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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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.

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.

 

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.

 

It’s All About the Dash…

A dear friend of mine died last Saturday. Stupid cancer. On Sunday, my friend’s wife posted on Facebook the years of his birth and death, separated by a dash, and underneath the dates was the statement “It’s all about the dash.”

And it really is, isn’t it?

Your birth and death are just dates – it’s what you do with the time in between that really counts. This isn’t an expat thing, it’s a human thing. Though following my dream of being an expat is certainly a big part of my dash. As I prepare to move to Paris (two months from today!), I’ve found myself questioning if I am doing the right thing, if this is the right decision for me. I’m scared. Terrified even. But when I look back on my dash, it’s filled with times when I refused to let fear or uncertainty make my decisions for me so why should I let them start now?

I don’t think any of us starts out aiming to have a dash filled with fear or monotony or playing it safe. I think we all want a dash where we follow our bliss (shout out to Joseph Campbell!), where joy and love lead the way, where we are always learning, and where fun and laughter are commonplace. But when the weight of everyday life bears down, I think it’s easy to lose sight of the dash. We are all guilty of doing things because they are easier or safer or expected. It’s easy to lose sight of what would make us truly happy, of what would make our dash truly exceptional.

Everyone’s dash is different but, in honor of those whose dashes are cut short, make yours what you want it to be. Not what you think it’s expected be. Not what others want it to be. Not what you think is safest or easiest. If you are thinking about doing something, do it. Even if you are scared. Even if you don’t know how things will turn out. Just do it.

It’s the big things. It’s the little things. It’s all the things.

  • Take that vacation.
  • Write that book.
  • Go back to school.
  • Get out of that bad relationship.
  • Get the concert tickets.
  • Let your kids stay home from school just because.
  • Play in the snow.
  • Make the career change.
  • Tell your crush how you feel.
  • Learn that foreign language.
  • Jump in the leaves.
  • Drink the good wine.
  • Run that marathon.
  • Learn to tango.
  • March in that protest.
  • Move to Paris.

Or do something else. Whatever you want. It’s your dash – and that’s what it’s all about.

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.