We’ve been back in Paris for a few months now after a whirlwind holiday season. Ever tried moving during the holidays? Don’t. You’re a sadist if you do, especially if it is an international move. I’ve done it twice – once to South Africa and once back to France. You’re running all over the place, trying to pack, downsize, finish your work – and then on top you’re trying to buy gifts, plan time with family. In short, it is a logistical nightmare that I don’t recommend to anyone.
It was weird when we landed back in Paris, because in many ways our time in South Africa felt like a blip. We knew we weren’t going to settle there when we agreed to go to Johannesburg for my job, but when we got into the rhythm of everyday life, we didn’t really feel like we could ever leave – and time passed so quickly. I guess it helped to that we kept traveling back to France or the United States whenever we had big vacation periods – it kept us connected to home.
We’ve had to adapt to so many things coming home. We went from going everywhere in the car to having to walk more and use the metro. We used to have so much space and now we are back to apartment living. We used to have great weather year round, and we now have to get used to an actual winter again. I went from working crazy hours to not working at all. So many changes in such a short space of time can really mess with your system, your brain – everything!
Here are some of the biggest things I’m feeling as we become Parisians again:
I don’t have French nationality yet, so I’ve had to go through immigration again. And actually, it feels a tad bit easier? Maybe it is that I became used to administration in South Africa (and other African countries through my work). Or maybe it’s a combination of that and changes that transpired while I was gone. But the people seem…nicer. They seem to actually know what they’re doing. And they seem willing to help. There’s still a lot of photocopies to take in hand. I still had to search everywhere within a square kilometer to find a Photomaton machine to get an ID picture. (Side note: It’s Murphy’s Parisian Law that when you need a Photomaton, you can’t find one. But when you don’t need one, you see them everywhere. ) It also helps that a lot can be done online now, which saves me having to run all over Paris with a 2 year old in tow. For example, I bought my immigration tax stamp online! That would have never happened 3 years ago.
Life in Paris after Johannesburg
Let me preface this by saying that Parisians and Paris tend to get a bad rap still, and overall, Paris is a lovely place filled with great people. Nonetheless, I really worried about this one. Johannesburg gets a bad rap for being a violent place. Don’t get me wrong – there are some pretty sickening crimes that happen, but they remain in the minority. I felt safe in many parts of Johannesburg, and the people were all very chill, open and courteous. To me, it was always funny because in Johannesburg, they think that they are very mean and hectic. When I first moved there, people would ask me how I was liking Johannesburg thus far, and I would glow. “I don’t have to deal with mean shopkeepers, there’s actual customer service here, and the traffic isn’t terrible,” were my usual three examples for my bliss. And “Johannesburgers” would get this look of shock because they didn’t see this side of their city!
So when I learned that we were moving back to Paris, I was actually panic stricken. I have to deal with Parisians again!!! There’s the metro, and then add a stroller. I had stressful flashbacks to when I had my first child and how no one ever helped me with a stroller in the metro, nor did they make room so I could enter/exit the metro car. There are the horrendous shopping lines, and the culture of trying to get everything done on a Saturday since nothing is open on Sundays. And did I mention that people don’t know how to queue? At least in Johannesburg, most people knew how to queue. I could feel tightness in my chest thinking about it.
But then I came home. And people actually help me in the metro with the stroller. People hold the door. People smile. Water carafes in restaurants, which for some mysterious reason seemed to come with a glacial pace in restaurants 3 years ago, come a little faster. And now there are all these magical online applications that allow you to avoid shopping on Saturdays. I don’t think the queue thing will ever change, but secretly I do admire the old Parisian lady that knows how to stealthily make her way to the front of the line.
We are in full Presidential campaign season in France. And one thing I’ve noticed is that, much like the American election, you hear a lot of the candidates talking about how badly France is doing. The economy still hasn’t fully recovered, unemployment is still too high, France is becoming this old, irrelevant country.
Maybe it is my naive optimism. Or maybe it is that combined with a pair of fresh eyes that just lived somewhere else for a few years. But I don’t fully agree. This city is on fire and it is buzzing with an energy that I didn’t feel before.
Unemployment is high when you look at France’s European neighbors, but it is also starting to come down. The economy still has its issues. But two things have just impressed me as I’ve come back home – the amount of entrepreneurial passion running through this city, and the level of investment in them.
There are so many French start-ups that it is just unbelievable. You hear about how hard it is to start your own business – and it is still complicated. But there are so many projects that focus on partnering with other countries and cultures to provide jobs at home and abroad. There are projects that focus on improving the environment and investing in green businesses. There are projects that focus on HR and corporate well-being (this is my favorite area of interest). Cities and schools alike in France are finding ways to foster these entrepreneurs and creating the next generation of innovative thinkers through education. I’m literally so proud of France for all of the work that has been done over the past three years to build up these start-ups and encourage French innovation and entrepreneurial work.
You can look for bad everywhere, but I really feel like the above doesn’t get highlighted nearly enough by the current administration, nor is it talked about enough during the campaign.
My biggest shock yet was when we took the boys to the Eiffel Tower. France has had to change its reality some in light of several infamous terrorist attacks. I guess I didn’t realize to what level until I went to go under the tower for the first time since being home.
You can’t walk freely under the tower anymore. It is surrounded by metal barricades and you have to enter in through a security check. It broke my heart to see this. I remember, even just before we left in 2013, you could walk under the tower without having your bags searched or going through a metal detector. I understand it, I accept it, but it’s a shock nonetheless.
Second shock came when I went into a shopping mall. I’ve had my bags searched and gone through hand-held body scans when entering malls in Nairobi. But when I walked up to Beaugrenelle in the 15th arrondissement, I was greeted with a bag check. And then again in museums.
This is the new reality. But I still feel safer here than I do in Johannesburg. And I definitely feel safer here than I do in the United States. I’d rather see the military wandering around, helping to keep us safe (as they’ve now done at the Louvre and at Orly Airport since we’ve been back) than worry about which person has a concealed weapon in my native state. Paris will always be Paris, and we won’t let terrorists easily destroy this great city.
I’m sure things will continue to shock me for the next few months – both in good ways and bad ways. But I really am thankful to be back in my second home and to have the opportunity to discover it all over again.