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Naomi: sous les toits

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Paris makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Paris, etc.

I’m from Reading, England and I moved to Paris in September 2008. I moved because I fell in love with Paris when I was here on a 6-month work placement as a foreign languages student. When I came back after graduating I didn’t have a job or an apartment here, I just thought I’d turn up and see what happened. Four years later, I’m still here!

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I decided to start blogging about my experiences earlier this year. I’d always had the idea in the back of my mind that I’d like to blog about Paris and I often write articles in my spare time, so I thought, why not put the two together and finally committed myself to a blog!

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

Rude, moi?” is one of my favourites because the lack of customer service and levels of rudeness are topics that often come up when people from back home ask me about living in Paris. It’s a subject that alternately amuses and frustrates me.

Happy Paris-versary” is a retrospective of my past four years in Paris, including what I think are the pros and cons of moving abroad.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Paris differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

After the initial excitement of moving wore off, it was quite hard to settle in. I had to come to terms with the fact that being in Paris for a student work placement and actually deciding to move there indefinitely were two very different things.

The practical side was probably the most daunting, as you’re dealing with an unfamiliar system in a foreign language. On the upside, your French gets better fast! It took me at least 9 months to get all the basic paperwork sorted. As advice to other expats moving here I’d say, don’t expect to get everything sorted at once, the first year will involve A LOT of paperwork. Just grit your teeth, pour yourself a glass of red wine and get on with it!

Secondly, there’s the social side. My first job was in an English customer services team where most of my other colleagues were there on student work placements. This meant making a lot of “transitional friends,” expats from England and other countries who are only here for a short time. When they leave you have to start again and make new friends, which can be difficult to keep going through.

As for cultural aspects, certain things were definitely different, but they didn’t really bother me, I found the differences fascinating. Some of them I really appreciate and have incorporated into my own way of life:

  • Taking an hour and a half (at least) for your lunch break
  • Going to restaurants regularly during the week for lunch
  • Being late. Nothing starts on time here and they’re much more lax about lateness at work (which fits in nicely with my own natural time-keeping!)
  • Taking long weekends whenever there’s a bank holiday midweek

And they’re just a few examples.

One French custom, however, that still makes me uncomfortable is the “bises,” kissing people on each cheek as a greeting. I don’t mind if it’s people I know. But, often when you’re introduced to someone new, you’re expected to do this and I think that’s strange. Why would I want to kiss someone I don’t know?! In any case, it makes saying “hello” and “goodbye” at parties last an age! I much prefer a stiff British nod of the head and a muttered “alright?” Much more practical!

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Paris? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

I came without an apartment or a job and I wouldn’t change that. Having nothing motivated me to do everything that needed to be done.

However, it was useful to have already been through apartment-hunting and job-hunting in Paris (when I was a student) and I would recommend to other people looking to move here that they research or get in touch with expats for tips before arriving.

With regards to culture shock and integration, I don’t really think you can prepare. It is hard, but you just have to see it through. Part of the excitement of moving abroad is due to it being a challenge. It’s a good idea to read books on the subject (one of my favourites is “Almost French” by Sarah Turnbull) and meet other expats so that you know you’re not alone and you can all have a whinge together – very cathartic!

All in all, I wouldn’t change any decisions I made, you can’t prepare for everything when you move abroad and it’s best to accept that.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

Most of my funny anecdotes have to do with various language errors on my part.

I used to confuse words that rhymed. This led, on one occasion, to my explaining to a pharmacist that my friend needed treatment for her foot because it was “ronflé,” “snoring.” What I meant to say was “gonflé,” “swollen.” Needless to say, the pharmacist looked slightly baffled.

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Paris?

  • Travel light initially, you’ll be glad you don’t have too much stuff when you’re moving into your 7th floor apartment “sans ascenseur” (no lift).
  • France loves paperwork, if you want things to move along more smoothly, make lots of copies of your passport, birth certificate and proof of address in France (once you have one).
  • Get a good guide book and for the first few months of living here use it to pick a new bar, restaurant or area to try out every weekend. It’s a good way to get to know the city initially.

How is the expat community in Paris? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

When I first started work here, I was in an English team, so met other expats quite easily. At the beginning it was a lot easier to make friends with other expats than Parisian people. It’s definitely easier now to make French friends, but I still have quite a few expat friends here. I’ve not really been to many organized expat events, though I’m not averse to the odd Anglophone poetry evening.

The expat community in Paris is very good for giving online information about the administrative side of life n Paris. It’s fairly easy to find English language websites that can explain the systems for visas, social security, rental contracts etc.

How would you summarize your expat life in Paris in a single, catchy sentence?

Being an expat in Paris means loving the city throughout all that it throws at you - the good, the bad and the je ne sais quoi!

Rajat Bhatnagar

"As a new arrival in Paris, InterNations provided me with the chance to get in touch with other Indians and get used to life in Europe faster. "

Samantha Greene

"Meeting people from so many different countries in a convivial atmosphere is what I like best about our expat events in Paris. "

Global Expat Guide