Friday, June 22, 2012

France. (A post which has nothing to do with France.)

I am one of those people who thinks she'd like to go to France.

Some people know they want to go to France--unless they go to France, their lives will not be complete. Some people know they DON'T want to go to France, and no matter how many people come back from France gushing about the food and the art and how "Once you go to France, you'll understand!", they don't plan to change their minds.

I don't especially want to go to France. I never have, even when I was little, though sometimes I'd pretend because I quickly realized that saying things like, "You know, I don't even think I want a passport" resulted in lectures from Sunday School teachers.

So I don't actively want to go to France. But I think I'd like to go to France.

The difference is simply this: if opportunities arose and the timing was right, if I had enough money saved up and a solid travel buddy, then yes, I think I'd go to France. I suspect I'll really enjoy it and everyone will be excited for me.

But if those opportunities don't arise, I think I'll also be quite happy going to Spain or Thailand or Australia or Brazil. My heart won't break if I never go to France.

Whereas other people are planning and pining for the day they go to France -- which is probably the more mature way to embark on international travel -- but at least I don't have heartburn over it at the moment. The upside is that, more often than not, they'll succeed in their goal, one way or the other. The downside to all that maturity is if these people never make it to France, they'll be crushed.

Do I worry about that the difference between liking to go and wanting to go will impact my appreciation of France? Not particularly.

There will be people who want to go to France who will arrive and find out it is everything they had hoped and more. There will be people who went to France on a whim who arrive and think, "Uh oh. Do you think there's anyway I can turn around and go home now?"

And then there will be people who planned to go to France their whole lives, but who will spend the entire time in the hotel bathtub with a glass of wine, sobbing that the Eiffel Tower and Louvre were not nearly as pretty as they'd imagined.

And then other people, who merely suspected they might enjoy France if the possibility came up, find themselves running through fields in the French countryside, sunshine on their faces, arms spread wide, grinning like fools and yelling, "FRANCE! Who knew, amiright?"

I think the problems arise when you live in a culture where everyone assumes everyone must WANT to go to France. The concept that someone might not care for France -- or might enjoy French people or pictures of other peoples' vacations to France, but doesn't really want to go themselves -- or merely has a vague inclination toward France -- sits poorly with a lot of people.

The fact is, we have a complicated relationship with France, made more complicated still by a cultural insistence that everyone MUST LOVE FRANCE and MUST WANT TO GO TO THERE, and most importantly, THERE IS ONLY ONE RIGHT WAY TO GO TO FRANCE.

Which means people who don't want to go to France, or people who shouldn't go to France, lest they give the rest of us a bad name, or people who haven't thought it through ... well, they go to France.

And then hate it. And then poor, innocent French people suffer for their mistake.

And people who don't ever get to go, but wanted to go, start feeling resentful of everyone who goes all the damn time. And maybe in the meantime, they could have done some other things, enjoyed the life they had -- but they couldn't stop thinking about France.

And then other people, who haven't gone to France and haven't given it much thought, start feeling resentful that France is constantly shoved in their faces. Who the hell cares that you went to France? ANYONE can go to France. I surfed the North Shore and hiked Havasu Falls and you don't see me yammering on about it!

On the flip side of that, I'm sure people who go to France are thinking, somewhat resentfully, You know, going to France isn't exactly cheap. I sure wish you all would stop inviting me out to brunch every weekend.

Regardless, a few things are clear: The people with the strongest feelings about France, for and against, are usually the most annoying. And people who attach moral value to their own decision to go to France--or refusal to go to France--are the worst.

Because let's get one thing straight: there are a lot of good and bad reasons to go to France or avoid France. If you are not going to France merely because you think it's the ethical thing to do, your friends and acquaintances probably find you insufferable and will soon start "forgetting" to invite you to dinner parties. On the flip side, if you are going to France just because you believe it's your moral duty to do so, you may want to be on the lookout for your future midlife crisis.

Some people arrive in France and realize, "Why did I come to France with you? I don't know how I'm going to get through this."

And some people arrive in France and think, "I'm so glad I came here with you. It wouldn't have been half as nice with someone else."

People change their minds about France throughout their lives. Some people go to France once and call it good, other people make biannual trips. And of course, other people have a lot to say about all that because when it comes to France, we sure can't seem to shut up about other peoples' decisions.

Some people compromise on the issue of France.

And then other people, who initially thought they were on the same page, find out that someone else changed their mind. Then I guess you have to decide -- can you be happy living your life without France, or without going to France again? Can you bite the bullet and go to France and hope you like it? Or do you part ways and hope you can find a new person who wants to travel where you want, knowing that they also might change their mind down the road?

And then here's this really weird phenomenon about France: people who never wanted to go wind up crushed if someone tells them they can't go--because sometimes even if you didn't want to go to France, maybe you still want the option of changing your mind.

People who never wanted to go end up booking a flight at the very last minute, because why not? And then maybe it turns out they LOVE France and can't figure out why they didn't go sooner. Or maybe they LOVE France and are really glad they waited so long to go because they appreciated it more at that point in their lives.

Because isn't the most important thing enjoying France, if you do happen to go?

Some people go to France by themselves. Personally, I wouldn't ever go to France by myself, or for that matter, with someone who didn't want to go to France at least as much as (and ideally more than) I did. I think there's nothing worse than the idea of dragging someone across the ocean to France. But if you really want to go to France, and no one ever comes along who seems like a good traveling companion, well then bon voyage my friend.

And some people may wake up one day and realize, "I forgot to go to France!"

But I suspect that one is more of a cultural urban legend. No one forgets to go to France.


