I’ve had Paris on the brain lately, as you’ve probably guessed from this and my last post. I attribute it to the fact that we watched one of my favorite chick flicks the other day, French Kiss. As we were watching it, I remembered how much I liked the soundtrack, so I ordered it…and I’ve been listening to it in the car every day since it arrived two weeks ago.

I lived in France for a year on a study abroad program in college. Let’s just say it wasn’t what I expected. Instead of Paris, I lived in Besancon, near the Swiss border. Instead of a view of the Eiffel Tower, we lived in towering Soviet-style apartment buildings in a not-so-well-to-do area of town. Instead of knights and chateaux, France was a modern country with modern problems. Ten years later I went back to that same subdivision, and a group of younger residents threw empty soda cans at our vehicle. Not much had changed.

At the time, I was your typical delusional 20-year-old… expecting travel, romance, beauty, glamour and to return home like the heroine of an ABC After-School Special…no longer socially awkward, transformed by Europe into a sultry and sophisticated version of myself. Sadly, that did not happen.

Quite the opposite, in fact. I gained about 25 pounds from a steady diet of chocolate, bread, wine, pasta and cheese. I was dying my hair red at the time and couldn’t find a similar product in France, so I had long mismatched roots. My face broke out constantly, so I stopped wearing make-up. Ya, I came back in much worse shape than that in which I had arrived…and there was nothing romantic about it.

But I learned a lot. My French improved. I made friends…good friends…that I’m still in touch with today. I traveled. And I discovered that I truly love to travel. It energizes me. And I’m quite comfortable being out of my element. I found out that I have an eye for photography.

I also discerned that although you can do Europe on a shoestring, it is much more amazing if you have some money to spend. Food, art, fashion, travel…none of it is cheap. As a college student, I didn’t have much of the above.

So my year in France wasn’t the life-changer that I was hoping for, and the odds of ever getting Paris as a post are probably slim to none. But I still hold on to my childhood dreams of a romantic France. This time I’m married and can bring my own love to the City of Lights. I’m now a working diplomat and can afford a little luxury here and there. Although my French has probably gone downhill in the last 20 years.

But maybe I went about this all wrong. Instead of France returning me to my life as a cosmopolitan woman, maybe now that life has made me a little more cultured, I can truly appreciate living in France.