Chez Soi

Adventures of a Year Abroad

2 Months In


If I knew then what I know now, maybe the last few months would have been easier…here’s the note I would have written.

Dear Paris Newbie Self:

You are about to go and move countries to have an adventure. And, by definition, adventures have highs and lows, twists and turns. So, you sometimes (mosttimes?) don’t know how it’s going to turn out. That is both good and bad. But you wanted an adventure. Remember that in the times ahead.

New cities (even ones as notable as Paris) are both wonderful and perplexing at the same time. You will go to the movies and that theater will be closed because of some unknown reason. You will go to an open market and it will turn out that summer construction is in full force for a metro line and the market you were hoping to enjoy is now gone for the summer. The city you have moved to goes into massive construction mode in August as they expect all citizens / residents to be gone. No one will tell you that. There will only be the noise to keep you company. Remember that being a new resident is different than being a tourist in any city.

You won’t believe it, but you will spend most of first few months here just trying to figure out basics like where to find nails to hang a picture, or batteries since they aren’t at the local grocer. You’ll be amazed at how hard it is to get dry cleaning done, how to get places efficiently, how to get groceries home with out a car, etc. You wonder why it feels like you are slogging through molasses with little to show for it. Let me tell you why. When you are here for vacation none of this matters. And when you are home, you know everything already. It never occurs to you how much ambient information you have in your native place to do the simple things. Until you don’t have it. Suddenly simple things aren’t simple. And all your mental and emotional energy is tapped by doing something as simple getting something mailed. What was once a 10-minute chore in your native land will exhaust you for the whole day. And you wonder why. But this is just an overhead tax for setting up a residence in a new spot. Add the new language is surely a part of this. But the totality of exhaustion is because all your brain power is being used up to do things you once could do with your eyes closed and brain synapses otherwise unused.

And the money worries that keep you up at night are a red herring. Yes, it’s true that things cost a lot in Paris. In Europe in general, about twice as much as US prices. Even basic underwear. And, socks. And… well, everything. Accept it. Just accept it. Stop looking at the prices on Amazon US and then Amazon France. It will only upset you. You are lucky enough to have enough money even as you dip into savings. It’s only a moment in your life. Remember the reason you wanted a year abroad to be with your family and to experience the broader world to become more global. Well, the extravagant prices is just a piece of that “broader world”.

And you must decide your attitude for this. On September 1 (what is called rentrėe) the whole city is shining and cleaning and (mostly) open for business. Shops that were barricaded during July and August will suddenly pop to life and you will think they are new, but really they are renewed. The fact that you don’t know anything makes you feel stupid, but really you ought to view it as a big game. Act like Gomer Pyle would have acted on the Andy Griffith show. Be surprised. Be astonished. Say to yourself, Golly Gee. Try to find some joy in it.

Along this way, you will think you’ll have lost your mind for wanting to go on this adventure. You will be tired of finding everything exhausting. You will be sickly tired of fighting with your family because all of you are collectively exhausted.

But please, don’t blame each other, blame the situation. And, remember this is NORMAL. (Things will inevitably settle down.) You came to this because you wanted to learn together, to be together, and to be closer. You are asking a lot of yourselves to learn a new language and keep both careers going WHILE doing this other thing. So keep the main thing that drove you here in mind. And that main thing is Love. Keep your love central. Keep your heart open. Forgive each other for the stress behaviors that keep showing up. Love is what got you to make this big leap, and it is love that will help you through it.

And all this will seem funny one day. I promise. Or I hope, anyways.


Your paris rentrée self

Author: nilofermerchant

Strategist. Passionate about igniting cultures of innovation. HBR Writer, O'Reilly Author (published January 2010) of The New How, and former CEO of Rubicon.

10 thoughts on “2 Months In

  1. Captured so well! I felt the same way when I moved to Asia! It will get better and you’ll be almost a native before you know it!!
    Enjoy! And keep those posts coming…we are living vicariously through you!

  2. Hang in there dear. Love and hugs.

  3. Beautiful, Nilofer! Insightful and perceptive piece. I shall archive it as an important read for my globe trotting friends and families! Thanks for sharing your life in this way! Love from the Bennetts.

  4. What’s the Rumi quote you love — something along the lines of it being through the rub that we are polished? I know you just outlined a long list of all the challenges of this particular experience, and are probably feeling pretty raw. But I’m hoping that another two months from now you will look back on that very rough period with the same feeling of renewal and of having grown from the challenges as well as having learned a lot about yourself. And still feeling some love.

    Love to you!

  5. You all are doing great. You were brave to go and you will surely overcome all the hurdles. You are definitely missed. It’s wonderful to read about your adventure.

  6. Thanks for sharing. This too shall pass. Reminds me of my first 2 weeks in America. Remind me to tell you the story one day. Will miss you at our TEC alumni gathering in October. Au revoir!

  7. Your love-felt notes were so lovely to receive. I had a feeling just getting these thoughts outside myself would be of help and it was really in sharing the burdens with you that made them seem lighter. Many thanks, N

  8. I’m enjoying following you on LinkedIn and this blog and even borrowed a bit for my blog: My latest is “It’s like Paris for a year (sort of)

  9. Mary – thanks for sharing that. We are just tagging things as we go, so we can look back at the experience and appreciate that anyone finds value in it.

  10. Made me smile. My husband spent months figuring out how to do things in San Francisco when we moved here. And by the way, he still complains how expensive everything is here compared to London. Which is funny because in London all the Americans kept complaining to me how expensive London is. My only explanation is that when you know your city, you find things to do that are cheap or free. Like the museums in London. Or going to the beach in San Francisco.

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