Threatening To Become An Expat Isn't The Answer

Like many other democrats on Tuesday night, I was extremely disheartened to see the overwhelmingly red results of the midterm elections. And as with every election that doesn't go our way, I heard many an outraged liberal friend say they should just up and move out of the country. The threat, while usually empty, is also nothing new.

I remember when George W. Bush won for a second time, my father was so hellbent on moving to Canada — Banff to be exact — that he actually sat down with his lawyer to discuss how difficult it would be to pick up and move there. Canada wasn’t that far away, and he could still spend the holidays with his extended family, went his rationale. But my mother wasn’t having it; she had zero intention of leaving New England, so after awhile he let the fantasy go, resolving himself to simply complaining about Bush for the next four years.

At that point I had yet to harbor my own fantasies of moving abroad myself. I despised Bush just as much as he did, but I wasn't about to jump ship over it.

The longer I live in France, the more I wonder: Why would I want to run from the political problems here, just to end up in a country with plenty of its own problems? Not my circus, not my monkeys.

As I grew up, though, the idea of being anywhere but here began to make sense to me. I was lost in my life, my career, and nursing a broken heart. Traveling seemed like it would somehow cure all of that. (I also may have watched the movie Sabrina one too many times.)

There was a certain glamour to the idea of escaping to a foreign land, and being not just mentally lost but physically lost, as well. I craved different places and new people.

Beginning in 2010, I began going to France for three months out of the year. It was on one of many trips abroad that I met my husband, a Parisian. My life changed when I fell in love with him — and so did my concept of where I could feasibly live.

Since I met my husband, that three months abroad has become about six months, although not all consecutively. The reason for having them spread out is a simple one: I can’t bear to be away from New York City for too long.

Still, as someone who could now easily move to another country and live anywhere in the European Union, the fantasy became even more tempting. Many times now I've weighed the pros and cons of leaving the U.S. behind and living abroad. I live there half the year as it is, but to actually live-live, as in commit to being an expat? Well, that’s a whole other story.

I've resided outside the U.S. for enough time now to know that being an expat isn’t all it’s cracked up to me. First of all, logistically, it isn’t easy. While it may be easier for an American to gain residency in the EU than it is for a foreigner to obtain a green card in the U.S., emotionally and mentally, it can be very taxing. But most exhausting? The fact that when you get there, you’re forced to realize that every country has its own problems.

Having now spent a considerable amount of time in France, I can say that for all its loveliness, it is just as flawed a nation. It may have a pretty lenient abortion policy compared to the States, and gay marriage may be legal, but racism is still very much alive and well there. The French are seriously concerned about the “Islamization of France,” and tension between the Islamic community and the French runs very high. Marine Le Pen, president of the Front National, is making a bid for the next presidency, and she has vowed that if she wins, she will close the borders, separate from the EU, and change the national currency back to the franc, something that would be devastating to not just the country, but the EU as a whole.

The longer I live in France, the more I wonder: Why would I want to run from the political problems here, just to end up in a country with plenty of its own problems? Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Since Tuesday, of course, abandoning the U.S. for greener (or at least more liberal) pastures has sounded especially enticing. But the reality is that once you get to those pastures, they aren't all that green. You may be escaping the problems within your own country, but you're just walking into the problems of another country. You can't escape political dysfunction. (Except, maybe, in Switzerland.)

It's always somewhere around the middle of my stays in Paris that I start to get homesick. I miss the noise of the New York streets, the accessibility to everything and anything at anytime, and the feeling of security that comes with knowing my mom is just a 45-minute plane ride away. There's a sense of isolation that comes with being so far away from your entire world, and it does start to take a toll. I know that might sound spoiled, to want to leave Paris, but that's just how it is for me.

In the end, I stay because I’m a New Yorker. This country, with all its flaws and backwardness, is my home; this is where I was born and feel most comfortable. I realize there’s not much I can physically do to change the results of this past election, but at least here, I can be another voice for change, and that’s important to me.

This is one dysfunctional circus, but it's my circus.

Images: Ben Micek/Flickr; Giphy