Angels in Disguise…

Be not inhospitable to strangers, less they be angels in disguise.

                                                                  – W.B. Yeats

This quote from an Irish poet is painted above a doorway in the legendary Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company. It’s also on the canvas bag I bought from said bookstore and took with me just now to the grocery store, which is how I found myself randomly thinking about it today.

I’ve always loved that quote but it’s taken on new meaning for me since becoming an expat, especially an expat who has to do pretty much everything on her own. When you are by yourself in a new country, it’s amazing how uplifting random acts of kindness are and how demoralizing random acts of asshole-ishness can be. But I’m not dwelling on the assholes today.

Today I’ve found myself reflecting on complete strangers who were indeed hospitable to me. There have been so many both before and during my expat life. But these are the moments that crept into my mind on the walk to the grocery store today:

  • At a Starbuck’s in Manhattan Beach a couple teenagers asked my friend and me if they could pay for our drinks as part of their “random acts of kindness project” for their church.
  • On a cold November morning at the University of Michigan I was heading home for Thanksgiving and doing the twenty minute trek with loads of luggage from my dorm to where I parked my car. I had one of those ancient wheelie suitcases that you dragged behind you with a loose strap like an unwilling dog on a leash. The stupid thing kept tipping every five steps until a woman saw me struggling, picked the suitcase up and walked it all the way to my car.
  • On my second day ever in Dublin, I was on the main road in Ranelagh, completely, utterly lost looking for the apartment I was supposed to be viewing. Two different people actually pulled their cars over to the side of the road and helped me find my way.
  • On a bus in Reims, France I had no idea where my stop was. The bus map was completely in French and my bus phobia didn’t help matters anyway. An extremely stylish French woman told me how many stops I had to go and when the stop was coming up she signaled the driver and asked him to wait her. She then got off the bus with me and made sure I knew how to walk to my destination from the stop.
  • When at a dingy bar in Santa Monica to see a band, a lovely Aussie girl gave me and my friend her extra passes so that we could be in the front row. That girl, Brooke, became a dear friend and after that night in Santa Monica adventures in London, New  York and Hawaii followed, as well as a friendship that has lasted nearly fifteen years.
  • When at an American Expat Meetup in Paris, the people were far from welcoming. Except for one person – Caren. As I was about to leave, Caren introduced herself and started a conversation with me. A friendship was started that night and, through Caren, I’ve been introduced to many other lovely people in Paris that I am now lucky enough to call friends.

In all of these instances, I was the stranger and these people were most certainly not inhospitable to me. Most were just quick moments that, despite their transience, have remained with me even years later. And some even developed into friendships that I treasure.

Expat or not, the way a stranger treats you really can make a difference in your life. I hope that at some point, I’ve managed to treat a stranger with a kindness that stays with them in much the same way these have stayed with me.

 

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Umbrellas and candles…

Yesterday was my last French class and we had to do a ten minute presentation about where we live. Yeah. Public speaking… in French.

What I imagined I was saying: “Dublin has been a around since the time of the Vikings. A beautiful and vibrant city, it is filled with history and culture and boasts, arguably, the friendliest people in all of Europe. It is a city of great literature, wonderful art and lovely nature. Yes, it rains a lot, but that means we get rainbows.”

What I probably actually said: “Dublin be old of the vikings. A city beauty and live with much the history and people of the very smiles. It is a place of more books and good the paintings but also to pretty the plants. Rain more, yes. But we be have much bows of rain.”

“It nice, the Dublin.”  😉

I really do struggle to learn this baffling but beautiful language. (Well, beautiful when someone other than me is speaking it.) But it’s hard, and the French, perhaps justifiably, are not charitable when it comes to their language. That can be frustrating when someone like me, who does not have an ear for languages, is nonetheless really trying.

Perhaps my biggest frustration is the accent. Not only am I trying to learn a new language, but I am expected to master the French accent as well. Now, I have a bit of a problem with this. I know a lot of French people who speak excellent English – with a French accent. I don’t understand why I have to get the accent right when they don’t.

True story – a couple years ago I was leaving the office for the weekend and in saying good-bye to a French colleague I said “Bon week-end.” And, I kid you not, he corrected my pronunciation of “week-end”. Seriously?!  I don’t think I could have rolled my eyes farther up into my head.

When I get responses like that, I’ve learned to “fight back” a teeny bit. I say “J’essaye”, which means “I am trying.”. Which I am. Really hard. And I have made progress. My daily class this month and back in November really helped my comprehension and conversation, though I still have a really difficult time understanding what people are saying when they speak to me – everyone talks so fast!

