During my first tourism course at Arizona State University, I learned you don’t “live” someplace (that is, you’re not a resident) until you’ve resided in said destination for one year. Since I’m only in Saumur for seven months, I’m actually a long-stay tourist, similar to students who study abroad, or people like Ben Wyatt.
Never technically a resident but passing the better-half of a year here, I’ve needed to expedite my process of building a community and settling in.
How? By simply showing up.
Walking home from work about three weeks ago, trying to race the setting sun, a young woman on the road threw me an extremely friendly smile as she passed and we exchanged “bonjour”‘s. I thought, “wow, that is one friendly woman. Was I supposed to recognize her?”
I was. I didn’t realize until after two minutes of trying to place her that I definitely knew her. She’s one of the lovely workers at a local chocolate bar I visit regularly, and she recognized me on the road, out-of-shop, out-of-context.
“Wow,” I thought. “That makes me a local.”
The most exciting thing about building a new life is when you notice the first signs of it actually happening– that what you’re doing works, and the long-awaited ‘establishment’ is finally blooming.
These following weeks, I’ve been to the chocolate shop twice, and struck-up a conversation with the same lady. Additionally, I was told, “see you later,” when leaving a crêperie I dine at about once per month, and asked “how are you doing?” in very friendly language by the owner of a cafe I frequent for €3,60 quiche Saturday mornings. She even touched my hand when I answered that I was freezing cold.
Even if I don’t want to (and lately I’ve been in a progression rut and therefore deflated, so I really don’t want to), I pull myself up by the bootstraps and put myself out there. I sit with people in the cafeterias. I frequent the same cafes and stores to make my face known. I tell the local wine-shop owner and pharmacist my name. I never keep to myself in the teacher’s lounge and, most importantly, attend community events.
Saumur has a beautiful, quaint and lively farmers market every Saturday morning, rain or shine, below-freezing temperatures or above-. I go. This past Sunday, I happened upon a lovely flea market in the town center when walking home from the station. I didn’t just go, but I meandered, talked and purchased something from my fellow Saumurians.
No matter who you are, where you are, or how scared you are, you can join a community. I’m sick of being teased for my accent, and sometimes frustrated beyond my wits for not being able to form a proper sentence using the correct words, or watching at a condescending smile emerge from my listener’s face. But if I can still show up, so can you.
The most important lesson I’ve learned from these last four months is how wonderful people are. There are bad nuggets out there who are mean, or who refuse to sympathise. Thankfully, they’re few and far in-between. I believe in humanity and I have faith in Us. My experiences as an outsider, stranger and foreigner have amplified every bit of my belief in human goodness and sympathy.
I’ll defend the French people to my deathbed as the kindest bundle of people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my life. My fantastic colleagues are an invaluable support system and my friends are outrageously generous. Together, they’re always able to pull me out of my ruts and low points, and, despite their stereotypes as cranky and pretentious, all I had to do was show up, and they work hard to make sure I arrive.