This piece for Enchanted Serendipity’s Expat Series was written by Whitney from ‘Whitney In Paris’ Travel Blog.
A little over a year ago, my then-fiance, now husband was laid-up on the couch with a broken foot. As I scurried about his apartment, he nonchalantly called out,
“Hey, what would you think about living in Paris? Someone wants me to apply for a job at their university.”
“What?! Yeah, why not? Wouldn’t that be wild if we actually moved to Paris?…”
I didn’t think it would actually happen. But here we are, residents of Paris for the last five months (at the time of writing this). Though we’ve yet to shed all of the newbie expat feelings, we’re settling in alright and figuring out how to make Paris our home.
It’s a little soon for any big takeaways, but I have a few observations about adapting to French culture. Some have proven to be more challenging than I anticipated and others have made living in France quite fun.
The Challenges Of Being An Expat In Paris
1.) Learning French
I knew this was going to be tough, but I often found myself thinking of the outcome rather than the process –
“In three years, I’ll know French!”
On arrival, I only knew a bit of vocab, had never spoken French to a human, and could hardly comprehend anything. At five months in, I knew much more vocab, have talked to many humans and can understand at least 50% of any given TV program. Though I still feel very uncomfortable communicating (especially if someone throws a question at me that I wasn’t anticipating), it makes for good motivation.
2.) Letting Go
I’m one of those people who likes to know exactly what’s going on, my role in the situation and the resources I will have at my disposal. When you move away, you must relinquish control of all of that. At first, I had a hard time submitting my paperwork and waiting; this happened for things like my visa, residence card, bank accounts, and more. Then I realized that I don’t get to be involved; worrying about it is a waste of energy. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared – a.k.a. triple checking the document list when doing any type of bureaucratic task.
3.) Slowing Down.
When I lived in LA, I was on full-speed mode ALL THE TIME. I worked in advertising where I had many long nights and weekends. Along with that, I was traveling for my long distance relationship, planning a wedding, and eventually, prepping for a move and enjoying my last days with friends and family.
When we finally got to Paris, I didn’t have a lot to do. So when I started to explore, I always ventured out with a a purpose – see this landmark, buy these groceries, explore all the streets in that cute neighborhood. On my missions, I would see people sitting in gardens. Just sitting. Maybe with a book or a coffee. Sometimes, just their thoughts. I wanted that!
But in the first few months, I couldn’t make myself just BE, I had to constantly DO. With Spring here right now, I’m really looking forward to embracing the art of leisure in the sunshine.
The Positives Of Being An Expat In Paris
1.) Learning French
(I know, this one’s a repeat… but it works for both!) Despite all the times I feel like an idiot, I relish the occasions when I communicate with someone and they don’t switch to English, or if I overhear a conversation that I actually understand, or when I’ve read something online without having to pull up Google Translate. It’s a long, arduous process, but rewarding, without a doubt.
2.) Food Shopping
Fun fact, I love going to grocery stores in other countries. You can learn so much about the culture through what they eat and how they sell it.
In France, you not only get to visit the supermarché, but all of the different specialty shops. Weekly, we visit the boulangerie, fromagerie, boucherie and more. And don’t even get me started on the markets; each one is a lively setting for a complete sensory overload.
3.) Opportunity To Explore.
Everything is so close, but I haven’t really grasped it yet. We’ve been focused on getting settled and haven’t taken advantage of the fact that we really do live in Europe. It’s a huge privilege to be living near all of this history and culture and we don’t plan on letting it go to waste. But alas, the time has come for us to venture outside the borders of France finally and we’re headed to Italy!
What Has It All Taught Me?
All of these experiences have pushed me outside of my comfort zone, some have been gentle, others abrupt. But as humans, we’re quick to adapt and don’t always notice our own growth. Luckily, writing this has given me the opportunity to reflect on my own small, subtle changes over the last few months.
I noticed that I have loads more patience because things will take their own time. I’ve acquired keener eyes and ears to pick up on all that’s happening around me. And I go into situations more prepared; it’s not so easy to wing it in another language and cultural code.
At the end of this international adventure, maybe the changes will be more obvious. Maybe not. I’m hopeful, by then, I’ll at least be able to carry on a conversation in French.
If you enjoyed this expat piece, make sure you read Marijana’s piece on being an expat in Ireland!