Bonjour, tout le monde! Every couple of years, I put out a call for guest posts from Oui In France readers. I have been waist deep with my new blogging for beginners eBook, so I figured I’d pass the blog reins over to a few guest bloggers to help me out while the eBook was taking up all my time. Today I have a guest post for you coming from a reader named Kacie Macdonald. She is a serial expat having lived in Shanghai, Tokyo, and currently resides in Paris with her husband, three kids, and two cats. Kacie occasionally blogs about expat life and vintage fashion at www.kaciesunshine.com.
Thank you, Kacie, for your beautiful post!
What follows are her words about moving to Paris…
Ah, Paris! The city that sparkles and shines! The city that looks great from far away and from close up its intricate details tell stories of thousands lives lived over hundreds of years. It is a magical place, after all!
I arrived in Paris in January 2020 with hopes of discovering in those small details, in the floral carvings on apartment doorways, in the chevron pattern of the floors, in the maze of cobblestone alleyways, a story of my own. I arrived ready to absorb the magic of Paris and hoped a little of its shine would rub off on me.
Little did I know the story Paris would have for me was different than anything I could have imagined.
Our plane landed in Paris in the middle of a rainstorm, just six weeks before the city would lock down to try to curb the spread of Covid-19. The storm clouds that whirled us into the city seemed to hang around, leaving me to figure out how to help my husband and three young kids adjust to our new city and new culture while also navigating a growing pandemic. Paris, the magical city of lights, was a perpetual colorless rainy day interrupted by moments of sunshine in tastes of baguettes, wine, and cheese.
When the hard lockdown started right after moving to Paris (and I do mean hard lockdown-we couldn’t leave our small apartment for more than 1 hour at a time without a special permission slip or go more than 1 km/half mile away), I was still figuring out how to find groceries my kids would eat, still attempting to translate ingredients at the grocery store to figure out just which was whole milk and which was the equivalent of skim (the only one my kids would drink).
There’s a stress that comes with moving to a new country that winds its way through your experience there, at least in the early days, and is impossible to separate from the place. It makes buying groceries more like hunting and gathering and makes seemingly simple tasks take hours longer than they should. It brings layers of additional hurdles to everyday life and a chronic low level of stress and exhaustion. Add to that a layer of collective stress about what was happening around the world.
“But you’re in Paris!” was the answer that I’d hear when I shared my experience and challenges. This was said as if to invalidate any negative feelings I had, to minimize them in light of this great city in which I found myself.
“Paris” seemed to cancel out any challenging experiences I was having, as if it’s magic extended to mothering children in a foreign country too. As many challenges as I was facing, surely the benefits were better!
I wish that I could say that living here is, in fact, just like being Emily in Paris. I am so sorry to be the one to tell you that living in Paris does not, in fact, make difficulties disappear!Paris is a magical place. But it’s not magic. It’s not an alternate universe where bad things don’t happen or where challenges simply go away.Click To Tweet
Paris is a magical place. But it’s not magic. It’s not an alternate universe where bad things don’t happen or where challenges simply go away.
I struggled with this juxtaposition, appreciating Paris as a gift, a city where many people want to visit or would love to live, while struggling with adjusting to life here and dealing with the stress of a pandemic away from my support system of family, friends, the language I spoke, and a health care system I knew how to navigate.
The challenges of living here are something that’s not often talked about because for one thing, those of us who are foreigners living in Paris are truly appreciative of the fact that we live here. We know its reputation and its allure, it’s probably part of the reason we came here in the first place! We don’t want to complain and seem ungrateful.
It’s also very difficult to explain the challenges of living here.
How does one accurately communicate the stress of things like getting your carte de séjour (figure out how to apply, rush to make the application, turn it in, be told its incomplete, turn in the other documents, be told you need to turn it in to someone else, turn it in to said person, wait, wait, wait, follow up, be told it’s lost, redo the application, resubmit, wait, wait, wait, follow up, be told it’s almost done, wait, and just when it seems all hope is lost be told it’s ready for pick up at a certain window at a certain building on Tuesdays and Fridays between 2 and 3 p.m., all in French. Rinse and repeat for every situation).
Here are a few things I was surprised by after moving to Paris that add that extra layer of stress to daily life:
1-The constant labyrinth of bureaucracy. Things that seem straightforward never involve a streamlined process, there are always lots of steps and lots of paperwork.
2-The amount of time it takes to get anything done! Because of that bureaucracy things take a LONG time!
3-Paris is gritty and dirty, there’s graffiti everywhere and dog poop on the sidewalks. Look up and don’t miss the details of the buildings but also make sure to look where you step!
4-Customer service doesn’t have the same cultural value as it does in the US where I’m from. Expect to wait longer and have to ask workers for help rather than waiting for them to help you.
5-There are LONG breaks in the middle of the day where businesses are simply closed or there is no one available to help you. This is especially true outside of Paris in smaller towns. You can’t get anything done on your own lunch break because everyone else is also on theirs!It turns out that Paris in a pandemic is still a pandemic. It also turns out that you can face challenging circumstances anywhere, even a place that seems as magical as France.Click To Tweet
It turns out that Paris in a pandemic is still a pandemic. It also turns out that you can face challenging circumstances anywhere, even a place that seems as magical as France.
It also turns out that despite the grit, dirt, graffiti, and dog poop laden sidewalks, Paris retains a bit of its sparkle. Paris isn’t a diamond in the rough but there is rough in the diamond, and that’s what gives its facets dimension and beauty.
Maybe that’s the story the City of Lights had to tell me, that in spite of life’s difficult circumstances, perhaps because of them, there is still beauty and magic to be found. And maybe because of the challenges you’ve faced, your own grit, determination, and resilience will shine through. I hope you’ve discovered a bit of that in yourself this year, no matter where you are.
Did you catch these amazing guest posts? Alex wrote about why living in France won’t automatically make you fluent in French and Catherine wrote about being vegetarian in France and what she’s learned.