I’m Going to France and It Makes Me Anxious

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Mark's list of what he wants to do in France, June 2019

Mark’s list of what he wants to do in France, June 2019

“Going to France.” For millions of tourists around the world, these three words can sum up the dream of a lifetime but for anyone who used to call France home or still have relatives in the country, it’s not always a carefree, indulgent vacation.

Never before have I felt so anxious before a trip to France. Yet, over the years, I boarded Delta, Air Canada, Zoom Airlines, Air France and Air Transat flights in various states of mind.

From 2002 to 2006, I was travelling alone and there was always a reason why I had to go to France—visa expiring, running out of money, university exams. You could usually find me crying at Ottawa, Toronto or Montreal airport, sad because I was leaving Feng and I had no idea when we would see each other again. I could still slip into my French life easily back then. I had friends, time and plenty of freedom because I was officially an adult despite sleeping in my teenage bedroom with my Scream and Trainspotting posters.

Feng first travelled to France with me in spring 2008. We had been married for three years by then and my parents hadn’t met him yet, so I was a bit stressed out. And it was a stressful trip, for me at least—it started with a 24-hour wait at Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport because our Zoom Airlines flight was delayed, then cancelled, then rescheduled again for the following day and delayed again. Zoom Airlines declared bankruptcy shortly after. Once in France, I learned that despite goodwill on both sides, it’s actually hard to bridge two cultures and that in a multicultural family, absolutely nothing goes without saying. I had to explain French culture to Feng and introduce him to the many oddities of French families—or possibly just mine.

The following trip in 2010 was a bit easier and eventually, we all started to relax. However, right around the same time, I started crying when leaving France as if I had finally realized I was now living far away from my loved ones to be with another loved one. Bummer.

Not all trips to France were holidays. In March 2012, I boarded an Air France flight to Nantes with a stopover in Amsterdam, I was nauseous and completely overwhelmed—I was two months pregnant and my mom had just had major surgery. I remember noticing for the first time that many people were travelling with babies and it seemed unreal that just a few months from then, I could be one of them. My dad picked me up at the airport, assured me my mom was doing okay and asked if I wanted to go straight to the hospital. “Yes,” I said. “But first I need to puke. I’m pregnant, by the way.” My mom was recovering from the surgery and I was pregnant, which means we spent the following three weeks sleeping a lot and trying to keep food down.

It should have been my last trip before the baby but we travelled to Europe in August for the London 2012 Olympic Games and we took a side trip to France. I remember hiding my big belly under a hoodie because I was afraid EasyJet wouldn’t let a very pregnant woman board the plane. Takeaway from the trip—I can also list about twenty free bathroom all over London because I was seven months pregnant and I had to pee every two minutes.

The first trip with Mark in June 2013 was pretty emotional. After coming back to France with a boyfriend, then married, then pregnant, I was now showing around an eight-month-old baby. For the first time since he was born, I was able to relax a bit since my family was more than happy to play with him. It was heartbreaking to leave, I had gotten used to a level of emotional and practical support and I knew I wouldn’t enjoy once back in Canada.

Then there was the French Christmas where Feng ended up at the ER with a scratched cornea (courtesy of baby Mark), a few more trips with an exhausting toddler, then things got better again. We all more or less found our place. My siblings both left home, they have partners, apartments, busy schedules. I have a different relationship with my relatives too. We’re all experienced adults.

It’s still an emotional rollercoaster for me because even though I’m very happy to see my parents, siblings and close relatives, it’s never easy to be a mother, a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter and more all at the same time while bridging two cultures and using three languages.

And then there’s this year’s trip.

It has been making me anxious for weeks—the worst kind of anxiety, where you notice the many little signs of it without being able to pinpoint the source of worry.

Or maybe the list of what makes me anxious is just too long.

This is going to be the first time I see my mom after she and my dad separated. I’m not sure yet if and how I’ll be able to see my dad, mostly for practical reasons—he moved to a fairly remote place. I still haven’t fully processed the fact my parents are no longer together but being in France is going to make it very real.

