Living in a Different Language…

I had to break down and get a French mobile phone this weekend. I still use my Irish number as my main method of contact but, after living in Paris for eight months, there are certain things I keep coming up against that require a French number. So, I bought a cheap, refurbished iPhone and decided to get a very basic call and text only plan. I first tried to buy a SIM online. But when ordering a SIM card to get a French mobile number one must already have a French mobile number in order to be sent SMS tracking info. Okaaaaay. Do you get the irony here, France?

So, this meant I would have to go to a brick-and-mortar shop and actually talk to people in order to get my SIM. I don’t like dealing with shops and people as a rule and I was even more stressed out because there was a very good chance I would need to do this transaction in French. Oh, the horror.  I seriously worked myself into a tizzy trying to figure out how to say want I wanted in French. I needed to get this right. This wasn’t something cute like when my waiter the other day thought I said “Côtes du Rhône” when I had actually said “carte du vin”. Whatever. I still got a glass of wine. It was fine.  But my decidedly non-parisian accent and limited vocabulary could get me into trouble when trying to buy a mobile phone contract.

I am not strong when it comes to languages. I have been trying to learn French on and off for the past fifteen years and I’m still an advanced beginner at best. I feel like I constantly have to learn the same concepts over and over. Things just don’t seem to stick. I have a private tutor here in Paris now and she’s great, but I can tell I frustrate the hell out of her.

Living in a place where one doesn’t speak the language is not easy. It’s frustrating, isolating and exhausting. Frustrating because I desperately want to be fluent in French but it feels so out of reach so much of the time. Often, I feel like I’m making progress only to get knocked back down when I’m reminded of how little I really know. Isolating because the language being spoken around me is not one I understand fluently so I retreat into myself (even more than usual) as a result. On a recent visit to New York, I was on the subway and I was taken aback when I could actually understand the various conversations going on around me and it was surprisingly comforting. And exhausting because living in French means constantly having to figure out what I’m supposed to say, or what someone is saying to me. The language does not flow naturally into and out of my brain and sometimes I just get tired.

By the way, I feel the need to point out that, for the most part, the Parisians have been amazing to me and my broken French. I have a standard line that I say when someone starts speaking too rapidly: “Je suis désolé. Je suis nouveau à Paris et mon français n’est pas bon. Mais j’essaye”, which translates to “I am sorry. I am new to Paris and my French is not good. But I am trying.” Almost without exception, I am then met with words of encouragement and questions about where I’m from, why I moved to Paris, etc. This has been such a welcome surprise for me. Merci, Parisians.

I love the French language. And I knew it would be one of the biggest challenges when I moved to Paris. I’m not giving up. I am determined to, if not master French, at least get to a point where I can join in a conversation rather than retreat into myself because I don’t understand what anyone is saying. I’m inspired by the French people who encourage me to keep going and compliment the progress I’ve made. I’m inspired by friends who have lived here for a while and knew even less French than me and are now fluent. And I’m inspired by Paris itself. This beautiful, amazing city will be even more beautiful and amazing, I think, when its language comes more naturally to me.

In the meantime, j’essaye.

 

 

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More or Less…

I was back in the States for three weeks in August – one week in New York City for the first time in twelve years and two visiting friends and family in Buffalo. While in New York, I stayed with an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in person since she was in Dublin for a quick work trip more than five years ago. She remarked during my stay that when she last saw me, I was definitely an American in Europe but now I seemed more European than American to her.

What she said surprised me a bit at first. I’m still American – just listen to my accent! But, upon reflection, I have discovered that, after nearly six years living in Europe, I have become more European in both big and small ways.

Probably the biggest shift for me is how I think of and approach healthcare. This same friend came home after a physio appointment while I was staying with her and was upset because she needed to get an MRI on her foot. I thought she was nervous about the actual MRI and I explained to her that I’d had several on my foot and they were no big deal. But that wasn’t it. She’d had an MRI on her foot before and it cost her hundreds of dollars because the only insurance she can afford has an extremely high deductible. The MRIs I’d had in Dublin cost me exactly nothing.

Since moving to Europe, I have grown used to the notion that healthcare is for everyone and not tied to your job in any way. Having been a freelancer for a good part of my career and also having been laid off several times during said career, not having to worry about where my healthcare is coming from while also worrying about where my next paycheck is coming from is incredibly liberating. I am not going to get into a political debate on the merits and faults of the US healthcare system versus that of Ireland or France. That is not what this post is about. But regarding healthcare and one’s access to it, my mindset is decidedly European.

