A New Yorker born and raised, my daughter, who is pursuing a master’s degree here in Paris, has no desire to move back. Going out with her friends is far cheaper in Paris, where a glass of wine can cost as little as $5. She shares a nice one-bedroom apartment with a large balcony overlooking a garden just east of the Paris city limits, near a Métro line, that rents for $1,300 a month—less than half the average rent for an apartment in Brooklyn. During the national coronavirus lockdown from mid-March to mid-May, when the café where she worked part-time as a barista shut down, emergency government assistance provided her with 84 percent of her salary, and her job was waiting for her as soon as the café reopened. “In New York, I just would have been fired,” she sighed.
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That doesn’t mean she doesn’t miss New York. I miss New York too. I miss my son and my friends there. I miss the skyline. I miss California and Oregon, where my parents live and where I grew up. If the pandemic has made it hard for Americans to leave, it’s also made it impossible for Americans abroad to visit family and friends at home. We’re all stranded somewhere at this point. Still, I’m relieved to be confined to a country where time for leisure and family, basic social services, and a commitment to shifting away from a carbon-based economy are considered normal.
My path to France was a long one. I earned degrees in French, on scholarships and while student teaching. I fell in love with France years ago, and I worked hard to stay here as a writer and researcher. I’m so relieved that I did. And although I am aware of how important it is for Americans to fight to save their democracy in this perilous moment, if I hadn’t already left, I’d be sorely tempted to leave now.
Of course, with U.S. passports currently useless for travel to a long list of countries, including France, fleeing the sinking American ship is a lot harder than it used to be. Not everyone has already lived abroad or speaks a foreign language, as I did before I moved to France. Most people simply can’t afford to pull up stakes. Still, the State Department estimates that 9 million Americans live abroad. For those privileged, enough to have a second passport, like my Brooklyn friend Neil Redding, leaving is much easier. He and his wife, Kylin, arrived in Lisbon last week. Convinced that the turmoil unleashed during the Trump administration is not going away anytime soon, they have decided to “diversify our presence.” While they haven’t given up on America, “we want to hedge against the violent upheaval, while we wait for the United States to sort all that out,” Redding explained, adding that they are “curious to learn from the Portuguese how they went from an authoritarian regime to one of the most progressive societies on the planet.”
In November, I became a French citizen. France is America’s oldest ally, and I can keep my U.S. citizenship. Though I hope I can travel to the United States again soon, my life is in France now, and my family supports my decision. My 86-year-old mother told me when I was in Oregon last year: “You sure did the right thing getting out of here.”