I’m thinking of wearing a Ring Pop to throw people off the scent that I don't have an engagement ring. Via Flickr user david lopan.

I’m thinking of wearing a Ring Pop to throw people off the scent that I don’t have an engagement ring. Via Flickr user david lopan.

Dorothy had it right: There’s no place like home.

I’ve been home in the U.S. for about six weeks, and it finally feels normal. I’ve eaten my fix of barbecue and Twizzlers, gotten used to Atlanta traffic again, and become reacquainted with summer humidity. All is right in the world.

I’m also getting in the swing of fiancéd life. I got engaged back in February, and as I had written two years prior, I did not require an engagement ring on my hand, nor did I get a necklace. It is possible to be engaged without jewelry.

But now I can report on the effects of going ring-less. Some common reactions:

“Oh, I see. You’re not seriously engaged.”

“Don’t worry. I’m sure your fiancé will get you a big ring later.”

“Aren’t you tired of people asking where your ring is?” (Ironic.)

I’m not surprised, really. I shouldn’t be. I’m thinking of just wearing a Ring Pop at this point to throw people off the scent.

Explaining why I don’t want a ring has not been so fun, but I’ve loved the benefits. People don’t look at my hand when they meet me. I’ve begun a new job since I returned to the U.S., and my coworkers didn’t know my marital status simply from a glance at my finger. It’s nice to have the information to myself until I choose to share it with others. I like the power of keeping my personal life personal.

Lastly, people ask about the feelings of my fiancé. Doesn’t he want me to follow tradition and wear a diamond? At first, he asked me if he could get me a ring, since he knows my feelings on it. I repeatedly said no. Now, he has gotten a whole lot more comfortable with the idea, conceding that yes, this money could be better spent other places, like a mortgage on a house.

I’m not bothered that most other women wear an engagement ring; my ring-less finger isn’t meant to call anyone out. I just feel we should all be able to choose what we want, whether that be ring or necklace or nothing at all.

In France, religion is not allowed to cross into public life. (Photo of stained glass in the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris)

In France, religion is not allowed to cross into public life. (Photo of stained glass in the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris)

Sometimes, a translation dictionary just doesn’t do justice to a word. Take the French term laïcité. (Pronounced “lah-i-si-tay”) WordReference.com says the word means “secularism” in English, but really, that doesn’t fully explain it.

Laïcité is France’s take on separation of religion and state. Of course, many countries observe separation of religion and government. The United States tackles this idea in the Constitution and in a slew of court cases in the last 226 years since the Constitution came into effect.

But France is unique, and it all starts with laïcité. This concept calls for total separation of public (i.e. government) life and religious life, which is considered private; public and private life must not intermingle. For example, students and teachers in public schools are not allowed to wear religious garb. That means no Christian cross necklaces. Religious life cannot walk through the doors of a public school.

I discussed laïcité with some of my lycée (high school) teachers, and they said once in awhile, a student wears a cross necklace. The teachers don’t bother reporting the students if the cross isn’t too big, if it’s small and unobtrusive. Now, I feel somewhat surprised when I see the rare student wearing a cross necklace. It just isn’t done often.

Right before the weekend of Easter, I made conversation with my students in class by asking if they were doing anything special for the long weekend. (The Monday after Easter is a public holiday in France.) A teacher told me later that technically, that isn’t really allowed because I’m asking about a religious holiday in school, but no one would fault me since I don’t know all the rules of laïcité. I told her it was a bit confusing — I can’t ask about a holiday, yet at the same time, the French government (and therefore the schools) gives a vacation day because of that very holiday. Isn’t that mixing public and private life?

Laïcité has seen controversy. In the United States, we read about France not allowing women and girls in public schools to wear the hijab, a Muslim headscarf, because it is a religious symbol. According to laïcité, this is mingling public life with religious (private) affairs.

What do you think of laïcité compared to separation of church and state in the United States?

The French countryside is beautiful, but you won't find a grocery store open Sunday afternoon.

The French countryside is beautiful, but you won’t find a grocery store open Sunday afternoon.

Waiting two hours for the grocery store to reopen from lunch. Waiting in the checkout line extra time because the cashiers start closing their lines an hour before the store does. Waiting two months for a 15-minute dentist appointment.

The operative word here is “waiting.”

With just a little over a month until I leave Guéret, as my time in France comes to an end, I reflect on how I’ve changed. What has France taught me besides a love of pastries that will be hard to fulfill in the U.S.?