Some key phrases that help me in these situations:

  • Je ne comprends pas – I do not understand.
  • Désolé, mon français est très mauvais – I’m sorry, my french is very bad. 
  • Lentement, s’il vous plaît – Slowly, please.

I’ve also learned some french phrases that I kind of love:

  • ça m’est égal – this means “I don’t care” but it’s the formal more respectful way of saying it.
  • je m’en fiche – this also means “I don’t care” but it’s familiar, reserved for special people who are driving you nuts, like friends and family.
  • je m’en fous – and when you really need to kick it up a notch, this means “I don’t give a shit”. Everything really does sound better in French.
  • mon petit chou – literally “my little cabbage” but this is a term of endearment in French. I would love to be someone’s little cabbage.
  • tomber dans les pommes – literally “falling in the apples”, this is the french term for fainting.
  • chanter comme une casserole – I think this one is my favorite. It literally means “to sing like a saucepan” and it’s the phrase used to describe a god-awful singer.

Oh, and my two favorite words in the entire french language are parapluie (umbrella) and bougie (candle). I love how they sound and I often say them just because I find it fun.

I will continue to strive toward fluency in French and I will, to be sure, continue to struggle. But I love this language too much to not try. Or should I say “essaye“?

 

 

 

Paris, part deux…

Earlier this week, an interview I did about my month in Paris last November was published on the website Bonjour Paris, rather synchronously, as I spend a second extended sojourn in the City of Light.

I have been back in Paris for two weeks and will be here for four more. So far, it’s been fairly awesome. And here are some of the reasons why:

  • My view of the (top of the) Eiffel Tower from the skylight in my bedroom. Most nights, I watch it twinkle at the top of the hour before I go to bed.
  • The fresh flowers and bottles of wine my Airbnb host left for me as a welcome gift.
  • Being here for the May 1st holiday and buying myself some Lilies of the Valley, as tradition dictates.
  • The way the tree outside my living room window sways in even the slightest breeze.
  • The picnic at the Parc du Champ De Mars last Sunday with friends.
  • Having an office to go to in Neuilly-Sur-Seine.
  • Making a restaurant reservation over the phone, in french.
  • One of my best friends in Dublin flying to Paris just to celebrate my birthday with me.
  • The classical music concert at Saint Chapelle with that friend.
  • The “Ça va?” I get from the waiter as I walk by the cafe where I am a regular.
  • Writing jokes in french as part of my language class assignment, and getting laughs from my classmates when I read them out loud.
  • The magical thunder storm on Friday night. I opened my windows wide and just listened and breathed in the air.
  • The dinner party last night where our host made “french mex” (it was delicious!).

Now, I’m off to add enjoy this beautiful day and add to the list.

Bon dimanche à vous!

 

 

 

 

Making my world work…

Earlier this month Facebook declared February 4th Friends’ Day. And even though it was a fairly obvious publicity stunt, I liked the idea of it. After all, friendship is something that should be celebrated. As Mr. Zuckerberg wrote in his post announcing Friends’ Day: “Friendships make the world work.”

I’ve never been one who made friends easily and this was a real worry of mine as I started my expat journey. When I moved to Dublin nearly three and a half years ago, I knew that I was going to have to put myself out there and make some friends and that made me very nervous. (I wrote about it here.) But I knew that making friends was going to be the defining factor in whether I would have success as an expat. One can get along just fine without a significant other (lord knows, I’m a prime example of that) but can you imagine living a life without friends?

Last weekend, a friend that I made during my month in Paris came for a visit – and she brought a friend that I instantly hit it off with. So, two new friends! Making these friends was a nice surprise for me. When I went to Paris, I didn’t make a concerted effort to  meet people or make new friends – that wasn’t the purpose of my time there, and my stay there was temporary. So making these friends was an unexpected bonus but one for which I am very grateful.

And this weekend, I was out with a bunch of the first friends that I made in Dublin. They are people that I met through my first job here. I’m no longer at that job, so I don’t see them every day anymore but we all manage to get together every so often and have a nice time. And I really look forward to those nights. Not only because  I know it will always be a good time but because those people, those first friends I made, are very special to me.

Though they probably don’t realize it, they are the people who made me feel that I hadn’t made the worst decision of my life in leaving everything and everyone I knew and moving to a city I’d never even been to before. They are the people who made me feel like I belonged even though I was an outsider. They are the people who formed the foundation of the life I was starting to build in my new city. I don’t think they have any idea how important they were to me in those early days but I am forever grateful that they became and still are a part of my life.

After more than three years as an expat, the friends that I have made, in Dublin and beyond, are quite simply, awesome. They are people I share interests with. People who make me laugh. People who help and support me. People I like being around.

