France is romance. France is lovers holding hands across a tiny table on a cobbled terrace. France is people sharing their vulnerabilities and desires as poetry over apéro. France is Paris in the rain, the smell of the damp jardins perfuming the day as couples stroll through lilac-lined paths, playing the songs the city inspired in their hearts. Until you move here.
France wasn’t necessarily the setting of my own personal heartbreak, but it was where it played out. It would feel all very poetic and deliciously apt to be anguished in the South of France, if it were vignetted in soft focus for the big screen, or put into verse and pentameter, and not instead a mundane reality. However, the country that finds itself at the heart of romantic fantasy, whose language and culture is so synonymous with that four letter word, is now the unwilling host of my apathy.
In fact, I could go one further and say that it isn’t an unwilling host at all, but an enabler. Anyone who has spent an extended period of time in France will know that the collective notion of France we have all conjured up couldn’t be further from the truth.
Instead of being swept off our feet by romance, we find ourselves increasing our speed as we walk, trying to escape from the sinister man who has been following us for a touch too long. We don’t gaze into the eyes of French lovers, we keep our heads down, trying to avoid eye contact at all costs. We don’t feel dreamy and excited as we walk down the street, turning heads; we feel vulnerable and threatened as men loitering on street corners leer after us, approach and surround us in groups, outnumber us and grab us.
I don’t feel the need to enumerate all the times my friends and I have been made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, purely for existing as women in France, because it is a story that we all know too well already.
I think it goes without saying that this is, of course, just my own personal experience, but one that is shared by countless other women I have encountered during my time here. This problem does not anchor itself in all French men, but it is, nonetheless, endemic in the entirety of French society. For the most touristic country in the world, a country so similar and so close to my own, and seen by the world as an example of the ‘progressive West’, I wonder no one talks about or tackles the misogyny that permeates French society. I wonder why the very same misogyny that exists outside of Europe is denounced so much more quickly and forcefully.
This is not an anti-love letter to France, it is aromantic. Because for me, at least for now, moving to France has killed romance.