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.

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The final countdown…

Next week at this time, I’ll be “The New Dubliner In Paris”. After dreaming about living in Paris for years, after all the false starts over the past year, my feelings are… mixed.

And I blame Dublin.

I was cocky when I decided to move to Dublin five years ago. I thought it was going to be so easy. But I didn’t take the time I should have to process the enormity of what I was doing. So, when it finally hit me (in a hotel room in London the night before my official arrival in Dublin), it shook me to my core, sending me into a months-long spiral of panic, anxiety and depression the likes of which I’d never experienced before.

I like to think I kept it fairly well hidden at work (no idea if I actually did) but I have never felt so completely alone and scared in my life. I had no friends yet, so I would cry on the phone to my sister and my parents everyday. I would wake up in the middle of the night, nearly every night, just gripped in panic.

I finally started to turn the corner when, after crying on the phone to my sister for the umpteenth time, she broke it down for me: “Shannon, the absolute worst case scenario here is that you come home.”

And she was right. That advice, along with a xanax prescription, gave me the freedom to really start living in Dublin. If it didn’t work, it didn’t work, no biggie.

Now, five years on, moving to Paris is stirring up the same feelings in me. Though it’s more the anticipation of panic that is wrecking my head right now. Because the anxiety and panic caught me so off guard with my Dublin move, I’m actually having anxiety about the possibility of anxiety – and yes, that is as exhausting as it sounds.

But the Paris move is different in many ways. I’m moving someplace that I know really, really well. I have a circle of friends there already. I’m not moving to start a new job. Doesn’t mean I’m not scared though. Doesn’t mean I haven’t needed a xanax or two as I’ve packed up my Dublin house and said good-bye to my friends. Leaving Dublin makes me, in a word, sad. But I know that I am not done with this city yet. I have too many friends here, I have business ties here, and I do love it here.

The same way I still consider myself a New Yorker more than 10 years after moving away, I will always consider myself a Dubliner. But, much as I love Dublin, Paris is something that I need to do. I do not want to look back on my life thirty years from now and see a chance not taken. I would rather face my fear than live with regret.

And the same advice that my sister gave me five years ago still holds true – worst case scenario, I come home.

Only now, home means Dublin.

 

Au revoir, Dublin…

Exactly five years ago today I set foot in Dublin for the very first time, and so began my expat adventure. I’m not sure if it’s poetic or merely coincidental that it’s on this anniversary that I announce that I am leaving Dublin. For now at least. And most of you will not be surprised to hear that I am leaving Dublin for… Paris.

Over the past several months, I’ve been confronted with my own personal “housing crisis” here in Dublin – my rent got knocked up to €2100 per month (for a place that doesn’t always have running water and where I currently do not have heat) and, regardless of the price, I have to be out by January 31 because my landlords are going to “sell” it. I looked at buying, and even put offers in on two places, but it didn’t work out. And in looking at rentals, I could either pay somewhere in the neighborhood of €2000+ or live in a shithole. The Dublin housing market has gotten a bit too big for its britches, frankly. And I’ve been backed into a corner with very few options.

So, it’s time to go.

It’s no secret to those who know me that Paris has always been the dream. Heck, a million years ago, my BFF and I named our production company “Apartment in Paris Productions” because that was the end goal, the dream. I’d come close to making the move to Paris a couple times this year and when those opportunities fell through I was beyond disappointed but I figured what was meant to be was meant to be and the time just wasn’t right for Paris and me. So, I had resigned myself to it not happening.

But then I was in Paris again in August for a quick holiday and I was overcome with such a feeling of contentment and being at home that it was almost overwhelming. I emailed my parents from my hotel about how I was feeling and they called me right away and basically said “just effing move to Paris already.” That little push was really all I needed and a plan started to formulate in my head. Some pieces still needed to fall into place, and surprise, surprise – they actually did this time! So now, come February, I’ll be “La Nouvelle Parisienne” instead of “The New Dubliner”.

I didn’t make this decision lightly and I’m not leaving Dublin because I don’t like it here anymore. If I wasn’t in this housing pickle, I might never have made the decision to go. Over the past five years, Dublin has become my home. I’ve had an amazing time here. I have people I love here. There is so much that I am going to miss. It will NOT be easy to leave. And there are things about moving to Paris that absolutely terrify me. But in my entire life I’ve never NOT done something because I was afraid. And I don’t want to look back on my life and regret never taking this leap.

So, I’m going. For now. Since thinking too far into the future gives me a panic attack and sends me running to my Xanax, I’m only committing to a year in Paris and then I’ll see how I’m feeling. Maybe I will love Paris and stay there, maybe I’ll return to Dublin. Who knows?

The only thing I know for sure is that five years into my crazy expat adventure, it’s still an adventure and it’s still crazy.

