Milsters: Little Pieces of Light
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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 am a Canadian with Spanish, Filipina, and Chinese heritage who has lived in 13 countries on 4 continents – partly due to my parents’ professions, partly due to my inner global nomad. I grew up mainly in the deserts of Saudi Arabia where I spent 7 years of my childhood, but have also lived in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, Spain, the USA (mainly New York), and Canada. I moved to Paris from London in 2010, but personal and professional projects mean that I often split my time during the year between Buenos Aires, Vancouver, and the City of Lights.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I decided to blog in January 2011 (so only a year ago!) as a simple way to record the small joys and beauty of life around me. My blog had as its anchor a series called Eiffel Tower Tuesdays, for which I snapped a photo of the Iron Lady once a week on my way to the office, as a reminder that my route to work actually included this incredible monument in this amazing city. The blog has since become my creative space where I chronicle my musings on food, art, music, books, and la belle vie in Paris, whilst providing travel tips and glimpses of life in Buenos Aires and Vancouver, where I also live.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I think one of my favourite blog entries ever is about the Macaron Smackdown that I organised to determine the best macaron-maker in Paris! We ended up tasting 25 macarons each, which, I promise you, is A LOT. But it was so much fun! I can’t wait to host it again this coming March.
I also really enjoy writing the monthly series, My Ideal Social Calendar, which gives suggestions on things to see and do in Paris for that month.
Last but not least, I recently wrote about the negative sides of Paris, which I feel that bloggers (myself included) don’t do enough. We often paint a dreamy & rosy picture of Paris, but just like all great cities, it has its downsides as well. I think a lot of readers were receptive to this post as it showed a different angle to Paris.
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?
I've grown up in "foreign" countries all throughout my life, so in that sense, fundamental elements of the transition (such as the cultural differences, the language barrier, etc.) were not a shock to me. However, Paris is quite a particular city. It exudes all the romance and drama of its 19th century self and at the same time is coming to terms with a modern world marked by technology and globalisation. It's a contradiction of sorts. I find that expats (myself included) cherish those 9+ weeks of holiday but also lament the inconveniences that they bring. We value the fact that no one really shops on Sundays but are sometimes annoyed that we can't run all of our errands during the weekend. We love the importance that French life places on pleasure, daydreaming, and philosophy, but at the same time are incredibly irritated with the country's inefficiencies. I suppose in that regard, there were some cultural adjustments for me to make as someone coming from London. I think the trick to living in Paris is recognising this contradiction and enjoying the "bright" sides of it - appreciating all of the "little pieces of light" that life in Paris offers to you.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Paris? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
At the time of my move, I thought I had made all of the preparations necessary, but I wasn’t ready for all of the surprises that the country had to throw at me! I suppose that is the case with any move, especially one that requires learning a new language. I came to Paris with a beginner’s level of French and worked incredibly hard during Year 1 to get it up to an advanced level. If I could have re-prepared myself, I would have made more of an effort to learn the language in London before I came. And given London is the 6th largest French city in the world, I really had no excuse.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Oh gosh. I feel like somehow my most awkward moments in France have taken place within their medical system. Case in point: during my first week at work in a large French company, I was told that I needed to take a medical exam. (It’s routine for all permanent employees in France.) As it was a big corporate, they had their own doctors’ clinic in the building, so making an appointment was easy. On the day of the exam, I went downstairs, with my French dictionary in tow (I was far from fluent at that stage), and was greeted by the doctor. He then ushered me into a small room the size of a closet (“une petite cabine”) which had two doors – one through which I entered from the main hallway, and the other leading into his office. In rapid French, he gave me quick instructions to put away my things in the cabin and to enter his office when I was ready, then he closed the door behind me.
I looked around the little closet and saw coat hooks and a bench, so I hung up my coat, took off my shoes, and put down my bag before opening the second door. Upon seeing me enter, the doctor said, “Oh non non non,” and proceeded to tell me that I actually needed to take off my clothes for the examination. Ah ok, I thought, then closed the door again and took off my suit jacket, my skirt, and my shirt. It was a little chilly in the cabin but no matter. I opened the door again. And again, he tut-tutted me and repeated that I needed to take off my clothes. Sorry, excuse me?! After a little bit of back-and-forth banter in half-French, half-English, it then dawned on me that he was asking me to take off all my clothes, except perhaps for my panties. Embarrassedly, I returned to the cabin and peeked into my dictionary to make sure that I didn’t misinterpret anything … Nope. So reluctantly I took off the rest of my clothes (save for the bottom half of my underwear) and opened the door slowly, hoping to god that my intermediate French was not failing me!
“Allez-y,” he said impatiently, and ushered me to the examination table. As I was being checked, a nurse knocked on the door and was invited in to dispose of some documents on his desk. They then stood around talking for 10 minutes about the documents, then about some meetings, then about how their weekends were, then something about the upcoming ski season. I couldn’t believe it. All of this whilst I sat there, red as a tomato, pretty much in my birthday suit, shivering on the examination table as I huddled over my dictionary trying to figure out how to translate, “How long do I need to be naked for?” This was definitely not the French lesson of the day that I was expecting to have when I woke up earlier that morning!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Paris?
- Have plans but be prepared when things don't go your way.
- Make an effort to learn the language (it goes a long way!).
- Make an effort to meet people, especially locals (so you’re not stuck in a completely expat bubble).
How is the expat community in Paris? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a varied and vibrant expat community in Paris and it’s not difficult at all to meet other like-minded expats from all corners of the world! I think what is more challenging is making friends with French people, especially if there is a language barrier. But I find that once you are embraced by a group of French friends, you are truly part of their lives forever. Their friendships are less transient, which is sometimes the case with expats who come and go through the city. That said, I have been lucky to establish a group of close friends here in Paris, half of whom are French and half of whom are from all over the world (Italy, Brazil, the US, Japan, Russia, etc.).
How would you summarize your expat life in Paris in a single, catchy sentence?
For the foreigner, Paris is the city of dreams and of doing, but the former requires the imagination of the human mind as much as the latter requires the strength of human will.