And there are other smaller, more innocuous ways that Europe has crept into the way I think or do things but I hadn’t really noticed them until this trip:

  • I’ve forgotten how to tip. At restaurants, I have to ask friends how much tip to leave because I no longer know what a proper amount would be. And I’ve forgotten that in the US, not only do you tip restaurant servers, but just about everyone else too. It’s maddening!
  • I get all confused with US money now because it’s all the same size and same color.
  • Also, the size of coins no longer makes any sense to me. Why are nickels larger than dimes?! Why are even pennies larger than dimes?! Why the heck are dimes so dang small?!
  • I keep forgetting that the price of an item is not actually the price of the item – sales tax has to be added. Several times, I’ve muddled my way through the same-size green bills and oddly-sized coins to come up with the exact amount, only to be told that the amount I owe is in fact about 8% higher.
  • I have to think long and hard about which button to push in an elevator. Over here, first floors are the actual first floor of a building (which in fairness, I do think makes more logical sense). I wound up in the “garage” when riding an elevator because I thought the “G” meant “ground floor”. It didn’t.
  • Why are there so many commercials on TV and why do most of them seem to be for erectile dysfunction medications?

Now don’t get me wrong, I still miss quintessentially American things like ice, air conditioning and Target. And I’ll always be American (who knows, maybe someday I’ll even be proud of that again). But as time passes, I’m becoming more and more European – and I don’t mind that one bit.

 

A Tale of Two Cities…

I’ve been living in Paris for nearly six months now and had my first trip back to Dublin a couple weeks ago. It was… weird. During my time living in Dublin I’d done several extended stays in Paris so in many ways it felt like I was returning home after one of those, except that I didn’t have a home to return to.

But that sense of familiarity was there from the moment I stepped off the plane. And the sense of familiarity soon gave way to a renewed sense of belonging. It was great to return to my beloved Ranelagh neighborhood – I even walked by my old house (gee, I wonder if the new tenants have running water?). I returned to my local and they greeted me with open arms. I ran errands on Grafton Street, daydreamed as I walked along the canal, visited one of the studios where I used to work. It was truly like I never left.

And of course, there were my people. Some I’d seen a few times on various work and play trips since my move, some I hadn’t seen since my leaving drinks last January, but it sure was lovely to see them all again here in Dublin. On my last evening in town, a small group of most of my closest Dublin friends met up at my local for one last pint. They are the people who ground me in my Dublin-ness and we’ve remained close even though I am now in Paris. Those peeps, my peeps, reminded me of how much I still have in Dublin.

Of course, this visit was certainly more than a bit rose-tinged. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I was pretty much forced out of Dublin because of the current housing situation. They will recall that this past winter I had no heat and intermittent-at-best running water. I would also go weeks without seeing any of my aforementioned people. That’s not on them, that’s on me – I have hermity tendencies and my self-esteem is low enough so that I think that no one will want to do anything social with me so why bother asking. Couple these issues of mine with the fact that everyone is busy with work and life, and my last few months in Dublin were actually rather lonely.

And then there’s Paris. I have people in Paris too. Awesome people. But now that I’ve been here for a few months, my hermity ways are getting the better of me again and that, combined with a lot of travel, means I haven’t really seen anyone in quite some time. Sure, everyone’s busy but, as with Dublin, I’ve no one to blame but myself.

That sense of familiarity and belonging is here too. I know Paris better than I know any city in the world. I’ve always felt that I belong in Paris and the day I moved here in February, everything was instantly so familiar.

I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from these ruminations. Except that I know these two cities are both a part of me. And I feel like I belong in, and need, both of them.

Shame. Shame. Shame.

I stared at my computer monitor in vain for over an hour trying to get this post started yesterday. And then I have stopped and started so much since then that I wondered if this post was even worth writing. I have so much that I want and need to say yet I can’t seem to get my thoughts out. To quote Evan Hansen, “Words fail.”

My native country has been a tire fire for nearly two years now but the events that unfolded at the Mexican border this past week took my breath away.

Children. Some of them infants, some with disabilities, all of them in a situation through no fault of their own, ripped away from their parents. Those parents, not the rapists and murderers Fox News would have you believe, but people fleeing actual murderers and drug cartels and abject poverty. People seeking ASYLUM. People who yes, committed a crime at the border, but a MISDEMEANOR. And a necessary crime because one can only apply for asylum if you are physically present in the United States. Wouldn’t you commit this “necessary” crime if it meant a better, safer life for your children?

I’ve written a couple of times previously in this blog about myself as an immigrant and an expat (you can read those posts here and here). About how being an “expat” conjures of notions of romance and adventure but “immigrant” has become a four-letter-word. And it’s only gotten worse in the years since I wrote those posts. The utter lack of empathy and common decency amongst people has me stymied. I don’t understand how people can be so uncaring, so cold, so cruel.

And I’m not talking only about the oompa-loompa in the oval office or his administration. I know, through their policies on women’s rights, LBGTQ rights, and healthcare that this administration’s status quo is cruelty. But what has truly made me despair is the cruelty of everyday Americans.

