Paris Dispatch #7: One Year

Paris Dispatch #7: One Year

Everyone told me the first year in Paris is both the most exciting and most challenging. And no matter how much you try, things will never turn out how you expected. Having lived it myself now, I can say for certain that advice was right.

One year ago today I stepped off a plane from NYC into my new life in Paris. Have I landed where I thought I would? Not exactly — I’m not as far along as I would like to be in some areas, but in others I’ve outdone even my admittedly overblown expectations.

It’s been un minute since the last Paris Dispatch. The truth is once everything ceases to be new, the day-to-day minutia of life is less exhilarating than when you first arrive and even going to the grocery store feels like an adventure. And adjusting to that is part of the process too.

But last night was one of those evenings that makes all the difficult aspects of starting a new life in Paris more than worth it. My husband surprised me with a boat tour on the Seine organized by Château de Pommard, a beautiful winery in Burgundy that we had visited with friends last July.

Château de Pommard set up the event to celebrate the release of its 2014-2015 wines, and I took a moment while cruising past the most iconic sights of Paris to toast my husband and myself for all the hard work put in over the last year.

I think back to when I used to not recognize any streets or metro stations, know where to buy groceries, have any friends of my own, was scared to ride a bike in the city, thought I’d never be able to get a job. It almost feels like I was a different person on June 6th, 2017.

This past year I celebrated my first birthday as a Paris resident. I paid taxes in two countries. I overcame difficult situations at work, with friends, in my marriage, with myself, with Paris. I didn’t succeed in everything I wanted to, but I’ve come a long way. And I have earned a little wisdom I’d like to share.

10 Lessons learned from year one in France

  1. Learning French is not a passive activity. People who tell you you’ll pick up French so much by just living around it are wrong. You will a little, but real learning requires putting in the work, conjugating those verbs, making WordReference your best friend and setting up time to use French in the real world beyond buying baguettes. I’m lucky to have a French husband with a social life that forces me into dinners, conferences, and other events. If you don’t you will have to be more proactive. There are so many Americans here who only hang out with English speakers and go to English events. I don’t blame them, it is uncomfortable to feel over your head in French, but being cozy in an English environment won’t help you improve your language skills.
  2. It’s okay to change your plan, your idea of success, and even yourself to adapt to France. The goals you set out when you arrive won’t all happen. You may have to revise your idea of what kind of job you will take, the language milestones you had planned, or your tastes and even personality may change to fit into the new culture you’re a part of. That’s all okay.
  3. Be kind to yourself. Especially early on, I was very hard on myself and told myself I didn’t “deserve treats” until my language skills improved, or I found a full-time job, or any other number of goals I set for myself. But I soon learned that being that hard on yourself only harms your progress. Take that girls trip in another country, take a full day to give your brain a vacation from French, go to Starbucks and get that giant pumpkin-spiced latte if you miss it. This shit is hard, you deserve treats.
  4. It’s more than just the language. Adjusting to French culture and connecting with people is harder than overcoming language skills. You’ll find that the way you broke the ice with people in America doesn’t work here. That people don’t respond the way you expect in conversations. That your normal office behavior doesn’t fit in. This can be disorienting and frustrating, but is something only trial and error can correct.
  5. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. Early on I was often embarrassed of my English and being American. Not because I think there is anything wrong with America, but because I felt like an interloper and French people were going to be upset by my very existence in their country. But even here in Paris where people are considered less friendly than in the rest of France (something I dispute), I have had very few incidents where people got upset or irritated by my language skills.
  6. Expect more visitors than you think. Americans are already the number one nationality to visit Paris, and now that you live here, there is even more of a reason to come visit.
  7. Expat depression is a real thing. It is okay if the life you imagined as a fairy tale in reality has you sobbing uncontrollably on a semi-regular basis. We’ve all been there. Here are some tips to help.
  8. It’s okay to go home and savor it. You’re not cheating on France if you go back to the U.S. and go full American. I appreciated Thanksgiving so much this past year as an opportunity to relish the American activities I missed — stuffing myself silly with pumpkin pie and narrating every minute of the Macy’s parade was even sweeter than ever.
  9. Making friends is more exhausting than you think. You will tell your story a million times. You will go on a ton of “friend first dates” that don’t pan out. People you thought you connected with won’t return your emails. It is a difficult process, but try to put yourself out there as much as possible for the first six months. Then take a step back and try to just focus on cultivating a couple of friendships you think could become meaningful.
  10. Moments of magic happen — if you make them. If you are sitting in your apartment waiting for Paris to show you how lively and wonderful it can be, sorry it’s never going to happen. You don’t have to spend a million dollars or have a ton of connections. Some of my most “magical” Paris moments have occurred while just walking home when the sunset lights up the sky and I realize how goshdarn beautiful this city is. But you have to get out there and go to events, make plans, meet people and take advantage of what is here to make your own magic.

As challenging as the first year was, I’ve been warned the second can be even more so. Without the shimmery distraction of everything being new all the time, the reality of true integration and adjustment can be painful to manage. But looking back on the trials and triumphs of the past 365 days, I know that I can endure more than I thought to get to the best stuff.

So here’s to year two, starting today.

Until next time mes amis, xoxo

8 thoughts on “Paris Dispatch #7: One Year”

  • I’m so proud of you. You are doing 10 million times better than me. Let’s please plan a mini EU trip meetup ASAP before I run far far away from this pasta filled boot 😉 love you. Brava Bella x

    • Love you. It’s harder than it looks! Hahahah you’re my pasta boot princess. I think Italia fits you well, you look like a goddess in your photos.

