How to Expatriate
By Davis Webster
Get a passport. Take the photograph somewhere between three and fifteen times. For the foreseeable future, this will be your only form of identification. Your favorite bartender tells you people always try to look like their ID pictures when she cards them. She tells you that you always look like you want to fight when she cards you. Do not go to visit her for one last drink before you leave. You know you’ll only end up drinking more than you should and almost telling her you love her. Try to look friendly without smiling. Your photo will be rejected if you smile and your departure will be delayed another three to eight weeks.
Once you arrive in Paris, drink. Drink a lot. It is legal to drink in public. Every bodega has cheap wine and beer that tastes like several packets of sugar have been dissolved into it. Stick with the beer. You will learn quickly that even though you’re in France, it is still frowned upon to walk around drinking from a bottle of wine.
Buy a corkscrew and carry it with you at all times. You think it will be a good way to make friends in the parks, where it is acceptable to drink wine in public. Visit the Luxembourg Gardens. Offer your corkscrew to a group of high school students, but don't engage them in conversation. You're too old for that.
Don’t smile at them. Don’t smile at the beautiful woman walking towards you on the street or the elderly man who works at your favorite crepe stand. People in Paris don’t smile at each other. Tell yourself you like it this way. Tell yourself it’s your favorite thing about the city.
Despite not speaking a word of French, you will have no problem getting by. Everyone speaks English. Eventually you will realize you haven’t talked to your family since the day you arrived. You don’t know how long that’s been. Send your parents an email. Tell them you’ve been wandering around the Left Bank, flipping off all the places the Lost Generation used to hang out. Tell them that today it was Gertrude Stein’s Salon. Tomorrow, you will sleep in the room where Oscar Wilde died because you think you should do something positive. None of this is true, but as you sit down to write the email, you will realize you don’t remember what you’ve been doing. Time works differently in Paris. Maybe all of Western Europe. This explains the lack of memories.
Do not write a letter to your dead best friend. You have been writing letters to him since he died, but he never reads them. He never responds. It was his responsibility to write the first letter, anyway. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Leave a letter. Punch something hard and inanimate, preferably with a lot of cultural and historical value. Don’t worry; the whole city is made of such objects.
One morning, after you have been in Paris for some time between six weeks and two years, you will wake up in an empty apartment. This won’t be unusual. It’s your apartment and you will be used to waking up alone there, but you will be fairly certain that you did not fall asleep alone. You will remember the following things: meeting a girl in an America-themed bar, spending several hundred euro on shots of Jack Daniels, discovering that several hundred euro worth of Jack Daniels is much less Jack Daniels than you had anticipated, leaving the bar with the girl and deciding that you both want to go fuck on Jim Morrison’s grave, and realizing that neither of you knew which cemetery Jim Morrison was buried in or actually liked The Doors that much. You will not remember if you had sex.
You will remember that you refused to take the Metro. Do not take the Metro as long as you live in Paris. The Metro is basically a train and trains always remind you of your dead best friend. He loved to play chicken with them. At least, that’s what he told you, but you never really believed that that’s what he was doing.
When you check your phone, you’ll find an email from your parents. It’s be a picture of them—your mom, dad, and Buster, the dog they gave you as a present for your twelfth birthday—all wearing matching Christmas sweaters. They’ll tell you they “missed you at Christmas” and would “love to Skype soon.” Mom is sending you a care package that she hopes will make it through customs. It has some of his ashes. Everyone understands why you couldn’t be at the funeral but they really want you to have a piece of him—literally—and they think it’s been long enough for you to handle it. Reply with only a few sentences. Brush off the Skype thing, saying “the time difference makes it too hard.” Avoid discussing your plans to return to the US. Do not say anything that could lead to conversations about you finishing your degree. Tune them out when they say you only have a semester left. They will not think it’s funny when you tell them that engineering is a dying field anyways. Tell them to give Buster a belly rub for you. People in Paris won’t let you pet their dogs.
Whiskey always makes you need to shit and this morning will be no exception. Find the bathroom door is slightly ajar. Now you’ll know she at least came home with you. You never leave the bathroom door open, no matter how fucked up you are. The water in the toilet will be thick and a brownish yellow, clearly her urine and not yours. You know how to hydrate. Flush the toilet so you don’t have to worry about her urine splashing on to your ass.
The toilet will not flush. It’ll gurgle and a large bubble will rise from the pipe and burst at the surface, shooting droplets of water and et cetera on to your knees, but it will not flush. Remove the lid from the tank. You are an expert at fixing American toilets, but Parisian toilets will still be a mystery.
Remember the flyer that has been on the door to your apartment building for the last three weeks. The one with the picture of the water drop and the big X over it. Now, you’ll realize that it was a notice that they were shutting off your water. Wonder how you could be so stupid. How could you move to a country where you don’t speak the language and can’t even read a fucking flyer on your door?
Remember how badly you need to shit. Replace the lid on the tank and run down the street, to the public toilet.
As you sit on the toilet, think about your dead best friend. When you were little, the two of you used to go down to the tide pools with little glass bottles. You’d lay them sideways in the water and tip them upwards and watch the bubbles escape as they filled with the water. Your shelves used to be filled with bottles full of various colors of seawater. You could tell a story about the exact place you collected each sample. You could describe the weather, the smell of the water, the way it felt on your fingers. The look on your best friend’s face. You will wonder if you have any empty bottles in your apartment. You don’t but you do have a half empty bottle of rosé that you are planning on dumping out anyway. It’s too big for the toilet bowl, but maybe if you get the angle just right.
As you walk back to your apartment, you will remember that last night the two of you walked along the Seine. You saw a guy squatting over the edge, defecating into it. You weren’t disgusted. You were impressed by his balance. You wanted to offer to help hold him up, but she wanted to hold your hand. You hated holding her hand. It felt way too intimate.
When you arrive at your apartment, you will hear water running. It’s coming from the bathroom. You’ll look into the toilet and see that water is continuously flowing into and being sucked out of it. Pure, clear water. Adjust the lid. When you put the lid back on Parisian toilets, you have to line it up just right or else they won’t stop flushing.