It’s easy to fall in love with the surface image of France, but there’s only one way to find out whether the Parisian personality meshes with yours and whether there’s hope for a long-term relationship, and that’s to come visit and stay awhile. You’ll want to not only explore the celebrated corners of the city, but also the less flashy residential neighborhoods in arrondissements or suburbs where you might settle down. This will enable you to attune yourself to the rhythms of your potential new home before making a commitment.
Eat out, take public transport, visit the post office, shop at the local grocery store, and imagine what life will be like in your adopted hometown.The most important part of your reconnaissance mission is to veer off the tourist trail: Skip the hotel directly beside the Eiffel Tower and park yourself at a neighborhood auberge in a less touristy arrondissement. In the suburbs, you’ll benefit by skipping the budget chain hotels near the freeway and looking for accommodations (independent or otherwise) in the center of each town you’re considering. Give yourself at least a few days to really get to a know a place: When and where the nearest outdoor market is held, which of the cafés feels most like home and which boulangerie bakes the best baguettes, and who your future neighbors will be.
Bring your sense of adventure, your best manners, and your French phrasebook, and don’t be afraid to ask questions—even if you don’t always understand the responses. Reaching out will let the locals know you’ve got nothing to hide, and will give you the opportunity to see what the regional mores and attitudes are toward foreigners. Eat out, take public transport, visit the post office, shop at the local grocery store, and imagine what life will be like in your adopted hometown.
Preparing to Leave
Your fact-finding mission is different from a standard vacation because you’re looking not just to enjoy yourself and see the sights, but to make an assessment that has the potential to alter the course of your life for the better. The important thing to remember, besides to have fun, is to carry your critical eye with you on your journey. Consider each place you visit with a dash of realism. How close are amenities? Are there parks nearby for walking the dog? What about schools and libraries? Where is the closest transportation stop, and will you mind the walk to the bus or Métro when it’s January and snow blankets the cobblestones?
The Internet is a traveler’s best friend and can support you on your living-abroad adventure before you’ve even hopped the plane for Paris. Begin by seeking out blogs written by locals to get an insider’s perspective that’s tailored to your situation. Are you moving with kids? With a major food allergy? With your four cats? Odds are good that someone before you has done it already, and has survived long enough to write about it. Find them online and get acquainted—you might even strike up a friendship if you take the initiative and send a note of introduction. Also use the Internet to check the pre-departure weather forecast so you know whether to pack an imperméable in addition to your parapluie. And if you’re ready to practice your French, it couldn’t hurt to see if any transit strikes are in the cards. The website www.francegreve.com will keep you up to date.
Guidebooks are indispensable travel companions that will point you in the direction of a dependable hotel, restaurant, or sightseeing spot without your having to weed through the never-ending possibilities that the Internet is so good at providing. If traveling light is a major concern, pack your e-reader and buy the digital version of your favorite guide. Having maps, language guides, and tourist information in one handy place can simplify the travel process and offer a sense of security.
As you narrow down areas to explore and consider your needs, wants, and dreams, you might find it helpful to rank your list in terms of importance. What comes first: career, school, play, or family? If you’re moving without a job and need to find work right away, Paris proper is the obvious choice for the sheer variety and number of employment opportunities. Ditto for rental housing. Crave access to wide-open green spaces and cringe at the thought of tourists asking you for directions? The suburbs might be more to your liking. And if you’re a retiree on a limited budget, you’ll want to consider neighborhoods where housing is affordable but where you’ll still have access to cultural amenities—and a decent boulangerie. Be realistic as you begin your search, but don’t deny your dreams. A happy medium does exist!
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Living Abroad Paris.