My wife and I had coffee with some American neighbors last weekend. The conversation ricocheted wildly between current events, where to find good Indian food, and the ins and outs of (them) raising two young children in Paris.
We shared knowing nods about how different the city is for tourists: it’s a dazzling, romantic, breathtaking, and heady mix of history, art, food, and culture. It’s borderline exotic, populated with residents who don’t seem to care about so many things, yet get so passionate about the strangest things, and expats or vagabonds who seem to have just arrived, just to check things out, to continue their careers, or to settle in with a new lover in a new city.
For those of us who live here, who are not Parisian and not even French–and there’s a difference between Parisians and the rest of the French–life is, of course, a very different thing.
More than one resident has come to this hard realization: just because you’re in love with Paris does not mean that Paris is in love with you. Paris does not care one ounce about you, and most of its residents don’t care about you, either.
As I’ve said in previous posts, the Parisians are civilized, genteel, attentive, and charming. They are also, many times, in their own little world, or flagrantly disinterested in anyone or anything else. I find it endlessly fascinating as I try to anticipate which of these–charming to disinterested–they will be during our next encounter. You. Just. Never. Know.
But for expats eager to arrive in Paris, find an apartment, and live the artist’s life or the writer’s life or the cafe life or whatever, beware. Everybody has something to do here. Everybody’s who’s smart, anyway. After 3 months of walking the streets, discovering the history, eating like a roman emperor, and haunting the museums, you will be ready to get busy doing something.
For me, it’s easy: I write. My wife and I are working on several projects, so we have things to do. Some retired expats here in our neighborhood are not so actively engaged, and the results are disheartening. They start drinking at 10 a.m. and finish whenever. They have nothing to talk about (which is important in cafe life.) And they’re miserable.
They thought that leaving the U.S. was going to give them a new lease on life. The problem is: they’re the same people in Paris that they were in the states.
And this is a key issue: travel can change your point of view, but actually living in another country for a period of time should change you. Demonstrably. Tangibly. Permanently. Otherwise, you’re not doing it right.
For me, I’m much less concerned about what other people think. I don’t take things as personally as I used to. I’m much more comfortable with confrontation. I listen more. I have a much more open mind. I feel much more creative. I have a global perspective.
These changes are nothing new: a lot of expats have probably had similar or identical feelings. And maybe I haven’t changed at all.
But things certainly feel different.
I’d be interested to hear a few comments, experiences, and insights into this phenomenon: living abroad. And how it’s impacted you, and people you know.
Thanks, looking forward to it.