First-foreign-birthday dread: A quietly universal phenomenon

July 22, 2009 at 12:40 AM | Posted in Paris 2009 | Leave a comment

I have to admit that I was kind of dreading my birthday, which was yesterday.  It wasn’t the prospect of getting older that was bothering me–it was wondering who I was going to spend the evening with, and what we were going to do, and not wanting to plan something for fear that nobody would come, and having terrible visions of ending up with no plans and spending the night in front of the TV watching “Un Dîner Presque Parfait” (a reality show involving competitive dinner party throwing) with only a chocolate tartlette for company.  Not that my imagination can run away with me or anything.  I have made lots of really great friends here, but they are mostly new friendships, and as anyone who moves to a new place knows, it takes awhile before new friends become established friends.  In any case, I pretty much wanted to fast-forward from Sunday to Tuesday.  I was even, privately, feeling a tiny bit resentful towards my parents that I have a summer birthday.  Last summer I spent my birthday in Belgium with Dana and her cousin Jaime (it was on a weekend), so this year effectively felt like my first Paris birthday, and the first birthday of my life for which I’ve ever had any real possibility of ending up without plans.

But, of course, it turned out that I had nothing to worry about.  Grace (my colocotaire, or house-mate) and I decided that it would be easier/more fun to plan to be at a bar during a certain period and tell people to stop by, rather than having a party at our apartment, and we spread the word among both our sets of friends here, as well as to people from our office.  And we had a really nice group of eight or so people at a cute bar/restaurant I like on Quai de Hotel de Ville, on the Seine in the 4th arrondissement.  It was wonderful, and I really have Grace to thank for organizing it–it meant so much to me. As we were leaving, I was saying goodbye and thanking people for coming, and two of my co-workers (one of whom is Italian and recently moved to Paris to get her doctorate in the same research unit as me, and one of whom is French and did either her doctorate or post-doc in the Netherlands) immediately started laughing in sympathy when I said that it meant a lot to me that they had come, especially because it can be hard to have a birthday when you are still getting settled somewhere….and I couldn’t even finish the sentence because they both jumped in and said, “We know! We know! We completely understand because we’ve been through it, too!  It happens to everyone!” So this not only means that I’m not crazy, but also that I’ve entered the great karmic cycle of helping people make their first birthday in Paris memorable.  That is a responsibility I am quite willing to accept.

Afterwards I went out for a champagne toast with Grace and one of her friends, and it was the perfect end to the evening.  And at the end of it all, I felt much calmer and definitely more excited about the idea that one year from now, I will be living in France for a year or more (there’s a distinct possibility that my birthday-dreading was really just displaced, muted anxiety that–holy crap–this ball is rolling and in a year I am going to be packing up my life as I know it and leaving it in a storage unit in Boston).

And the second-best birthday present of all is that I think I was able to open a French bank account today (on the first try! unheard of!), but so as not to jinx it, I am saying nothing more until it’s a done deal.

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