Worries

My son recently suggested I start a ‘no worry’ club when we go back to the US. One of the nicest things about being in France this year is how many worries I can let go. Of course we are still all going to drown in a sea of plastic, or a just a rising sea, and existential crises are always a thing here in Jean-Paul’s patrimoine, but there are some little things that I have stopped worrying about. They make a big difference!

  1. LUNCH – Sunday evening in my US town is when the supermarkets are full of harried parents, desperately searching for snacks and lunch options that keep well, will get eaten, and don’t cost an arm and a leg. It’s such a stressful end to every weekend and school vacation. I have had to pack some kind of lunch or snack for my son every day since preschool. That is at least 2,000 meals I have prepared at home for him. I also have to worry about lunch for myself for the 42 minutes I get to eat at my work. As a single working parent, I really dislike how much time, money, scheduling and creativity, I have to pour into this venture. If I don’t make my own lunch, the options are few and usually not very healthy. Here in France no matter where I go, I will be able to get a very good lunch for somewhere between $5-12. Of course French people get Tickets Restaurants so their lunches are subsidized. Yesterday my son came home talking about bulgur and whether I could cook it. Additional bonus! My child is learning about food from another source. He gets something like the above menu four days a week and the full price is about $120 for four months. If we could prove reduced income it would be a lot less. He doesn’t come home from school famished and in a terrible mood because he has had plenty of time to eat a hot and filling lunch. This may seem like a small thing but how much of your sucky work day is because you’re just hungry or had to eat something unhealthy? A healthy hot lunch means I won’t be crying at 4 pm and my son comes home full of energy.
Hotel vending machine. An actual meal!

2. FRUGALITY – I am a cheapskate and everyone in France loves to save money! I really appreciate being in a culture where saving money is a national sport and people are proud of it. Today I took home a pair of unwanted socks from a friend and a head of lettuce. People are often sharing tips on how to save money and where to get the best deals. I signed up for an app to save restaurant leftovers from being wasted and when I show up with my Tupperware, I am greeted just like a regular customer. There is no shame in saving money, keeping stuff out of the trash stream, or trying to spend less.

3. CRITICAL BIKE MASS – In the US I often feel like the group between DUI desperate cyclists careening dangerously along and titanium heads or weekend warriors is very small indeed. But here showing up by bike is nothing remarkable and at rush hour or even on a cold rainy night I am not alone on my bike! I see men in business suits, women in white coats, parents with one or two children, delivery people, and all sorts of completely average people. Driving is too expensive, bad for the environment and just a general pain. I wish I could convince more of the people where I live that this is an absolute truth.

4. MY BIKE – I don’t have to worry about my bike being stolen because I don’t have one! It’s a hard worry to let go of after all of these years trying to remember if I put my bike in the garage. I use the public bikes here for 20 euros a year and they aren’t perfect but it’s never something I have to remember to worry about!

5. SOCCER MOMMING – or rather transportation for my child. As a single parent who works full-time I have spent years worrying about how to get a ride for my son. During his pre-school years I had about ten minutes between when I could drop him off and when I had to be at work. So much stress, so many worries. Now that he is older I have to think about out-of -town games, begging for rides, hoping for carpools when he starts a new activity, or devoting hours of my time to driving, waiting and then driving home again. For 10 euros a month my son has an unlimited public transportation pass. He goes all over town on his own and many much younger kids do the same. He asked if he could have a metro pass like this when we get back to the US. Sigh.

6. SOCIAL NORMS – This is a bit of an odd one but I have often struggled with knowing what to say and how to start and end conversations in the US. Hug? Linger? Invite someone in? Stay on the front step but keep talking? I so appreciate the codified greetings here and the normalizing of many social interactions. One always says hello and goodbye and thank you – even to the bus driver, to all neighbors, to the baker. I appreciate this. It’s not quite a habit yet but both my son and I are starting to do it much more often.

7. MY HEALTH – I have noticed that I am much less worried about a weird mole or a sore foot here and I think it is because all health worries in the US are two-fold. I was getting weird headaches last year so I got an MRI which cost me an arm and a leg WITH insurance. Here that procedure would be 100 euros WITHOUT insurance. The financial component of health care makes every health scare feel like a potential double disaster. The worry that the weird mole is just one step away from my family having a Gofundme page is real. We see it in the US every day. I think that the financial fears magnify the health fears and made me much more prone to disastrous thinking for any bodily malfunction. Knowing that I can probably afford even the weirdest health disaster has made me much less worried about every little thing. Also, if I need to go to a doctor or a dentist here, I just open an app on my phone, pick an appointment time and then go! I can go see any health care provider who has a time available and many of them do at any given time. The urgency and drama around various health concerns has evaporated here in France.

So my dear stressed friends in the U.S. If you missed lunch, or had to get up extra early to make a lunch that your kid might not even eat, if you’re worried about what that mammogram is going to show (and cost you), if you’re tired of trying to act like you’re not worried about money and if your bike is gathering dust — your life IS stressful. So many of these things could be easier or not even a concern. And then we could use our brain power to worry about the state of our democracy, the rising seas, and the plastic flood.

I talked to the woman riding this bike, she was over 80 and buying bread from two different bakeries on a Sunday morning: one more expensive bread to eat fresh and the other cheaper one to put in the freezer and save. Bike riding, frugality, friendly social interaction and baguettes!!

And #8 which I totally forgot because I have completely stopped thinking about it – GUNS! I don’t have to worry about someone shooting me at work or my child in his classroom. There are some hunters roving about in the woods in France but statistically we are so much better off. We walked through dark streets of Marseille past 11 pm on a cold Sunday night and while it was a little eerie it was not nearly as frightening as some similar experiences in US cities…

6 thoughts on “Worries”

  1. I feel happy knowing that you are there.
    I resonate with all the reasons for worry that exhaust the common man in the US, vastly minimizing the inclination to engage with civic life. Thus, they/we are notoriously fearful/anxious, are in perpetual stress states because they/we balk at any institutional policies that resemble socialism. A self-created collective stress-state.

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    1. Excellent question and I got some interesting responses. 1. That’s an American question – French guy says – when I was in NY everyone asked me that. So really, not an answer. I don’t think the anxiety levels are as high here. 2. France’s place on the world stage. 3. Work. 4. My job. 5. Changing jobs. All the rest of the answers are about work. The thing that is really hard here is that changing jobs or even getting a job requires very specific diplomas, certificates and paperwork. So, for example, if a musician I know wants to tune pianos, he has to have a degree or certificate in piano tuning (very expensive) in order to legally be able to bill for his services. Changing careers is very difficult. Younger French people envy us our immense professional freedom. I could tune pianos, call myself a life coach, become a consultant, work in a restaurant, open a restaurant, start any number of businesses in the US without necessarily needing any kind of special training.

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