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Claire Connor, Paris

My name is Claire and I’m originally from Nottingham, England. As part of my university studies, I spent one year living in Paris from 2008-2009, fell in love with the place and decided to come back for more in May 2011. I blog about my Paris experience on misscon.blog.com.

I love the experience of living abroad: where even the tiniest thing can be a challenge and the simplest achievement, such as working out how to send registered mail or sorting out your health insurance, can seem like a real accomplishment. As well as having French friends, I also know a lot of international people and I never get bored of listening to people’s stories as to what brought them here. I can’t imagine moving home for the next few years: I love the food too much, the city is too pretty and the subtle cultural differences make everyday life much more interesting.What challenges did you face during the move?

I faced a lot of challenges moving out here, as I changed from one job to the other with no break in between and no apartment sorted to move in to. I spent two months looking for an apartment which in turn meant I had problems opening a bank account without a fixed residence. I am also still in the process of sorting out my social security. I faced a lot of challenges in understanding the French working ways and how permanent contracts work here, for example you can’t take holidays in your first year of work which was new to me.

It took me a while to settle down in terms of friends as well. When I lived here as part of my studies, I had a network of classmates who were a real safety net when I was settling in. I also lived in a halls of residence for my studies so I was always around people my own age and met people very easily. This time around, I really had to be proactive in joining groups and accepting invitations to parties, soirées etc, to start socialising and making my way.

How did you find somewhere to live?

The apartment hunt was a bit of a nightmare for me. Having foreign guarantors did not help and neither did the fact that I was still in my probationary period at work. I was looking in May, when many of the students had not yet left the city so there was limited choice. Then, in the summer months, when the students left, many of the landlords went on holiday and I found fewer and fewer advertisements. As a result, in my first couple of months I moved around a bit: staying at friends, staying in a colleague’s empty apartment for a month, and staying in the halls of residence where I lived first time around for a couple of weeks. In the end, I managed to find a flat share apartment through a friend of a friend: I came to visit, submitted my dossier and managed to get my contract sorted with a 3 year tenancy agreement.

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Are there many other expats in your area?

I work in a company where there are a lot of international people, which is how I started to get involved in the expat network, particularly with Australians and Americans. The area that I am living in is quite French – it is on the border of a residential area where there are many families and young professionals. As a result, I have not met that many expats living around here.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

I get on very well with the French. There are a lot of differences which can sometimes be frustrating – but on the whole, the things I hate are the things I love to hate. I am lucky to have a group of French friends who are very open minded and who love to help me improve my French level and teach me things about their culture. I definitely found that people were friendlier with me second time around, and I think it is because my level of French is much better. They love it if you can make an effort to speak with them in their own language.

What do you like about life where you are?

I love speaking French everyday and living in a city where there is so much beautiful architecture. I love the fact that Paris is a capital city, but that you are still able to find independent shops, boutiques, bakeries and butchers. I like the fact that things close on a Sunday and that many people spend this time with their family, or doing something cultural like a museum, an exhibition, or going to see a film.

I like that Paris is a manageable size: big enough to feel cosmopolitan and with plenty of things to do, but small enough to be able to go across town to see your friends without spending half a day on the transport. I like being a “foreigner” and being able to look in at what goes on as an observer, able to compare it to the different approach that I know from England.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I miss my family and friends. I am lucky to be able to see them quite easily, but it is hard when you hear about everybody getting together and not always being able to join in. I also really dislike the administration.

What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

The food here in my favourite part. I love trying new cheeses, foie gras and pates. I love rare steaks, different sauces, and huge salads with garlicky potatoes and vinaigrettes.
I do not like snails, and I have yet to try frogs legs.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Stick it out for at least 12 months which is the time I think it took me to settle down, learn the language properly and get in with the locals. The sense of accomplishment when you have got over the hardest part is wonderful.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to stay in Paris for at least 5 years, although don’t tell my Mum because she gets upset at the thought of that. I am single, young and happy so your guess for my future is as good as mine!

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