Six years ago I moved to Paris with neither career ambitions nor savings. Now I have both, as well as several other life projects that I want to achieve: find a new job, start a family, get married, buy an apartment and continue to meet nice, inspiring people. In many ways Paris signifies home much more to me than the UK. A huge part of this feeling is because I started my adult life here, but I also feel that I have grown into aspects of the French culture which suit my personality very well indeed.
This six year anniversary was an opportunity to have a think about what I've learnt since living in Paris. *blows out candles on cake and makes a wish*
This is something I have embraced since living in Paris. There's the obvious surface level pleasure of being surround by great pastries and French food/wine, the novelty of which will never wear off. Just this weekend I tried a Mont Blanc for the very first time and it did not disappoint. I have lists of wine regions that I want to try with JB, and just read that the Champagne region has been named a new World Heritage Site by UNESCO (adds that one to the list). As well as experiencing the ever-evolving Parisian food scene, it's always exciting to find a gem of a French restaurant that is not resting on its laurels when it comes to innovation and taste.
Going beyond food and wine, there's also the Parisian attitude of leaving the office and mentally switching off. You always have time to see a friend for apéro, you will always be open to making last minute plans on the weekend to go for brunch or escape to the countryside and you generally leave the office for lunch, bar the odd scary work deadline. This is the country with five weeks of annual leave after all - they encourage you to take time out. This ability to balance work and pleasure has helped me greatly in setting my own boundaries when it comes to the office.
I'm still not the most patient person you are likely to meet, but I have certainly learnt to be less impatient since moving to Paris. I suspect that the reason why most administrative procedures are unnecessarily painful is because the French love their rules. Be prepared for one of the following to happen if you ever move to Paris: apartment hunting will be a challenge, because French law makes it hard for landlords to evict tenants once they're in the property. It will take forever to open a bank account, I don't know why, because the banks are incompetent. It will take you at least a year to receive your health insurance card, la carte vitale, because there is so much paperwork to be processed. You will put on weight from eating rich French food and pastries. You will turn up for a doctor's appointment on time and have to wait at least 15 minutes before you actually see them. You will quickly realise that most French people refuse to queue. Don't say I didn't warn you : ) Call me and we'll go for a glass of wine and a rant.
Studying French at university involved many translations from French into English, which resulted in much hair-pulling as the French have this habit of lumping several clauses together in one long sentence. My confidence in speaking the language has obviously increased in the time I have been living here, therefore I sometimes find it upsetting when I speak in a perfectly comprehensible French, only to be answered in English. Whilst I understand that someone may be eager to show off their English vocabulary, it leaves me feeling like my French didn't match up to their standards.
French expressions are something I love to learn but often get wrong when chatting: in France you don't smoke like a chimney, you smoke like a fireman. If you are spaced out, you are "to the West" - I quite often get this one wrong, telling French people I am "to the East" which gets me some funny looks. And in England we say we can do something with our eyes closed, but in France you say you can do something with your fingers up your nose. The one French language thing that I have trouble keeping up with is "verlan", a form of slang where syllables within a word are reversed. So, for example, "merci" becomes "cimer" and "fou" becomes "ouf". I always wonder who decides which words receive the verlan treatment?
Please can we be friends?
There's just one rule when it comes to making friends with the Parisians: pay them no attention. It took me a while to figure this out because it is the opposite of the British way, where you show active interest in people, you charm them, and you put some effort into making them laugh. I look back and think how complicated it was for me to integrate with JB's Parisian friends, not because they were unfriendly but because of all the social codes, and realise that it could have been much worse. I could have moved to Paris completely alone, with no partner or with no student network. Living in a studio apartment would have been incredibly isolating especially because Paris is not the easiest city to go out there and make friends.
It's incredibly satisfying though when you do break down the cultural barriers: I don't think there's one way that works for everyone, you have to feel it out and pay attention to the French group that you happen to be in. It's certainly made me more empathetic and I smile at the irony that many of my French friendship circle now love to speak English with me. I think both parties learnt something along the way, so have faith that in the future you will be laughing at each other's jokes and going on holiday together. Oh, maybe one piece of advice I could offer - learn some French pop songs, you'll impress them at karaoke!
Play on your natural strengths
The look in Paris, and France in general, is casually sophisticated. Both men and women are stylishly put together, but in such a subtle way that you're momentarily fooled into thinking they came out of the womb like that. They didn't though because when you look a little closer you can see that foulard is tied just so, that's a nice watch on their wrist, that is lipstick but it looks oh so natural, and their eyebrows are in fact the perfect shape for their face.
French people invest in themselves and believe in grooming: they're just a little mysterious about sharing their style secrets. You will never mistake me for a French person, but I like their laid-back approach to fashion. As a woman you're not expected to be in heels for dinner or wear a noticeable amount of make-up, no disrespect to women who do either of these things because it is a personal choice at the end of the day, but I'm a jeans and t-shirt with flats kind of girl and am therefore well suited to the French approach to fashion.
Paris je t'aime
Because you are beautiful (despite all the dog poop on the streets), you have introduced me to many wonderful people, and provided me with plenty of material to write about. For that I thank you, and yes, I love you!
Thanks Frank for the beautiful picture