Home again…some comparisons
So, here I am back on USA soil. It surprised a lot of people, including me. Well, not totally, because I gradually had the sense that soon, I’d be ready to return to my own country. It starts as a small niggling emptiness, missing family more, then seeing my place in the world gradually shifting continents. Needless to say my family was ecstatic. We were used to being in different countries, but that was starting to get old, you know, the 18-hour trips to come for Christmas. Now, we’re a mere three and a quarter hour drive away. Such a luxury!
People talk about reverse culture shock. I don’t think I had reverse culture shock, but I have noticed many things that are very different. Sometimes the US has the winning features, and other times it’s France. It helps me appreciate having lived in another culture for so many years.
People: the people are generally more approachable here, less reserved. They smile more, are easier to get to know, and more willing to give information. I really appreciate this pleasant aspect of Americans as I move through daily tasks.
The French might take time to become your friend, but they’ll probably be your friend for life. In the big city, they have this psychic distance they hold on their faces, an invisible barrier they carry as they travel in the metro or walk in the streets. Once you get through, it’s worth the wait.
Housing: Being in a suburban house instead of paying twice as much for a small apartment has been a treasure I appreciate daily. However, I do miss city life, especially Paris city life, which is so vibrant, never sitting still. I miss being able to set out the front door of the apartment building and just start walking, sometimes for 2 hours, seeing and experiencing new neighborhoods, many different streets and sights, and knowing that if I got lost, I could hop on the metro and find my way home. Here we have a wooded neighborhood, which is lovely, but different.
Food: Food in the USA is expensive compared to France, and of lesser quality. Sorry, but it’s true. In Paris I used to go to the open market once or twice a week and fill up a big canvas wheeled bag with fruits and veggies for about 17 euros (around $22.) Then I’d spend maybe $60. At the regular grocery store, and that was it for the week. Of course, it helps if your wheeled cart can only hold so much. No big car trunk to put in the items you just want to stock. (There’d be no place to stock them anyway in a Parisian apartment!)
Medical care: ouch! It’s WAY more expensive in the USA. In France you can go to any doctor you want. There’s no such thing as a network or an HMO or PPO, or whatever. You go and pay less for the visit, then are reimbursed 70% by the government, if you have coverage (everyone does, unless you’re a visitor). In the US, you have to see who’s in your network before making the appointment, and switch all your doctors when you switch insurance. You pay a lot for your premiums then pay a lot for your co-insurance. But overall, the French system costs less, that is, until you calculate what you pay in “social charges” to cover it, which is about 20% of your income (no that’s not tax. Income tax comes after that!) I guess you’d call all this a tradeoff.
Cell phones: Way more expensive in the USA, surprisingly. Even when you bundle services you pay two or three times more for them here. Not only that, you pay to receive and make calls here, and in France you only pay to make calls. But there, they charge you sometimes to stop your service, and they charge for customer service calls of almost any kind.
The US is WAY cheaper for gasoline. But Paris has an excellent public transportation system which is safe and reasonable, as well as easy to use. It’s so practical, and much better than public transportation in most cities I’ve seen here.
It’s easy to get caught up comparing. One place costs more for one thing, another place is cheaper on something else. The bottom line is where are you supposed to live? Where are you at home? For us, there’s a time for everything, and it was time to be here. We’re happy with that decision for many reasons, but we were happy for many years in France. It’s a wonderful place to live. And wherever you are supposed to live for the time being, that’s where you’ll create a life and a budget, find your routines, your favorite ways to save money and enjoy your life.
Wherever you are.