Paris Journal #8: Culture Shock


Looking back on this article nearly 15 years later, not much in my experience of America has changed. I still feel somewhat brain-dead soon after I arrive in the US to visit family, like someone has slipped something into my drink. In a way, I feel that’s how people manage to cope on a day-to-day basis just to get through normal life in America.

In retrospect, I was lucky to be able to escape when I did. I probably couldn’t afford to now, had I continued living there. In the end, I lost the house to the bank, but I have no regrets. It allowed me to create a new life in Europe, where I found my family and where I can live happily in a society that cares for all its members, not only the rich.


Santa Fe – Monday, 28 July 2003:­ At six o’clock this morning, I was awakened by the call of mourning doves right outside my window. It was the first night I had actually been able to sleep since my arrival because it finally cooled off enough to do so.

Had this been Paris, I would certainly have slept right through those bird calls, since I am now used to various sounds coming through my bedroom window at all hours, be it pigeons, rubbish trucks, or arguing neighbors. But I am in Santa Fe, where it is so quiet you can hear the grass growing — if there were any here. The only things growing in my immediate vicinity are chamisa and piñon.

I have returned to Santa Fe to finish up some business and get my house sold, in order to really settle into my new life in France. Having now lived in Paris for the past two-and-a-half months, to say that returning to the States has been something of a culture shock would be an understatement.

Although I realize that I have not been away for very long, I’ve gotten used to the Parisian way of life. In Paris, I can just run downstairs every morning and get a fresh baguette, hot from the oven; or a pain au chocolat, the chocolate still warm and gooey. The thought of climbing into my old beat­-up Subaru and driving ten minutes to the nearest supermarket for a loaf of bread that could have been baked a couple of weeks ago is not particularly pleasant.

I must content myself for now with a bowl of Cap’n Crunch — one of my guilty American pleasures. It seemingly cannot be found in Paris, even at the nearby shop where expatriate Americans can get everything from Apple Jacks to Ziplocs at exorbitant prices. It’s no wonder so many people are diabetic in this country, having sickeningly sweet cereals like this for breakfast on a regular basis!

So I’m sitting down at my dining table with my tea and cereal and looking out toward the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. It’s a toss­up as to which has the better view, the one here or the one from my apartment in Paris.

They are both pretty spectacular. I will miss seeing rainbows framed against a background of mountains, red desert, and endless cerulean sky, which is one reason why so many people flock to Santa Fe. But then looking out toward the Eiffel Tower over the rooftops of Paris every day isn’t so shabby, either!

As far as I can tell, estate agents here and in France are no different. As far as I’m concerned, they are the equivalent of used car salesmen. Hey, I can place some ads in the newspaper myself and it won’t cost me anywhere near the six percent they get as a commission. I just don’t see how they can justify the cost when all they do — from my point of view as a seller — is place a few ads, show someone my house, and take care of the paperwork.

It takes as much effort to sell a cheap house as an expensive one, yet I get to pay thousands of dollars more for the same work because my house is worth more than someone else’s. That’s like paying four times as much as the person next to you for the same items at the grocery store because they drive an old beat-­up Subaru and you drive a BMW.

Nevertheless, I get screwed both ways, as it is the buyer who pays the commission in a French real estate transaction, as opposed to the seller who pays in the U.S. So by selling my home in the States and moving to France I get to pay the estate agents twice!

Being briefly back in the US has given me the opportunity to pick up a few things that, in France, are absurdly expensive. Jeans, for instance. If I actually bought enough Levis here in the States to fill two suitcases, I could probably pay for my entire trip with the profits. Luckily, I don’t wear them myself, but a few of my new French friends are for some reason mad for a pair of Levis. They cost something like 80 euros a pair in France, as opposed to around 30 dollars on sale here in the US I can’t figure out why. After all, denim originally came from France, right?

The fabric is called denim precisely because it was the serge material created in the southern French town of Nimes ­ “serge de Nimes.” The French probably jack up the price because they are mad that Americans took something they had relegated to the peasants and proceeded to make huge profits from it.

That, or perhaps they just want to impose a hefty tax on any French person who wants to dress like an American. I can’t say I blame them.

There are also no large drug stores anywhere in France like a Walgreen’s or CVS. Yesterday, I walked into CVS and marveled — as if I had never seen it before — at the endless shelves of aspirin, cough medicine, cold medications, and scores of other things right there at arm’s reach.

In France, you need to take a number and wait in line to ask the pharmacist for even a dozen aspirin! And to have need something like a laxative would make anyone prefer to suffer rather than let everyone in the pharmacy know about their digestive problems. In the US, you can walk into a drug store with your sunglasses on and pick up all manner of embarrassing products with nobody but you and the checkout clerk the wiser for it.

But I must admit to feeling more than a little brain­dead here. For some reason, my mind and senses became a bit dulled once I stepped off the plane in the States. It could be the altitude, but I have created more art in Paris in my short time there than in my six years in Santa Fe. So I guess Paris is good for me.

Paris Journal #8: Culture Shock

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