Living in another country isn’t always easy. There are a lot of cultural differences no matter where you live. I have been fortunate enough to make a lot of great friends and connections living in Paris during my time here, but it hasn’t all been rainbows and unicorns. For those of you new to a country or thinking about moving to a new country OR even just having a rough time, here are three things you shouldn't do.
I think the most important thing about living far away from home is not to lose sight of yourself and who you are. I remember when I first moved to Paris, everything was so new and so beautiful to me and I was experiencing my new home with the wonder of a child. I was completely taking in the French culture and experiencing the European way of living.
After a year of living here, things changed a little for me. The French language, which I used to love, soured on me to the point that hearing a French accent put me in a bad mood—I would seriously roll my eyes when I heard someone speak. It wasn’t due to one incident, but an accumulation of things—being corrected all the time if I pronounced one syllable wrong, people not being able to accommodate a simple request and replying “but that’s the way it is”, trying to act more French in fear of being reprimanded. I’ve actually been “shhh’d” twice—once at a movie theater for cringing during a scary part, and once in someone’s apartment for speaking too loud during a conversation. For those of you who know me, you know I’m not a loud talker or loud in general. I think you should also know that both of these instances happened with people I was dating—True story. Believe me, those relationships did not last long, and one of them may have gotten a martini thrown in their face.
I will be honest and say I was a little sad for awhile—I was doubting myself more and felt I was losing myself. I didn’t want to retreat to NY, but I wasn’t as happy as I was when I first moved here. Then one day I realized I didn’t have to and shouldn’t have to change.
I wanted to be the strong person I was in NY and knew I still was. This started by NOT GIVING A F*CK. I stopped conforming and started being true to myself and not caring what people thought of me. I spoke my mind freely and stopped sugarcoating; basically, I just started living and acting the way I normally would be if I was still in NY. I refused to conform to their antiquated societal rules and beliefs as it was compromising who I was—believe me, doing this was life changing. This experience also made me realize what the American Dream was and why people strived for it.
I LOVE having a positive outlook on life, being outspoken and not walking on eggshells all the time—just because I live in a country that doesn’t believe in creating their own destiny doesn’t mean I need to be like them. After I changed my mindset, I found more internationally minded people and formed better connections—ultimately, I’m much happier too. Believe me, don’t change who you are in hopes that people will like you better. The right people will like you for the fabulous person you are, unless you are a racist asshole of course.
This was a hard one for me because it was something that made me feel stupid. I’ve excelled at most things in my life so feeling inadequate at something that was part of daily functioning here, did not make me feel confident. Not knowing the language in the country you live in can be overwhelming can be beyond stressful. The thing is it doesn’t have to be.
Again, the trick is not to care. When I first moved here I always felt constantly judged (because I actually was—another true story). Imagine not even having two words out of your mouth and being stopped and corrected. I was literally getting a language lesson each time I tried to speak. The only place this should happen is in a classroom or among close friends, not at a public outing, a date, or a business you are a patron to.
Being corrected all the time didn’t do much for my confidence and made me speak lower anytime I spoke French—the funny thing is I didn’t even realize I was doing it; your mind’s defense mechanisms are funny that way. Then one day I was out at lunch with a friend where the waitress kept on questioning what I was ordering because she didn’t understand me. Of course I was a little upset after and my friend said to me, “You’re French is actually good. I don’t know if you realize this but you actually lower your voice when you speak French so I honestly don’t think she heard you.” This was another point where I realized what living here was doing to me subconsciously. After that moment, I made a conscious effort not to care if my French was right or wrong. I knew it was close enough people would understand what I needed. The most important thing to remember is that your language skills do not need to be perfect—learning a new language should be fun and not stressful. Anyone that judges you is not worth the time or the effort.
I know my circumstance is different than most because my work is done in English and all of my friends speak English. The thing is if you do work for a French company or any company in another country where you aren’t fluent in the native language think about this—they hired you knowing you didn’t know the language, so it’s their issue, not yours. There is a learning curve and they need to be patient—Rome was not built in a day.
And if you have no desire to learn another language, you can go the technological route and purchase earbuds from either Google or Baidu.
This is another important one. France, like other European countries is not like the US. I will say as a native New Yorker, it is definitely harder to make friends with native French people compared to trying to make new friends in NY or most American cities—we are just more open to exploring new friendship opportunities. Here, they are more closely knit with their childhood friends than the friends that they make in university since France is a modern day class system—something that is also changing with the new generation.
I know two years is not a lot of time, but I have gained valuable experience in the friend dating realm. I have only one piece of advice here—USE YOUR NETWORK. Seriously, this should be your one and only cardinal rule. I have found that my closest friends and the ones who I have the most synergy with are people who I have met through introductions from my close friends. Don’t get me wrong, I did try networking events as well as Internations, but found that everyone there was a lost fish in the sea. Now that I think about this, I think it is because they lost their identity and who they really were because of conforming to their new country. For instance, I met this guy originally from New Zealand who has been in France for almost 10 years. When we discussed our plans for the rest of the week, all of his were Internations events. I’m sorry, but that’s sad. After 10 years of living in a country and your main recreational activity is Internations events, it says something. It’s good for their financial model, but for your own personal growth and community development, probably a waste of your time and money.
IMHO, you should save your money and reach out to your network of friends. When my friends in NY found out I was moving here they made introductions and 98% of them have been successful. I’ve also met new friends from events I have been invited to by my new friends here. The fact is you will have more in common with a friend of a friend than a random stranger when trying to build your core circle—you don’t really need a scientific study to figure that out. Also this group of people will most likely have more culturally in common and be more internationally minded. Believe me, if you surround yourself with like minded people your journey into expat life will be more rewarding as you will be fostering stronger connections. #TRUTH