Even in my European, liberal, socialist bubble, I see the hate and cruelty seeping in. People who think border crossers should be shot on sight, people who cry “but Clinton, but Obama, but her emails”, people who have conveniently forgotten that, unless they happen to be Native American, they come from immigrants.

You know what these people are? Lucky. They got dealt a good hand, and the people seeking asylum got dealt a bad one. We Americans don’t deserve our situation any more than these desperate asylum seekers deserve theirs. Luck. Chance. That. Is. It.

I cannot imagine the terror that these children are feeling. I cannot imagine the trauma they (and their parents) are going through. Good lord, when I moved to Dublin I was an utter mess, inconsolable because I was separated from the life I knew and the people I loved. I was an adult who made the active choice to immigrate to Ireland – and I have never felt so desperate, sad and alone in my life. I could barely deal with my situation – how the hell are these children expected to deal with theirs? Oh wait, to quote Melania’s jacket “I really don’t care, do u?”.

I am despairing because I think Melania’s jacket speaks for far too many people in America right now. To have so many not caring about this, or worse yet, supporting the separation of these children from their parents is truly a national tragedy.

As an American, as a human being, I am ashamed that more of us aren’t ashamed.

Settling In…

By far the most common question I get asked when people find out I’m newly living in Paris is how long I plan to stay. It was like that when I lived in Dublin as well – everyone always seemed to want to know how long I was there for.  The answer has always been and still is “I have absolutely no idea.”

I moved to Paris three months ago but I feel like I only started living here last week. I was gone for most of the month of April, taking a long-awaited vacation to Japan and then a more spur-of-the-moment work/play trip to Los Angeles. When I arrived in Paris at the beginning of February, everything was so new and things were so stressful that I put off a lot of stuff until “after Japan.”

Well, it’s now “after Japan” so I can’t really avoid those things any longer. It’s time to get stuff done. I went to Office Depot (they have those in Paris, random!) and had fun buying supplies for my home office. I then had less fun getting the office set up and filing the stack of papers that had accumulated over the past few months. I start private french lessons with a tutor this week and hopefully my atrocious french will soon start to improve. I have a cleaning person starting this week as well – I’d much rather practice my atrocious french than dust. I even have a French social security number now which means I can do fun things like get paid and have universal socialized health care.

I’ve also got a to-do list chock full of other mundane life stuff: find a doctor, join a gym, get that dress dry cleaned, make a hair appointment, back up my hard drive, buy some houseplants, get a new bath mat, figure out how the sofa bed works before I have my first houseguest… the list goes on and will continue to grow I’m sure. These are not the tasks of a tourist or someone on a short stay. These are the tasks of everyday life. My life. That is now in Paris.

I still don’t know how long I will live here, but I do indeed live here now.

Dublin v. Paris…

I’ve lived in Paris for two months now and I’m settling in rather well. Though sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that I do in fact actually live here.

Since this is my second expat experience, I can’t help but compare Paris with Dublin. I’m not talking about who has better museums or a more picturesque countryside. That’s a comparison of tourist attractions. I’m talking about how these two cities stack up against each other when it comes to LIVING in them.

Here’s what I’ve come up with thus far:

