When I finally arrived in Paris after zig-zagging across Germany I dropped my bags on the floor and collapsed into my bed. I let out a sigh of relief, I was finally home.
Then it hit me, home.
I’ve moved around a lot in the last ten years, and there is always an initial period of adjustment. Eventually, without even realizing it, your new place starts to feel like home. I no longer have to give myself a pep talk before leaving my flat, or tremble with fear before asking an attendant a question in French. In the last two weeks I’ve found myself comfortably settled into my new life in Paris.
My day starts with my regular morning routine; music, a little yoga, tea, some breakfast. At 8:30 I leave for two hours of French lessons. My class is exclusively Au Pairs, and just as in high school I enjoy being in a class with only women. Unlike high school, I have applied myself to my studies wholeheartedly. I do not let my mind wander, or doodle on unfinished homework. I do the most important thing you can do while trying to speak in a new language, I listen.
Listening is a skill that takes concentration and patience. Many times since I arrived in France, I’ve been grateful I learned to listen while studying theatre. The way I listen to a Shakespeare play is the way I listen to French. You’re not hearing normal dialogue, so the ear has to be especially tuned in. If you allow your ear to adjust, like your eyes eventually adjust to darkness, you begin to understand. You hear the patterns and the poetry, and it starts to unravel like a riddle. It’s ironic that the greatest English writer of all time is the one who gave me the tools to learn French.
After class I have a few hours to myself. Sometimes I visit a cafè with my classmates, sometimes meet a friend to explore a museum or park. In the afternoon, I pick up Petite Fille from school (a half hour walk each way). Next I fetch Petit Garçon from daycare, give him a bath and his dinner. I may see les filles off to their after-school activities. I make sure they have done their homework, taken their baths and that the house is tidy. Grande Fille is enthusiastically learning to play the ukulele, which is fun for both of us. There is no TV in my host family’s home, so we often play cards or a board game. When the parents come home we all eat dinner together.
On the weekends I have the freedom to explore the city. Going out on the weekends usually involves prinking* with the Au Pairs (*pre-gaming for the Americans). We drink cheap wine to avoid paying for overpriced cocktails when we go to the bars. Many of my friends live in the suburbs and are unable to return after the métro closes at midnight. Happily, I have a trundle-bed and can offer them a place to crash. We can fit up to four girls in my tiny studio comfortably, with two girls in each bed sleeping head to toe. Waking up late on Sunday morning surround by girls in last nights make up is the status quo.
The biggest adjustment, other than the language, is acclimatizing myself to my new financial circumstances. As an Au Pair room and board is provided for me, as well as a small amount of weekly pocket-money. My arrangement is standard, even generous considering I have my own flat, but there is very little money for entertainment. Paris is a city of overwhelming wealth and desperate poverty. Whenever I feel frustrated that I can’t eat in restaurants or buy new clothes, I remind myself how fortunate I am. I adore my host-family, I have my own centrally located flat, and my school is a short walk away. For me, this experience isn’t about fashionable clothes or chic restaurants. It’s about skills I am gaining and memories I am making.
Already I’ve collected stories I’ll tell the rest of my life; sleeping outside the Grand Palais, getting stranded in Germany, riding a donkey and catching frogs in Normandy. It’s the small things, however, that make up my happy life in Paris. Its the sound of my heels striking cobblestones at midnight. It’s the way chimney stacks are arranged as if huddle together for warmth. Its having a whole conversation in French without even realizing it. As cliché as it sounds, its standing in line at the boulangerie every day for my family’s bread, or sipping wine next to the Seine. My tolerance for both wine and rats has increased immensely.
It’s not that there aren’t hard days. I miss my family, I miss the familiarity of hearing English. Paris is a just a city, not a fairytale kingdom. The days are getting shorter and colder. There are still long hours to work and bills to pay. I need a haircut that I can barely afford. Despite these facts, the reality of Paris is far better than any daydream I had before I came. It’s not one particular thing, it’s that life in Paris is becoming my life in Paris.