Not everyone experiences the joy and euphoria of being in Paris. For some, the culture shock is greater than others, and it’s hard to adjust to something that may be vastly different from back home. If this is your first time in a foreign country (like a friend I met recently - the person who inspired me to come up with this post, by the way), it can be difficult to come to terms with the sights and sounds around you, and you may feel overwhelmed. It could be similar to someone moving from an outlying area into a big city for the first time. Everything seems to be too loud, too fast, too confusing and frantic. Still it’s not all bad. You just need to give yourself time to adjust, or learn to slough it off and walk on, as the French do.
“Life in France is everything – amazing, humorous, inspiring, frustrating, invigorating,
amusing, and … nonsensical”. - @pretavoyager
Understand the culture
Perhaps you come from a place where people smile a lot or are very friendly, whether or not they know you. In France—Paris especially—the French are very reserved with new people until they get to know them better. Some Parisians may seem standoffish or rude, but really, they’re not. It’s just a cultural quirk. Be polite, use greetings in French and “vous” not “tu” and you’ll begin to break the ice. When you enter and leave the shop on the corner, say “Bonjour/bonsoir” and “au revoir.” Make the effort to find things in common with the people you meet, and you’ll likely feel more relaxed and at ease in your environment.
Shops may open or close at times you don’t expect. Buying transit cards and riding the train or bus may be different than you’re used to. Perhaps it’s more complicated or dirty or just plain daunting. It’s just like learning to ride a bicycle (or figuring out Windows 10). Take it a step at a time and soon, it will get better. Rather than railing against the machine, try working around it.
This is your home now, for however long and there’s a lot to see and do in Paris. If the shops close before you get off work and you can’t get your groceries or preferred bottle of wine when you want it, try shopping during your lunch break, or on your way to work. If you only have one day a week free from your job, make it fun. Arrange your day to have something exciting to do in between all the drudgery of paying bills, cleaning your apartment and doing laundry, and it will make you feel better. Take a walk in one of the many beautiful parks in the city. Watch a favorite show from back home in French and see if you can figure it out. Are the jokes still funny? Enjoy a free concert, watch a movie. The possibilities are endless.
What about if you hate transit or don’t have a car? Try walking. Parisians do that a lot. You may also find some gems you may have otherwise missed by being on the train. Perhaps you can ride a bicycle and get exercise while doing your commute. There are hundreds of kiosks around Paris, and the money you’ll save while boosting your health can’t be beat.
This quote is borrowed from a lovely post written by Diane of Oui in France. Get the post here.
Learn the language
You can’t really get around this one. Think about it. If your native language is English, and someone comes up to you in your hometown and starts speaking to you in Greek, how would that make you feel? Frustrated? Confused? Angry? Paris has millions of tourists walking through its streets every year. There must be some kind of marginal utility on what a Parisian is able to tolerate on a daily basis, and especially if it’s not in their mother tongue. Learning French will go a long way to increasing your comfort level, understanding the nuances of the system, and will help things make sense, too. Be patient with yourself—and the locals—as you try to get used to each other.
Dwell on the “likes” not the “dislikes”
Perhaps you’re not a fan of French food. Sacré bleu! Well, at least you’ve tried it. Don’t despair, however. There are many other options around the city to choose from. Do a search on Yelp.com, fork.com, parisbymouth.com for restaurants that might better match your tastes, whether it’s Chinese, Indian or any other kind of cuisine. You can find just about anything here, if you look for it.
If you find prices too expensive at your local restaurant, search around for cheaper ones. Bistros and cafes might work best. Take cooking classes and go to the markets on weekends. They may not have everything you’re used to eating, but there should be enough of things you can work with. Keep an open mind. And think of all the language experience you’ll be getting!
Expats Paris Launch & Networking drinks
Being alone in a new place can be daunting, so why not check out an expat meetup group to find others like you? You might encounter someone who’s been where you are now, and they can give you tips on how to make it to the other side, where there’s joy in every day in Paris rather than the daily grind. Whatever your interests are—singing, painting, chess—there are groups out there that would welcome you with open arms. Having a friend or two gives you someone to commiserate and spend time with while exploring the city. Maybe you can bond over people who let their dogs poop on the street. They can show you their favorite places, and it could become yours, too.
You’re not the only one frustrated by the amount of red tape that exists just to get
something done in Paris. Even the French shrug their shoulders and say “C’est la vie.” You should, too. My own experience was enough to almost drive me to drink heavily. But I made it through, with the support of my new-found friends. Keep in mind that it will only get better from here, and once you have that carte vitale or have transferred those pesky utilities into your name, you will feel as though you can accomplish anything!
It may irk you, the laissez-faire attitude that seems prevalent in many parts of Paris, but on the other hand, the French value getting their job done (in their own time, of course), as well as having time off to enjoy life. If you come from a more hectic, do it now, work 24-7 background, this may take a bit of getting used to. But it can be done. Just realize that you’ll get what you want, but it will simply take longer. Resign yourself to this—the French do, too—and read a book, play with your phone, or introduce yourself to the person next to you in a similar predicament while you’re waiting. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?
Give it time
Most of all, be patient. Remember when you left home for the first time, ever? Did you go to college, or move to a new city for a job? It took you a while to adjust, didn’t it? You had to learn how things worked in this new world of yours, and it didn’t happen overnight. Eventually, though, you did it, and you lived to tell the tale.
The same thing applies here. Whether you came here because of a fiancé (e), job, or school, you’re here now, and you should make the most of it. Give yourself time to acclimate. For some, it takes longer than others. Perhaps you need to look at things from a different perspective. What things do you have here that you don’t back home? Is it the museums? The bicycle kiosks? Wine and cheese on every corner? Do you think you’d miss those things if you went back home right now?
This may be the only time you’re in Paris, and it’s worth your time and sanity to find a way to enjoy it. Go out with your new friends and take a tour of the city. Find things to enjoy. Do you like long walks? Check out the parks. Do you like concerts, movies, plays? Check out lylo.fr for a Paris concert guide (and some are free). Going to see a play will cost anywhere from 13 to 41 euros. You can see a reasonably priced show at the Comedie Francaise http://www.comedie-francaise.fr, or the Comedie des Boulevard: http://www.comediedesboulevards.com.
Get a membership if you love movies for 20 euros a month and take a friend to the cinema. Allocine.fr gives you a list of what is currently playing. Perhaps you like volunteering? Check out France Bénévolat, BeneNova, Je Veux Aider, Restos du Coeur, SOS Helpline, RockCorps and Secours Populaire Français.
There are art and science museums, libraries, and if you’re a history buff, Paris oozes with the stuff. With a little imagination and elbow grease, you can make this work. I know it!
“Build it, and it will come.” Make the effort, learn the language, make new friends, take a deep breath and ignore the irritants while finishing that bottle of wine, and you might just find you’re enjoying yourself, after all.
What about your experiences?
Do you have a story about adjusting to Paris that you’d like to share? Ways that you learned how to make this new place home? Please share your insights, whether positive or not in the comments section below. Let’s start a conversation!
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