A few people have been nice enough to ask me this and I can’t for the life of me figure out what to tell them. I guess people are just interested and the interest is a real compliment. It means they assume that I’m still sane and that I have a reason that they can understand. But it’s hard to explain if you’ve never felt that way about a place.
I miss a lot of small, daily, barely noticeable things. And then I miss the bigger sense of accomplishment that I had from living there.
I miss the unspoken social rules between people and the comfort of knowing them. Something said without a smile isn’t necessarily unfriendly. If you respond correctly, at the end of the conversation you’re usually rewarded with one and it comes as a compliment.
I miss, stupid as this sounds, asking where the bathroom is in French. It was the only thing, I think, that I always had to say in French in France. Wherever I was, whoever I was with, I was never in an establishment where I would have dared to speak English to a stranger, and I almost always needed a bathroom.
I miss the closeness of the streets and the buildings, and the smallness of the rooms and the cars. It was like we had learned to use the space around us, and what’s more, we had done it, for the most part, years ago. I miss the ordinary buildings, sometimes full of shitty apartments, that were extravagantly old. I miss the dull, ugly garage doors that led the way into beautiful or simply cozy apartment buildings. I always felt like I had been let in on a secret when I got to enter one. I miss the way I could arrive everywhere by walking and never walk through empty lots, even in Bar le Duc.
I miss the escapes into the countryside, where there was more space but the same rules seemed to hold. Every house seemed to be old and every family who owned one was in the process of renovating it. Houses seemed to hide themselves, behind gardens, or down tiny roads, as if waiting to be discovered, and they were always worth discovering. I miss the white lines in the middle of the roads, and how they hardly ever had a shoulder, and the signs that announced the city limits by crossing out the name of the town.
I miss the feeling that no one, once known, was allowed to be transient, and I got very used to that. I expect all of these people to come back into my life at some point and I don’t care when, as long as they know they are welcome and that I expect them. And that doesn’t seem strange to them.
I miss the sense of a world slowly opening up and letting me in, and my feeling that I deserved it. I built a life for myself among things and people that were incredibly new to me, and I want to have the opportunity for that to grow old. Everything daily feels special there because it’s a familiarity that I’ve earned.
In the end I don’t think I can explain, I can just keep trying. There do exist people who aren’t as confused by it, who don’t require much of an explanation, and, as you’d expect, they’re mostly French. I don’t know if it’s just homeland bias, though. I think they have a culture full of people who long to live in the one place they love best. It’s almost always the region where they grew up, so of course I am not quite normal. But I don’t flabbergast them the way I do some Americans. They don’t assume that I hate the States. I think they would respond the same way if I felt that way about Texas and not France. They just accept that I love France because places are meant to be loved.