Sara: Simply Sara Travel
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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 New Jersey girl and have lived in the Garden State for almost my entire life prior to Paris (I didn’t go too far for college, but did cross state lines into Pennsylvania). My husband, also from NJ, and I thought we would live in-state our entire lives. We went on vacation to Paris one autumn and when we returned home, we kept reminiscing about all the things we missed about Paris. A few weeks later my husband had the opportunity out of the blue to transfer to Paris for work for two years. Without ever prior discussing or dreaming of moving abroad, we made the impulsive decision to up and go to Paris. We’ve been here over two years now - we love it and don’t want to leave!
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started a blog when I arrived in Paris as a way to keep in touch with friends and family back home. It was a way to check in, share a little of our travels, and show a picture or two of our smiling selves to assure everyone we were still alive and well. Over time I realized how much I enjoyed talking about our travels and helping others plan trips to European destinations we had visited. I decided to start a new blog, Simply Sara Travel, in November 2013. This blog is more about sharing my favorite places in Paris as well as giving travel tips and inspiration for places to see throughout Europe. I love Europe so much and hope to inspire others, whether in giving tips for readers’ upcoming trips or sharing a virtual tour of my discoveries along the way.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I have a few! I absolutely love going to European Christmas markets (seriously, they are the best) and my A-Z of Christmas Markets shows a look at the components that make them so wonderful. My post Union Jack is a bit different from how I normally write - it’s a story about being in London and just being tired of traveling while musing about why one travels. And then I love one of my more recent posts, 15 Ways to Maximize Your Budget in Paris. It reflects my desire to make Paris accessible to all - you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy the city despite Paris’ reputation of being rough on the wallet. Finally, I love photography and my round-ups at the end of 2013 show some of my favorites, within France and throughout Europe.
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?
It was a really difficult transition for me, in all honesty. Almost everything in my life changed at once. I left my job, family, friends, home, and country all behind. I moved here with no job and I did not speak any French. I realized how much of my identity was in having a job, and it was hard to define what I was doing in Paris as meaningful and productive. But the move gave me space to learn French a bit, explore cooking more, and provide space to be creative again. I love to write and hadn’t really done any writing since college. The upheaval of my life allowed me to re-evaluate it and start doing things I was passionate about. It was hard but looking back it seems so fitting this all happened in Paris. I am certainly not the first, nor the last, that this city will inspire!
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 really was not prepared at all. If I could have started to learn French beforehand that would have helped, but in my situation the move happened suddenly with no time to prepare.
I think it helps to have realistic expectations. Before I moved, lots of people told me how they envisioned my life would be: eating macarons, walking past the Eiffel Tower daily, living the life. That I would be fluent in French by sitting in cafes and just absorbing it all. The reality was learning a language takes a lot of time and effort. And it’s still possible to be lonely and sad, even in beautiful Paris. I know that the move would still have been hard even going into it realistically, but not being prepared at all mentally made it more challenging when faced with the abrupt reality.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Alright, here it goes…
I wanted to make macarons for our party to celebrate our first year of living in Paris, our Paris-versary as I like to call it. As I went about gathering the ingredients that the recipe called for, I noticed that 220 grams of egg whites were needed. Now, call it my ill-adjustment to the metric system but this sounded like a large number. And as work-intensive as macarons already are, the last thing I wanted to do is complicate things more and be cracking eggs all day to separate out the whites.
Thus I embarked on a search for a carton of egg whites. It’s standard in the US, why wouldn’t it be in France? I went to many different grocery stores. I asked employees where it could be found. To which I got confused looks and was led to the egg section. Just crack the egg open to get the whites, I was told. Really? Like this was new to me.
You go through many ups and downs as an expat. There are times when you love the new country you live in and overlook all its flaws. And then there are times when it frustrates you beyond belief, and long for the luxury of x, y, and z that you had back home.
I was beside myself. I started texting friends asking where to find cartons of egg whites. I frantically asked my husband to send out an SOS message to his entire office asking for advice. (He had the good idea to start looking at French body-building forums to see if any guys had advice how to get some protein tout de suite.)
And then, as I was walking home and cursing the fine establishments of Pierre Hermé and Ladurée for being able to afford the luxury to hire someone with the sole job of cracking eggs all day, I decided for once in my life to try to go about things scientifically. I went home, cracked open an egg, and measured how many grams of egg whites one egg could yield so I knew how many dozens of eggs I would need to lug home for the recipe. One egg yielded about 35 grams. I needed a whooping 6 eggs TOTAL.
Luckily the macarons came out pretty good so something positive and delicious came out of that embarrassing drama. (I even repeated making macarons for our two-year Paris-versary that you can see here.)
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Paris?
- Start learning French! Not only is it useful to carry out everyday life, but it really is essential to connecting with locals. It makes an impression just to show you are investing in their culture.
- Look into groups to connect to that share similar interests as you. For me, it was getting connected to an English-speaking church. I can’t tell you how essential making friends was in those early, fragile months.
- Have patience. Everything takes more time here. Long meals, lots of bureaucracy, slower pace of life. Take a breath and enjoy the ride.
How is the expat community in Paris? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community is an interesting, interweaved web. Once you meet a few expats, you’ll meet their friends and so on. There will come a point when you’ll be asked how you know so-and-so and you will have no idea. It just happens.
The expats I know in Paris are wonderful people. It’s such a diverse and mixed group - there’s a type of person I suppose who takes the risk to get up and move abroad. My friends here are fearless in ways, not afraid to follow their passion and interests, and are globally-minded. They are inspiring, fun, and unique. But be sure to make French friends too! Having a mix a both native French friends and expats is really wonderful.
How would you summarize your expat life in Paris in a single, catchy sentence?
Life is short so spend every day doing what you love, even if it feels scary to get started.