The plane has taken off! I am in seat 16A with my laptop, a couple souvenirs for my family, and a big question on my mind. How did I end up here? After spending the last ten months in the South of France, I am returning to Los Angeles for a short trip. I will be working seven consecutive nights in the emergency room, then heading back to France. After all, I need to keep my skills up to par.
Allow me to recap the last two years and how it led to the most memorable moments of my life.
Summer of 2019
In the summer of 2019, my wife and I took our two younger children, Sophia and Rayan, to vacation in France. My wife was born and raised in Paris and I have been a Europhile as long as I can remember. Some of the most memorable moments of my childhood were spent with my uncle and his family, who reside in Paris. It was during this trip with my own family that I had a moment of enlightenment. We were sitting in a beautiful park. The kids were running around, while Sabrina and I sipped on a glass of a rosé. The weather was perfect, the people around us were charming and the scenery of Paris made me feel nostalgic. I am sure the rosé also had an additive effect.
It was at this moment that I asked Sabrina a question which changed our lives entirely for the past ten months.
“Why can’t we live here?”
Of course, it was a rhetorical question. We laughed it off and turned our attention to the kids. I was sure that Sabrina had forgotten my question, putting it off to romantic chatter that was only asked because the moment called for it. Nevertheless, the idea stayed in my mind from that moment on. It was a plaguing thought that would not escape me.
I have always been an avid traveler. On paper, my early life reads like a classic Persian novel. Young boy from a good neighborhood attends good school, focuses on his studies, completes medical school, marries a (beautiful) woman. They have two lovely children who attend good schools. They buy a nice home in a nice community. The end! The only thing missing was the white picket fence.
But in between the aforementioned steps, I managed to throw in some amazing adventures. The details of those moments are beyond the scope of this story. Suffice it to say, I am a conservative family man and ER doctor on the outside, but a raging adventurer who hates monotony, on the inside.
Enough of that! Allow me to explain how I landed in seat 16A.
The Aha Moment
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the winter of 2020, I was presented with an interesting opportunity. My ER group was offered a contract with a national telemedicine company. They were in need of physicians to staff the ever-growing demand of telehealth. Of course, the beauty of telemedicine is that it can be done from anywhere. There was an instant AH-HA! moment. I approached Sabrina, rosé in hand and proposed that we take advantage of this opportunity to create another chapter in our lives.
My pitch went something like this:
“Here it is Sabrina, the stars have aligned. The kids are still young enough that we won’t feel like we’re ripping them apart from their friends. I’ll continue to practice medicine in some scope and will retain my partnership level with the group.” After all, it took me 5 years to make full partner. And just like my pitch 9 years ago to marry me, she said… “OUI”!
After the logistics regarding my work were figured out and it was determined that I could work from abroad, our plan began to take shape. We decided that the South of France would be the most ideal location for our move. It provided us with the best weather and outdoor activities, qualities that seemed more practical in the midst of a pandemic. We finalized our decision in August of 2020 and decided to make this a one-to-two-year plan, based around the kid’s school schedule.
Making this dream a reality was not easy. In a matter of five months, we completed escrow for our future home in California, applied for eight various state medical licenses, did a lease takeover for two vehicles, put all our furniture in storage, all while navigating one of the worst surges of the pandemic.
These were not the most difficult aspects of the move. It was saying goodbye to my parents, nicknamed by their grandchildren as Ana and Papi.
To say that Ana and Papi are very close to Sophia and Rayan, would be an understatement. You can imagine my parent’s reaction when I first told them about this plan. I found it difficult to navigate my emotions. The juxtaposition of happiness and guilt was unrelenting. Was it fair to voluntarily remove our kids from this comfortable life? To make them leave their Ana and Papi behind as Sabrina and I selfishly navigated this adventure? Could I place the blame on that glass of rosé?
I would often reflect on the repercussion of our decision. What if something tragic were to happen? Could I ever forgive myself? My feelings of excitement, curiosity, and joy were often interrupted by feelings of fear. Often, I would compare my parent’s move from Iran to the Unites States, as a way to justify our action. And then I would feel more guilty for even having the thought to compare their move from a war-stricken country to our move from Calabasas! Needless to say, emotions were running high.
Alas, it was too late. The momentum of the move was overwhelming…there was no backing out!
Living in the South of France
On January 1st, 2021, we made our move to the South of France. At the time of writing, It has been ten months from that day. We have achieved so much; it is difficult to put everything into words.
The kids have adapted tremendously. They attend a public school and are completely fluent in French. We love our house. It has a positive energy and has taken good care of us for the past several months. We purchased a pre-owned car. Manual transmission, of course. We eat baguettes on a daily basis. We buy our cheese from the local fromagerie and our meat from the boucherie. I have learned how to order my own pain au chocolat at the boulangerie.
We enjoyed every day of our summer in Europe. By September, we were all bronze in color and completely beached out after weekly excursions on the Mediterranean! I work outside in the garden a few times a week and clean our pool on a daily basis. I just installed a washer unit for the first time. Remember, you always have to remove the shipment bolts in the back, before the first use. I learned this the hard way.
After doing telemedicine for several months, I now have to go back to the ER. After all, it would only be a matter of time before I forget the intricacies of my trade. I’m a little nervous, but with some WD40, I should be ok.
As I sit on this plane, I feel grateful to have this opportunity.
I truly feel that everyone should spend some time outside of their comfort zone. For us, this meant leaving behind a stable life. As you can imagine, living in a country is much different than vacationing there. It is not all wine and cheese. Ok, bad example…there is definitely a lot of wine and cheese here!
Day to day life in France can be challenging. There are no next day deliveries. The French are not in a rush. People actually enjoy their lunch from 12pm to 2pm, regardless of what you’re offering to buy. Businesses are not dying for your money. There often seems to be no sense of urgency. Mom and pop stores are supported by the French government. Amazon is not allowed to hold the majority market share. Instant gratification comes in many ways, but it is not delivered to your door with a return label.
Ironically, many of these items that seemed like challenges at first, have also become the reason for my love of this part of the world.
With only ten months under my belt, it would be pretentious of me to believe that I know everything about life in France. What I can say is that for all the daily worries and concerns on the minds of the French, the basic rights to life are not one of them. There is a clear and respected division of rights and privilege. The public educational system has a relatively even bar set across all schools, regardless of the parent’s income. Mothers and fathers do not have to decide between their healthcare and paying the rent. Social services are rampant with access to housing, food and hygiene. The homeless are not pushed towards encampments with torn down tents advertising the country’s flag. Vacation and holidays are the holy grail, something afforded to most families.
In eight months, we will be making our return to the United States, ending this chapter of our lives. It’s only fitting that I have the movie Dead Poets Society playing on this flight. How reassuring to hear Robin William’s character tell his students, “Carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
I am not sure what Sophia and Rayan will take away from this experience. Rayan is only 4 years old and will likely not have too many memories. That’s okay, we took a lot of pictures. Besides, I don’t believe a child’s character development is always correlated to direct memory. I believe it is a product of something much deeper. It is also not unique to kids. Every chapter of my life has and will continue to contribute to my own character development. Once completed, it would seem only fitting to call this chapter, Rosé.
The author is an Emergency Medicine Physician on the outside and a raging adventurer who hates monotony on the inside. He and his family are living out their adventure in the South of France.