And they certainly play a huge part in making my world work.

Bonne Année…

New Year’s Eve. Not my favorite holiday to say the least, and I am definitely not a fan of resolutions.

Last year, I came upon an alternative to resolutions and their inherent failure. Instead of making (and breaking) them, this past year every time I accomplished a goal, or did something I was proud of, or even did something that was just a lot of fun, I wrote it on a slip of paper and put it in a jar. I just finished reading what I wrote on those scraps of paper. And you know what? It was a good year. A fairly awesome one, actually. It wasn’t perfect, of course. But in my third year as an expat, I did my best to embrace the uncertainty that is ever-present in my life and take advantage of the freedom that uncertainty gives me.

The biggest way I took advantage of that freedom was in moving to Paris for five weeks to see what it would be like to live and work there. I knew it would be incredible. Of course, what I didn’t know was that my beloved Paris would come under attack by terrorists, with 130 lives snuffed out in the blink of an eye. I’ve written about how the terrorists attacks made me angry but not afraid. And being in Paris during that time has made me more determined than ever to (forgive the cliché) carpe diem.

I am lucky enough to be ringing in 2016 tonight, something that those 130 souls who went out in Paris on a Friday night probably thought they would be doing as well. It really is just luck – nothing more than that.

So, for those of us lucky enough to be celebrating a New Year tonight – I wish you happiness, health and as an old Irish saying goes:

“May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light.
May good luck pursue you each morning and night.”

Merci Paris…

This is the third thanksgiving I will celebrate in Paris. Actually, my first trip ever to Paris, fifteen (gasp!) years ago, was on Thanksgiving weekend. It was then that Paris first captivated me, and it has kept me enthralled ever since.

Over the past decade and a half, this city that I love more than any other place on the planet has motivated me, guided me and inspired me. Ever since that first visit, it has been a dream of mine to live here. My writing partner and I even named our production company Apartment in Paris Productions, because that was the goal – to make enough money writing to be able to afford an apartment. That didn’t quite pan out, but still, I can credit Paris with getting me started writing. I’m still writing, and even getting paid for it. Just not enough to afford to buy an apartment here. Yet.

If it wasn’t for Paris, and my desire to live here someday, I never would have looked into getting my Italian citizenship. And if I didn’t have that carrot dangling in front of me, I’m sure that I would have given up when things got tricky. Instead, I just hired someone to help me with the tricky bits because I was keeping my eyes on the prize – a European passport.

So, in a way, I have Paris to thank for the awesome life I now have in Dublin – the wonderful friends I’ve made during the past three years, the amazing, creative work I get to do, the pretty cool life I’ve managed to set up for myself. I wouldn’t have had any of that without first having fallen in love with Paris.

Paris has, of course, been on a lot of people’s minds of late. Nearly two weeks on from the horrific events of November 13th, Paris is indeed living up to the words emblazoned on its coat of arms: “Fluctuat nec mergitur”. Tossed but not sunk. And I am happy to be celebrating another Thanksgiving in this amazing city, even as it goes through such a difficult time.

I have so many things for which to be thankful, but this year I feel compelled to give a special shout-out to this city that stole my heart so many years ago and has shaped so much of the life ever since.

Merci Paris.

Not Afraid…

I wasn’t feeling well on Friday night so I was fast asleep at 10 pm. About twenty minutes later my Nexus tablet started vibrating as it does each time someone posts on my Facebook page. Annoyed, I got up and put the tablet in the other room. Then, at about 10:45pm, I got a text. I saw that it was from my friend, Heather, who lives back in the States:

“Just catching the news. Are you okay?”

Confused, I quickly texted her back to let her know I was fine, and then logged onto my computer to try and figure out what had happened. The news was spotty but it was pretty easy to figure that Paris was under attack, that dozens of people who were guilty of doing nothing more than enjoying a Friday evening out were dead. Everyone was ordered off the streets. A curfew was put in place. Paris was in lock down.

Right now, I am a Parisian. I am living and working here. So, much like when I was in New York for 9/11, this was an attack on MY city. And all I could think as I watched the news reports and messaged friends that I was okay was “How dare they.”

And again, much like NYC after 9/11, I find myself loving Paris even more now. There is no place in the world I would rather be today. Paris may be bleeding. Paris may be weeping. But Paris is still Paris. I feel privileged to be here to mourn with the rest of the city, to show the world and, most importantly, the terrorists, that they can’t break us. That liberté, égalité, fraternité is far stronger than religious extremists who hide behind guns and bombs.

I am angry. I am sad. But what I most decidedly am NOT, is afraid.

Je t’aime, Paris.