I think I’ve become more patient. Living in France, especially in a small town, has necessitated me to wait more often than I ever have in the U.S. Take this normal situation: In the U.S., if it was a Sunday afternoon and I forgot to pick up an ingredient for dinner, I could just go to the store. Yes, it was annoying and I would curse myself for my forgetfulness, but I could easily fix the problem. In France (even Paris), if I forget an ingredient on a Sunday afternoon, then I can’t buy it again until Monday morning. (Grocery stores close about 1 p.m. on Sundays, if they open at all. France has complex laws against all-day Sunday openings.) All of this also applies to offices, stores, and businesses closing for two hours at lunch every weekday. I need to either plan ahead or wait.

In the U.S., this is an unheard of situation. If it’s daylight, there’s no doubt that the grocery store is open. It’s a culture of I want it now, and it has seeped into my behavior. I was downright agitated when I first moved to France and saw the hours for the local stores. I don’t think I realized the existence of that aspect of my personality since it’s just so normal in America. If I want something, I can get it. But middle-of-nowhere France has forced me to wait and develop patience.

It is for the better that I possess more patience. I’ve realized that maybe the French are onto something; we may not need 24/7 grocery stores. (Opening until 2 a.m. would probably do just fine.) Perhaps 24/7 is a marketing point more than anything. Nonetheless, I look forward to returning to America, where I never need worry about buying bread and milk on the Lord’s Day.

Machine guns are not a common sight in France. Via Flickr user Michael Dorausch (michaeldorausch.com).

Machine guns are not a common sight in France. Via Flickr user Michael Dorausch (michaeldorausch.com).

I’ve taught a few of my classes about the U.S. Bill of Rights. The French students nod along as we talk about freedom of religion, of speech, of the press; France of course has similar legislation regarding all of this.

Then we reach the Second Amendment: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” I start to see confused expressions. The students are familiar with news of gun violence in America, so I explain that the Second Amendment is why the United States cannot outright ban guns. (One student asked if we could just change the Second Amendment. That’s an answer that requires an entire semester on how the U.S. government works!)

For the record, in France, a hunting license is required in order to buy a gun, and there are limits on the number of guns a person can own. I live in the countryside, so there are people here who hunt game. A gun shop operates in my town, but from a cursory glance in the window display, they mainly sell hunting rifles.

Guns are a real cultural difference between the U.S. and France, and French people have asked me about guns and gun violence before. I can see why. Now that I no longer live in America and read the news from afar, I see that there are a lot of shootings. I read about one almost every week. You start to overgeneralize and think, Wow, people in America must not be able to even leave their homes.

The idea that firearms are included in one of the most important documents of the U.S. government baffles a lot of my students. I was curious, so I asked for their opinions, and they said that the gun laws in America would make them feel unsafe, like obtaining a firearm isn’t so difficult. Another student said something interesting: As French people, we can’t fully judge America’s gun laws because we grew up with something so different in our country. It isn’t fair for us to comment.

It’s intriguing to see how American and French culture really do treat guns differently; a quick image search on Google for “America guns” and “France guns” is a good jumping point.

I'm tired of gray skies. Looking at photos of sunnier days in Guéret makes me feel better.

I’m tired of gray skies. Looking at photos of sunnier days in Guéret makes me feel better.

This past week, I had a run-of-the-mill cold. You know: sneezing, coughing, fever, and a runny/stuffy nose. (How is it possible to have both at once?) Anyway, all is fine now, and I’m vanquishing the last remnants of my cold.

I had a fever Friday, and it just so happened I didn’t have work, so I stayed in bed all day reading French novels watching movies. I went to work Monday, still with a stuffed nose and a nagging cough, but feeling markedly better. When my coworkers heard my cough, they asked if I was sick. I said I was sick a few days ago, but now I’m getting over it. And the teachers asked if I went to a doctor and encouraged me to take off work if I was sick. No, no, I explained, it’s just a cold. They reassured me that I could take off work if I was unwell.

The French seem much more apt to go to the doctor than Americans. If I was in the United States and told someone I went to a doctor because I was sick, they would know it was serious. You don’t go to a doctor for a simple cold. That’s time and money spent. But here, the French don’t hesitate to go to the doctor. A French teenager once told me she goes to the doctor if she has a headache. This attitude sure explains why there’s such a large number of pharmacies in France. (They’re on almost every corner.)

Perhaps the difference in attitudes stems from the difference between our health care systems. In America, it costs good money to go the doctor and get the resulting prescription medicine, so we won’t bother with it unless we’re pretty sick. When I was in the U.S. about six months ago, I had a skin rash and went to the doctor; the doctor visit and medicine I needed ended up costing almost $200 — and that was with insurance.

France has universal health care provided by the government, so you already pay into the health care system through your monthly paycheck. After you pay into it, costs for doctor visits and prescriptions aren’t high. So logically, why not use the system if you can?

With universal health care coming to the U.S., it will be interesting to see if going to the doctor becomes as routine as in France.

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