My love of France stems from my mother. Our cousins are French and my mom lived in France after college teaching English. I grew up sharing her love for the language, culture, and food. Although the most distinct memory I have of Paris as a child is my mom getting pick-pocketed at the Notre Dame, Paris still had a strong appeal to me. I was drawn to the sophistication and grace of the culture. To me, France represented elegance and refinement, traits that as a little girl I tried to emulate. While this is a highly idealized picture of France—it is not all wine, cheese, and romance— I still hold on to those fantasies as an adult.
Coming from a family of ardent travelers, I was exposed to many different cultures when I was young. At ten years old I did not appreciate our month-long escapades; I actually cried when I had to miss a month of school to go to Thailand. However, these trips shaped my view of the world and gave me an innate love of exploring. Once I was mature enough to value traveling, I wanted to live in a foreign country. During university I had the opportunity to study abroad in Paris for four months. Regrettably, I lived in an English-speaking bubble and my French did not improve, much to my mother’s dismay. I took classes with Americans, lived with Americans, and traveled with Americans. My priority was hitting all the touristy places in Europe with my American friends—not meeting French people or getting assimilated into the culture. I also realized that four months is nothing. I needed to go back for a longer period of time. I was not ready to make the leap after graduation and decided work in San Francisco at a financial health care consulting firm. After a year, living abroad was still on the back of my mind. I found an ideal au pair position that allowed me the flexibility to work part-time and pursue other interests. So here I am, working as an au pair, taking French classes, applying to grad school, and doing part-time work online. I’ve also now started looking into graduate programs in Paris since education is more affordable here than in the US. Highly recommend considering this if you want to go back to school and live abroad!
After a month (and a week), I’m more integrated than I expected. I live in an adorable little studio in the Latin Quarter surrounded by cafes and boulangeries. I’m around the corner from the Panthéon, Jardin du Luxembourg, and the Midnight in Paris stairs. The Jardin du Luxembourg has become my favorite place in Paris. In 1612 Queen Marie de Medici purchased the land and organized the construction of the garden, inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Now, I run here a few times a week and walk through the park on my way to class. Casual. I enjoy watching kids play with toy-sailboats in the pond and people playing pétanque or jeu de boules (a game played with small steel and wooden balls). Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book so I often daydream that I am back in 19th century England strolling through Mr. Darcy’s garden. Even after a month, I am still in awe that a park of this grandeur and beauty exists just a few blocks from my apartment.
During the week I pick up the children (9 and 13) at 16h30 then practice English and play chess with them for a couple hours. The children are extremely well-behaved and mature. I’ve noticed that French children are more independent than American children. The children can walk to school on their own, run errands, prepare their own meals, and even make chocolate chip cookies from scratch! The thirteen year-old girl has started her own food Instagram so we can bond over our mutual obsession of food photography.
The hardest part so far has been going from being a young professional working in the corporate world to a glorified baby-sitter making one-seventh of what I used to make. I find French people surprisingly welcoming and friendly but I am still the expat living in an unknown country. I am not fluent in French and do not understand every conversation so at times it can be isolating and frustrating. Even simple tasks like picking up a package at the post office or opening a French bank account can be daunting. You cannot defend or argue for yourself, which is infuriating when you know you are right. Don’t get me wrong it has been easier to meet people than I anticipated. I automatically had the au pair community to fall back on and friends living in the city; then from there I met fellow bloggers, friends of friends, other expats, etc. There are countless resources— you just need to take advantage of them. I’ve joined meet-ups, Facebook groups, expat communities, and Franglish. My natural inclination is to get involved and to not miss out (#fomo), a trait I undoubtedly inherited from my mother, who is a social butterfly. Although I am no butterfly, my friends applaud my boundless energy and enthusiasm to try new things. I am still getting my bearings and figuring out what to do next, but for now I am enjoying my chocolat chaud and croissant from the café below my apartment. C’est la vie!