Just another day in PAR(ad)IS(e) - the life of an expat

I'm an expat, but we all aren't created equal. Some are long-term expats who are frequently married to locals, others are one-time expats who are transferred abroad for a single assignment and then there are the ones who have lived in different countries and for whom Paris is just another posting.

While we're all lumped in the same category by outsiders, within our ranks there is some dissent. Long-term expats generally feel superior to the other two groups because they're integrated into the local society, single-term expats believe they've got the best of both worlds because they can experience life in France for a couple of years before returning to their "real" lives and professional expats are pleased to be in Paris but don't necessarily believe that it's the best city in the world because they were happiest in Kuala Lumpur, Buenos Aires or wherever...

Category 3 expats can usually be identified by their reluctance to buy curtains and hang pictures in their new home because there's a widespread superstition belief that we'll be transferred as soon as we're settled. As evidence of this, I was unpacking the last box in a longed for apartment overlooking the lake in Montreux when Stephane returned from work and demanded, "What are you doing?". Baffled as to why he was so brusque, I replied, "Unpacking. Why?". No answer. It was only later that evening that he revealed that we were being transferred to Paris. Saying that I wasn't pleased is putting it mildly.

That's why I'm happy to say that I threw caution to the wind on Wednesday and bought a couple of pictures for our apartment that will serve as good reminders of our time in Paris. Let's hope I'm not tempting fate!

As soon as I spied the print of an umbrella salesman in the Apprentis d'Auteuil vintage store, I knew that I had to get it for Stephane because he's so proud of his made-to-order umbrella from Parasolerie Hertault. And then I found a little something for me - a picture of a hot chocolate salesman to remind me of the days that I dedicated to hot chocolate research. Isn't it a shame that these vendors have disappeared from the streets of Paris?

Feeling pleased with my purchases, I headed to the post office and filled out form after form to send our tax returns to the USA via registered mail. When I presented the five envelopes at the counter, the postal employee kept sighing about having to complete the official portion of the forms while the woman behind me sighed because it was taking so long. Caught in between the two, I bit my tongue to prevent myself from informing them that the French postal system is one of the most complicated that I've ever experienced and that it's not my fault that there are so many forms in their country. I'm just an expat after all!


  1. MK! I was getting nervous with this post that you were going to come out and say that Stephane mentioned a new post for you two... that would make me so sad! Glad you're staying put and bought two very lovely photos for your apt! And as for the taxes - the Post Office here is crazy (although I love the stamp machines for sending letters to the states) and to send a package is quite difficult and confusing. PS: hope the littlebox was awesome.

    1. Sorry, Kristen - I didn't intend to worry you. We're staying put...as far as I know. We even hemmed the curtains in the guest bedrooms last week!

      The stamp machines at the post office are great - they're where I get rid of all of my small change.

      Still waiting for My Little Box. :( Our gardienne wasn't here this morning so maybe the postman couldn't deliver it.

  2. Oh I like this sociological essay and insight. Finding "home" is a very different experience from person to person, within a (probably) limited set of options but home for me is an apartment in a big city with a view. Not that you were writing about home but that's where your essay took me. But I share some of your same beliefs/superstitions--I haven't put up curtains because I was never sure how long I would be here, and now it's been five years. The lesson I've come to with this move is DO IT IMMEDIATELY or it probably won't get done. I've covered the walls with art, the floors with rugs, the shelves with books but something about putting curtains up feels so...done, finished, tempting fate.

    And I really like the appropriateness of your prints--how lucky and wonderful for you. I'm going to send you a photo of a tea vendor from Istanbul with a very similar contraption on his back. So foreign and exotic romantic.

    Oh, and I spent yesterday doing my taxes too. Enough said. Bonne chance!

    1. The photo of the tea vendor in Istanbul is fantastic. Thanks for sharing it with me! Unfortunately, we didn't see any when we were there in May 2010.

      Isn't it strange that curtains can make a place seem so permanent! When we hemmed the curtains last week, I really did feel as if we were tempting fate. On the other hand, I don't always like curtains. We don't have any in our living room because I don't want to obstruct the view of the river.

      The only good thing about doing your taxes is that it feels like such an achievement to have it behind you!

  3. I agree that there are different categories of expats, but I think all of them are similar in that they're definitely different from non-expats. They're more adventurous, more willing to accept a challenge and generally very determined people who are going to make a success of what can be a difficult lifestyle. Taking the expat route is never an easy option, but by heck it's fascinating and rewarding!

    1. Steph, Thanks for mentioning the similarities beween expats. As you said, we really are a special breed of people. I'm truly thankful for my expat friends of different nationalities, whom I probably would never have met had I stayed in the USA.

  4. Well Montreux's loss is Paris gain, and mine, because I would not now have this interesting blog to read and a new friend in Paris.

    Interesting analysis of ex pat life. How I admire you, leaving one life behind and starting an entirely new one, all be it reluctantly. I can see you have developed the skills of making new relationships and facing a new challenge.

    I was once horrified at the thought of my husband transferring to another part of the UK, let alone a new country! For me visiting is fine but home is where my heart is and that is where my family are, I miss them even when I am on holiday.

    As chronic homesickness stopped me travelling for years, I am interested how you overcome this?... and of course you fell in love with a foreigner so I suppose you follow YOUR heart.

    Love your pictures. Just right. Hopefully you will have good memories associated with them in years to come.
    Love Denise from Bolton

    1. Overcoming homesickness? I don't think that I ever have! While I've always been happy wherever we've lived, I never stopped missing my parents and siblings. Now, it's more difficult because it's my children who are far away. I keep telling myself that someday Stephane and I will settle down near them. The only problem is that they both liked their childhoods abroad so much that they may continue the trend! Living in different countries is quite often the fate of expat families... But still, I wouldn't change my life. I have, however, told Stephane that another posting in Asia is out of the question. It's just too far from the USA.

      And as for being in Paris, I'm happy for many different reasons - including the fact that it introduced you to me!

      TIme to hang my new pictures on the wall!


Post a Comment