Although it's Thanksgiving in the U.S., here in France it's just another working day. And it seems the editors at BonjourParis aren't taking time off for good behavior, because my latest article was posted right on time!
Yesterday, I was walking up the Champs Elysées where I saw an ad that showed a picture of a purple alien, with the following caption: “Seul dans l’Univers?” (Translation: “Alone in the Universe?”)
It was the perfect representation of what it feels like to move to a foreign country—even when you speak some of the language and know a little about the culture.
It’s very different—and I knew it would be—trying to be a resident here, rather than a tourist. When you’re a tourist, you don’t care much about assimilating. You know, and so do the locals, that you’re a tourist and therefore people will overlook your errors, your stupidity and even your unintentional rudeness. You go out and see the local sights, eat in restaurants, and shop a lot for things you don’t need but want.
But when you’re trying to ease your way into daily life, doing even the simplest things can take longer and be more crazy-making than you ever thought possible, no matter how well you may have prepared in advance. When you go out, it’s not so much about seeing the latest monument or famous painting. Your communications skills need to be good enough to buy appliances and find repairmen, rather than stopping at hello, thank you, excuse me and “Where is the nearest such and such?” Your shopping is more mundane: toilet paper instead of tapestries, trying to read foreign labels and preparation instructions to make your own dinner instead of reading the menu at Deux Magots, and looking to find the best bargain on grocery staples instead of looking for the perfect replica of the Eiffel Tower for Aunt Sophie back home.
It has been six days since I arrived in Paris, with my overweight luggage and exhausted from a somewhat bumpy flight. I’m still not sleeping all that well. I’ve had moments of sheer excitement, such as arriving at the apartment I’m renting until December and seeing the terrace view of the Eiffel Tower. When evening fell and the tower began to glitter at the top of the hour, I was mesmerized! Even now when I see it, I stop for a moment and just stare.
I’ve also had moments of complete frustration, as when I discovered that my Vonage (Internet phone) modem needed something called a step-down power converter because it uses a 3-prong grounded plug instead of the 2-prong plugs that the standard travel adaptors accept. (You’d think Vonage might have mentioned this to me when I called them to inquire about taking my Vonage service on the road with me. So much for customer service.) It’s taken me days, literally, to locate and install the right cables, plugs, and adaptors to get myself set up correctly.
Now on Day 6, my technology problems finally seem to be resolved. I can now communicate with friends, family and business clients around the world through both phone and email. I picked up an inexpensive all-in-one printer/scanner/copier today for just 69 Euros at FNAC in Forum Les Halles (it’s an HP PSC1510 if anyone’s wondering) because shipping my American one from home will not be worth the expense. When I try to re-establish a work routine next week, I’ll be pretty well set to go, and it will be business as usual.
So it’s been a rollercoaster, to say the least. I can’t seem to get my body on any kind of a schedule quite yet. I flip-flop between bursts of energy where I go out and explore my new surroundings, and times where I just want to curl up on the couch and watch “Pride and Prejudice” (I find Jane Austen has a very calming effect on me so I brought some of my favorite DVDs along). I’m enjoying the great food and the effortless exercise I’m getting simply by being forced to walk everywhere.
Good experiences this week:
• Discovering that my apartment and neighborhood is both safe, and very comfortable.
• Successfully shopping for food, equipment and accessories, and even managing to exchange something that didn’t work—while conducting all transactions in French without much trouble.
• Getting the hang of the Métro, although I haven’t yet braved the buses.
• Having the sun come out for most of the past two days, which made my walk from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe a real pleasure, and made doing some shopping today much easier.
• Being told my French accent is “excellent” by several French people I’ve met.
• Having my social calendar fill up, with invitations to two Thanksgiving dinners, a walk in the Bois de Vincennes, a networking soirée in a private home, a classical concert in Notre Dame (I sat next to the orchestra conductor on the plane), and a weekend trip to London in three weeks.
Challenges (to date):
• Jet lag (I always get it, no matter what) and related headaches for the first three days I was here.
• Dog “crottes” on the sidewalk. They’re everywhere, and you really have to watch where you step.
• Resisting the temptation to smile automatically at everyone I see. Americans smile to show they mean no harm; the French consider it insincere and idiotic. When in Rome…
• Learning to leave a LOT of time when getting from here to there. Between walking time, waiting for the next train, and trying to locate an address on the far end of the journey, public transportation has been anything but speedy. I come from a suburban car culture, after all!
• Missing my daily dose of Oprah, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Will and Grace. There’s not much on TV here in English, although I am happy to have the BBC and CNN.
• Getting used to the toilet being in a separate room. Don’t bother asking why; it just IS.
Getting myself here and getting settled in has taken an enormous amount of energy. In fact, on the drive in from the airport, I was so numb I couldn’t even muster up much excitement for the close-up view I had of the Eiffel Tower and all the other familiar sights of central Paris.
So I think that my favorite moment this week was on Sunday afternoon. I was strolling through the 6th where I stopped for a coffee and some onion soup gratinée at Café Flore (overpriced but still very delicious) and where I managed to snag a table outdoors right on the corner, perfect for people-watching. Then I wandered down rue Bonaparte (I stayed at a hotel there on my very first visit to Paris and love to look in the shop windows). At the Seine, I turned right and headed for the Pont des Arts—my favorite spot in Paris to just LOOK.
As I gazed around me, turning first in one direction and then another, I finally let it sink in for the first time: I have done it. I have really moved to Paris! It’s no longer a wish, but a reality. I know there will be many more challenges as I learn and discover and adapt. And I also know this is about to be the best year of my life.
Looking toward the Ile de la Cité and seeing the freshly-scrubbed and beautiful Pont Neuf, with Notre Dame and St. Chapelle in the background, my heart said a little silent “Thank You”.