Last week I came back to the U.S. for an extended visit. And it feels a little weird.
Due to circumstances, I changed my flight and flew home earlier than originally planned, and will be in the U.S. almost six weeks. While I’m grateful to spend this much time with my friends and family, there’s a part of me that knows this is too much time at once. The length of time is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just more. More family dinners, more happy hours, more lunches. More group chats to coordinate all of these plans. More questions. All of this making it a bit more difficult to say goodbye at the end.
Being back is a bit odd. In a way it feels as if I never left, and in another, I know I’ve abandoned my city and will do so again as this is temporary. The first time I saw the Philly skyline wasn’t until a few days after I flew back. I almost forgot how stunning it is. Walking through Center City I felt small in comparison to the looming towers, as if they have the power to crush me at any moment. My room is exactly how I left it, but I can’t remember where certain things are. Driving my car for the first time in months (jet lagged and sleep deprived to my weak defense)…well I’ll tell you that story another time.
Seeing my friends and family is incredible. I get to hug people and I don’t want to let go. I get to see my friends’ new house, meet my baby cousin, and legally drink with my sister. It’s a wonderful feeling of being back and I’m loving every moment. I’m spending time with people as if all this time hadn’t passed–not that I expected anything else. Even so, there are moments when people tell me they’re planning something exciting, but I already know I can’t attend.
“I’m sorry I won’t be here for that.”
“We’ll be back in Paris by then.”
“I’ll send you the dates for my next visit.”
The first thing everyone wants to know is which city I like more: Philadelphia or Paris. Philadelphia has always been near and dear to my heart. As a child, I hated when my parents moved us away. For college, I hardly considered enrolling anywhere outside the city (then again, I hardly considered many colleges).
There’s something special about Philly. It’s unique in that it’s home to so many different types of people. You feel as if you can accomplish anything here. The city gives off this vibe that I have yet to find anywhere else. The camaraderie of walking down the street and saying hi just to say hi. You can go to a bar and run into someone you haven’t seen in awhile, or run into the same people you saw at a different bar the night before.
While I love Philly and could go on and on and on about why I love it (trust me, I could write forever about the glorious cheesesteak), Paris is almost indescribable. Paris can be anything you want it to be, but you have to live it. I can’t tell you what it’s like to turn a street corner and find the Eiffel Tower, or to sit on the canal with some saucisson and a bottle of wine. There’s a certain feeling you get in Paris that can only be experienced. It won’t matter how many pretty adjectives I use, there are some places you can only understand by being there.
One aspect I love about Paris is the overall lack of urgency. I don’t think I’ve been to a restaurant for less than an hour; you’re not rushed by wait staff or worried you’re taking up space. I walk almost everywhere (something I already miss), opting to take the stairs and don’t mind the extra physical activity if it means I can have extra bread at dinner. Yes, the bread tastes different and is better in France. (No, I can’t explain why it’s that way, you have to try it yourself.)
I also find myself being more mindful in Paris. If I’m going to a store I need to remember to bring a tote bag (plastic bags at checkout aren’t free and scarcely used). If I want to do laundry I should check the weather to see if it’s a good day to put the drying rack outside or not (yes, my almost dried laundry has been caught in a sunshower). I don’t overbuy groceries and try to buy foods specific to recipes; there’s less waste and it’s better for my wallet. Plus, stores close early and often are closed on Sundays, so planning ahead is a good idea.
I’ve been back in Philly one week and can already notice a difference in myself. I’ve lost my routine and am struggling to rebuild one. I tell myself I need to work out, practice my French, get on a sleep schedule–nothing’s materialized. I’m out almost every night. I’m tired, partly from jetlag, partly from going back to the idea that I can be in five places at once and accept every invitation to do something. It’s difficult to say if it’s because I live differently in Paris vs. Philly, but I can’t ignore that there’s more happening in Philly on a personal level. There’s family dinners, friends’ birthdays, baseball games, wedding events, new houses to see, etc.
My attention has shifted from myself to what’s happening around me and in the lives of others. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But I know I need to remember that it’s okay to take a timeout and focus on myself at times. As much as I want to spend every moment possible with friends and family, it’s not physically possible–and at times can be stressful and overwhelming, especially when I have to say no to something.
Nevertheless, I’m incredibly grateful for this time with everyone and I aim to make the most of it. I don’t care if everyone asks me the same questions. I don’t care if I have almost every minute of this month planned (as long as I get a little R&R). I don’t care as long as I’m with the people I love, then it’s all worth it in the end.