  1. Okay, so where I'm from and where I've lived I have not run across this people dying to go France phenomenon. If you replaced Europe as a whole with the word France then maybe I can understand this, but I guess I've always thought of France as part of the whole and if I drive close enough I will go to Paris.

  2. Or if I looked at the title I would realize you weren't really talking about France. Haha.

  3. I have my theories about France (and for this post, for that matter), but let me say this--it's a nice place to visit and all, but it's /always/ about the company you keep. ;)

  4. "You know, I don't even think I want a passport" resulted in lectures from Sunday School teachers.

    I have so been there.

    My problem is that both me and my travel buddy are unsure about going to France. Sometimes we think, "France is a great idea! Once we can afford it in 10 years." Other times once thinks France is awesome and the other is all, "Hellllzzz no." Most of the time, both of us are anti-France. And then there is the ever present pressure from the many people we know who've gone to France and definitely think we need to go. My friend, who is about to go to France, is telling me about all the planning and everything and now I am thoroughly worried about ever going to France.

    Or maybe I just totally misinterpreted this whole France thing and my comment doesn't apply. Whatever.

    1. You're picking up what I'm putting down. :)

  5. My cousin wanted to go to France. She went for a month trip after college and after a week she called crying to come home. She hated it.

    I went to Italy. LOVED it. Have no desire to go back.

    There are so many places I'd like to go... maybe someday. But for right now, I'm in my favorite place of all... home.

  6. i swear i read the title, but i didn't realize we weren't talking about france til about halfway....oh well. i didn't care to go to france either. and then i did it. and i quite like france. but i wouldn't have known any different or have missed out on some big necessary part of life if i'd never been. france is france. spain is cool too.

  7. This is pretty brilliant. And I think it applies to more than just what you're applying it to. (And apparently I've decided that ending a sentence with a preposition is acceptable after 1:30 a.m.)

  8. Hahahahaha interesting post. I must say that I've always wanted to go to France, but I can't even begin to explain why without sounding weird. :-D

  9. I used to want to go to France, and I cried a lot of tears when my travel buddy wanted to go other places instead. I also worried a lot, because France made me nervous and uncomfortable. What if I didn't like France? What if I never wanted to go back to France? What if I lost my passport? I recently decided to let go of my plans to go there and now I think I'm of the same mind as you. I might go, someday, if it works out. I think I'd like to go, but I don't really feel like I need to. And, oh, it's been a joy, spending my time doing things you can't do in France, and wearing decidedly non-French clothes. Not-France is pretty awesome.

    1. Yes! Not-France IS awesome. And that doesn't have to take away from the awesomeness of France -- they are just two, awesome-in-different-ways experiences.

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    3. Sandy -- Definitely enjoy the non-French clothes; especially if you don't like stripes. Once I decided to go to France, the only clothes that will fit are striped.

  10. Then some people are so excited about France, that they call you from Paris, Tennessee to tell you about their almost France-like trip because the actual trip to France isn't panning out just yet. . .And you can't help but look at them like they've lost their marbles, because, REALLY?!?! Paris, Tennessee? Today?

  11. Amen, sister. When we finally decided we were ready to go to France it all came together very quickly so I'm feeling a little bit travel sick at the moment. (And probably the reason why Di is scared to go to France at the moment quite frankly ... oops. There were all sorts of things about the trip on the way to France I had no clue about ... like raging insomnia or losing my ability to grip things in my right hand.) You are right on about so many things here, but especially these two: People will not shut up about other people's decisions about whether or not to go and they will not shut up about what to do in France once you get there. I am very tired of other people telling me what my itinerary should be when we finally arrive. My trip may not be conventional and include the Eiffel Tower but that doesn't make me a horrible human being. It just means I see value in a different travel approach/schedule. And if I get there and decide that I don't like the schedule I originally planned on and I do decide to go see the Eiffel Tower, that doesn't mean I sold out or deserve to be subjected to grief from everyone who thinks that the people who see the Eiffel Tower are lazy or doing all of womankind and the business world at large a disservice. And yes, I kind of do wish people would stop inviting me to brunch because France is freaking expensive but I don't know how else to get in social interaction and one thing that terrifies me about France is isolation. So the cost of brunch is worth guarding against losing all my non-French friends once I get there. There are some things I'm really excited about getting to do and see in France, but I don't understand why everyone is so insistent "that everyone MUST LOVE FRANCE and MUST WANT TO GO TO THERE, and most importantly, THERE IS ONLY ONE RIGHT WAY TO GO TO FRANCE."

  12. I love this analogy so much. And I love even more that you never directly said what it was about, though you were good enough to point out that it isn't about France. Bravo, Ru!
    PS I'm in Utah right now. We're in the same state!

  13. This was a great read and an excellent reminder that mellowing a bit might foster greater happiness all around. And now I've got a hankering for french toast.

  14. My current traveling partner and I are pretty sure we'll be going to France in the next few years. The only thing we haven't agreed on is what we'll do once we get there. Of course, we want to see the more grown up spots, like the Louvre and Versailles.

    But then, later I'd like to see Cite des Enfants and EuroDisney. He promises we'll go to those places as well, but I can tell thinking about it makes him antsy. Like he's not sure if those will be his kind of tourist attractions. I guess we'll find in a few years, when we have a little more money :-)

    P.S. I loved this post

  15. So I'll be honest. I didn't even read this post. But I had to come over here and say how much your comment on Mormon Child Brides post meant to me. I am tempted to share it with everyone I know. LOVE LOVE LOVE

    1. Thanks so much! It's nice to meet you :)

  16. I always wanted to go to France. So I did and mainly I live there. I always wanted to write a book. Some people say I did and some people say I didn't. Enjoyed your post.