and the weirdest thing, no matter how big the parking lot or how empty it is, the French always seem to park right next to each other, meaning you often have to sidle in sideways to get into your car. So this week I wonder how I can live here ‘forever’ and bring up a child who will be a Frenchman for all intents and purposes.

All this said, I also read somewhere that with the demise of ‘big’ diseases – small pox, rubella, the plague – that allergies and neurosis developed…

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