7 years after I moved to Paris for expatriate’s adventure and a little more than 4 years managing Expats Paris, making it one of the largest Paris expatriates communities, there are plenty life lessons I’ve learned as an expat. I’ve come to realize that many of my Paris-based expatriates friends somehow learn the same lessons, but just like me, they keep forgetting them.
This post is a full list of my 30 untaught truths of expatriates life lessons, underlined with a few examples, comments, random quotes and thoughts from my experience. Some of these lessons are contradictory, some personal. Some are deep, others just funny. I basically put down whatever came to mind. Alright, let’s get started.
1. Everything you do matters. Late 2009, I moved to Paris from Africa. I had friends in Paris but they were rarely available to show me around. That’s the moment I started realizing how important it was to start crafting my own, new network if I was going to live in Paris any longer than I had planned. I attend both local French and Paris expat events frequently and reached out to as many people as possible. Eight years later, here I am running Expats Paris, curating the Paris Talks conference and have a handful of people in the city of light that inspire me and help me out on many projects. Everything matters. In fact, consequences have consequences. This is what some call the ripple effect.
2. Rarely do you ever figure anything out fully. I actually think it’s way better that we don’t. Even if I believe in knowledge as powerful tool for self-accomplishment, I’m also aware that knowledge can lead to madness.
3. The people that live for the weekend are not the people you want as friends especially when you’ve just moved to a new country.
4. No one will ever make you happy if you are unable to be happy by yourself. Take this literally. Basically, if you can’t stand being alone, you’ll still feel lonely even when you’re with others.
5. When a child says you look sad, angry, unhappy, or fat, they’re right. I tend to care more about children’s opinions.
6. It’ll never be too early to buy life insurance. Or liability insurance. Or health insurance. Basically, insurance for anything you can pay to have covered, but is of infinite value to you. If you live in France, find a way to get your Carte Vitale as fast as you can.
7. Better to be overdressed than underdressed. There’s a guy who usually comes to Expats Paris events wearing a suit. There's a day he actually told me that “dressing up helps filter superficial people”. Don’t forget that, “wearing the correct dress for any occasion is a matter of good manners”, said Loretta Young
8. You’re successful when you start dressing however you want, and people envy you for being able to do so. This is a luxury that many can’t afforded. And, while I'm on this point, you should never wear shoes that don’t fit well. Or contort your feet into a shape where they leave you in pain every time you walk barefoot.
9. If you don’t make fitness a priority by 35, chances are your dating prospects will diminish considerably. In fact, Fitness equals business. “Women under 30 like sexy guys. women over 30 like stable guys. Guys under 30 like hot girls. Guys over 35 like pragmatic girls.”, said a friend.
10. Being popular makes you appear more competent. But one day, you’ll have to back it up. Also, remember that there is nothing brave about being mainstream. This is for my Instagram influencer expat friends out there. It’s important to always assume there is more that you don’t know than you do know. Insignificance is freedom. Being too competent surely makes you very unpopular but, don’t worry. One day you’ll get your shot. Believe me!
11. Never trust anyone who doesn’t care about what they eat. But trust everyone who’s aware that they eat badly. I learned this the hard way when I moved to France and after analyzing the French eating habits.
12. The key to making trustworthy friends is being willing to trust. “Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith first. The trust part comes later.” This comes from Batman v Superman. If you live in France, this piece of content might be of help.
13. Call people if they are truly important and trustworthy to you. Yes, I know, calling people has become weird. I usually do it anyway. In fact, If you’re important to them too, you’ll get through.
14. When in doubt or uncertain, about your expatriate adventure, be calm and take time to think. It’s too hard to be calm when you’re in doubt, which is why it’s so valuable. Also, when in doubt, always choose challenge over certainty.
15. No amount of pre-expat move counseling, planning, or preparation fully prepares anyone for an expatriate adventure. All we do is to see if it works out.
16. While in your new country (or wherever you find yourself), You make two impressions; what others think of you, and how they think you think of yourself. The latter informs the former. If I can provide a lesson: Think highly of yourself, but higher of others. Both shall shine through.
17. If you believe you can learn anything, you’re powerful. So use this superpower while you have it. With each passing year, you’ll believe it less.
18. Excellence is an environment, so is mediocrity. Choose carefully where you invest your time. If you find yourself spending most of your time alone, you may be hiding from excellence or running away from mediocrity. Both mean it’s time to step up.
19. Don’t you ever make an important decision while you are angry, uncertain or underslept. And yes, divorcing your partner while you are abroad is an important one.
20. Suffering is real. And it’s subjective. Actually, that’s something you have to show respect to.
21. It is when things fall apart that you find out, too late, how they really work. Sometimes, even saving just yourself comes at a terrible price.
22. Studying how something works and claiming to understand it is akin to studying how to lift weights and believing you will deadlift 200 kgs. Neither are happening.
23. Everything is going to take more work than you think while somehow requiring less work than you end up doing. This will never cease to be frustrating. They’re called hubris and paranoia and they always travel together. The French bureaucracy belongs to this category.
24. You become the people you spend the most energy with. Remember to always reserve some energy for yourself.
25. Don’t sleep with co-workers. Or classmates. Or anyone you see every week.
26. Don’t sleep with your boss. Especially not your boss.
27. Don’t sleep with clients. Summary of the past three lessons: Don’t poop where you eat.
28. Sometimes it really is only about sex. Once you realize this, it’s important to remember that you can still choose.
29. Anyone that mentions both their ex(es) and their parents in a negative light on the first date is not someone to see for a second date. Extension: Anyone that spends most of a first date gossiping has likely been going on many first dates for a reason.
30. Don’t waste time explaining yourself to people who don’t understand context. In fact, don’t waste any time explaining yourself at all. Unless you did someone wrong. Explaining is draining.
31. Your employer doesn’t care if you quit or not. Even if they moved you (and your entire family) to your new country. In fact, data shows that any small to medium-sized company will survive any individual loss, no matter how tragic. Everyone is valuable, and en même temps, no one’s irreplaceable.
As you’ll notice, number 31 is something I wanted to leave behind but couldn’t. This entire post is just a continuation of this other one that we published a few months ago about the 7 Things I’d Tell My Parisian-Expat Self Now That I’ve Spent 7 Years In Paris.
Thanks for reading this piece and look forward to chatting in the comment section below and reading your other lessons I should’ve added.
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