Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Announcement

Some of you have known this for a while, others have learned of it recently, and I suspect for most of you this is the first time you've heard it, but if everything goes as planned, I'll be moving back to the States, Austin initially, toward the end of October.

This isn't necessarily something I wanted to do, as those of you who read my 20th anniversary post about a month ago must realize, but despite understandable ambivalence, I feel pretty good about it. I'd had it in my mind to move to Barcelona for some time, but between the horrible experience I had there this spring with the state railroad (which, true, had nothing to do with the city itself) and my last visit, where I looked at an apartment and had a very palpable sense of not wanting to live, not only in that apartment, but also in the city, it just didn't seem like a good idea. One thing I noticed was that I seemed incapable of integrating a new language in my old brain, and that I'd have to learn two (Spanish and Catalan, although you can get by with just Spanish) in order to live there.

When I got back to Montpellier from that, the sense of having to do something just got stronger and stronger. Mme Merde and family were on vacation, but domestic violence flared both downstairs and in a nearby apartment where the drunken couple kept pitching things out of the window, including, one memorable afternoon, the tall, rage-filled guy who sat, sobbing into a cell-phone to what I assume was a suicide hotline, for about an hour, trying to figure out whether to push himself off the windowsill into the alley below. And now Mme Merde is back and the shrieking at the kids is once again part of the mix, as is the kids' crying.

This is no way to live, yet if I wanted to get a new apartment, I'd be out of luck. I'd have to put a year's rent in escrow, pay three months' "security" to the property management firm that fronts for the actual owner (and just accept that I'd never see it back), and possibly a month's rent as a bribe. Then they'd probably turn me down because I'm over the French retirement age, plus I work for myself (unheard of in most of Europe, but most especially in France), and, finally, because I'm an American. You can't trust Americans. There's a reason all the Americans I know who live in France full-time are married to French people (or other EU nationalities) and the rest have left. Essentially, they don't want us here except as free-spending tourists.

Okay, fine. There's also the fact that it's almost impossible for someone like me to get a residence permit without maintaining a bank balance of about $100,000, and I'm not quite sure where I'd get that, or, if I had it, that letting it sit in the bank to appease the French authorities would be the best use of it. I'd also have to live here legally for five years before I'd have access to the social services I'd have been paying for with my taxes all along. True, I had access to the hospital system when I had my little adventure last December, but with full access to the system I wouldn't have had to pay nearly as much as I did for that, even though it was, according to my sister, who teaches nursing, about 1/6 of what I would have paid for the same services in the States.

And in a way, that experience, too, has fuelled my decision to leave. My doctor told me right after I got out of the hospital that there was an emergency social service I could use to pay the bill, or most of it. She had no idea what it was, though. I finally found it, a couple of months later, but by then it was too late to apply for aid. Now, this points out another thing that's been eating at me: I don't know anyone here, and it's been nearly five years. In Berlin, I would have had German friends who would have known right away what to do: oh, yes, you just go to this agency and blah blah blah. I had friends who were (and are) social workers. I bet my doctor would have known, come to think of it.

So after five years here, I still don't have a social circle, and that's probably the central factor in my discontent. In Berlin, although the membership changed over 15 years, there were always people to hang out with, to have over for dinner (which I can't do here because this apartment's too damn small), to have a beer with, to go places with. They were involved with the art world, the music scene, kept track of new restaurants (especially ethnic ones) opening up, they were in the media, and hell, some of them even had Real Jobs.

Right now I have a crucial problem that I could have gotten solved in Berlin: I need to estimate the volume, in cubic meters, of what I want shipped. Just as some people are color-blind or tone-deaf, I'm space-challenged. That's one reason I wound up in an apartment that was way too small for me. It looked fine empty. In Berlin, someone I knew could look at all this junk, say how much of it there was, and I could tell the movers and get a quote.

I'll figure that out over the next month, and I'll certainly be adding to this blog, both from here and from my new digs in the foreign country I was born in. I'll be registering the hopes and the regrets I'll be encountering along the way.

But I'll tell you one regret I won't have: an end to translation. No, not language translation. That kind of takes care of itself after a while, and I was pretty good in French before I got here. But one thing I won't have to do in the States is currency conversion. If I have $500 and that thing over there costs $300, I can buy it. If I have $500 in the bank and that thing costs €300, um... I will no longer have to check the exchange rate every morning, and for that I'm thankful. I also won't have to translate temperatures and lengths: I've gotten a pretty good feel for kilometers over the years, but those smaller units, well, not so much. (You can tell: I'm still thinking of those boxes I'll have to pack and how many cubic meters they'll be.)

So stick around. This is going to get more interesting, I bet.


  1. You say you don't know any Americans here full time who aren't married to EU people.


  2. Austin will treat you like a returning prince, Ed. I for one will be glad to have you closer, though I envied your French dining experiences when you could afford them. God speed and safe travels (i.e., pick a good mover!)

  3. I know I'm not a very reliable friend, but I'm here in Montpellier and I will definitely miss you...
    I wish you best of luck with your cubic metering (I'm space-challenged too), and of course best of luck back in Austin.
    Do stay in touch, though, or I'll be most put out!

  4. We'll be happy to have you back. We haven't had a fondue party since you visited ages ago. - Leah & Nigel

  5. Hi Ed, use this handy device to help you calculate the volume of your stuff

  6. perhaps a Berlin redux is in order....

  7. Despite what appears to be the best efforts of Texas and the US Congress to the contrary, you should be able to get--for the first time ever--decent affordable guaranteed-issue health insurance in the US in January, which probably makes returning feasible for the first time since...I dunno, forever? I'm all for this--you're much more likely to show up in the Bay area if you're only two time zones away.

  8. Also, you can reduce the cubic meters by throwing some of the merde away. If you haven't used it in five years, toss it.

  9. Best of luck with your move 'home'!

  10. Well, I think moving back to Austin sounds just fine, Ed. I'd go back if I could, but I'm...married to a European. Good luck in your next chapter!

  11. "a very palpable sense of not wanting to live [in Barcelona]". I totally didn't see that one coming. I just re-scanned your last Barcelona blog entry and, the linguistic issue aside, you sounded as upbeat about the place as before.

    It saddens me that your experience of France was so negative and that you are leaving Europe on that note but France is indeed a difficult place to live in at times, even for the French.

  12. Those of us in Austin will be happy to have you back here!

  13. Perhaps move only yourself and one or two other essentials. Generally in the USA, people regularly discard excellent items to their trash bin or Goodwill. It's possible to outfit an entire apartment quite well from an array of consignment shops for a fraction of what shipping will cost.


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