  • Great list and it truly brings me back to the first year I lived in France! I lived there 3 years and had extra complexities as I was living in France and working in Switzerland – but that first year, although exciting wasn’t easy. 16 years later, I still have cultural issues with my French husband, between all my time in France and Paris and living with him, I would have thought to have figured the French culture out a bit more. If you are a reader, I recommend 2 books from Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow: LAST UPDATED: MAY 31, 2018
    The Francophile Library & Books to Read Before Visiting Paris
    As a tried and true francophile, I have tons of books on France, Paris, French culture, studying French language and plain old books in French. And while I’ve written a guest post about books to read before a visit to Paris on my friend Natalie’s blog, I haven’t consolidated my recommendations for building a francophile or books to read to prepare for a trip on Misadventures with Andi. Considering how much I love to read, that is an oversight!

    Also, as I’ve shared in my gift guide for the francophile in your life, books are excellent presents for any holiday all year round! They sure do put a smile on my face.

    Here are the books in my library (with a few exceptions which I will call out) maybe some of them will be an inspiration for you as gifts for the wannabe Frenchie in your life.

    Paris the Place
    The Francophile Library and Books to Read Before Visiting Paris – Paris the Place

    Paris is many things to many people, that’s why books on Paris will always be popular and each one will always be different.

    The New Paris: The People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement Lindsey Tramuta: we all want to know about the new spots in Paris, but this book gives you so much more, including the most interesting to me, the history.

    Why LA? Pourquoi Paris? by Diane Ratican: an exploration, compare and contrast between two iconic cities with beautiful illustrations to boot.

    A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World by Janice MacLeod: one woman’s personal journey of living in Paris via her journal and watercolor illustrations.

    Bright Lights Paris: Shop, Dine & Live…Parisian by Angie Niles: I wasn’t sure if I should place here or with culture as it whimsically illustrates the different types of Parisians, but also offers great spots to eat, drink and shop.

    Quiet Paris by Siobhan Wall: ever want to find a nice quiet place in Paris to take it all in? The introvert in me screams, “yes,” which is why I love this book.

    The Paris Style Guide by Elodie Rambaud: another Parisian insider’s guide to the best things in Paris with a big focus on boutique shopping.

    Naughty Paris by Heather Stimmler-Hall: the saucy and sassy guide to more adult things to do in Paris.

    French Culture, Parisian Life & Parisian Style
    The Francophile Library and Books to Read Before Visiting Paris – French Culture Parisian Life and Parisian Style

    I am fascinated with French culture, there are thousands of years of history adding layer upon layer of cultural norms and tradition. People are equally intrigued by Parisian life for a good reason, it’s compelling!

    L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home by David Lebovitz: having lived in France I can tell you, it isn’t easy to do anything, so it is fun to emphasize and lament with others, like David’s adventures and misadventures into turning a place he bought into a home.

    WTF?!: What the French by Olivier Magny: if you want a quick view into French culture with a little bit of snark, this is the book for you!

    Parisian Chic by Ines de la Fressange: a classic on looking chic and stylish from a Parisian fashion icon.

    How to be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, and Sophie Mas: a collaborate book from 4 women giving beauty, fashion and lifestyle tips, along with a few recipes.

    Paris Street Style by Isabelle Thomas: a fashion writer breaks down what she thinks the secrets to French style are.

    Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer Scott: when you live in France you are bound to pick up some of their style secrets.

    French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano: not loved by everyone, but it was the first book (besides Eat, Pray, Love) that taught me about moderation and eating for pleasure.

    All You Need to Be Impossibly French: A Witty Investigation into the Lives, Lusts, and Little Secrets of French Women by Helena Frith Powell: an undercover look at French female culture.

    Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide To Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Ollivier: insights into work, home, fashion, and relationships of French women.

    True Pleasures: A Memoir of Women in Paris by Lucinda Holdforth: the history buff in me loved the stories of Paris’s most famous women.

    Paris Food
    The Francophile Library and Books to Read Before Visiting Paris – Paris Food

    What else is there in Paris? Oh, okay lots, but I really like the food and food history and the food tours….

    Paris My Sweet by Amy Thomas: one of my favorite books on food in Paris, plus I loved the fact that she defended her love for La Coupole, a restaurant with bad food or not, is close to my heart because I love its style!

    Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes by Kristen Beddard: an exceptional story of re-introducing the French to a lost food.

    Delicious Days in Paris: Walking Tours to Explore the City’s Food and Culture by Jane Paech: I have yet to do all the tours in this book, but I eventually will!

    The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo: fun, quirky take on classic French food. You can’t help loving this charming chef. I haven’t read her book My Little French Kitchen with stories and recipes outside of Paris, but it is on my wishlist!

    Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah: I never miss a newsletter from the author and love her book which covers being in Paris for a year alone which sparked a journey into discovering the history and taste of everything French!

    The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz: this was how I was introduced to this former Chez Panisse dessert chef and I love the mixture of anecdotes and recipes.

    French Relationships
    The Francophile Library & Books to Read Before Visiting Paris – French Relationships

    Dated a French guy who I eventually married, have a French mother-in-law, had a French boss. The cultural difference is there and I make it a point to understand them rather than fight against them. Plus French culture is intriguing! Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t be Wrong: What Makes the French So French? and their newest one: The Bonjour Effect – they were helpful! Blogging wasn’t as big a deal when I lived in France (oh how I wish it was, I met so many great bloggers in Paris after I started mine!), but my weekly missives to my friends and family about my struggles and triumphs were the basis for my blog! So if nothing else you always have content! Wishing you a great 2nd year!

  • Charlie, I love your blog and your articles helping me to prepare for my move to Paris in few months. Than you for your guidance and advise. Would really like to meet you in person, once I move, from NYC as well.

    • Hi Diana! Thank you for the lovely comment. That’s the whole reason I wanted to start this site, to provide the inside info I wished I had during my immigration process, so I’m happy to hear it is helping you. Good luck with your move!

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