I had the chance this weekend to briefly visit a friend of mine from back home–she moved to Paris just over six months ago to take an amazing job. She is thus my only expat friend from the states who is not related to me (since my sister in China is both a friend and a relative). Really, I feel lucky to have both a friend and a sister who are embarking on these new lives in other countries, it makes me feel not-so-alone when we are all in this experience together.
I took the Eurostar train over to Paris, which is great fun. Hello, you can take a train off an island and get between London and Paris in only a few hours with a great view out the window? As I was traveling on the train, I could not remember why I had only done this once before in my more than two years in the UK.
My first trip to Paris was as a tourist. I was new to the UK, and I had met friends from the states on the Thanksgiving weekend nearly two years ago. One of them was Paris-familiar, and both of us had taken French in high school, so we did okay and had a good time seeing the classic sites.
This trip was totally different–I was with a (newly assimilating) local, hanging out in her neighborhood and seeing Paris in a totally different light. We did the fun and day-to-day things that you do when you live somewhere–we went to the apartment of another friend of hers where we were to await the delivery of a mattress (since the friend was out of town). We hung out in cafes in real neighborhoods, not tourist areas. We spent most of our time enjoying life with Paris in the background, instead of enjoying Paris with life on hold. We got lucky with the Parisian weather–it was sunny and warm during the day and cool but clear in the evening.
We enjoyed the weather. We shopped. We walked along the Seine. We laughed. We cried. We talked about life, love and happiness. We worked on our French. Sometimes with better results than others. We ate. And we ate well, this being Paris. Onion soup, cheese plates, salads, cafe creme, little cafes on every corner. That thing where you can walk into a boulangerie and step up to a fromagerie and get bread and cheese to take home and eat for brunch. And when you’re with a local, there is a home to go to and drink coffee and eat. It’s amazing.
It’s also interesting how the expat experience translates. France, England, it doesn’t matter–the basics of relocating from the US to Europe are surprisingly similar. Europe is so clearly not the US, and the differences between European countries pale in comparison with the difference between Europe and America. The troubles that you face when being an expat, especially at first, are something that transcends the details of location. We both benefitted from the comparison of silly little annoyances in our own lives, and from the commiseration that comes with shared experience.
At the end of the day, this was a great weekend for me. I don’t have friends here in England as great as the friends I have from home, and it was amazing to be myself, my unguarded, completely American self, for many hours on end and to know that there’s another person just a short train ride away who shares my experiences. I also feel lucky to be reminded that love is such a great and broad thing, a thing that encompasses family, romance, and perhaps most importantly, friendships.
Paris, je t’aime.