Edna: Expat Edna
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Paris, etc.
I’m a bit of a serial expat; since 2008 I’ve lived and worked in China, Singapore and Australia – and of course, now Paris. I was born and raised in the States, but travel has been a part of my life since I was a child. At 18, I fell in love with expat life after moving to a city in northern China; after graduating university two years later, I left the US for good. I moved to Singapore on a whim and ended up staying for 15 months; I moved to Paris in January 2012 to start a new job and, at the same time, study French.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I’ve been blogging about one thing or another since 2003; it’s just something my generation grew up doing. When I moved to China the focus switched to photoblogging; for about a year and a half I posted photos from my travels around the country, which I really enjoyed. But when I moved to Singapore, there was just so much going on that the blogging kind of fell to the wayside. I later regretted not writing about my travels as they happened, so when I moved to Paris I decided to start blogging regularly again.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Absolutely! There’s Paris is for Lovers, which not only features some of my favorite photos from Paris, but is also highly personal: it subtly tells the story of the week my boyfriend came to visit -- and proposed!
Encountering racism abroad – or why I sometimes wish I was white was also quite personal; in that post I detail how I’ve faced racism while traveling in both Eastern and Western countries. It’s a tough issue to write about, but the responses to the post were overwhelmingly supportive.
I also run two series on my blog, which I find incredibly fun to write and post: The 5 Best Things I Ate is a monthly food recap of my culinary adventures, and I Love My Neighborhood is a weekly series where I interview expats from around the world and ask them to share what they love about their little corner of the world.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Paris differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Oddly enough, I think the hardest adjustment for me was how similar Paris was to home. After spending a few years in Asia, to move to a city where I could find Western clothing and an endless supply of cheese was overwhelming. I enjoyed the chaos and difficulties that life in Asia provided, and the immersion in cultures so very, very different to my own. To live in a city so Western actually felt uncomfortably familiar.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Paris? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I had no expectations coming to Paris – I’ve never been a Francophile, I never had any dreams or romanticized notions about the city. Coming to Paris was just another career move to me, so I was about as prepared as I could have been. Also, by this point France was the fourth country I’d worked in, and it was a Western one at that, so I wasn’t too worried about culture shock, or finding new friends -- I had the latter down pat (two sites always do the trick: expat forums, and twitter).
The one thing I was not prepared for was the freezing cold winter. Coming from two years of tropical weather, I’d forgotten how to dress for January. I would have brought a coat!
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I haven’t had too many mishaps! I suppose one good story, though not really hilarious or funny, is the story of how I met my fiancé – we were both expats in Singapore, and we met when we both moved into the same flat. Living together from the get-go could have been a disaster for some relationships, but it worked out quite well for us!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Paris?
Learn to appreciate your meals, and savor your apéros and post-dinner espressos. Food is a way of life here, not just something to scarf down and get out of the way.
Leave your flip-flops at home. The Parisians really do have an impeccable sense of style, and they can spot a tourist or newbie a mile away just by how they’re dressed.
Locate your best local boulangerie as soon as possible. When you find a truly impeccable baguette, it’ll change your life.
How is the expat community in Paris? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Paris is so different to the ones in Asia. Here, everyone seems to be more business-oriented and calm. The expats I knew in Asia, even if they were in their 40s and married with kids, were always up for a spontaneous and crazy night out. In Paris, most the expats I’ve met are not only young and settled down, they also all seem to run small businesses on the side. So because of that it’s nearly impossible to do anything spontaneously; everything has to be coordinated against the datebooks weeks in advance.
However, there is no shortage of expats in Paris, especially Americans and Anglophones. Thanks to social media, especially twitter and blogging, it’s not at all hard to find a group of new friends.
How would you summarize your expat life in Paris in a single, catchy sentence?
There’s nothing that a glass of wine, a plate of cheese, and a good baguette can’t fix.