Contributed by Bruce and Rachael Epstein
It is often said that moving to an unfamiliar place is one of the most stressful events in life. Our recent experience would bear out such an assessment! Moving from a highly-livable region in a human-centered country (France) to a region of the US we had only a passing knowledge of, in a time of extreme political turmoil, has only heightened our great feeling of letdown, regressing from an extraordinary life to one that is merely ordinary. We recently spent an afternoon with a friend who had lived in Europe for 17 years before returning to the US 12 years ago to care for an aging family member. She tried to reassure us: “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.” We responded, “But we don’t ever want to get used to this!”
For those of you whom we didn’t have the pleasure to get to know, and as a reminder to those who did meet us, we lived in Orsay, France, for nearly 22 years – a small university town near the southern end of the RER B commuter rail line from Paris. We never intended to move to Europe, but when a fantastic professional opportunity arose in 1994, we dove in with both feet – sold our house and cars, put a few items in storage, and moved the rest to France. We flourished, integrated into local society and culture, and enjoyed participating in the UUFP and EUU as part of our spiritual journey. Many of you may also remember our daughter as an active member for 10 years of the EUU youth program. In 2013, some family issues arose that became just too difficult to manage from across an ocean, so we reached the difficult decision to leave our beloved adopted home to move to the US. It took 3 years for all the pieces to fall into place; the main issue was healthcare. Had the US health insurance system worked like it does throughout Europe, we could have moved immediately, but under the current system, we needed to have a solid job prospect, which finally materialized in 2016, when Bruce’s Paris-based employer decided to open a US subsidiary.
So here we are anew in our passport country. We don’t say “back” or “returned”; we say only that we have taken a new international assignment that didn’t require us to obtain a visa or learn a new language .
As you may imagine, we have been experiencing severe (reverse) culture shock. From a UU perspective, we had been “spoiled” by living in France – what we UUs call the 7 principles are enshrined in the French constitution and taken quite seriously by a substantial majority of the people whom we met there. So it has been quite shocking to discover that many folks in the US consider the 7 principles to represent a political stance or, worse, a threat to their way of life! Our goal is to live our faith, to campaign for progress on issues that will improve people’s lives and the future of the earth, not for or against any political party or candidate, but in the current miasma, it all gets wrapped up together. Sigh. (We do assure you, we will be expressing our faith when we vote this November 6th.)
We were also spoiled by the French healthcare system. We’ll spare you the details of the constant hassles we have been through, but suffice it to say that all the rumors are true: US healthcare is very expensive, insurance coverage is incomplete and inconsistent, and we have had to fight tooth-and-nail just to get our insurer to honor its commitments with respect to what is contractually promised to be covered under our policy. We really feel privileged that at least we don’t have to choose between paying for medical care and paying other bills, and our heart goes out to those who do find themselves in that dilemma (we know many).
There are, of course, many other less significant adjustments. We preface most conversations with administrative services with, “Please treat us as if we were immigrants,” to which we often hear, “But you don’t have an accent!” We have to remember that most folks here don’t understand the metric system (but in an act of defiance, the weather app on the phone is set to Celsius ); we can no longer walk to our destinations – it’s a 15 minute walk just to get out of our subdivision, and we are constantly surprised not to be able to walk safely from one shop to another even when they are only a few hundred meters apart; and getting readjusted to the rather limited food selection available in our area has been a challenge.
So here we are, making the best of the situation. We sought out and found a lovely regional UU Fellowship which is about the same size as the one in Paris, with the added attraction of owning their building, having a settled minister, and featuring a modest choir. In fact, John Hertz’s brother is a member here, so we feel that we still have a connection to the EUU. Besides our participation in the choir, Rachael has led an 8-month SGM series, Bruce is active in two committees. In the rest of our daily life, Rachael is leading a French conversation group, we’re learning Spanish, and taking advantage of any opportunity to see our immediate and extended family, most of whom live between 4 and 8 hours’ drive from us. We also enjoy getting together with occasional visitors from Europe (most recently, Sophie Tergeist and husband Orhan), so please reach out if you will be in the area!
Bruce & Rachael Epstein were members of UUFP (of which Rachael served as president for 2 years) and EUU from 1995 to 2016. They now live in a small town in Dutchess County, NY, 100 km (60 miles) north of New York City.