Sunday, September 28, 2008

Making a home

Since arriving in Paris for the first time nearly a year ago, I've struggled with identifying myself as a resident rather than a tourist or visitor. For me, home has always been defined as a place where I can navigate myself around without challenge; someplace wherein lies a support system of people who I can turn to for just about anything - for comfort in times of crisis or to share a good laugh with.

My first few months in Paris were riddled with jet-lag, over-sleeping, meet-ups and parties with Gui's friends and family and occasional headaches from trying to communicate between languages. I rarely left the house without someone else in tow to show me where to go and how to get there, and the few times I did venture out on my own, it was only to familiar spots or after two hours of preparation and mapping on the internet. I guess I was living like a tourist then. Now, I'm noticing myself growing braver about finding my way around the city. I'm at the point where I'm confident enough to trek through town with an address and arrondissement in my head and capably find where I need to go. Perhaps my bravery comes from carrying my trusty Indispensible or my wireless connected phone that can search Google maps for me, but even so, my new home is starting to feel more familiar everyday.

And, I suppose it helps that recently I've had a lovely group of anglophone ladies enticing me with invites to fun places around town. It's unbelievable how much of an impact having friends can have on an etranger's life (well, at least on mine). To be surrounded by impossibly friendly folks who've often gone through (or are going through) similar circumstances as mine, who are looking for like-minded friends to enjoy this amazing city with, who miss the same things I miss, who still pull out their cameras to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower for the zillionth time, who aren't afraid of a little rhum-rhum (or beer, or vodka/orange) and who don't mind occasionally shelling out 20€ on a glass of champagne and a plate of macarons just to check out the latest fancy bar on the Champs-Elysées is, more than anything, what makes living in this great city so much more like being at home. I never imagined my life with friends here. I guess I always figured I'd live my life here, meeting French people from work or school but spending my free time with Guillaume and his friends. Envisioning a large group of intelligent, adorable and generous (English-speaking) women available for happy-hour, house parties, movies and lunching, was never even in my periphery. I feel like I've hit the jackpot in the friend department!

But, beyond my newfound social life, I'm still trying to get into a routine with my "professional" life. After mulling it over in my head and soliciting advice from my well-informed friends and my practical-minded husband, I've decided to put my career ambitions aside for these next few months while I focus on conquering the ever-frightening French language. I've been on a few interviews for really decent job positions, but each time my lacking French skills were what kept me from getting the offer (or so they told me, anyway - maybe they didn't like my shoes or haircut - I wouldn't blame them, I'm in serious need of both). And, when I eventually found myself applying for a really great job teaching business English, I felt a twinge of relief and excitement that I'd finally found something to challenge me, get me back to work and help me gain some experience. But, even though it would have ideally been a perfect solution to my unemployment problem, in the end, I decided that taking on 20 hours of French courses a week was enough to keep me busy without the added distraction of a challenging part-time job. I guess a lot of other factors weighed in there, too, but I know keeping French classes at the top of my priority list is the best route for me to take for now, and so I'm taking it.

Still, I'm managing to keep myself occupied these days as a volunteer for an English-speaking non-profit organization in Paris, and above all it's been a really great place to keep my normally sharpened computer skills from getting too rusty. I'm getting a good idea of what it would be like to work with French folks, too, and on more than one occasion I've found myself on the receiving end of a phone inquiry in French, in which case my limited skills are definitely being tested. I don't mind that. And, it makes me feel quite good when I can get a point across or at least tell the person to hang on long enough to fetch someone who can understand them.

Summer's come and gone (in a blink, it seems), and there are a lot of changes going on in Paris and in my little life. It's getting colder, streets are full of people, shops are donning knee-high boots, wool coats and chunky sweaters (yay!) and I'm starting to get a taste of what it's really like to make a life here. I'm finding my groove, setting up a routine, and making myself at home. And, it's actually rather nice.

11 comments:

astrorainfall said...

Glad to see you're settling into Paris well. Friends and a routine are the key...

Good luck on the French lessons!

Candy said...

this sounds like an excerpt from a book! I love it! Miss you TONS!

Pearl said...

As a replaced or misplaced Texan myself--currently on sabbatical from Dallas--I feel your pain. And bliss. I am confident about getting about, but talking with natives? Oh, no no no. And the phone? Oh, help!

However: I am here until December and happy that I am.

Pearl

PutYourFlareOn said...

Sarah, I have felt these feelings you write about here. And I can sympathize with you completely. The first year in Paris, I had NO friends. And then like you, I fell into this lovely group of anglo friends that help me get on my feet and build my confidence.

Now that I have been here for five years, I can tell you that it does get better and that things will work itself out. It sounds like to me you are finding new opportunities for yourself and that is better than what I did my first year in Paris.

Keep at it... and if you're ever feeling down and just need a place to hang, you are always welcome at the tea house! :)

See you soon.

Bises.

Josephine said...

I love you Sarah! You make me proud!! You little French American Girl!!

Zhu said...

From my own experience, it takes a while to settle in and feel at home abroad, but it worth it in the end. It's a great thing to feel like you finally belong to a place you chose!

Madame D said...

I loved reading this post, because it is the perfect explanation of how I felt in Paris when I lived there (2003-2004). It really does take time to feel like you belong there, and that you're not just "the American wife". For me, I was just starting to feel like I was a real Parisienne around month 9 or 10. Then after a year, I ended up coming back for grad school! Go figure! Your post made me remember how great I felt when I started to have my habits and routines and my own friends. Reading your blog is a big trip down memory lane, and it makes me so nostalgic for Paris! I can't wait to move back!

Guillaume said...

You'll be french sooner than you think honey :)
I'm very proud of my little texan!

love you

Josephine said...

This list is incomplete. It should include items such as:

Menudo, Tamales (de cabeza), lengua,nopales, moyejas, bunuelos, capirotada, barbequoa, aripas, tripas, gorditas, and the list can go on and on! :)

Buen povecho!

Crystal said...

I glad we met because my life was/is the same as yours...in the north of France, I spent almost 2 years with no real social life...only when a few anglo girls started teaching at my school did I feel like I had real friends. In Paris, since I've only been here a month, I still feel a bit lost, but meeting you and Sam and everyone else has helped a lot. Hope to see you again soon!

Lindsey said...

Awww friend! You and your new posse need to find bottomless mimosas somewhere in that city of yours! SO GLAD to hear that you are starting to feel at home! We miss you! Love you friend :)