04 August 2011
We've arrived at our new home, in Aix-en-Provence, and despite having all kinds of thoughts of how different, difficult, and exasperating life in France will be as I prepared for our departure, (given some of the bureaucratic hassles others have had and the much-storied readiness of the French to declare something impossible), these first few days have been a revelation in how common and normal life is here. On Wednesday morning, 8/3, I went to the vegetable market in the early morning before the crowds and found myself panicking and not understanding the kind vegetable vendor when she asked me some questions as I purchased a gorgeous head of lettuce and some green onions. I froze and smiled feebly, trying to ask her to try again, yet as I walked off, I realized I was able to tell the boys exactly what she asked me. What else would a market vendor ask, except, 'will that be all?', (c'est tout?), and are you here for vacation (est-ce que vous êtes ici pour les vacances? or something like that). I was clearly overthinking this. Then later in the day, we took our Peugeot 307 wagon (yes, we now own a station wagon!) to Carrefour, the Fred Meyer of France, and Allen suggested we acquire a carte de fidélité. I worried until I realized that the application I was filling out was exactly like the Fred Meyer rewards card application, except in French. In fact, I even asked to sign up for another one today, at Monoprix, the department store around the corner where I will likely do much of my daily shopping.
I've also been worrying about the detailed French school supply lists and finding someone to help us buy the right stuff for school. The supply list is now online, and it is daunting, but I also realized at Carrefour that there were all kinds of French adults struggling over their own children's school supply lists in the aisles set up for the rentrée (the first of day of school). Okay, we can muddle through. And, then there are the appliances in our elegant apartment in the old town section of the city: we've finally managed to get the modern glass stovetop to work, the espresso machine uses capsules that I'm unfamiliar with and keeps dispensing espresso even as the brew turns weak, but by golly, I seem to have figured out the dishwasher, even if I can't tell when the cycle is truly over.
In other words, daily life is really no different than that which we left, in some essential ways. In much of the post-industrialized world, we can expect the salespeople to ask the same things, the appliances to function similarly, and the school supply lists to overwhelm parents' minds and wallets. This realization has been most comforting these first few days. Of course, I am fully aware that the the upcoming visits to the prefectures to settle French residency permits and the French car registration, and the imminent cell phone application and health insurance paperwork may confound us. Hopefully, we will be able to recognize the ways in which these too are common processes.