Many other things happened this year and none of them is likely to have a happy ending. I’m not ready for this part of adulthood when people are older, vulnerable.

I’m tired. I wish I could be the child and be taken care of during the “holidays” of but I have the feeling that, as usual, I’m going to attempt to fix the unfixable.

I’m afraid to break—there’s only so much pain I can absorb and I really want to help.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

8 Comments

  1. Martin Penwald on

    I still cry when I left France, even if I’m happy to get my routine back.
    Even if now it is stressful, it will probably get largely better once you landed and thing get sorted out (yeah, I know, it’s mundane…).

    • Mundane but somewhat true. I did land and it is as complicated as expected, but it’s less worrisome in a way. I feel that I can attempt to help.

  2. I always, always have something to fix when I go back to France. Apparently being the oldest kid and being far means that when I come back everything gets dumped on me. And I guess I have a way of connecting with even the most stubborn family members.
    I’ve mothered my mother for a looooong time and it’s only over the last couple of years that I’ve been able to do it without feeling too much pressure. Basically decided that I can only do what I can do and the rest is up to them.
    I understand, I always get anxious. I also used to have anxiety about going back to the place where so much sh*t happened, but that seems to be better? I also feel anxious about being judged, what they’ll make of my body / looks / career / whatever they decide they need to judge
    Anyways, all that to say I hear your pain. It’s hard to be the one everyone turns too, it’s hard to become the carer when you too are in need of pampering.
    My “escape” is exercise / long walks on my own, and a couple of friends with whom I can catch up without drama / having to support them (I have to do all the supporting with my best friend too)
    You have Feng too, and remember you can’t help them all without taking care of yourself first. You’ll get through all of this!

    • I’m lucky I guess because I do have a normal (or at least functional) relationship with most close relatives and no hard feeling from my childhood. I’m also not judged or criticized about my own choices, so phew. It’s just… stressful because I’m somehow supposed to have a better overall picture since I’m not here daily yet I’m clueless on many practical aspects of French life. Like, don’t ask me anything about work etiquette for instance, I’m completely North America when it comes to that because I’ve never really worked in France. I wouldn’t know anything about taxes in France either (just examples, I have yet to be quizzed about French taxes!)

      • I hear you! I think because we left before having experienced all that as adults(work, taxes, navigating the system) we’re even less competent than other expats.
        When I go back though it gives me advantage of being able to think outside the box and finding alternative solutions?
        And you can provide them with a high level view of things since you’ve mot been involved in day to day?
        Bon courage

        • I totally agree with the “thinking outside the box” motto, it completely applies here! I find living abroad gives us another perspective. And I do enjoy some French perspective on my Canadian issues as well!

  3. Cecile Puertas on

    Chère Juliette
    Je suis complètement en phase avec ce sentiment : moi aussi j’ai parfois envie d’être juste la fille de mes parents et qu’ils prennent encore soin de moi, sentiment d’autant plus intense chez moi que contrairement à toi je suis fille unique donc j’ai été très couvée et très chouchoutée dans mon enfance et même mon adolescence …
    Mais depuis qqs années, la tendance s’inverse et je me retrouve à devoir prendre soin d’eux et les chouchouter … idem pour mes enfants qui sont grands mais qui ont encore besoin de soutien affectif et … matériel !
    Te concernant, je te conseille de ne pas t’oublier au passage et de demander de l’aide à ceux qui t’entourent car tes besoins ne sont pas moins importants que ceux des autres.
    Mon mantra depuis qqs temps c’est : Who mothers the mother ? Who heals the healer ?
    Bonnes vacances en France

    • Je pense aussi aux mamans qui ont des grands enfants, j’imagine que des fois, on se sent effectivement un peu à plat après des années de mothering et fatalement des parents qui commence à vieillir! On doit pouvoir prendre soin des uns et des autres, mais ce n’est pas toujours facile quand tout le monde a eu une année difficile 🙂

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