Has it already been a year? Does time really fly by that fast? One year ago, I packed up my life in the US and moved to Paris.
Of course, it didn’t happen just like that. It took many months, many questions, and many tears. But I had my reasons! There was a man at stake, and an adventure on the table. It was an exciting decision, but it was also hard, stressful, and certainly very complicated.
But now, one year into this new life, I’d say that I’ve learned a thing or two.
- I’ve learned that life isn’t necessarily so different here.
- I’ve learned that sometimes, it’s completely different.
- I’ve learned that some baguettes really are better than others. (And it’s not so bad testing all the local boulangeries to find the perfect one!)
- I’ve learned that I am stronger than I thought I was, but that I couldn’t have done it all without my Frenchman by my side. (Sometimes quite literally by my side solving problems I could not have resolved without his native skills.)
- In the last 365 days, I’ve done my best to immerse myself in this new adventure. I managed to explore every inch of this gorgeous city and I took trips to see beautiful places that are suddenly so close. Most significantly, I got engaged and married my Frenchman! It has been a wild and challenging year.
A whirlwind experience
In one respect or another, moving abroad and all that goes with it put my life in a constant state of confusion. From one day to the next, I might fumble through a government office or bank appointment in bewilderment, or come home to a new piece of mail I couldn’t understand while trying to figure out how to carve out time to make a relationship work amidst endless stresses.
You might expect a “whirlwind romance” to follow the typical Hollywood plot line of a woman meeting a French man and following him to France. But I certainly didn’t. Nevertheless, I guess, on the face of it, it has been. Less than four months after getting engaged, we were already married.
We leapt from a cross-country move (and moving in together) to engagement, then marriage in less time than it takes most people to pick out a couch. If that’s not a whirlwind, then I don’t know what is.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the romance of your own story when your everyday is spent filing paperwork and discussing what new hurdle has been introduced to your lives thanks to my non-European expat status.
Finding your own way in a foreign place
Being an expat can be a lonely experience. Even with a partner, it’s isolating, feeling like you can’t connect even in a room full of people. Whether you all speak a common language or not, there’s a barrier between You and Them built of cultural idiosyncrasies, pop culture references and uncertainty. No one knows what to make of each other.
For me, I spent the first few months of my time here working from home. With no one for company but the cat, I felt very strange. I didn’t feel lonely, exactly, as I had my Frenchman, and I was still constantly in touch with friends and coworkers at home, but there was something missing. I was nervous to go out and do much on my own. Not that I could, since I was more or less chained to my desk during all work hours that overlapped with Eastern Standard Time. I was lacking live human interaction with people I could call my own.
Something was missing, and I was missing out.
I was in France, but my day-to-day life was still based in Boston. It turns out, once I was forced out of the house to start attending interviews and accomplishing things by myself, I felt infinitely better about myself and my life here. Independence does wonders, once you realize you’ve been capable of it all along! On top of that, I started regularly seeing some friends — both French and expat — which helped enormously in helping me feel that I had my own life here.
As a textbook introvert, finding my own way and building my own little community was not an easy task. Without a bubbly, outgoing personality, how do you meet French people, who are infamously tough nuts to crack? I was lucky enough to find an American au pair with lots of spare time — and a penchant for making friends wherever she goes — who jumpstarted my quiet life.
While it seems like the ideal would be to make French friends in France, there is enormous value in connecting with other expats who have similar struggles, and can laugh (or cry) over shared experiences, or just speak the same native language when everyone’s minds are tired of translating.
Now that I’ve been working outside of my house, in a French company, things are continuing to get better. While the French are still fairly elusive to me and not as ready to befriend new coworkers as I’m used to, we have a fun multicultural environment that feeds my need for in-person conversation. Slow and steady wins the race with making friends in France.
Living in France does get easier
The big challenges you face when first arriving in France quickly become ancient history. However, if living in France does become less overwhelming, it does NOT get simpler. New challenges will rise up and replace old ones, and there will always be another official office you have to call or visit and try to understand what new law you have to file paperwork for.
Paris plunge is worth it
Paris is still Paris. Walking by the Eiffel Tower at night, lit up and sparkling, will never cease to amaze. But the day you find yourself rushing through the Place de la Concorde, ignoring the gawking tourists, only to enter the Métro to scold the man (in French!) for your Navigo subway pass not working, you’ll suddenly stop and realize: you did it. You truly LIVE in Paris.