  • People – You’d be hard-pressed to find a population nicer than the Irish. They exude friendliness and it was one of the things I knew I would miss most. But, surprisingly given their reputation, the Parisians I have encountered have been almost shockingly friendly to me. My french is, in a word, appalling, yet whenever I must apologize that I don’t understand something because I’m new in Paris, I don’t get eye rolls or corrections on my accent. Most often, they ask where I’m from and compliment me for at least trying to speak french. It was a surprise and it’s been nice.
  • Landlords – So, those friendly people I was talking about? Landlords are excluded from this category – in Dublin and in Paris. However, my situation in Dublin was especially dire and it was the greed of my landlords that ultimately had me decide to make the move to Paris. Parisian landlords aren’t much better but at least in Paris the laws favor the tenant, whereas in Dublin, tenants are pretty much shit out of luck.
  • Weather – No one moves to Dublin or Paris for the weather, and I’m one of the very few people who actually didn’t mind the weather in Dublin. This freak-show of a winter notwithstanding, it doesn’t get too cold and the summers don’t get too hot. Paris is much the same, though for me, I think the edge goes to Dublin because every year Paris has the canicules (heat waves) where the temperatures soar and everyone, especially the heat-averse moi, becomes pretty miserable.
  • Food – Everyone knows that Parisian food is ridiculously good. But, I’ve been struggling with the food in Paris this time around. Since I moved here I’ve adopted a reasonably strict LCHF (low carb, high fat) way of eating (and I’m down 20 pounds, yo!). In Dublin, I feel like there were more LCHF choices and that restaurants were more willing to make substitutions. In Paris, with the pastries and the bread and the frites and the… well, let’s just say eating low carb can be a challenge. And restaurants are less willing to sub out something like potatoes for a salad or some veggies. Thank goodness that wine and cheese are both gloriously low carb.
  • Ease of Travel – Ireland is an island. There’s no way around that. So, if you want to go somewhere you need to get on a plane. Paris is much better located as a travel hub and being able to take trains to places like London or Amsterdam is amazing. I feel like I have all of Europe within reach now that I am in Paris.
  • Amazon – I was addicted to ordering from Amazon when I lived in the States. Sadly, Dublin only has access to the UK Amazon and it’s therefore very limiting and very expensive. Now that I am in Paris, I am back to my old Amazon habits. I have my french Prime membership and order just about anything I need in the click of a button. Oh Amazon, how I missed you.
  • Time Zones – I know, I know, how can one time zone be better than another? Trust me, they SO can be. Paris is only one hour ahead of Dublin but I was shocked at how big a difference that hour made. I still work mostly with people in the GMT or EST time zones. I’m forever confusing my schedule because I don’t know if calls are set for GMT or CET. And being one hour later means I usually end up working an hour later. I’m a GMT gal all the way!
  • Transportation – Paris has this one down. Even in a spring that is set to be riddled with strikes, it is so easy to get around this city using public transportation. The metro is one of the best in the world. And I’ve recently overcome my bus phobia and now take the Paris busses BY MYSELF on a regular basis. Dublin, for a european capital, has always sadly lacked in the public transportation arena. Apparently the LUAS lines are now joined up – that only took about 15 years. I took a bus in Dublin once and feared for my life the entire time. Never. Again.
  • Coffee – Some might find this shocking but the coffee in Paris is average at best. For a coffee snob like myself that borders on the tragic. Dublin, though, had great coffee. How I wish I could walk to Nick’s in Ranelagh right now for an americano.

So there you have it – my initial take on little bits of living in each city. Two cities I love. Two cities that are “home”. So, who wins?

Me.

Separate Ways…

I arrived in Paris exactly three weeks ago today. I’m still existing in a very liminal state but, honestly, but I’m actually doing a lot better than I was at this point in my relocation to Dublin.

In my last post, I was filled with such anxiety for no real good reason. I think my psyche was just messed up because the anxiety and panic that gripped me when I moved to Dublin really blind-sided me. For this Paris move, I wanted to be prepared so as not to be caught off-guard again and I let my “anxiety about possible anxiety” wreck my head.

Not that my transition has been a picnic. Not at all. There has been crippling loneliness and doubt, there have been anxiety attacks, there has been the taking of xanax. But I got through it.

What basically set me off was a weekend in London. I arrived in Paris, was there for four days, then I was up in Manchester for work for two days, and then to London for three days to meet up with two friends to see “Hamilton”. (Side note – it was amazing, life-changing, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Just go see it.) We’d gotten these theatre tickets more than a year ago and I thought the timing of it was going to be good – I’d have a couple days in Paris to get situated but not really have time to dwell on things because I had this long-awaited Hamilton weekend to get to.

And the weekend was awesome. I had a great time – until it was time for me to leave on Sunday. I was the first one to depart, as my friends were getting separate flights to Dublin later in the afternoon. I got into the taxi, the door closed behind me and as I watched the two of them walk away I was overcome by this immense feeling of sadness because my friends were going back to Dublin and I wasn’t. And then the dam burst and I had an anxiety attack in the back of a London cab.

I was able to keep it under control during my Eurostar ride back to Paris but I could feel something bubbling under my surface and knew it was just a matter of time. I got to my apartment in Paris and let it all out – crying, pacing, panicking. I was full on until I pretty much exhausted myself and fell asleep.

The thing is, I didn’t really understand why the end of a fantastic weekend set me off. Sure, I’m going to miss my friends but it’s not like I’ll never see them again, and hell, it’s not like I saw them all that much while I was still living in Dublin. But I was talking to another Dublin friend on Friday afternoon and I told her this story and she got a bit teary-eyed. And she explained that it made perfect sense and it was kind of beautiful.

Getting into that taxi and driving away from my friends was me literally me going my own separate way. After so many months of build-up, and being able to avoid it earlier because of this planned weekend in London, this was it. The point of separation, at least for now, from the life I spent the past five years building in Dublin. It was a huge moment and no wonder I cried. That cry, and the subsequent one in my apartment later than night, were necessary.

Have I mentioned that my friend is not only awesome but very, very wise?

She was right. I’ve had fleeting moments of anxiety since that Sunday but no “attacks”. Certainly nothing like what I dealt with when I first moved to Dublin. I’ve actually been doing pretty okay. Each day I fall a little more in love with my cute apartment, I have amazing friends here who made me part of their circle instantly, my Dublin friends are still very much in my life, and I’m doing something that most people only dream of doing. I’m living in Paris.

Maybe I’m doing more than okay.