 

 

To Dublin, with love…

I was supposed to be living in Paris by now. My boss is based in Paris and, though I can work remotely from anywhere, all signs pointed to this being the time for me to make the move. It was nearly done and dusted – just needed to dot some i’s and cross some t’s. But for reasons I both understand and don’t understand, that final i couldn’t get dotted and my move to Paris evaporated.

I’m not going to lie. It hurt. I was nearly there, and then I wasn’t. And in between all that there was six months of emotional ups and downs as my boss and several others did their damnedest to make it happen for me. By the time I got the final FINAL word (and that word was “no”), I was utterly exhausted.

So, it looks like I’m staying in Dublin. And that isn’t a bad thing. But, in my mind, I had already relocated to Paris so when that notion went bye-bye, Operation Re-embrace Dublin commenced.

Working alone, on my living room sofa, has left me quite isolated over the past year. One of the reasons I wanted to move to Paris was because I would be able to divide my work time between home and the Paris studio.  But now that I am staying in Dublin, I have made a very conscious decision to really “be” in this city, to get out and spend time doing the plethora of things Dublin has to offer, to do things I had put off because I wasn’t sure if I’d be staying and also to go out and spend time with my people – the friends that I’ve been lucky enough to make while living here, but that I’d gotten into the habit of seeing very rarely. (I’m a hermit by nature, don’t judge.)

The day after I found out Paris had fallen through I went out and bought three things: a new living room rug, a new vacuum cleaner, and… a fiddle. The first two I really needed but it didn’t make sense to buy if I would be moving. But the fiddle? Well, that’s something I’ve wanted to learn to play since I moved to Ireland, yet something always stopped me. But now, fuck it. I’m going to learn to play the fiddle. I’m three lessons in and I’ve mastered “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and have moved on to the “Newmarket Polka”. When I play, it sounds like I am killing cats and my poor neighbors probably want to turn my fiddle into kindling. But I love it. I suck, but I love it.

My hermit-y nature means that I’m usually fine with not venturing out much but I’m actively putting a stop to that as well. Sitting on my sofa, I could just as easily be living back in Buffalo. But I’m not in Buffalo, I’m in Dublin. And I’m going to start making more of that, and really seeing and exploring the things this city has to offer. A couple weekends ago I took myself to the Little Museum of Dublin, a quirky place in a Georgian mansion right across from St. Stephen’s Green. I’ve been meaning to visit it for about four years now. I loved it. And last weekend a friend and I went to the breathtaking Caravaggio exhibit at the National Gallery of Ireland. It was utterly not quirky, but sometimes one really just has to get their art on, and this exhibit did it for me. It was amazing. So, look at that – two distinctly Dublin museums in as many weekends. And so many more to go.

And then there are my friends, my people. When I moved here more than four years ago, I knew no one. Now, I have a lovely circle of friends but, as I said, I’d gotten in the habit of staying home rather than going out to spend time with said circle. Last Thursday evening, I had to go out. There was a Women in Animation Ireland event and I’m a committee member – I had to be there. I planned on going, having a much-needed glass of wine and leaving after an hour, maybe two. But then something happened – friends that I had not seen in a really long time showed up. And you know how it goes – everyone takes turns buying the next round of drinks and before you know it, you’re stumbling home at 2:30am.

At one point during that evening, I realized, rather immodestly, that of the five people sitting with me, I was directly responsible for all but one of them being a part of this group. Two I had hired back when I was in my first job as a Producer, convincing one to relocate from Scotland and the other from London. Two others I’d met at previous Women In Animation events – both were just getting started in their careers in Dublin and I actively endeavored to help them get work. They are now both working with the studio where I had that first Producer job. Spending this unexpected time with these five people just drinking and talking about stupid stuff was, in a word, fun. And in another word, needed.

And then a couple days later, I had a Girls’ Day Out with two of my very best friends, not only here in Dublin, but in my life. We started at a pub at 1pm with cocktails and prosecco and didn’t finish until nearly midnight at my house with doritos, beer and warm white wine. Amazing on so many levels. And again, fun and needed.

Both of these events were something I really needed in the wake of my Paris debacle. I needed to be reminded that I have people here. Amazing, funny, supportive, fun people. And I love my people.

I still don’t know what the future holds for me, but Dublin feels more and more likely to be part of it in the long-term. I qualify for Irish Citizenship in November, and I am absolutely going for that. Some people collect magnets, I collect passports (and magnets, actually). I’m even kind of, sort of thinking about buying an apartment or a cottage or something here. That would require adulting on a level I’ve yet to do in my life, but there’s something about the idea that keeps calling to me.

So far, Operation Re-embrace Dublin is proving rather promising. Right now, I am where I am, and more than happy to be here.

 

 

 

 

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“?

 

 

 

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.

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.