psyche update

1. Yesterday morning I went to synagogue with my dad’s friend’s niece Rebecca, a Parisian mother of two whose name had been given to me as a useful “Anglo” and Jewish contact here. Much like communism, the meet-up was a nice idea in theory, but in practice it was disastrous.
The first bad omen was that the synagogue was Orthodox. I guess I could have viewed it as an interesting cultural experiment, but the worst parts of Orthodox shuls are the same everywhere, and I have better things to do in Paris than sit up in the women’s balcony while the men mumble in Hebrew and try to rally financial support for the Israeli army. Afterwards we went downstairs for the kiddush, where Rebecca ate nothing but vociferously encouraged me to partake of the olives and charcuterie because “all we have at home is chicken soup.”
When we got back into her car, she decided she needed to pluck her eyebrows, so she whipped out a pair of tweezers and did so in the rearview mirror. Once that was accomplished, we went home to take her son to tutoring. While we waited for him to get ready, Rebecca asked her 8-year-old daughter why she was watching Shrek and if she was going to watch it all day. Then she made me a challah and dried sausage sandwich despite my protestations of not being hungry, and just as we were about to run out to door, asked me “Do you like cake?” and threw an entire bagful at me.
After we dropped the kid off, she lit up, which ordinarily I could care less about, except that she chased her cigarette with a piece of gum and a vigorous spray of antiperspirant—her kids don’t know she smokes (I’m assuming her husband does, but who knows). “It’s like I’m in high school,” she said, laughing nervously.
I nibbled on the sandwich while she drove around looking for some kind of Lubavitch luncheon, I think with the vague idea of introducing me to young Jewish guys. But when we couldn’t find it (thank God), she decided we should go to the mall.
First we went to Starbucks, where she ordered a big Frappuccino—the only thing I saw her consume between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Then I followed her into a FNAC because she said she needed a new mouse. I pointed her to some optical mice, but she headed straight for the display of Macs and entered into a long conversation with a computer salesman while I perused the CDs and comics. She had apparently decided that this was the right moment to purchase a new computer, complete with a 24-inch monitor, for her husband. So I waited with her in various lines and helped her lug the enormous thing to the car, while she kept apologizing and saying she would “release me soon,” forcing me to reassure her that I was having a great time.
I finally got her to drop me off at the Metro and promised vaguely to come back another time, maybe for Friday night dinner. I’m sure she meant well, but there is no way I am going to subject myself to that again.

2. I tend to be picky about my friends. I can get along with just about anyone if I have to, but it’s relatively rare for me to feel genuinely close to people. This is why I’m usually very persistent about keeping in touch—if I’ve found someone who I truly like, I won’t give that up just because of a silly thing like distance.

During my fall semester, for the first time I can remember, I felt completely and constantly surrounded by a community of the people I liked most. I still had many dear friends who were far away—meaning anything from the other side of campus to New York City to Chicago—but cell phones and trains helped bridge the more daunting distances. On my Thanksgiving and winter breaks, I came home to high school friendships that were still strong as ever, invitations to gallivant around Brooklyn and the Lower East Side with Yale pals, and relationships with my parents that were perhaps better than they’d ever been.
And now I’m in Paris, an ocean and a 6-hour time difference away.

I’m not sad that I’m here—Paris is awesome, I’m enjoying myself, I’m spending time with lots of different people. But I can’t help feeling that just when I finally managed to collect all my favorite people in one place, I left and forced myself to start from scratch.

I know I’ll be back in a few months, and no one is going anywhere in the meantime, at least not that I know of. I can, and do, still keep in touch thanks to various wonderful Internet-based utilities. And I have met a few people here who I genuinely like and could (and probably will) grow closer to. Nonetheless, as one might imagine, it’s difficult not to have my dear friends around me in person. Really, as entertaining as it is to constantly make new acquaintances or reconnect with old ones, it sucks to frequently have no guarantee that I’ll actually enjoy the company of whoever I’m with; see above for the worst-case scenario.

I feel bad complaining in general, and especially about Paris. I want to be able to say that everything is just non-stop awesomeness 100% of the time, wheeee! And things are awesome enough of the time that when people ask me how I’m doing, I can truthfully say that I’m happy. But to be honest, I think I wish I were happier. I’m happy “a peine,” as they say in French, which basically means that I am but I have to work hard to stay that way. After a semester of sheer contentment, which I’d rank higher than happiness any day, it’s sometimes tough to be satisfied with that.

Published in: on February 8, 2009 at 8:29 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Maybe this lady thinks that buying a computer is a cool, American thing to do, and wanted to make you feel at home.

  2. Hey Sarah,

    it’s Jennifer in Beijing.

    Just wanted to comment to say that I totally got what you meant about friends. Yes.


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