Living abroad changes you, no matter how much you may try to fight it. I’ve only lived in Paris for 8 months now, but I can already see changes in my behavior and how I see the world.
The same could be said for moving anywhere that’s a departure from your norm. When I moved from DC to NYC, I changed a lot in the first year – and I truly believe my 10 years of coming into my own in NYC shaped me into the person I am now.
So how has Paris changed me in 8 months? Let’s take a look.
1. I’m less finicky and particular about my food and germs.
How has Paris ended that for me? Well, in America, we tend to be a bit more germaphobic. You would never go to a restaurant or even a food truck and see someone handling your food with bare hands. Perhaps in the back kitchen, but never in front of the patrons. That oh-so-vital napkin barrier between your food and the chef’s hands? Doesn’t seem to exist in Paris. Without fail, people are manhandling my crepes, grabbing my pain au chocolat and touching my baguettes. Speaking of baguettes, it’s common for your baguette to be placed (by naked hands) into a sleeve that doesn’t cover the length of the baguette. So half of your baguette is just out in the elements, soaking up the pollution, that person on the metro’s cough and even the rain that so often happens in Paris. Even in restaurants, in America we’re used to bread plates. In France? The bread goes directly on the table. Here’s hoping that table was cleaned well!
One thing for sure, not only has Paris made me less germaphobic and nice-nasty, but I’m sure it’s strengthened my immune system as well 🙂
2. Deeper understanding of ESL behavior
I’m currently learning French, but French is not my 2nd language. From a young age, I learned Spanish and even continued through college, making Spanish my minor at Howard University. Learning Spanish while living in the US was fairly easy and I didn’t have many awkward situations – I mostly used my Spanish on my travels and sometimes at work.
Learning French though? Is a COMPLETELY different beast. Coming to a country and not knowing the language except on a basic level is an extremely hard thing to do. Almost daily, I’m flustered and embarrassed by my lack of handle on the language and I must say, the Parisians are not very helpful with it.
In America, I never judged anyone for their lack of English skills. It’s a difficult language to learn, particularly later in life. But now that I’m going through what so many immigrants in America do, I can empathize completely. Oh and here’s one change that is NOT for the better! I find that the more French I learn, the more Spanish I forget 🙁
3. I’m more polite.
In NYC, saying hello to people is something you do if you’re strange. If you don’t believe me, just try it. Walk around NYC and start saying hello to strangers. Try it in a small elevator. Try it in your apartment building. It’s just strange. When people I didn’t know said hello to me in NYC, I often gave them this look (insert gif).
By now, everyone knows that saying “bonjour” is a major MAJOR thing in France. How dare you walk into a store and not say bonjour! How dare you not say bonjour any place you walk into?? Often people will even ask “Ça va?” (How are you?) as a follow-up to the hello. If you’re from the American South, perhaps you’d fit right in!
Saying hello to people has become such a part of my routine now, that when I visited NYC in October for a friend’s wedding, I said hello to people in the lobby of my friend’s apartment. And sure enough, they all looked at me like “who does she think she’s talking to???”
4. Different relationship with food
I never had an unhealthy relationship with food, but I definitely have changed a few things about my lifestyle since moving. One major thing is the drinking. No, I’m not talking about wine drinking – I’m talking about water! As I put in my post about 7 things I’ve learned since moving to Paris, water is cheap in France. It’s also very common to ask for “carafe d’eau”- a free, refillable carafe of water, while out at a café. Sodas and juices tend to be more expensive in France – whereas in the US, you can get a 2-liter soda for cheaper than a 2-liter bottle of water. (C’mon y’all know about those .99-cent Rock Creek Sodas!) As a result, I’m constantly drinking water more than anything else.
I’m also big snacker, and there seems to be less snacking in general in France. It could be argued that aperitifs – the food and drinks had generally an hour or so before dinner – is a snack time. But even so, there’s less focus on nibbling on something all throughout your day. I do admit I have a weakness for petit ecoliers though – those cookies are the devil but they’re SO good!
The portion sizes in France are also much smaller than they are in America. Last time I visited home, I found that I was unable to finish “1 person meals” in 1 sitting. Thankfully, my stomach has adjusted to smaller portion sizes and it takes much less for me to be full.
I’ve lost a good amount of weight since moving, despite not trying. I’m not sure whether to blame it on the water, lack of snack time, or portion sizes, but either way, I’m happy with it!
5. I’ve slowed down my life – just a little.
Paris is known as the most fast paced city in France – but for me, it’s definitely a slower pace of life. One of the biggest reasons my life has slowed down? No one is in a rush here. Whether it’s waiting in line at the grocery store or walking in the metro stations, compared to NYC, everything moves much slower. People are slower to lose their patience and in turn, it’s allowed me to utilize my patience more often.
Although Parisian people will crow to you about their long work hours, the one-hour (or more) lunch break is a true practice in leisure. Around lunch time, you’ll see the professionals out and about having lunch at cafés – a luxury I never had, working in NYC. I’ve been told the tide is turning in Paris and more people are taking lunch at their desk, but I hope they hold on to the leisure lunches! The café culture in Paris has helped me to slow down and relax when my to-do list is taking over my life. Just order a cappuccino and put your people watching skills to use.
I look forward to seeing how I’ll change as my time marches on in Paris. Of course not everything is roses, but I’ll save the negative ways I’ve changed for another post. 🙂
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